Sunday, March 17, 2013

"Leave Her Alone"

Today's Gospel lesson

The other day I happened to visit the blog of a certain Reformed-tradition Evangelical author and professor -- it was one of those links-you-stumble-on-while-looking-for-something-else -- who regularly opens his page up to contributing bloggers. Reading through some of the guest-blogger posts, I noticed that whenever a woman was guest blogger, the reader responses became more critical, more patronizing, more preachy; lots of imperious mansplaining going on. (Sidebar: For an interesting discussion of this phenomenon, read Tony Jones' recent blog query "Where Are the Women?", the response of some women, and the response of Jones and other men to those responses.)

"Leave her alone," I found myself thinking as I read through post after post by nitpicking, tall-stick-afflicted know-it-alls dogpiling on one female guest blogger.

Even though this was all going on in a religious milieu different from my own, I felt a certain kinship with this woman. Like most of us, I suspect, I've been at the receiving end of nonconstructive criticism, scorn or outright bullying for being who I am, for saying what I think, for expressing how I feel -- sometimes as a perceived personal attack, sometimes as a perceived attack on a group to which I belong. (This essay, for instance, makes me feel that I'm not young enough, heterosexual enough or fertile enough to be part of this pastor's vision of the Reign of God. What I hear in this "missional" message is, "So die already.")

"Leave her alone." "Leave them alone." Sometimes I'd love to hear those phrases resounding from heaven.

But, thinking about this week's Gospel lesson, I wonder about the times when I'm the one needing a calling-out by Jesus for disparaging other people's expressions of faith.

This past month our church has been collecting surveys from parishoners. They ask what's been working for people and what hasn't in terms of worship, education and so on. FT and I completed our surveys after a particularly unfocused Sunday that just seemed to highlight things about our parish life that tend to drive both of us crazy, and so we expressed some of those frustrations in some detail. It felt very brave and liberating at the time. But in retrospect -- what if some line item we've chalked up to carelessness or incompetence is actually just the act of someone who, like Mary, is simply "doing what she can," however inexplicably or imperfectly, for the love of God? Even with the understanding that we were being asked to be candid and specific, were all of our critical observations valid, or were some of them simply projections of our own psychological stuff? I mean, I can be OCD; I'm someone who notices typos and crooked pictures hanging on walls and flat notes. If there are enough of those things going on, I get anxious and wanting to get busy "fixing" so the world is returned to my idea of wholeness. At what point is does that element of my personality cross the line from being a useful quality in a community setting to being a destructive force? How do I know?

But nowhere in this story do we hear Jesus telling either Mary or Judas, "Leave me alone." And maybe there's a lesson in that, whether we're the beleaguered recipients of others' negative judgments or the highhanded judges ourselves. That gives me hope.

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