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#14 | RESURRECTING MARY

“Jesus’s inner circle of disciples includes both men and women on an equal footing. There is no distinction made between a male group of disciples and a female group of camp followers.”
—Cynthia Bourgeault

In AD 313 the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and with a single edict elevated a banned set of spiritual teachings to official state religion. One man atop a great empire legalized Christianity with the wave of a hand.

Twelve years later the newly empowered church hierarchy convened at Nicaea to consolidate the differing stories under the Christian umbrella that had been passed down by countless, diverse clans across the empire and beyond since the time of Jesus. If Christianity were to expand, it needed a consistent narrative defining its faith and history. It needed a single story.

By AD 367 the twenty-seven “canonically authorized apostolic writings” that would eventually become the official New Testament were selected and approved. All the participants in that process were male and would be for a long, long time to come.

Those men, and their male-dominated societies, would, over time, systematically marginalize one of Jesus’s most trusted, loved, and respected apostles.

Why?

Because her name was Mary . . .

* * *

The first class I ever attended at Bowdoin College was Religion 101 taught by the esteemed William Goeghegan.

Moments into the experience I was asked a question I had never before contemplated.

“Mr. Hancock, what is your religion and why have you chosen it?”

I had no answer beyond saying I was a Christian.

As I left historic Massachusetts Hall and entered the Quad I remained consumed by the question.

Three buildings down from the old white house I grew up in stood the Casco Village Church. It was the only church in town and it was where everyone I knew went on Sundays. My Dad went there as a child as did his parents before him. That congregation was affiliated with the United Church of Christ, which made me a Protestant. That’s the entire story behind why I was Christian.

As a child in that white, wooden Church with steeple, the Bible was referenced each week and I neither questioned nor consider who edited, compiled, and sanctioned it. To me it was the direct word of God. There was no recognition at the time that it was carefully assembled by a small group of white men who, like all humans, had an agenda.

Awareness, in and of itself, is a powerful act.

* * *

Unlike the celebrated male apostles, Mary was the only one to witness Jesus’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. In fact, Jesus chose to appear to Mary alone after his tomb was found empty.

“So Mary went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord, and this is what he said to me.”
—John 20:14–18

I learned of Mary’s unique role as the “apostle to the apostles” only recently and initially I was surprised. Why would such a central figure in Jesus’s life and teachings play such a minor role in the Bible itself?

Could it be no more complicated than a woman as Jesus’s closest confident didn’t fit the stories that helped justify the male dominated order of the Roman Catholic Church?

What if, as the Christian researcher and spiritualist Cynthia Bourgeault concludes, the stories that ultimately became the Bible missed or underrepresented essential components of Jesus’s life and teachings? For example, as Bourgeault writes,

  1. “Jesus’s inner circle of disciples includes both men and women on an equal footing.”
  2. Mary Magdalene was not just “first among apostles in a chronological sense (because she was the first on the scene at the resurrection), but in a more fundamental way, because she gets the message. Of all the disciples, she is the only one who fully understands what Jesus is teaching and can reproduce it in her own life.”
  3. And finally, that Mary was “clearly in a relationship with Jesus that is in some way special: a ‘beloved disciple.’ ”

What if the most sacred religious scriptures of the Western world had featured these components, telling a story of sexual equality and the necessity of embracing the sacred feminine in order for a world full of LOVE to blossom? What if Mary was the one who best understood and manifested Jesus’s message? What if man and woman as co-equals had emerged as a dominant theme of Jesus’s teachings? How might the Western world have evolved differently if led by that story?

And what if, despite these potential truths, she was later sidelined.

I have no way of knowing with certainty, but I do have a hard time picturing a supreme God source that would intentionally anoint only men as apostles.

* * *

The Bible, like all sacred texts, is a collection of stories written, and rewritten, by humans. Those humans, by virtue of their direct engagement, became creators themselves.

And what does all of this have to do with the “Business of Shared Leadership”?

A lot, as it turns out.

Those with the most power often overreach and one common manifestation of that overreaching is exercising the power of the pulpit and throne to select and refine the stories that will define the society they rule.

For me, Jesus’s teachings are about “power dispersal.” Everyone is sacred and holy. A divine light dwells within us all. Love is the unifying bond, and it does not choose favorites. Men, women, people of color, and people of different faiths . . . they are all God’s children, and as such, are all worthy of an equal footing and the same respect and love. It takes an equal dose of male and female energy for humanity to be whole. This makes Mary’s presence in Jesus’s story a leading role.

