These days, whenever I think of Mary, I can't help thinking of Malala Yousafzai.
The name might not ring a bell with you, but the story probably will. Malala is the young Pakistani activist for women's education who was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban a couple of years ago. She's since recovered, and gone on to become the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize ever.
The most obvious connection between Mary and Malala is simply their age. Malala became an activist at 11 or 12, so about Bill or Braden's age. She was just 15 when she was shot. She's 17 now, with the promise of a long and eventful life ahead of her.
Mary was young, too. In her day, the minimum age for marriage in the Roman empire was 10, and Jewish law similar: typically, girls were married off before the age of twelve-and-a-half. So we must not imagine that she was more than 13 or 14 at the very most when she bore Jesus. Unfortunately, this is another connection to Malala. One recent report estimated that 42% of the world's child brides were from Pakistan—24% from rural areas such as the Swat Valley, where Malala is from, and another 18% from urban areas. They're usually a bit older than Mary was at the time of her betrothal to Joseph, but not much.
This will be a costly venture for Mary.
Malala was very brave to stand up to the Taliban, of course. Mary had her own way. We focus on how courageous it was for her to agree to a plan proposed by an angel on God's behalf, but seldom stop to think about the ordinary bravery she had to display. Young women are much more likely to die in childbirth than those who are fully grown themselves, and of course medical care during labor at any age wasn't exactly the greatest in those days. It must have been terrifying as it was for Mary to think about being taken away from her parents and introduced to the world of sex and birth and motherhood. To have that process hijacked by God for his own purposes must have been overwhelming. You will notice that while Gabriel promises that Jesus will go on to rule the house of David and be called the Son of God, there is no such guarantee given to Mary. In fact, when she later meets Simeon in the Temple, he promises her that "a sword will pierce your own soul too." This will be a costly venture for Mary.
Yet she shows no fear when this proposal is made to her. She is "perplexed" at first, and she wonders how it's going to happen, since she is still a virgin. But fear? No. She just shrugs her shoulders and says,
Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.
There is something wonderfully moving about the bravery of Malala and Mary, something still and captivating about them. Malala has been celebrated all around the world. When she came to the US, President Obama invited her to the White House, and his daughters more or less demanded to meet her. She also appeared on the Jon Stewart show, and so impressed him that at one point he was left almost speechless, only able to stammer out something about being honored to have met her.
As for Mary, well. There has been a cult of Mary for as long as there has been a Christianity. The Catholics and the Orthodox acclaim her as a saint. We Protestants mostly lost that in the Reformation.
But Mary has been important to people all around the world and all through the ages. In Mexico, they call her the Virgin of Guadalupe, because she is said to have appeared to a poor farmer named Juan Diego in the village of Guadalupe in 1531. This was not very long after the Spanish conquest of Mexico, and legend has it that Mary spoke to Juan Diego in his tribal language, not the language of the conquistadores. Mexicans take this as a validation of their humble origins: Mary the Mother of God was not afraid to speak to a poor brown man, just like the rest of us. They celebrate her as a symbol of national pride.
I mention all of this because part of what makes Mary—and Malala—so captivating is their commitment to justice. It's Mary, after all, who sings to her cousin Elizabeth:
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
…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.
She announces, in other words, the coming of Jesus, who will overturn the social order and accomplish justice for the humble, the lowly, the poor—those people who are always at the margins of society.
Malala is a bit different. She's less concerned with reversing oppression than she is with doing what is simply fair. And yet, in her own way, she is no less radical than Mary. Jon Stewart asked her what she thought about Taliban death threats against her. This is the answer that undid him:
I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, 'If he comes, what would you do Malala?' then I would reply to myself, 'Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.' But then I said, 'If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.' Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that 'I even want education for your children as well.' And I will tell him, 'That's what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'
This would be a remarkable answer from anyone, but coming from a seventeen-year-old…well, you'll have to forgive me if I see something a bit biblical in it. This is Jesus' "turn the other cheek" made real once again before us.
