Tag Archives: yavxmas

Mary, did you know that you might be a feminist revolutionary?

“In Paleolithic times, gynecology was just in the mind of God.” That may be my favorite sermon quote ever and I’ve been mining from services for years. Who knew I’d have to come to Peru for it?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I started attending Cristo Rey Iglesia Luterana with my friend David Romero, who runs the youth programming of that church. The following is a reflection following the thoughtful, humorous and engaging sermon by Pastor Pablo Espinoza, which contained the opening quote.

The sermon explored how Mary is characterized in the current narrative of the birth of Jesus. He explained that in Paleolithic times, ignorance of reproduction led women to hold a higher place in most civilizations. As folks learned that it required the man as well, society moved towards ownership of women as men started to claim that their seed was the gift to create a baby.

He chose a general narrative without any citations, but it admittedly is a familiar story and one I believe. Mary’s conception challenges this narrative because it lacks a man. In fact, the story is kind of revolutionary in a respect. The only mortal involved in the birth of the most important baby in history was a young, betrothed teenage girl. The only thing a man did was not mess it up because he paid attention and did not have his fiancé stoned.

So how has the traditional church gotten around that? Well our Pastor, who just continued to nail it, pointed out that the honorific of “virgin” is admittedly more depressing than respectful.

“What’s virgin mean? One who never had sex. That’s kind sad. It’s part of life,” he said.

Highlighting her virginity reflects an overemphasis on purity as the greatest achievement of a young woman. It’s just another dimension of the manplainy, condescending, back handed compliments of patriarchal society.

Why do we ignore Mary’s even more notable accomplishments? For example, she showed immense bravery in the face of a society that would obviously reject her. And then, you know, she raised Jesus. Mothering is among the toughest jobs for human beings. So, our pastor asked, “Why isn’t she recognized as Mary, the mother of Jesus? Or Mary, God’s chosen?”

The point is, these titles recognize Mary as a hero or at least central to the story. Of course, a virgin can also be a hero. These titles just reflect our characterizations of Mary. Just ask yourself whether our culture calls virgins heroes with admirable traits. No, we don’t. They are usually agentless and put on a pedestal.

Pastor Pablo’s sermon inferred that we should emphasize Mary’s agency. Instead, we should look at the story as challenging narratives wherein women are objects of reproduction. This post is by no means exhaustive on that interpretation, as there needs to be some considerable work done to explore how we should characterize God’s choice to create Mary. Has God made her a pawn? Is she treated as only a possession?

I suspect the answer lies in the fact that our relationship with God is not the same as the relationship between men and women, which should be egalitarian, but is not. We are not God’s equal, so God’s actions towards us are not to be viewed as they would between two humans. For now though, I’m unclear on where to take that next or if it is truly necessary. The point is, Pastor Pablo offered some remarkable reflections on a retold story that were refreshing in the depth and, I admit, feminist leanings. I’ll definitely be back for more.

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Some sarcasm and reflection on loneliness at the holidays

In a stark change from my standard holiday routine, I plan to spend Christmas Day as a Jewish stereotype. Specifically, I am looking into getting Chinese food and going to the movies as I’ll be spending the majority of the day by myself. Admittedly, that last part doesn’t match up with the stereotype of a Jewish family, but hey it can’t match up perfectly.

Part of it is just Peru. Peruvians celebrate Christmas Eve and lounge the entirety of Christmas Day, which is a little different than my normal.

Christmas is kind of a big deal with the Coombs/Gorman-Coombs/Burnett clan. Around this time of year I’d be caroling with high school choir friends and scrambling to get last minute gifts together. Christmas Eve would bring me, my brother, my sister-in-law, my parents, my mom’s parents, Bev, and her mom together to spend the night after a service led by my parents. We’d spend Christmas morning opening presents and munching on my grandma’s Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread.

What better way to spend my first Christmas away and only the second in the last 15 years that we’ve done differently than with Chinese food?

I’ll admit, it kind of sucks. I’m trying to keep sarcastic light tone to this, because I’ve always known this would be the case. The program doesn’t let me go home for Christmas due to visa issues and the emphasis on Living Simply and finding joy where you are. Plus, I bet there’s some fear a YAV wouldn’t come back from the comfort of home. And I don’t know whether I’d choose to come back from that given how tough this YAV year has been for both my own failings and those beyond my control, as well as, my slow transition into some form of community while living alone in Lima.

Likely deriving from that, I haven’t really been in the Christmas spirit this advent. It’s not due to a shortage of Christmas tradition around Lima. There’s house light shows galore and plenty of options to eat Paneton, a delicious fruitcake, which comes from an Italian tradition. Plus, I helped put on a party for about 50 kids in the district of Chorrillos whose families cannot afford a large party with many gifts.

That party helped me process some. Of course, I am in a place of privilege. Even my ability to struggle this Christmas in a beautiful country that oftentimes feels worlds away from home. I will still have a safe Christmas.

Still, I can’t fall into the First World Problems trap. My issues with this Christmas are not critical, but they are problems nonetheless. Plus, they are problems these families will most likely not face, as they will hopefully have the chance to be together. They do live in poverty and face struggles to have a happy home life due to the frustrations that come with that life, but still they can be together.

My own experience this holiday season has only reinforced how much I hope that their poverty does not create undue stress that ruins their home life for this holiday season. I realize now how critical this top-of-Maslow’s-pyramid need is to my own happiness and well-being.

Thankfully there are wonderful moments surrounding this Christmas. I will spend Christmas Eve with Jed and Jenny, who have graciously invited me into their home. They leave early Christmas morning, but later Christmas night I will be expecting AJ who will come in from Moyobamba. Then, us three YAVs will head out for some vacation adventures in Puno and Arequipa, Peru.

And that’s going to be great. I’ve always kind of hoped that I would rally after the holidays. I’m still clinging to that hope, but I’m also pushing myself to do what I can to feel invested here. I’ve found a new church, I’ve started attending Salsa lessons, and I’m seeking other communities by the minute. I doubt I can turn this Christmas around completely, but there’s still plenty of hope for my YAV year. And even if it isn’t the most joyful of Christmases, it will be one I’ll grow from considerably.