by their fruits

Preacher: Jessie Houff

Scripture: Genesis 3: 1-7 & Matthew 7: 15-20

This week on Tuesday was International Women’s Day. I was so busy, I didn’t realize this until the day was almost over. Funnily enough, the Women in Ministry group met for our monthly check-in and support call. To share space with so many amazing and strong women across the denomination and the country is such a blessing. I’m honored to be included.

As I was preparing for this Sunday, I picked up Wilda C. Gafney’s book and found today’s scriptures. Wow, are they doozies. Our first scripture, Genesis 3, has been a source of demonization of women since the beginning of time – Eve ate the bad fruit that looked good, even though she was told not to eat it. That lil snake, in Gafney’s words, “perhaps rather than [tempted]…[tested]. What will humanity do in response to boundaries?” Eve was tested. She took the bait, literally, and dragged down Adam with her. 

From this, if we were to read on from today’s scripture, we’d see that God punished not just the woman but the snake and the man also. And yet, we carry this shame with us. Shame. That’s a very powerful word. The societal pressures women have on our shoulders is great. There are incredible expectations for us to be beautiful, supple, fertile, nurturing but not nagging, sexy but not “indecent”, smart but not mouthy, strong but not stronger than men or we’ll be accused of taking testosterone and not be allowed to play in women’s sports and be ridiculed for having suspiciously masculine features.

Women ARE powerful. We are strong. Ya know what else we are? TIRED. Get all these unrealistic expectations off of us! We’re tired of it. And these expectations can be so great that even we, as women, expect them of other women. I’ve definitely placed judgment on other women for things like their looks. Why? I know how hard it is to grow up as a girl and experience the world as a woman. 

After I graduated from college, I started hanging out with some friends of mine from high school, all who were male. It was so great. It was a weekly thing. Every Tuesday night we went to Billy Jacks in Harrisonburg, VA, a local bar, and got drinks and these really good mini donuts. We talked about our weeks, reminisced about high school. It was the highlight of my week. These were really good guys. They respected me, I never felt like I had to impress them or wear make up or fancy clothes. It was so relaxing to just kick it with some old friends. 

One day, a female friend of ours, let’s call her Madison, was in town and we told her to meet us at Billy Jack’s one Tuesday. Something changed in me that I’m not proud of. Maddison was awesome and I really liked her, but that night, for some reason, I felt like I needed to get a little dressed up, put on a little make up, and get “prettier”. I knew she was really pretty and would probably dress up nicer than my t-shirt and jeans. I had this weird feeling that since another woman was going to be present, I needed to be on her same level.

So we met, had a great time, caught up on each other’s lives. She had to leave after about 30 minutes, so the rest of us stayed to continue catching up. After she left, I remember saying to the guys, “Y’all…I feel weird because I felt like I needed to dress up more because Maddison was going to be here…like, I needed to be pretty because I know Madision is pretty…” and they were like, “Dude, why? Why would you do that? We don’t give a crap. You’re Jessie Houff, you’re awesome just the way you are!”

Aw! These are good friends. That made me feel a lot better. It also made me realize that I unconsciously assumed I had to do something different to myself because I knew I was going to be around another female. And It’s not like I was competing for attention of the guys…or maybe it was? I dunno, but it was weird and I didn’t like it. 

See? Expectations of how I was to present myself really left a mark. I knew no one expected me to be different, but societally, I feel those pressures every day, every time I leave my house, anytime I know someone is going to see me. These ridiculous pressures.

Now I don’t stand up here and claim to speak for all women. I can’t speak for the mother’s in this space, as I am not a mother. I certainly can’t speak for any women of color, who have it way harder than I, a white woman, who carries that privilege with me every day. Women of color not only have these feminine pressures of society but also carry the weight of discrimination due to race/color of their skin/ethnicity, you name it. To the women of color in this space, I honor you. I want to acknowledge all the women in this space whether you were born a human with female genetalia, identify as non-binary, use she/her pronouns, or fully embrase your feminimity in whatever way that empowers you, you go, girl! And I see you.