To re-examine, not recite, my Christianity is to revisit one portion of the circle of identity that defines me thereby expanding my view of a world filled with stories that differ from my own.

 

“What happened to the Divine Feminine? Why has SHE apparently disappeared from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam? In the Gnostic Gospels, we learn that Mary Magdalene was probably the closest disciple of the Christos, the one whom the Master taught the most arcane esoteric wisdom. She was and is the representation of all wisdom.”
– Laurence Galian

Research for some of the ideas explored in this essay came from the following sources:
The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity by Cynthia Bourgeault (Shambhala, 2010)
Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing by Stephan Hoeller (Quest Books, 2002)
* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the fourteenth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#13 | OH . . . THE STORIES WE’VE TOLD

“La Storia di questi avvenimenti fu scritta dai vincitori.”
(“The history of these events was written by the winners.”)
–Italian proverb

Are you aware that your view of the world is based on a carefully cultivated set of stories that you have been repeatedly told since childhood?

You’ve likely been fed these stories for so long in both overt and covert ways that you’ve accepted them as largely unalterable truths.

For example, I remember how silence consumed me the day I realized that America had committed countless acts of genocide against indigenous peoples. It was my second trip to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and I had just left a visit with several community leaders through which the full, ugly story had been revealed. Later, beside my dusty rental vehicle I searched the term “genocide” on my phone. The treatment of the plains tribes met every criteria. I was dumbfounded at my own historical ignorance.

I majored in American history in college and then taught that same history as a career for several years thereafter. Not once across that entire educational journey did I see, hear, or read anything about genocide as a central element of the America experience. Yet now, suddenly, that truth was as real as the moon and the sun.

I paced in circles, unable to break my orbit and re-enter my car.

 


“We all adhere to a belief system; otherwise, we don’t have a strategy for dealing with a complex world,” my Colombian-born friend and advertising executive Jose Miguel Sokoloff once told me over an English breakfast in London.

Storytelling is one of the oldest traditions of the human experience. It’s through stories that we come to know our heritage, our ancestors, and ourselves. Stories sort and select our enemies and our friends. They define our families, faiths, and countries. Most everything you know came to you through stories. It’s the price contextualizing the world demands.

But what happens when we become so deeply immersed in our own narratives that we can’t contemplate the possibility that what we perceive as absolute truth is actually, in part, merely a story? And how do we react when we come into contact with others from different cultures, faiths, and times whose lives have been built on a different set of tales?

When our stories become central to our sense of identity it can be very difficult to transcend them and consider a new set of possibilities. There are few skills more essential to continuous personal renewal and heightened social consciousness than the ability to critically reexamine our personal beliefs and tribal narratives.

And how would you say we are doing in that regard?

Our loftiest social narratives are written by the winners—by those who hold the most power at the time of their creation. Throughout history it has often been dangerous, even life-threatening, to question these stories once the ruling hierarchy has sanctified them.

That’s why Jesus was crucified. Ironically, it’s also why in 1555, Protestant bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and John Hooper were condemned as heretics and burned at the stake in Jesus’s name.

That’s why Vladimir Putin’s top political opponent Alexei Navalny was poisoned while exiled in Germany, and then sentenced to two and a half years of hard labor upon his return. There can only be one political story in Putin’s Russia.

This is also why freedom fighters in Hong Kong are being systematically oppressed, tried, and jailed. When Chairman Xi speaks before the National Congress, everyone must stand and applaud.

Why would a small group of leaders within an ethnic group, religious faith, or nation-state go to such great lengths to create a single sanctioned narrative?

The answer is simple: to control the story. Despite all the tanks, missiles, and technology in Russia, China, and America, the power of each rests in the maintenance of a dominant historical narrative. Everything we know rests on the veracity of a story.

Our ability to see past our own stories is ultimately what will define us.

So where to begin?

As always, we must begin at home – within ourselves.

In future essays I will be taking a look at my own white, male, Christian, American, CEO stories that have combined to shape my limited view of a diverse and complex world.

And what shall I take from this potentially discomforting inquiry?

What I expect to find is that my stories are incomplete and that there are far more dimensions and truths than I have previously made room for. After all, what is “truth,” and who gets to define it?

Unpacking our own narratives is essential for change to occur. Unless I can loosen my grip on my own stories, I can’t possibly make room for any of yours.

“History is mostly story.”
—Ken Burns

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the thirteenth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!