“But God speaks through wombs, birthing prophetic utterances…Enough of this unbelieving religion that masquerades as faith. Divine favor is placed on what we have disgraced.”
That’s an excerpt inspired by Luke 1:5-25 from a new book of poems from Pastor Drew Jackson in NYC. Reading this as part of my Advent has been a great exercise within the bigger quest to give voice to the marginalized, starting with those parts of me I’ve not given voice to. Let me share some thoughts around this excerpt.
“But God speaks through wombs…”
That would have been such a radical thought in the kind of church I came of age in, the Asian-American church. Specifically I came of age in the 2nd generation Chinese-American church which, in the early 90’s, were mostly tied to their 1st-generation counterparts. I learned in these churches that God mostly spoke through the pulpit ministry, the preaching of the Word, and especially through expositional sermons. “Osmosis” taught me that the only people who could preach in those days were trained men. Makes sense; conservative seminaries had JUST started allowing women in their programs a decade or two before me. God speaking through wombs? Unheard of! (I’m not making a commentary on complementarianism nor egalitarianism) In my early years, I was thus discipled that God only spoke through the infallible, inerrant word preached expositionally through trained men from the pulpit.
The Advent story reminds us that God’s voice is not so limited. Both the wombs of Elizabeth and Mary birthed prophetic utterances. God saw to it that space was made for these utterances, shutting even Zachariah’s mouth to make space. Beautiful. Advent reminds us to open our ears wider; God is speaking through more channels than we’ll ever know, revealing truth and majesty (Ps 8). I knew these biblical truths cognitively in my early years; it simply wasn’t my experience.
Fast forward a few decades and moving to pluralist San Francisco, I now hear God’s voice regularly through people who don’t share my faith. Most recently, I heard God’s voice through a Jewish rabbi…indirectly. One of my Jewish friends plays keyboards/accordion in a “garage band” that we formed. I was commenting to the band members how motivated I was to up my keyboard skills after our last jam session, but that I’ll never be as good as him. He replied via text with this prayer for me right out of his Sha’ar zahav prayer book.
Advent invites us to open our ears to hear God speaking in ways we don’t expect. I feel honored that a practicing Jewish man would text something from his prayer book to me, especially knowing that I’m a Christian. Perhaps the trust comes from the vulnerability of working out musical arrangements together. But he also knows that I’m steeped in my “religion” and even studied the language of his Scriptures. This quote from a book called “Holy Envy – Finding God in the Faith of Others.”
“The more deeply one sinks into one’s own religious truth, … the more broadly one can appreciate and learn from other truths.” Taylor, Barbara Brown. Holy Envy (p. 48). HarperOne.
I have several Jewish friends with whom I have spiritual conversations. And I have friends from other traditions with whom I have spiritual conversations with also. It’s really a huge favor to live in a place where we have proximity to such diverse voices. If you peruse this blog, you’ll see that I’ve highlighted a few conversations with atheist friends…and even invited Universalists to my church’s Sunday school. Too often Christians silo their faith. learning to hear God in new ways is a great way to help “un-silo” our faith.
But God is also speaking to me through stillness, and investing in contemplative exercises have helped me to access this. This area is a growth area for me…which is why I’ve invested in programs to help me build up this area. For example, a three-day contemplative retreat was a perfect way to end my sabbatical and immerse me into these practices, and I’m slowly building structure around me to carry this into my daily life. I hope this inspires you to widen where you hear God’s voice.
“Enough of this unbelieving religion that masquerades as faith”
The cross has the power to expose those things that masquerade as faith, to expose distorted honor systems, those things which falsely give us our identity. In our social-media drenched world, and especially in our relationship-robbing pandemic the power of these masquerades are more prevalent then ever.
