You Are What You Eat

Filed under:ain't nuthin can be done, anger, being jesus, education, faith, freedom, girls, grief, justice, life, violence, women in church — posted by Sonja on July 12, 2010 @ 8:05 am

The other day I wrote about a Barna survey that will be coming out with full documentation in about a year.  The posted statistics are quite provocative as I (and several other women) noted.  The data have raised a lot of criticism and left many women scratching their heads, thinking, “That’s not my experience, so how can those numbers be so high?”  It will be interesting to see the full report when Jim Henderson publishes his book next year.

FTR, I am still aghast that a man, without any co-authorship from a woman, is writing this book.  Upon reading Pam Hogeweide’s testimony about her involvement with it, I am further dismayed.  I don’t know Jim Henderson at all so I cannot comment on this.  I will speak my own mind and say that to me it feels as though he is stealing our voices for himself.  He has said that he is writing this because no woman has stepped forward to write it.  That may be.  It may also be that the time is not right for a woman to write it and therefore as a man he is taking away our right to speak for ourselves in our way, in our own time and with our own unique voice.  Que sera, sera …

I stopped writing about this issue for some time.  In fact, I stopped writing at all for a long time because I was and am undone by a lot of this.  I am struggling to find my place in the world; struggling to understand my faith without the trappings of church.  I don’t always know what is real and what is a reflection in a funhouse mirror.  But then I saw this data and began to remember …

I remembered a time when I might also have answered all those questions affirmatively.  Or in such a way that I might be part of the large percentage of women who were following the tail in front of them.  I grew up in an egalitarian home; a home in which my mother finally decided that she would NOT learn how to use a chainsaw because then she would have to use it more frequently than she wanted to because the boundaries between women’s work and men’s work were blurred (except dishes and laundry).  Everyone did everything.  I took shop classes in highschool.  My brothers took Home-Ec and I was jealous that my brother can still bake a better loaf of bread than I can.

Then LightHusband and I joined an EFree Church.  As a new believer I remember that I wanted to be like the other women in my church.  I think I wanted it mostly because that was the way to fit in and be part of the group.  But it was also the key … the key to being “Godly.”  In an evangelical or Bible-believing church, this is the defining characteristic of any adult … are they Godly?  I have no idea what that means.  What I can tell you is that people stand around looking very serious and hand out that superlative like it’s a crown.  It is placed on the head of this person or that person … it was never put on my head, I’ll tell you that up front.  Usually the character qualities that seem to be in common with a “Godly” person are those found in the fruits of the Spirit verses in Galatians:  self-control, patience, peace, etc.  They also have to be really good with their money (aka … rich).  Women should be submissive to their husbands.  Men should be the head of the family and make all the decisions.

I struggled to fit my round-peg into this square hole for 14 years.  I now battle an most likely lifelong case of depression because I so depleted myself from this.  I cannot even begin to catalogue the fallout from all of this in my life.  I’ve been gone for 7 years now.  I’m finally beginning to get my life and my mind back.  I have held on to my faith by the barest edge; the evidence of grace and love.

I did some poking around because of a throw-away comment in my earlier post.  I said that the Church is like an anorexic who looks in the mirror and sees someone who is fat and needs to lose weight, but the reality is she is wasting away and starving herself.  I thought about that some more and did a little research into eating disorders.  I found a little known cousin to anorexia called, orthorexia.  Orthorexia is like anorexia because people (mostly women) who become trapped in its snare waste away and starve.  However, the motivation for orthorexics is different.  It is an eating disorder characterized by a focus on eating healthy or natural foods.  The person who has become orthorexic feels better and better as they are able to purify their diet.  As it becomes an obsession, the person begins to focus more and more time and attention on what they eat.  I first discovered this through an on-line journal of a young woman who ultimately died as a result of her obsession with natural/healthy food.  As I discovered more about this, I found this helpful Ten Signs Of Orthorexia:

Dr. Bratman suggests that you may be orthorexic, or on your way there, if you:

  • Spend more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food.
  • Plan your day’s menu more than 24 hour ahead of time.
  • Take more pleasure from the “virtuous” aspect of your food than from actually eating it.
  • Find your quality of life decreasing as the “quality” of your food increases.
  • Are increasingly rigid and self-critical about your eating.
  • Base your self-esteem on eating “healthy” foods, and have a lower opinion of people who do not.
  • Eat “correct” foods to the avoidance of all those that you’ve always enjoyed.
  • So limit what you can eat that you can dine “correctly” only at home, spending less and less time with friends and family.
  • Feel guilt or self-loathing when you eat “incorrect” foods.
  • Derive a sense of self-control from eating “properly.”

