Sunday, May 26, 2019

Still She Prevailed

Image result for lydia from the bible

Still She Prevailed
Acts 16.9-15

Here's another important women who played an significant role in the Holy Spirit’s movement in the early church. 

The early church apostles were sharing the good news with new people, and in new lands-- and they were jockeying for power and authority, similar to the current presidential nominees. What seems a well formed political alliance, can change overnight!

At the end of Acts 15 we learn that Paul and Barnabas part ways, though they have been traveling together bringing the good news throughout the lands, they have a disagreement about a certain apostle who would travel with them. Barnabas and Paul had such a sharp disagreement about this and they decide to part ways. Then Paul chooses a new companion, Silas, to journey with him. The scripture says after stopping in Lystra they welcome Timothy to come with them. Now, Paul and Silas and Timothy are planning to go to Asia, but the “Spirit of Jesus” did not allow it, and instead they went to Troas. Then the unexpected occurs. During the night, Paul receives a vision of a man in Macedonia, pleading for help.

This seems like an odd story to chronicle. The apostles are headed one place, and then end up somewhere else. And after Paul woke they made their way to Phillipi, the leading city in a Roman occupied Macedonia, which is the western side of Greece. After a couple of days, on the sabbath, they decide to head outside the city to the River, to find a place to pray. And what they find is definitely unexpected. There are no men mentioned at all beyond Paul, Silas, and Timothy.
Instead they find a collective of women outside the city on the riverbank, and they sit down and talk with them. Of course, there’s not much continuity between the Paul’s vision and this group of women. For one thing his vision was of a man asking for his help. And in this case, Paul happens to stumble upon this community of women. 

And one of these women was Lydia, who is called a “worshipper of God” and also states she was a “seller of purple cloth.” The color purple is something that only the wealthy could purchase, the materials coming from the retrieval of a dye within the shells of crustaceans. Some argue she is a merchant or business woman to the wealthy. The scripture does not give us adequate details about Lydia, though we do find out that she is not from Philippi, she is from Thayatira. Lydia, a merchant of purple clothes, is a far way from home, and we know that in listening to Paul and Silas and Timothy she is overcome by the Holy Spirit, and eager to hear the good news. So much that she and all her household, this collective of women, are baptized. And then Lydia is inspired to welcome Paul and Silas, and Timothy to come stay at her home. 

Anytime the Holy Spirit is present hospitality is practiced and community is formed.

What we see here in scripture is the creation of a tribe of Christian women who take care of one another and challenge the individual to be more and do more than just be a self-concerned individual. 

Tribes can be a powerful instrument for reorienting us towards a more loving, peaceful, and just world. Often, tribes can arise out of shared need and dangers which make the comfort, love, peace, and equity they promise all the more alluring.

Consider the case of women’s communes and intentional communities that developed in greater number not only in the early Christian period of the church but also in 1970’s and 80’s. It is around this time that we saw many women’s festivals, reading groups, book stores, community farms and intentional communities develop around the United States but especially in more rural areas. It is an interest historical trend that when many marginalized populations of men, such as gay men, headed into cities during the 70s and 80s to form the beginnings of LGBT friendly districts and the start of movements that would become pride parades, at the same time many women of all sexualities moved into more rural settings. As I said, the legacy of this female exodus to rural parts of America still exist today in various women’s festivals, intentional communities, as well as many artist and feminist networks.

There were many motivations for the breaking off and forming of these intentional feminist and women’s communities, including lack of safety and respect among many male dominated spaces such as existed in the city. And as this exodus of women occurred, we could certainly see a rise in tribalism. The concept of men being from mars and women from Venus gained steam at this time, even as the book would not be written until the early 90s. We saw Wonder Woman’s background as an Amazon from a land of all women explored in comics. And in various ways, the idea of creating a land exclusive for women developed and a tribal philosophy of women taking care of women grew.

As in the case of the tribalism we discussed earlier, there is a lot of good power and community that can come from this tribalism. There are also dangers. In many of these American women’s communities and women’s festivals, tribalism also deepened certain prejudices while it overcame others. Over the decades, this women’s separatist movements have been critiqued for privileging the concerns of white women over those of women of color, critiqued for not being accessible for women with disabilities, especially in many of these rural settings, and critiqued for being exclusionary of transgender women but also transgender men who were regarded as unwelcome in these exclusive all women’s communities. Likewise with the military we can see how tribalism has helped many while excluding others, including women, people of color, people with disabilities, gay, bisexual, and lesbian people and currently transgender people.
Tribes can help us prevail and persist, revolutionize and resist, but they can also limit our ability to perceive the struggles of others, even those much like us, and to extend love beyond the exclusive limits of our tribe.

Thus my prayer and hope for us is to be like the women of Lydia's community who foster care and comfort and power among our tribes but also to welcome those who are new and different. Lydia and her Christian women’s tribe welcomed in Paul and Silas and Timothy. May we likewise extend welcome, and honor, and love for those who are often not included in our tribes. May we look backwards to memorialize those who sacrificed for our tribes while also looking forward to opening ourselves to those who are not yet included. We persist and prevail, remember and progress. 

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