To think differently and act differently from the group you are a part of, can be a challenge. Can you remember an experience when you did not follow what a group or person said and did not conform?
Our Uniting Church in Australia is formed from churches that are called Protestant. Historically many protestant groups came about because they held to Christian precepts or followed leaders who were not conforming to the known traditional norms. In particular, the term Protestant was first applied to Martin Luther in the 16th century, as his teachings were considered ‘a protest’ so the name Protestant stuck. The term ‘Protestants’ was then used more widely for other Christian groups, The Methodists, The Presbyterians, The Congregationalists etc… who became new denominations when seeking to address what they saw needed reform. So, in the Uniting Church we have a non-conformist heritage.
I love the short poem by Samuel Rayan (in Your Will Be Done, Singapore: Christian Conference of Asia Youth, 1984, p.15)
A candle is a protest at midnight
It is a non-conformist
It says to the darkness
‘I beg to differ’.
The phrase ‘I beg to differ’ seems relevant to our Scripture reading from Exodus where two non-conformist midwives: Shiprah and Puah act rather heroically to protect the most vulnerable in society, the Hebrew children and babies that they are helping to birth.
The context of this story sets out how Pharaoh has been employing the Hebrew people as slaves and has now decided to get rid of the Hebrew babies and children for political purposes, saying there is no longer room for them.
Shiprah and Puah are named as two of the midwives who brought these children into the world and they decide not to obey this edict. They use cunning by spinning a yarn; saying that the Hebrew children are so strong some of them get born before they arrive! This appears a fabrication and it seems in the story that their courageous choice defied the authorities and helped babies like Moses come into the world.
In this non-conformist act, Moses is born yet is still under threat. As the story continues, his mother builds a small floating container and hides him among the reeds. We are then told that Pharaoh’s daughter hears baby Moses crying and the story unfolds to see the fate of Moses shift from having his young life threatened, to having his life saved and nurtured. For the story tells us that he is taken to be raised by Pharaoh’s daughter at the palace. Moses’ mother also appears on the scene to become the wet nurse and goes with them.
The women in the story are the guardians of fragile life that is threatened, they choose a higher good for the sake of the children and lives in their care. What might lead us act for a higher good, to have courage to do what is right against what is oppressive, for the sake of the vulnerable?
I know that often in healthcare people can decide for patient care, that may put them in conflict with the systems they work in, where extra administration might mitigate against this.
I encourage you to consider the gift of being a non-conformist, to speak and act for justice for the vulnerable; to stand alongside the little ones of society who might be the children, the sick, those with disabilities, asylum seekers and migrants, prisoners and the aged.
The reading from Romans 12:1-8 also speaks of not conforming to worldly ways, that do not reflect service with, and for others. The call to repent, Metanoia oft heard in Scripture can be translated ‘to enter the larger mind of God’, to be transformed by seeing and knowing people and situations as God sees them. Christ who taught the disciples to serve others in loving and life-giving ways invites us also to act differently to those who seek to diminish life. Sometimes this will mean raising our voice on behalf of others and using our gifts in kind and generous ways.
We hope and pray for a world where children and the innocents do not suffer from lack of care, or are harmed in wars, or misuses of power.
Earlier in this reflection I shared the short poem which ends with ‘I beg to differ’. And I would add these lines from The Serenity prayer, ‘May God grant us courage to change the things we can, accept the things we can’t and have the wisdom to know the difference’.