On International Women’s Day, as I relaxed in bed in my natural habitat, with my cell phone in hand propped just inches away from my face, I saw an Instagram video posted by NPR, National Public Radio, showing Ukrainian women, who fled to Poland, receiving flowers. It’s a beautiful example of humanity. People, who in this video were men, gave women flowers to show their love and respect to these women, especially refugee women. These women were not in their homes, not even in their home country. While they need things like food, shelter, and clothing to meet their physical needs, this act of floral kindness, no doubt, contributed to feeding their soul in a broken world. This act of kindness and recognition of the strength and adversity of their struggles. Makes me a little teary.

You may have noticed my shirt today; it reads, “Stand with Ukraine”. I wear it today as I wore it on Tuesday. I wore my new “Stand with Ukraine” shirt that I purchased from an artist, a woman, whom I follow on Instagram. (I’m realizing how important Instagram is in my life…huh) The New Jersey-based artist, Olga Muzician, created this graphic and launched a Bonfire Fundraising Campaign, which is a fundraising site where you can print shirts to get donations for a cause to which you want to contribute, Olga created this graphic to directly support the non-profit organization called Revived Soldiers of Ukraine, which helps “severely wounded Ukrainian soldiers with medical needs.” I wore this shirt on Tuesday and found myself walking a little taller, a little prouder. As a woman, as a lesbian of faith, as a Dunker Punk, I was proud to show my support for innocent, Ukrainian people being directly impacted by the insecurities and patheticism of current world leaders…

Ok, I’ll just say Putin. This isn’t a he-who-must-not-be-named situation like Voldemort where it’s bad luck to utter their name. It’s important to name corruption and wickedness in this world.

I walked around on Tuesday in this brilliant blue masterpiece of protest art wanting everyone in DC, everyone on the metro, everyone on the MARC commuter train, everyone at Wesley Theological Seminary to see it. Because Art is Power, y’all. And Support is Powerful. 

In our second scripture today, Jesus names the “bad”, but in his normal story-based way for us to interpret. Jesus instructs us to “know them [the do-ers of bad things] by their fruits”. By their fruits…What are they doing? What are they saying? What are the manifestations of their actions/words? What’s happening due to their leadership?

I continue to come back to world leaders…What is Putin doing? Enacting violence, war, displacing innocent people from their homes, instilling fear, bombing children’s hospitals. What is Florida’s leadership doing? Joe Harding and Govorner Ron DeSantis are passing a “Don’t Say Gay” Bill to erase discussions on sexuality and gender identity between kindergarten and 3rd grade, which in my opinion is instilling homophobia and shame from the very beginning.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is working on a plethora of bills to criminalize parents of transgender kids, calling their love and support for their children as child abuse, causing insurmountable emotional damange to parents, their trans kids, and their allies.

DEEP BREATH. 

I’ve made it a personal goal of mine to constantly remind myself to be centered in love, whatever I do, say, read, think, etc. And y’all, it’s hard to read all these things and see the news and try to respond with an attitude of love. Y’all, these things are BAD. No matter what “side” of the political spectrum you’re on, violence, discrimination, and homophobia are Bad, with a capital B. All these named things are bad. The manifestations of these bad things are horrifyingly imaginable. Sometimes we say, “Oh, I can’t imagine” when we hear bad things, but we can imagine them. We can imagine them.

Imagine being a person of color foreign exchange student in Ukraine right now being denied refugee status because you’re not Ukrainian. Imagine being a teacher in Florida and knowing you could get sued by parents for using inclusive language in your second grade math class. Imagine being a parent of a child who doesn’t identify with either or the opposite gender from which they were born and being criminalized for loving your child and supporting their expression. We can imagine these things. And in imagining, we empathize. Maybe some of us have experienced these things.

Jesus warns us to “beware of false prophets” by using strong imagery in his storytelling. Sheep’s clothing, wolves, trees, fruit, thorns. He uses these things to help us understand and visualize the point of the story.

I was inspired to create something this week as I was reading and reflecting on this imagery. I’d like to share with you my process…

“by their fruits” Original Artwork by Jessie Houff. 2’X3′ Mixed media on canvas

………………

This piece is the fruit of my labor, and love for creating art. Olga Muzician’s artistic fruits are not only beautiful, but go to supporting a needed cause today. My high school guy friends’ fruits were genuinely telling me they loved me for who I am. 

What are MY fruits? What are YOUR fruits? How do you, how do I, how do WE contribute to the good of society and the world? How ‘bout we go and find out? Amen.

References:

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