I suppose it's fair to say that when I think of Mary I think of Malala, but the reverse is also true. When I think of Malala, I think of Mary. Both announce to us God's forever new and forever startling way. When we look for the coming of Christ into the world, we look for the salvation of society, of our lives together, as much as if not more than we look for the salvation of our individual souls. Violence and social and economic oppression are just as much reflections of sin as anything you or I might do. If you read the gospels carefully, you will see that the social sins are as important, if not more so, than any of our personal faults.
I have no idea if Malala's words reflect her faith, but Mary's certainly do. They express her view of the savior who is coming, whom she will bear into the world.
There's not much we can do now except wait and watch for Christ to come into the world.
The scholars say that this story centers on the action of God himself, whose powerful and loving faithfulness to humanity is about to enter into a new and very different phase. God reaches out to Mary, God promises to put Jesus on David's throne, God will send the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High, nothing is impossible with God. Mary's part, as important as it is to us, is essentially to receive all of this, to welcome and obey God's action as a good servant should. She witnesses to the coming messiah, and the power of the God who will bring him into the world, but it's not time for her to act quite yet.
That matches where we find ourselves today, the last Sunday before Christmas. There's not much we can do now except wait and watch for Christ to come into the world.
But it also leaves us with the question of how we should receive God's initiative. How do we welcome and indeed obey as the servant Mary did so long ago?
Well, let's review what makes these women so special. They're young, first of all. We can't do much about that. Even if we could, I suspect not many of you would actually like to be thirteen or fifteen again. I don't know about you, but I remember what it was like at that age, and I didn't even live in some tribal backwater in Israel or Pakistan. No thanks.
They're highly charismatic. Not much we can do about that, either. You know what they say about lipstick on pigs. I make no comment on your powers of attraction.
At the same time, it's worth pointing out that as special as Mary or Malala seem, they are in the end just ordinary girls. The only real difference between Malala and you or I is the depth of her commitment to her values. She's quite literally willing to die for the right of girls to receive an education, if that's what it takes. Mary was just another girl getting ready to marry. She trusted the angel and did what she was asked. Other than that, there's nothing unusual at all about her.
So there's one possible answer to the question of how we can welcome God's initiative in Jesus. We can be ourselves. Saints are nice, but all God ever needed was the hearts of ordinary people.
I should say "the hearts of ordinary people committed to their values," because as we've said, that's what Mary and Malala are all about. The values they are committed to are not beside the point, either. They are God's values, and they make these women able to see the world as God sees it. In Mary's case, that's a world in which the poor and powerless and hungry are taken care of before the rich and powerful and full, but also a world in which all people, regardless of their social station, are able to receive God's mercy and grace. Malala sees the world full of opportunities for both boys and girls, and a world of peace, not violence.
Saints are nice, but all God ever needed was the hearts of ordinary people.
The character of these women's values is to produce a vision of the world as it might be when it is made whole once more. In turn, that vision of the future, that hope that it might be so someday—and the desire to help bring it into the world—are what give courage to ordinary people like Mary and Malala and to you and to me. They are what allow them to step forward and say "Here am I, the servant of the Lord." They welcome and obey God's initiative because they are able to see the world that will result from it, or at least trust in the promises that God gives about it.
This, then, is the final work of Advent: to dream the dreams of God, and to imagine the world as it might be. From there we must find some small spot of trust, and steel our nerves for the inevitable moment when we hear the wings of angels above us. Soon, we will be asked to help bring the new world into being, one new life at a time. Amen.
In the past, I've posted recipes for my grandmother's dinner rolls and aebleskiver, but I don't believe I've ever released her coffee cake methodology. But I made a batch for coffee hour at church tomorrow, which of course got me to thinking.
Before we get to the recipe, though, there are two things to know. The first is that it's less a coffee cake than a coffee bread. It's firm and not terribly sweet, certainly not dripping with caramel and icing like you might find at the grocery store. You could probably do some terribly boring etymological study of how coffee cake got its name, but what I always think about is how Grandma used to call any white bread "cake." She grew up a servant girl in Denmark in the early part of the 20th century: anything that wasn't rye bread was a luxury.
