And This Shall Be a Sign Unto You....

    It already feels like centuries have passed since then, but on January 21 (only 2 weeks ago), millions of people - men, children and, mostly, women, gathered in locales around the world to protest the oncoming presidential administration of Donald Trump as well as stand up and celebrate civil rights, laws of compassion, and an overall worldview that continues to be cherished by many (and may be, for the time being at least, officially on its way out).

    For many people, especially for those who marched (including yours truly) there were lots of takeaways from this remarkable day.  For one, there was the sheer number of people at each event locale and the relaxed spirit of peacefulness that pervaded throughout.  Of course, this thing was planned by women, so I never expected the day to be anything but peaceful and relaxed!  Even when squished together with thousands and thousands of strangers.

    For another thing, there was the sense of community that being together this huge convergence engendered.  We all knew we were part of a big deal and how memorable it was to be able spend it together.  It was no effort at all to reach out and make new friends with any and all who came our way…. In other words, we all made lots and lots and lots of new friends! 

    Maybe the biggest takeaway of all, however, were the signs.  

    Passionately serious signs….

    Kind of boring (but nevertheless straightforward and clear) signs….

    And, what was for the most part, really funny, clever signs.  Like this one:

    And this one:

    And this one:

    To share just a funny few.  

    Several reports of the various Women’s Marches have focused primarily on the signs and how interesting they were.

    It probably comes as no surprise to you that this was my favorite part of the parade (and that’s saying a lot, because the whole thing was so profound and transforming).  And I don’t think it was just me.  I actually believe the signs were the reason these massive events were so especially hopeful, peaceful, galvanizing and community-creating.  After all, these experiences  are the fruits that the gift of laughter brings -- whether it be a loud guffaw or a smiling sigh....  

    It brings to mind the Christmas story, actually, and something in the beloved, super-familiar text of Luke 2 that I’ve always found most curious and strange.

    At 2:11, an angel who has exploded from the sky in the middle of the night to tell the good news of the Messiah’s birth to unsuspecting shepherds says this:  “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  So far so good.  So far so clear.  Then comes the rather weird part:

      Why does the angel call the sight of Jesus wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger “a sign”?  Why doesn’t the angel just say, “You’ll find him swaddled and lying in a manger.”  Why insert the fact that this is “a sign”?  

    Well, for one thing, I think the angel is telling the shepherds - and us - that what Christmas is about is not just the thing itself (i.e. Jesus' arrival to earth) but more than anything what is happening in that Bethlehem stable is actually about God.  The scene the shepherds are about to witness will bring them - and us - unlike never before a message about who God is and how God operates.  And Jesus will always serve as an be an arrow pointing our awareness back to the ways of the Divine.  That's his purpose.  Always teaching us about God’s ways, God’s love, and God’s sharp sense of humor!

    The scene that the shepherds rush to the manger to discover is, not unlike what was on display during the Women's Marches, a funny, clever, sassy sign.  It critiques the status quo, it undermines the attempts of authority to instill fear, and it does so with boldness and wit.  

    Consider, for example, what the birth of a king (or queen) was "normally" like.  Here is a painting commemorating the birth of Queen Elizabeth 1 on August 26, 1533:

    And this is the description of the scene, following to the letter the official Ordinance as to What is to be Made reparation Against the Deliverance of the Queen, as Also for the Christening of the Child of Whom She Shall Be Delivered codified by King Henry VIII's grandmother Margaret Beaufort:

The walls - and even the ceiling - were covered with tapestries, and the floors were laid with layers of rugs. All of the tapestries were required to have pleasant scenes, because if the expectant mother saw an ugly or deformed face, it was believed her child could be born with the same deformity.

Every window was covered over with a tapestry nailed down to keep out the foul “miasmas” in the air, except for one tapestry left partially unfastened, so the queen could lift the corner to allow in some daylight when it pleased her. Even the keyhole on the door was covered.

Anne followed these rules obsessively, not just because of her queenly status, but because if something went wrong, she would have been blamed for it, and any deviation cited as the cause.
— as paraphrased by Lissa Bryon in her blog "Under These Restless Skies"

     Wow!  Compare that with the scene we're given for the birth of the King of the Universe, (here presented in sanitized version - it's hard to find an artist bold enough to show just how rough and dirty and unpleasant things must have been): 

     It’s the exact opposite of what is dignified and impressive.  You might even say it mocks the dignity and impressiveness of Caesar and his world, not unlike something like this…..


     And we're told God wants the shepherds to go tell the world about this scene, which, when you think about it, is the sharing of the punch line of God's very touching, scandalously funny sign.  And the joy all discover in hearing the "good news" comes from the laughter its humor - and the gifts of community, hope, gladness and strength - bring for the difficult journey ahead - a journey that's to be all about creating a world true justice, harmony and peace.  

     To me, it feels that one of the big things we're to do today, two weeks after the March, is remember those signs we saw, continue to laugh with them, continue to share them, and continue to discover through the laughter they still bring strength, relaxed peace and every good gift for what's bound to continue being a tough but nevertheless surprisingly joyful journey ahead.   

    This blog is dedicated to my sisters on the march:  Cheryl Balaban, Nancy Voigts Godinez, and Lorel Janiszewski.  The Four Plaid Pussies!