In 2019, I read Kathy Khang’s book “Raise Your Voice.” She writes as a Korean-American about having courage to speak up and bring about change for the better.
Throughout the book, she speaks about the sensitivities involved, as well as how hard it is to gain traction with people. She writes about changing structural problems, often from a position of little power/influence.
Her insights were a balm for me and there are fabulous one-liners.
One of them was this: “the Old Testament prophets not only recorded history but also remind the modern church of the need for people who say things that need to be said, even when it’s uncomfortable.” (p89)
I nearly pushed this sentence out as a Facebook status, but just before I hit post, I hesitated.
I had read her statement in context; I knew exactly what she meant. But without knowing who she was, or what context she was speaking into, I saw her words could be taken a completely different way.
It hit me that similar words had been used to enforce the status quo, including within the church. This has caused such hurt that the phrase “speak the truth in love” is now notorious for insensitivity. I realised that if I put up Kathy Khang’s quote, people could just as easily mistake it for this ‘cruel to be kind’ mentality. People could think I was trying to reinforce the status quo, when I had meant to empower the marginalised.
As I chewed over this, I realised something else. Which seemed so painfully obvious, I was embarrassed to admit it.
Speaking without naming your context is a presumption of privilege.
As a blogger, I’ve learned to couch and contextualise my statements, but I didn’t always. My old habits show something about the privilege that I grew up with; they also show the privilege of the people and establishments who taught me how to speak.
But I need to do better – as does everyone else who benefits from privilege. It’s not difficult to point to our frames of reference as we speak and it certainly does no harm.
If anything, it might raise our awareness of the things we have taken for granted.
A short look at the Bible
Today’s reading brings us full circle to the first week of this series. It’s Matthew 2:1-18 and overlaps slightly with the gospel passage we read before.
These events probably took place one to two years after Jesus was born. There’s no mention of the manger or the overcrowded kataluma that Luke wrote about. Plus, after the visitors left, Herod focused his killing spree on boys that were up to two years old.
The magi are pretty interesting. Traditionally they’re the ‘three kings.’ But there’s nothing to say there were only three of them.
Also, it might be more accurate to describe them as magicians. The Greek word for ‘magi’ originally referred to Zoroastrian priests, who studied astronomy and astrology. Though the term was used more widely than this.
As for the star… Grant Mathews, a professor of theoretical astrophysics and cosmology at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, has an interesting theory. It could have been an alignment of Jupiter, Saturn, the moon and the sun in the constellation of Aries on April 17, in 6 BCE. Per Space Magazine:
This conjunction fits with the story for a few reasons. First, this conjunction happened in the early morning hours, which aligns with the Gospel’s description of the Star of Bethlehem as a rising morning star. The Magi also lost sight of the star, before seeing it come to rest … This could have been the result of the retrograde motion of Jupiter, which means that it appears to change direction in the night sky as Earth’s orbit overtakes it.
“Normally, planets move eastward if you’re following them in the sky,” Mathews said. “But when they go through retrograde motion, they turn around and go in the direction that the stars rise and set at night [westward].”
Though, that theory places the magi’s visit at or very near the time of Jesus’s birth.
Anyway, the three gifts have deep theological significance. (What doesn’t in these stories?) Gold, because Jesus was a king. Frankincense because Jesus was God. And myrrh, because he would suffer and die. Yes, I got that from the carol We Three Kings.
Honestly, this story is worthy of a lot more discussion than I’m giving it, but many people are very familiar with it already. So, I’ll just draw out a couple of points.
First, I am deeply fascinated by how people from another race and religion came to honour Jesus at his birth. Again, this tells me God is inclusive.
Secondly, we don’t know if they ever found out about Herod’s massacre. If they did though, I imagine they would have felt awful. I would have.
Again, I don’t have answers for why this happened. But it shows that sometimes we will do good, and then bad people will twist it for evil. There is no avoiding this.
For sure, we shouldn’t be naïve about how other people will react to our actions. However, as Mother Theresa put it, I believe we should “do good anyway.”
Carol: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
This song by Gerard Moultrie is one of my absolute favourites. It captures the majesty of Jesus in a way that few other songs do, and also keeps it accessible. Plus the tune (Picardy) is simply amazing. Anyway, this was my favourite rendering on YouTube:
Invitation to pray
We each pray in our own way; some of the best advice I had was ‘Pray as you can, not as you can’t.’ So I offer an invitation to pray – not an instruction.
Take some time to consider these words from Mother Theresa – I found them helpful:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.Mother Theresa
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
If you have any questions or feedback about this series, please feel free to contact me. I do my best, but can make mistakes, and my theology is always under construction.
All posts in the series can be found via the tag Xmas2020.
You can sign up to receive posts from Faith in Grey Places via email. I’ll be putting posts in this series here too, under the tag Xmas2020.