As we come to the fourth chapter of Scot’s book, Mary and the message that she carries about Jesus are appropriately tagged as dangerous. She threatens the powers that were by bringing the news of the powers that will be through her Son. The gospel threatens to rend Jewish society and completely upturn the fragile platform from which the Roman empire exercised its authority over God’s people.
Once again, we must confront a Mary who not just a passive human agent for the incarnation but rather, an active participant in the gospel story. McKnight draws our attention to a verse that is simply read over by some or given a less active sense by others. Luke 2:19 says But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Bock sees Mary silent in receiving the message of the angels while the others around her are amazed. I. Howard Marshall sees a meditative Mary pondering the gravity of the new additions to her already formidable body of knowledge concerning the reality of the child Jesus. She is not thinking with the narrow intent of understanding the latest addition alone but Mary labors to integrate the latest revelation with the gospel already developing in her short history as Blessed.
Mary will not be content to treasure the message in her heart. Her dangerous message is one that she knows must be shared and, despite the threat that she knows it poses to the powers that dictate her condition, she will open her mouth and proclaim what she knows to be true. Mary’s danger should be a part of us today as well. You have a message that threatens the world around you, threatens to bring peace and love and unity where there is only chaos and hatred and division. It is a threat to those who exercise control through the turmoil. Will you be dangerous today?
Does Mary’s clarion call strike us in the same way that it rumbled through Herod’s oligarchy so many centuries ago? Mary the willing becomes Mary the dangerous as she announces the coming of the One who be the incarnation of all justice that God has exercised throughout the history of her people. Her praise extols what God has done in the past…
The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
Luke 1:46-55 – New Living Translation
Mary’s warning makes her a threat to the way things were, are, and will be. She reminds those who hear her words that God is a god of justice and just like he has throughout history, he will deliver justice to the oppressed. Do these words make us rejoice or cower?
When Hirsch refers to the church buildings in his book, I believe he is conferring the ‘ fortress mentality’ onto a recognizable structure and not criticizing the bricks of the cathedral. The fortress mentality arose in the period of Christendom where the chief organizing principle for believers was the church. It lay at the core of the social structure of the believers life and by necessity, as it was tied to its foundation, it was attractional. If you were not attracted to the principles of the church, you found yourself outside of the fortress walls. Hirsch correctly points out that with a few exceptions, this organizational model doesn’t work in the modern world.
It might be overlooked by the casual reader but the Stark quote that Hirsch employs to help explain the inverse shape of the missional movement is genius. From Stark’s For the Glory of God, he quotes:
Far too long, historians have accepted the claim that the conversion of the Emperor Constantine caused the triumph of Christianity. To the contrary, he destroyed its most attractive and dynamic aspects, turning a high-intensity, grassroots movement into an arrogant institution controlled by an elite who often managed to be both brutal and lax.
The return to the grassroots, high intensity community of faith is at the heart of the missional church. Rather than reliance upon the old attractional models of the fixed cathedral, the faith of mission grows legs and takes it to the very tribes that each congregation is most attuned to reaching.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”
With these words the young woman Mary accepted her calling to participate in the great redemptive work of God. Like the names recorded in the great litany of the faithful of Hebrews 11, she was an ordinary person given an extraordinary vocation. The passage in which these words of faith appear is straightforward but we must not miss the thread of danger that winds through it. When the angel Gabriel makes his appearance, it is said that Mary was greatly troubled. Gabriel soothes her nerves by simply whispering the words “do not be afraid”, the words that are repeated over and over throughout the redemption story when men and women are pointed back to the strength of their faith. This is exactly what we see Mary do.
Mary’s faith is extraordinary, the kind of faith that we all hope to have at the moment of truth. Facing ridicule and castigation for her out of wedlock pregnancy, her words of faith are ‘ may it be.’ When Gabriel announces that she will be carrying the Messiah, the one who her people have been watching and waiting for, Mary must process what it will mean to her betrothal, her own family, and her future. Her engagement could be broken and the security of her own family taken away. The future then would take a much darker turn as her life would be lived out in the streets with nothing to hang on to … except her faith. Though all of these things were possible, Mary does not hesitate to answer yes when God calls her. She is being blessed by the God who has cared for women of faith before her: Rahab, Ruth, Tamar and Bathsheba. She has everything to fear and she has nothing to fear. All generations will call her blessed.
When you and I are called to a task by God, whether it be simple or extraordinary, what will our answer be? Will we hesitate at that moment, fearing what is to come, or will be answer ‘ May it be’ trusting in God as Mary did so many years ago?
