Magdalene is a residential program that helps women who have survived lives of violence and prostitution.
The emotional, physical, and spiritual violence that we inflict on one other is a sign that something is amiss in our world. The statistics from the World Health Organization on sex work and disease, paint the terrible truth that sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse are on the rise across the globe. The sex and drug industry "will tear up women and use them 'til they throw them out" as Rev. Rebecca Stevens, Executive Director of Magdalene Ministries. Magdalene is a recovery program in Nashville, Tennessee for women who have histories of substance abuse and prostitution. Stevens has helped countless women get off the streets and put their lives back together. Yet there are so many more in need. It is clear that something is persistently bent on the annihilation of our bodies and souls. What can we say or do?
The widow of the longtime minister of the Anglo-American congregation that housed our Korean immigrant church taught us Sunday mornings. She would open our gathering time together with this question: "What is the chief end of man?" We would all respond with the proper answer: "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever!" we would sing-song it together not really understanding the words.
Even at 10 years old I felt the weight of centuries behind those words. Somehow it felt like the perfect answer to anything and everything. Later, when I went away to college, I would remember these words and they would be like a flickering light in those dark times of isolation and loneliness. It was a reminder that our lives are meant for so much more even if we sometimes can't see the forest for the trees.
In college I began to sense a call to ministry. I felt compelled to become an ordained minister in the Presbyterian church as my own way to "glorify God" and "enjoy him forever." Yet, the only examples in ministry I had were the typical white, male pastors and staff of para-church organizations. I felt uncertain.
It seemed the leader of any organization was expected to be strong - someone with a strong will. Strong focus. Strong vision. Strong command. Strong abilities. I didn't feel I had the charisma of a leader who could not only inspire, but direct, move, and act decisively.
Hebrews invites us to consider an alternative vision of leadership in Christ, the High Priest. Instead of power, the writer describes Jesus' service in terms of compassion and mercy, even citing weakness as the source of his efficacy as high priest. Even though he was a Son, "he learned obedience through what he suffered," and we hear an echo of the familiar hymn from Philippians 2:
he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross.
It is this Christ that tells us we are worthy, walks with us through trouble and calls us out of the violence into an abundant life.
I reflect on this kind of living-life in light of recent news out of Indiana University, located in the small town of Bloomington, IN, where I currently serve with the Presbyterian Campus Ministry. One of IU's Greek fraternities was shut down because of a hazing incident that involved a pledge being forced to perform oral sex on a stripper while dozens of half-naked frat brothers cheered him on. In the last month at IU, two students died - one was murdered by her boyfriend and the death of the other is still under investigation.
As staff for the Presbyterian campus ministry I echo the words Facebook post of my colleague Sarah Sparks-Franklin
Everyday, I drive by the[fraternity] house on my way into church to spend hours of my week working to build connections to college students/ young adults. I want them to know they are not alone. That they are loved, accepted, and beautiful...That to be a part of our community requires no initiation, no list of requirements, no pressure to "fit in" to a particular stereotype, look a certain way, down enough shots at a party, adhere to some list of legalistic expectations, or to perform at the top of their classes. It simply requires them to show up, and we will love them like Jesus loves them, no strings attached.
Most days the promise of love and acceptance, healing and redemption is a difficult one to swallow as we continue in these seasons of uncertainty beset by terror and violence at so many levels all around us. So much in this world tells we are of no value, we are not worthy, we do not matter. It is hard not to believe it.
Yet, we have a high priest who intervenes for us - not as a distant and detached deity, but as a flesh-and-blood creature that walked among us. Jesus experienced those same forces bent on his own destruction. He came out, scars and wounds still present, but fully alive, full of the promise of healing and redemption. That promise is offered to us, too, always.
The beautiful, strong women of Magdalene who overcame the worst offer us a glimpse of that incredible grace. God promises to show up over and over for the sake of our salvation, but also, for our fully-alive lives. I cling to that sacramental truth we gather in churches and vigils, protests and services, in houses and meetings.
I can only say, as I often do during communion when I partake of the bread and cup: Thanks be to God. I do so trusting and hoping that there is more beyond the forests of our world's darkness.
Bible Study Questions
- In what ways does Christ as the High Priest challenge your notions of strength and power?
- How does your church or fellowship demonstrate the humility and weakness of Christ, the High Priest?
- What does it mean to be obedient in the same way Christ as the Son was obedient to God? What would it look like to imitate that in your own life?
For Further Reading
Off the Menu: Asian and Asian North American Women's Religion and Theology Edited by Rita Nakashima Brock, Jung-Ha Kim, Kwok Pui-Lan, Seung Ai Yang: With a deep understanding of their roots in classic Christianity as well as the diversity of Asian culture, these theological voices have contributed some of the freshest and most provocative work of recent decades. This volume brings together women who are searching for authentic Christian dialogue in a world of hybridity and changing context, and it represents one of the most significant areas of growth and vitality in contemporary Christianity.
Making a Way Out of No way: A Womanist Theology (Innovations: African American Religious Thought) by Monica Coleman: Monica A. Coleman articulates the African American expression of "making a way out of no way" for today's context of globalization, religious pluralism, and sexual diversity. Drawing on womanist religious scholarship and process thought, Coleman describes the symbiotic relationship among God, the ancestors, and humanity that helps to change the world into the just society it ought to be. Making a Way Out of No Way shows us a way of living for justice with God and proposes a communal theology that presents a dynamic way forward for black churches, African traditional religions and grassroots organizations.
Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology by Mihee Kim-Kort
Thomas Long, What God Wants, Christian Century, (March 21, 2006, p. 19)
About ON Scripture
Learn more about the ON Scripture Committee
Like ON Scripture on Facebook
Follow ON Scripture on Twitter @ONScripture