I’ve preached the Gospel of honor-shame fairly broadly, and most of the time, people still tell me that this is the first time they’ve heard that our shame was reversed at the cross, that conviction of sin can come from shame as well as guilt. I’ve been written off a few times for suggesting that penal substitution is not the only work Jesus accomplished on the cross. Theological perspectives that are not allowed to be challenged are masqueraded as faith. I feel sad thinking about these dynamics; it’s putting Jesus in our box and not allowing narrow views to be challenged.
Enough of this unbelieving religion that masquerades as faith. This unbelieving religion focuses on behavior, and not the heart. This unbelieving religion does not make space to be still, to be vulnerable. This unbelieving religion is full of “yes” men, justifying the masquerade. I’ve witnessed these “yes” men, in churches, seminary, and non-profits. When news breaks out of some leader “fallen,” I’m not surprised. This unbelieving religion seeks to be homogenous, with little room for others who are different. This unbelieving religion guilt-trips people, serves soup to homeless without ever getting to know their stories. Enough of this unbelieving religion that does the “good deeds” yet objectifies the other. Enough of this unbelieving religion that says our young people don’t have morals; the silos of this unbelieving religion don’t realize that our cultural moral imperative has shifted from guilt to shame. The cross was engineered to maximize shame. Jesus’ death broke the power of this shame, and uncovered the masquerade.
Let God speak through wombs, and let the utterances lead us to the place where our masquerades are exposed and loses its power. Anyone who comes to the cross will discover empathy, will find their face, their voice, and their identity. Honor, acceptance, purity, a clean slate.
“Divine favor is placed on what we have disgraced”
The women, the shepherds, Bethlehem, a 1st century house in Palestine, a few of the “abhorrent” women in Jesus’ genealogy – the compounding of these disgraces is profound, as if God sovereignty lined up as many disgraces as possible, so that He could display his divine favor, his honor. If you’re familiar with the entire biblical story, this is of course the storyline of the whole Bible.
It’s sad; we’ve suppressed this narrative in our seminaries and churches. Though biblical commentators have been writing about this for millennia, this conversation has not compounded. Instead, our “take what you want” attitude of bible reading has so fragmented the storyline. No wonder the western church has been scarcely discipled in lament, despite the fact that laments make up the largest category of the Psalms. As in Rom 1, we ourselves have suppressed this divine glory. Then we blame “others” for suppressing God’s glory when the responsibility is ours. Isn’t this the point of Romans 1-3? We all need to be convicted not only of our guilt, but of our false masquerades.
Divine favor is placed on what we have disgraced. Starting with this Advent season, let’s make space. What have we disgraced in our own lives? Are we making space to hear God in ways unfamiliar to us? Where is God speaking; what is He uttering?
I’m weak; I’m a workaholic by nature. I can’t do this alone. When I planned my sabbatical, I experienced divine favor through a team of wise people who guided me through my sabbatical. That accountability helped me to slow down my soul and make space to listen. I’ve tasted the goodness of that, and now I’m learning to make that rhythm more of part of my daily life. I wish I could just snap my fingers to bring these head truths into heart, but it does not work that way. It takes intentionality, a team, faith, and divine favor.
I only quoted a couple lines from just one poem out of the entire book, which is based on the entirety of the Gospel of Luke. A bit more of this poem is quoted below, not the whole poem, just an excerpt. I feel I could write volumes on this one poem. But this post is meant to be just a portal, as is the work of Kingdom Rice. Our logo is fronted by the Chinatown gates, a portal to a place and people long disgraced, but also a portal to divine favor.
May we takes steps to open up space for divine favor this season.
“But God speaks through wombs,
birthing prophetic utterances.
The object of public scorn
given the power to name
the happenings of the Lord.
Elizabeth is her name.
Say her name.
It is she who will be
the one through whom
the covenant is kept.
She, like a priestess, speaks her word
while the leading male voices
are shut. Enough
of this unbelieving religion
that masquerades as faith.
Divine favor is placed on what we have disgraced.”
Jackson, Drew. God Speaks Through Wombs (pp. 10-11). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.