Daniel Carroll, a seminary professor who was one of the greatest influencers of the trajectory of my ministry in the area of justice and mercy, once asked me if I had developed a Maryology (Mariology). I said no and then quickly side stepped the issue. To a Protestant, Mary was a fixture of Catholic lore surrounded by tradition and theology that had elevated her from the mother of Jesus to holy sainthood. Her vocation was expanded beyond the gospel story to give her stature as mediatrix and her virginity maintained through divine biology. I had given no thought or study the reality or basis of these beliefs and had dismissed the development of a Mariology as unnecessary to the pastoral care of my congregation. Now, several years later, I must once again credit Dr. Carroll as being prescient about the things that can shape one’s ministry.
As I reread McKnight’s The Real Mary, I am spending much more time meditating on the ministry of Mary. In his introductory chapter he gives a satisfying reason for all of us to consider Mary in a new light.
” Because while Mary’s story is that of an ordinary woman, it (is) also the story of a woman with an extraordinary vocation (being mother to the Messiah) who learned to follow this Messiah Jesus through the ordinary struggles that humans face. In this sense, Mary represents each of us– both you and me– in our call to follow Jesus.”
A new look at Mary is in order. Let’s put aside the divisive issues for now and give her renewed meditation. I’m going to track along with Scot’s book as an organizing tool; if you’ve read the book I’d love to hear from you as we give the mother of the Lord a second look.
Stop. Close your eyes. No wait! Open your eyes and read the next sentence. When I say the words Virgin Mary what image pops into your head? Close your eyes now so that you can the picture can take form in your mind’s eye. For many, the picture will be of a young woman, swathed in blue and white holding the baby she named Jesus close to her breast and gazing placidly upon his visage. She may be an anthropomorphism; a stained-glass window come to life. She is, for many Protestants, an important component of the gospel story but a role player at best. The two-dimensional figure that we come to know around Advent each year fades into the background soon after Christmas. Scot McKnight, in The Real Mary, seeks to bring her out of the background of the nativity scene and bring to the reader’s attention numerous dimensions that are often dismissed in the Evangelical community.
The mention of Mary beyond the role of Jesus’ mother in many Evangelical circles can cause shoulders to rise and eyes to narrow as people steel themselves for the expected challenge to the deep chasm they have scratched out between themselves and the Catholic (capital C) church. McKnight brings us a different perspective to ponder, that of an unknown young woman from a backwater town called to an extraordinary task in giving birth to the Lord. But the story does not end there as the blue thread of Mary’s life weaves its way through the entire ministry of Jesus. She learns what it means to follow him, how difficult and challenging it is, and McKnight helps us to discover how much we are like Mary in that respect.
A many faceted Mary emerges from the pages of this book. We are invited to narrow our Bible study to those passages in which Mary is featured and each adds a brush stroke to the character that evolves. She is not the passive young woman we often picture but in total, a bit of a radical, following Jesus from His birth until he gives up His spirit on the cross. During their years together Mary as mother is often able to perceive the uniqueness and likely the divinity of her child, perhaps more intimately and sooner than the others who surrounded him. She comes to know that the Messiah expected and the Messiah realized are much different.
The immense value of this small book is its combination of popular presentation of scholarly material combined with devotional possibilities spread throughout the book. Mary should not be feared by Evangelicals. McKnight touches on the divisive lore that surrounds Mary in the Catholic teaching and helps to clarify many that have been misunderstood by the Evangelical church. Perhaps Mary can be added to the many scriptural events and people that we utilize to teach an uncompromising and immediate affirmative is necessary to any call of God. To quote Scot, “As Kathleen Norris has said so well in her own reflections about Mary, “When I am called to answer ‘Yes’ to God, not knowing where this commitment will lead me, Mary give me hope that it is enough to trust in God’s grace and promise of salvation.””
Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed is prompting his readers to read along and discuss Alan Hirsch’s book The Forgotten Ways and I was moved to join the discussion. Hirsch tells the story of moving a moribund body backwards in time and tradition to a Church in which all participated, all were held to account, and all were so significantly countercultural that their lives became attractional, living invitations to other to follow Christ with them. Our church set out to do this and it has been quite an adventure. As we set forth, some found themselves too attached to the 10/90 model and dropped off. Others challenged the map we were following, slowing the mission but not stopping it. Meeting people where they are rather than demanding that they join us where we want to be is the most spiritually satisfying thing our group has ever done.
