thinking theology

Archive for May, 2019

Mothers and Shepherds

Happy Mother’s Day! I guess. Aside from the emotional minefields produced by that greeting, for many it is a wonderful day. As a person almost totally lacking in sentimentality, I would just forget it except for my great kids who want to remember it. My problem with the idea of the Good Shepherd has similar problems.

On Mother’s Day, we forget the terrible mothers, the tragedies in motherhood, the women separated from their children by incarceration or social stigma. Similarly, the picture of the Good Shepherd is usually that of a kindly, white, clean, handsome man, holding clean lambs in his arms. And we see ourselves as those dear little lambs, being kept in safety from accident, or being lost, or perhaps being butchered. 

What if we adjust the lens on these pictures? What if the pictures of mothers we hold up are those of starving Yemeni women struggling to find food for their kids, of Palestinian mums trying to shield others, of black mothers worrying whether or not their sons will come home safely? What if the picture of the Good Shepherd is our broken church struggling to remember that the lambs we are called to protect are the very people we avoid? What if we, like Judas and Peter, are ourselves broken and confused? What if this is the struggle to transform our world not simply with words, or political rhetoric, but with action, with money, with advocacy?

How do we celebrate this day? I think we could begin by agreeing that there are lots of ways of mothering and of being mothered. None of them is easy, but often the reward is in the doing rather than being acknowledged. We are all born within our Mother Earth, the paradise given to us by God. If we are good mothers, we will teach our children not to soil their environment. We will teach justice as the path to peace. We will learn to discriminate not on the basis of class, but of neediness, of solidarity.

As shepherds in the risen body of Christ, we confess our woundedness to each other, so we will be free from judging others. We will know that being a shepherd does not require us to spend time making ourselves look good. Shepherding is a dirty, dangerous business. But the lambs are more important than concern for ourselves. We will see that there is only one flock and its name is humanity, albeit in all the crazy diversity that our Creator seems to love. 

And so let us welcome each other to this day, accepting our narratives as the ground for greater love. Let us mother each other and be mothered into a way of peace. Let us reach out to be rescued, turning to the lamb on the precipice beside us, and dragging them along with us. And so, hand in hand, generation upon generation, we learn how to let our mothering, shepherding God grow in our souls, in our hands and in our minds, so that the world may be re-knit in the loving image in which we were made. 

Do You Love Me?

“Do you Love Me, now that I can dance” was a song performed by the Contours in 1964. There is a delightful YouTube video ( to go with the song. 

animals dancingNow what might that have to do with John 21? One of the deficiencies of the first followers of Jesus was their need for a validating sign, a proof, that Jesus’ teaching and way to peace and justice was worth risking everything. Some of them had left behind employment and personal security to follow him down the roads and through the villages, even into the great city of Jerusalem. It’s not entirely surprising that they wanted reassurance. First Judas betrayed Jesus to the authorities, perhaps to force a sign as much as for compensation. Then Peter, after Jesus’ arrest, denied him not once but three times, another betrayal of loyalty. 

I reflected this week that everyone wanted Jesus to dance to a different tune, to be something other than a man, or simply show “his moves” to the authorities. Even in this anecdote in John 21, when Jesus asks Peter if he can love him with the kind of passion with which Jesus loved God, Peter demurs. Instead of the word agape that Jesus uses, Peter responds with the word, philios. I love you like a friend.

So then, despite the possibly implied disappointment in Peter’s response, Jesus sets him on a mission. Now interestingly, the text says that it is Peter who is disappointed because Jesus does not seem to trust his answer. 

We continue to be disappointed that Jesus does not provide proofs, that we still must respond to his question, that we are still stuck between waiting for him to dance, and having the world instantly transform into his likeness.
So what do we take away from this story? First, I think some of us will relate more to the
historical Jesus, the apocalyptic prophet, or the healer, or the inclusive, open friend to women, children and the poor. Some of us will relate to the suffering servant who gathers all the pain of the world into his arms on the cross. Others will look to the Christ, the sacred figure who united heaven and earth, who promises a future in which pain and sorrow will.

polar bears dancingSome of us will be blinded by the love we have for the human Jesus or the divine man, and will entirely commit our lives to his service. Some of us will love him more than anyone else, but maintain some distance. Some of us will only form a passing acquaintance, but still name ourselves his followers.  There is space for us to intensify and release. There is room to learn and deepen our understanding of him. Some of us will tango and some of us will waltz with him, but always he will be stretching his love and his life to us, for us and with us. Let’s dance.