Which brings us to the other thing to know. The secret scandal of our family—which I am revealing publicly for the first time—is that, despite its title "Danish Coffee Cake," this is a Swedish recipe. Horrors!
Swedish Danish Coffeecake
- 1½ cups whole milk
- 1 cup butter
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon yeast
- 2 eggs
- 5 or 6 cups flour
- 1 cup raisins (we sometimes use craisins)
- 1 teaspoon cardamom
- 1 t. salt
- citron, candied orange or lemon to suit
Heat milk: about a minute and a half in the microwave will do just fine. Add butter and sugar. Soak yeast in a little water. Beat the eggs well, add them to the milk mixture, then add flour mixed with raisins, cardamom, and salt. Beat well. (I usually use the dough hook on our stand mixer, but a paddle would probably work better.) The dough should be soft and rubbery, but not too sticky.
Let rise until doubled—about an hour.
Put into two greased cake pans or a large bundt pan. Top with sugar and cinnamon and let rise again, about 45 minutes.
Bake at 350° for about half an hour, maybe a little longer for the bundt pan. Top with melted butter and cinnamon sugar, or a little drizzled frosting, and the candied fruit, if so desired. Serve with lots of butter and strong coffee.
Thanks as always to my mom for writing down and passing on these recipes!
Since we're doing frippery today (apparently we must), I thought I might as well post one of my last assignments for my Image Editing class:
Yeah, I know. The assignment was to create a knockoff of Cosmopolitan. Since the example given was Catmopolitan, and I have nothing if not plenty of cat pictures laying around, I thought I might as well go for it. It didn't turn out as well as I would have liked, but that's life in a technical college design program.
Anyway, here's the original image:
On the count of three, everybody: Awwww...
(As always, click on the pic to embiggen.)
In case you haven't heard, I had a deal with the church ladies: if the church collected 500 items for the local food pantry, I would sing a song in church. Last week, we hit 538, and I'm tuning up for a little warble next Sunday.
But we added some stretch goals. At 750 items, the ladies would get to pick the song. At 600 items, I promised to shave my beard. This last incentive was added at Jen's behest. She hates beards.
Of course, I had to have a little fun while I made good on the promise. See the album for the results.
Okay, okay, this is mostly a test post to see how well my MailChimp newsletters and auto-posting are working. And by "mostly," I mean "entirely."
Still, the fact remains that Robbie (so named by my son Bill) is a light-up Christmas alligator who would normally go in the front yard. His tail wags, and he has an awesome, goofy look on his face, all of which would be easily visible on the ground level. But somehow we cooked up the idea that he should go somewhere else, and that is how he came to be on our roof threatening the ten-foot high inflatable snowman.
I've been asked to take a look back at the overall experience of the Emerging Web Technology, and its difficulties. My experience has been that I'm basically an obsessive nutjob, and the difficulties come out of that. I have this way of taking what should be simple projects and going completely overboard with them. But I have nice-looking websites!
I decided I probably shouldn't be passing along resources that weren't useful. So the question becomes, how useful? I developed the scale below based on the idea that some things I'll use every day, or every time I build a site. Some I use less, at least at the moment, and some I just want to file away until I need them. For example, any kind of reading, whether a blog or an online book, gets a (1), which doesn't mean that it's not good—it's just something I might not look at every day.
Scale: 1-5, with 5 = "Use all the time," 3 = "Use once in a while," and 1 = "Mostly reference."
Go below the fold for the list itself.
I chose to work on my personal blog, so the name of the game was brand identity and increasing eyeballs. I incorporated Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, the most commonly-used social media services. I also made sure to incorporate links to my Twitter and Facebook accounts (readers often like to cross platforms), and to a MailChimp email newsletter list, again to build readership (customer base).
