Today’s reading from the Narrative Lectionary is Luke 1:46-56. This is Mary’s famous song, traditionally called the Magnificat. I wrote about it yesterday in the blog post titled “Blessed is She Who Believed.”
That post elicited some positive response. One reader said, “Wow, you really got your feminist on in that one.” I had a strangely mixed reaction to that statement. A part of me smiled and thought, “Yep, the Gospel is the radical message of God’s love for everyone and it turns the power structures of the world upside down.” I imagined my thesis advisor smiling, since she is a feminist theologian. There is a huge necessity for feminist theologians (see my post about Elizabeth Johnson).
Yet, another part of me bristled in response to that statement.
“Hey,” I thought, “I’m not a feminist. Don’t slap that label on me.”
This led to a conversation about the positive and negative sides of every ism (please insert any ism in place of feminism, e.g. Fundamentalism, Liberalism, Marxism, Capitalism, etc.).
The true spirit of feminism is a necessary reaction and affirmative action to counter balance the millennia of male dominance in most of human history. This is an unfortunate reality.
The true goal of feminism, however, is to no longer need feminism. Think about that. If society functioned in such a way that men and women were treated equally, then there would be no need for feminism. There would just be life, lived in the interdependent love of God.
The trap into which many proponents of an ism can fall is to establish a goal, not to establish equality, but to swing the pendulum the other direction and gain power over those against whom they stand. They tear down the other in order to establish a new kind of power and dominance.
Notice the image to the right. While this image may seem to represent this text, read it more carefully. Who is the agent in this image? (I saw this image posted on Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Twitter feed. I respect Nadia and am not criticizing her. I just found it an interesting image worth noting.)
This brings me back to the reading for today. Read Mary’s words again. Who brings down the proud and powerful? Who lifts up the lowly? Is it the poor and oppressed? No. It is God.
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (Luke 2:49-55)
Yes, God works through the action of people, and yes, we must stand in peaceful protest of injustice in the world. Yet, we must always remember that we are servants of God, seeking to bring justice and peace for ALL people, not seeking to swing the pendulum of power to our side so we can stick it to the other guy.
We seek to defeat evil, not people. We seek to defeat the pride in people, not proud people. We seek to overcome the greed in people that has overcome them, not to overcome the greedy people. This begins with humbly asking God to defeat the pride and greed and power-lust within ourselves first.
Here I must refer to the animation I created in August. We are called to live in the conversation, not winning the argument. The power is God’s and we all share it.