How exactly does one develop a taste for a gently singed piece of human flesh? Perhaps it tastes different when washed down with a shell of especially bitter kava. To discover the answer to this pressing question and others (how big can a human foot get when bitten by a centipede) you’ve got to throw your shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops into a backpack and venture to the South Pacific archipelagoes of Vanuatu or Fiji. If that jaunt is not in the cards for the foreseeable future, you can pick up J. Maarten Troost’s Getting Stoned with Savages for a recounting of his burgeoning family’s adventures as they resettle into island life.
While serving as a PSA warning against the obviously addictive qualities of kava, an island intoxicant with mysteriously hallucinatory effects, the humorous story is filled with extended vignettes of South Pacific life. Troost is no stranger to island life, having recounted a previous stay on Tarawa before moving back to city life in the United States in his book The Sex Lives of Cannibals. Even so, the transition from Washington D.C. to Vanuatu serves to deromanticize the island life. This is not a journey into the heart of darkness surrounded by hotel bars, nicely tiled swimming pools, and gently swaying palm trees. Rather, it is the reality of muddy roads, shark filled lagoons that slyly beckon the swimmer in, forays into the village kingdoms of various chiefs, and of course, kava enhanced sunset watching.
Troost has an O’Rourkean twist to his humor, bringing his encounters with people and events to life for the reader without the ugly cynicism of so many who long for the hipster travel-food-entertainment-writer label. He is as likely to befriend the locals as he is to find himself making cultural faux paus that build walls (apparently it is in poor taste to hoist your new baby aloft and claim him as your chief, go figure!) The island nations will not be distributing this book as a vacation advertisement but you and I can travel vicariously through it. Oh, and be discerning on Fiji when proposing a date…
“No good deed goes unpunished”;a quote variously attributed to Oscar Wilde, Andrew Mellon, Dorothy Parker, and Clare Booth Luce but also a proverb applied to the lives of Michael Oher and Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy as they intersected in Memphis, Tennessee. Michael Lewis weaves a complex tale in The Blind Side of the melding of lives as the boy from one side of town begins life anew as a part of a family of rich Evangelicals from the opposite side. Michael Oher is a destitute African-American boy, one among thirteen children born to a crack addicted mother who grows up knowing little pertinent information about himself and whose life is on a trajectory to nowhere. Sean and Leigh Anne Touhy are rich (though tenuously at times), white, Christians living at the other end of town who are deeply involved with their children and the private Christian academy at which they are educated. Michael serendipitously becomes involved with the Touhy’s through the nexus of Briarcrest as he is given an opportunity to be educated there. What follows is the story of Michael becoming integrated into the Tuohy’s family, raising the angle of his trajectory considerably.
If this were the whole of the tale one might be tempted to push the book back onto the shelf and continue scanning but Lewis is not simply telling this family’s history. Paralleling the drama of Michael and the Touhys is the story of the rise of the left tackle in the NFL, the one who guards the quarterback’s blind side. It is a position charged with stopping the oncoming linebacker who is bent on the destruction of the team’s offensive core, the quarterback. Because of the speed and agility of the linebackers in professional football, the position requires a rare combination of size, speed, nimbleness of feet, reach and hand size and a very specific center of gravity. Rare qualities that genetics and development would visit upon Michael Oher.
These intertwining stories make for an engaging book. Lewis’s quality of writing satisfies, whether the reader is primarily interested in the human interest tale or the details of an increasingly critical component of the game of football. Though I have little interest in football, the personalities and details as painted by Lewis’s prose kept me attentive to seeing their development in Michael as the story unfolded. Viewing the domestic saga from a set distance also serves the reader well as the motivation of the Tuohy’s to take in Michael and begin the transformation of his life is questioned.
As Michael’s unique qualities are noticed by those outside of the Memphis football world the inevitable issue of money surfaces and it is these future riches that are used to taint the purity of the Tuohy’s charity. They are accused of salvaging Michael for their own enrichment, an accusation that drives Sean and Leigh Anne into action. The reader is cheered and then pummeled by the ups and downs of the ongoing accusation and acquittal battle in which the Tuohy’s and Michael must engage.
Lewis does not shy away from the difficulty of whipping our emotions about with this book. The reader is led to loathe those who would take advantage of Michael, feel compassion for Michael himself, cheer the Tuohy’s and their 99% pure charity, and perhaps most subtly, fear the oncoming linebacker and the gunshot crack of bone beneath a pile of huge, helmeted men. The Blind Side satisfies on all levels.
You might also enjoy The Parable of Michael and the Briarcrest Saints