Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Mary Contrary

Sunday involved a visiting Unitarian minister preaching on six ways to be miserable, and obvious reverse method about not being miserable. The problem with sermons, like lectures, and then with lists, is they are rapidly forgotten. I did manage to remember two for some Anglicans in the evening, when it was all about Mary. Or rather, it was all about a construction of Mary. To add to my non-participation in the creed and Lord's Prayer and other occasional bits, I added silence during a hymn that seemed to heavily orientated to Mary. The Lay Reader led sermon was very generous to Roman Catholicism about Mary, preferring to quote the most recent Pope Paul about Mary as an ecumenical instrument, ignoring the effects of the two most recent popes. Further it used the gospels to suggest that mother Mary was the first Christian believer, and biased to the poor, which seems to me to just be another construction, this one of the early Christian communities.

Someone will preach about Mary soon. I asked the direct question, "Are you a Protestant?" I asked that because when I encounter this Mary stuff I usually discover I'm not quite so 'post-Protestant' as I'd like to think. The hymn where I fell silent was a 'yuck' response. It's as if I have an extra-genetic implant from a recent ancestor who must have been the coldest Protestant going. Actually, my mother's mother, as an Anglican, gravitated to a high church; my mother, like my father, showed no preference or involvement regarding any organised church, though she followed me into the Unitarians and rather liked them, within which she framed her own naturalistic approach to religion.

I just freeze up with this Mary material; I don't need a goddess substitute and sense this is what is being provided. Mary as virgin mother is just a nonsense impossible ideal, and (as an ideal) makes the position of women ridiculous. You cannot be a virgin and a mother. Unlike the preacher, I'm not convinced the Middle Ages superstition regarding Mary has been overcome. So much of it is Greek (as we call it) New Testament culture about a mother that was open to form and status escalation, rather as Jesus himself was rapidly escalated in framing and status after his death within changing communities.

So if I had to preach on Mary, what would I say? I'd say that there is some ambiguity about Mary within the accounts that we have and we are forced to imagine, but we ought to imagine them as active Jews. She seems to be a supporter, but there is some distancing too, probably from her and also from her son. Joseph, his dad (and I detest all the virgin nonsense), seems to have much less of a look in. Perhaps he was busy. The notion that they were 'engaged', that is never married, freezes events simply because a marriage is not recorded. But the gospels are not history: only history-like and biography-like.

More interesting is after Jesus is executed. If we suppose that his brother James was less interested during the Jesus ministry, but became interested later, then clearly the family firm is becoming involved in the sense of Jesus or Yeshua and the last days - the return of a messianic figure that is him or his death set up as a servant figure according to the beliefs at the time and as selected.

With a last days perspective, then there must be levels of excitement among those of that perspective. They could have been like later Chassidic Jews in terms of excitement. Plus the religious observances will have gone on, with a place left for Elijah at the meal starting to become a place left for Jesus or (initially) the messianic figure Jesus had facilitated in his sacrificial service. In the context of charisma and bereavement, I'd be surprised if there weren't dreams and visions about Jesus that would become material to set into a rapidly forming tradition, especially one cultivated by Paul's death and transformation salvation-religion, also in a last days perspective. The family firm will have bought in, or been brought in, by those who had been under Yeshua's dominance.

So Mary or Miriam then isn't so much a first Christian believer is the matriarch of a family firm in a primitive Yeshua-Jewish community, taking centre stage among the few Jews that would have been convinced. Maybe some of those knew his earthly ministry, and a few joined after. I suspect there were far more last days Jews who did not focus on Yeshua, never mind the Jews who thought life wasn't about to become transformed, despite the cruelty of the Romans and the continuing yoke of the Jews.

Perhaps Mary, as involved, was a linchpin for James to become involved, but James's perspective never really gets the full treatment in a Gospels and New Testament so influenced by Paul. There are just hints and allegations, so to speak.

In the end, Mary Magdalene is a far more interesting figure, as a close friend, as possibly a moneyed supporter, as a possible domestic to the group, the female with special access.

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