Monday, August 12, 2013


Our text today is from Zephaniah 3, a glorious book that starts with two and a half chapters of “woes” and ends somewhere around,

“The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.”

This weekend I took great delight in being the only white girl at the “Celebrating Women in Ministry” conference. I’d signed up because of the title, its proximity to me, and because one of my dad’s old high school friends was one of the keynote speakers. I was looking for content I could soak up, women in ministry to whom I could look up, and I got both in spades.

I also got awed by African American women. I don’t know how else to say it: they were so much more . . . feminine than the white women I know. So strong, so vocal, so in synch. “You preaching my life right there!” came from the far front right of the room “Well! Well!” from the back. “Come on now! You better preach it, girl!” from the woman who plain stood up and further articulated her point by stabbing her finger at the woman sermonizing us. “All right, all right.” “Amen.” “You said it!” “Preach!”

They were so confident, so sure. Yet Zephaniah 3: 1-2 haunts:

“Woe to the city of oppressors,
rebellious and defiled.
She obeys no one.
She accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord
She does not draw near to her God.”

Are we blinded by our confidence? I don’t think so, because there was so much more than glorious, glorious sass. I have rarely seen a room so full of edification like that, women in tune with one another’s stories. Synergy, I guess it’s called, but also pain: women being harassed at their churches, ignored, turned away from pulpits, their M.Divs and their doctorates erased from church bulletins and their calling from God eagerly dismissed by uncomfortable men who wanted their female colleagues to sit in the back of the church while they took their seats up front.

Seeing my own frustrations reflected in these women, so qualified and competent to speak to God’s will in the body of believers, reminded me of the saying:

“The church is a whore - but she is our mother.”

Obviously I find the metaphor distasteful and inaccurate (given that men are more sexually promiscuous than women), but for most of my adult life this saying has perfectly encapsulated how I feel about the church. I love her: irrationally and inescapably. I always will, though she disgusts and infuriates me more than anyone else.

Zephaniah goes on:

"Her officials are roaring lions,
her rulers are evening wolves,
who leave nothing for the morning.

Her prophets are arrogant;
they are treacherous men.
Her priests profane the sanctuary
and do violence to the law."

I hate the reputation many Christians have gotten about being jerks to non-Christians. The Bible has some pretty strict rules, but the harshest condemnations are always for the hypocritical Christians: the “rebellious” ones who do not draw near to the God they profess, those priests who twist the law, pervert it for their own purposes.

And yet . . .

"The lord within her is righteous.
He does no wrong.
Morning by morning he dispenses his justice
and every new day he never fails."

The church is arrogant and overconfident and filled with treacherous men and violent women. She has her share of roaring lions and evening wolves; she ignores the lost and broken and puts her own needs first. She obeys no one and accepts no correction, but within her . . . God remains God.

I'm cheating because this is a picture of a picture from an art gallery in Tokyo. But in my defense, it is beautiful.

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