Online/Web Site Strategy
In order for the blog to be successful, it will have to build "presence." This is visibility in social media and in search engine placement. Fortunately, the two work together: hopefully, drawing links through social media will improve page placement in the various search engines. I have a sizable audience in both Twitter and Facebook, and plans to build both up even further. In particular, I plan to build a Twitter account to follow church or religion-related accounts, in order to collect information, participate in conversations, and draw readership. Likewise, by reactivating a long-dormant Facebook page, I ought to be able build an audience there. I have no idea how I'll do it with Google+, but I'll figure it out somehow. In any case, the online strategy turns out to be the same thing as the web site strategy: build the web site readership any way you can. Eventually, maybe, I'll be able to monetize it with donations, or maybe ads.
The blog component comes with built-in social media functions, so other than messing with the CSS, there wasn't much to it. But I decided that I wanted to connect with an e-newsletter, which took considerable wrangling to incorporate in the right place. I finally had to place the module in an article and link to it from the menu. I also wanted people to be able to like or share the main page url, but not from a button on the page. Buttons are tacky. So I took my time and figured out how to place sharing links in the menu, and also to get each item to include a little logo at the end. Even harder, I managed to set the images to change colors on hover. All of this took a very long time.
Extending Knowledge/Skill Base
I learned a bit about social media with this assignment, particularly how to build buttons and connecting to the various services' API's. (I already knew how websites connected to social media, and what the various services did.)
The real challenge turned out to be the CSS. It's actually difficult to build in social media without using their tacky image buttons! So I wound up learning a lot about the hover: and after: properties, particularly how they work together, or with another selector, such as nth-of-type. I also custom-built the drop-down menu, with the help of some CSS tutorials, so I have a much better understanding of how to do that.
The url for my new website is: http://danstestkitchen.com/joomla16. The user name for the editor is (cleverly enough): Bethany_Editor, and the login is NewsletterPassword1*. Also clever.
PS: For what it's worth, this is the actual site I'm developing for my church.
I'm not entirely sure, but I think you could categorize this project under the heading "web typography." That's where I started out, anyway, fiddling about with the headings and body text (fonts and sizing) until I had something I felt comfortable with. That part was easy enough: turns out that Cardo works the best for both headings and text, at least on my site. Who knew?
The fun really started when I tried to make sure that the site layout made the best use of the typography. My first job was to set headings apart from body text, which I accomplished by moving the headings to the left and indenting paragraphs. Likewise, I shifted both ordered and unordered lists to the right and decreased their line spacing just a little so they would be visually distinguishable from a paragraph.
When it was time to apply the same formatting to blockquotes, I decided I might as well make them look their best. So I discovered how to give the quotes a leading quotation mark, a sidebar, and a background, all of which again distinguishes them from body text.
But then it occurred to me, following the suggestion of this e-book, that I could and probably should do something to further separate the scripture quotes that turn up in my sermons. So I figured out how to add a leading aleph (ℵ) or omega (Ω) to a blockquote, which I can use for Old Testament or New Testament quotes, respectively. As long as I was doing that, it seemed like I should work in some Old Testament quotes in a Hebrew script. I was surprised to find that I could simply copy and paste them into my browser.
The last thing I did was to put together a class for pull-quotes. My sermons tend to run long, so it's good to have some way to break them up visually.
I still have some fine-tuning to do, particularly with the pull-quotes, but the site looks much better already. I'll be able to use what I've learned with this assignment pretty easily, whether it's building my own web presence, or helping a church create theirs.
There were two tough parts about this project. One was figuring out how to replace the leading quotation marks in the blockquotes with html entities. I suppose I could have done it by using an image, but that slows down page loading unnecessarily, and besides, where's the fun in that? It turns out that to load an entity through the CSS "content" function, you have to have it coded appropriately. Luckily, I was able to find a converter, which simplified things considerably.
Positioning the blockquote text so the special characters didn't overlap the cited text was a bit tricky. I finally found a guide to creating a hanging indent that worked a treat. Again, this is all very useful stuff to learn.
In addition to the typography book mentioned above, I used:
- Simple and nice blockquoting
- Pull quotes
- CSS Content
- Entity Conversion Calculator
- How to Create Hanging Indents in CSS and HTML