Bratman suggests that if more than four of these descriptions applies to you, it may be time to take a step back and reassess your attitude toward what you eat. If they all apply, you’re in the grip of an obsession.

Now you’re probably wondering why I’ve included this here.  As I was reading about orthorexics and their quest for a pure diet, the parallels between seeking a pure and undefiled diet and seeking after a pure and undefiled faith became very clear to me.  They may not be to you.  But I began to look at the Church in terms of this obsession with pure food.  I think we all exist on a spectrum here.  Some believers have no issue with pure/right faith, others are obsessed with it to the point of starving themselves of any other sort of food than that which they deem pure.  Think about those 10 markers in terms of the faith of believers you know or about yourself -

  • Spend more than three hours a day thinking about a healthy faith
  • Plan your day’s faith practices more than 24 hour ahead of time.
  • Take more pleasure from the “virtuous” aspect of your faith than from actively participating in it.
  • Find your quality of life decreasing as the “quality” of your faith increases.
  • Are increasingly rigid and self-critical about your faith practices (and those of others).
  • Base your self-esteem on your knowledge of Scripture, your pure faith, etc., and have a lower opinion of people who do not.
  • Expose yourself to “correct” media to the avoidance of all those that you’ve always enjoyed.
  • So limit what you can be exposed to that you can practice your faith “correctly” only at home, spending less and less time with friends and family.
  • Feel guilt or self-loathing when you expose yourself to ideas, images, etc that are “incorrect” according to the tenets of your faith.
  • Derive a sense of self-control from practicing your faith “properly.”

So what does this have to do with women in church and/or church leadership? I’m not sure yet. But I do know that in many churches today there is an unhealthy focus on being “Godly,” on having correct doctrine, and on having a pure faith. For many of those churches, this includes attitudes about women and men that are not reflective of a healthy body. Some of these attitudes run to the extreme (such as a growing trend known as Christian Domestic Discipline, or another growing trend known sometimes as Quiverfull others as “radical family planning”).  Some of them are more middle of the road and merely separate men and women into different classes during Sunday School, women are not allowed to teach men either from the pulpit or in a class, etc.

No one can fault these churches or these believers because they really truly are seeking after God and seeking to find Him in the purest way they know how.  They get a lot of satisfaction from being a “Bible-believing” church, or having that crown of “Godliness” bestowed upon them.  And truth be told, we all get that sense of satisfaction when we’re told that we’re doing something good and pure and right.  It makes us want to be part of it and work harder for that cause … whatever that cause may be … so that we’ll get some more of that praise and that sense of satisfaction that comes from a job well done.  When we’re part of a group, that’s what happens in our socially-inclined brains.

But what do you do if your group is killing you?  I mean that both literally (sometimes women die from trying to have their babies unassisted at home in the so-called “Quiverfull” movement) and figuratively.  What if seeking after a pure faith (even walking in the middle of that road) isn’t an obsession, but just a concern … and the “food” you’ve decided is healthy, really isn’t?  How would anyone know?  How do you know when you’re being slowly inexhorably being poisoned and it’s gone on all your life?

Shiny Happy …. Women

Filed under:anger, being jesus, faith, freedom, grief, justice, poverty, power, righteous anger, women in church — posted by Sonja on July 7, 2010 @ 7:09 am

The first rumble of something in the wind came late yesterday.  I was tired.  Grumpy even.  The day had been empty and I was supposed to be able to sew all day after a busy weekend.  But I ended up driving all day.  So I sat on the sofa and was mad.  It had been good for everyone else.  Just not me.  There seems to be a theme in that lately and I am slowly but steadily ending up without so much wick to my candle.  So I checked into my googlereader and found that kathy escobar had posted a rather interestingly titled post, “drinking the company koolaid.” Now since she usually writes about more Jesus-y things and her church-y gathering, I wondered what could be up with that!  And read it.

It was a most uncharacteristic rant from her about the state of women in the church.  Not that she thinks that women in the church over all have it made and we should stop going on about it.  Far from that.  It’s just that usually she has other things on her mind.  And she is very good about choosing her battles (windmills) very wisely.  She is no Don Quixote (unlike yours truly).  She referenced a post by Pam Hogeweide (Happy Christian Women … really??) … which is a must read.  But more importantly, she linked to some data that is being published by Jim Henderson, of Off The Map.  It’s a recent Barna Group survey of 603 Christian (self-described) women and what they thought of women and leadership in the church.

What he has published so far seems to be fairly provocative -

1. 84% say that their church’s perspective on women in ministry is almost identical, very similar, or somewhat similar to their own.

2. 83% say that their Senior Pastor is somewhat, highly or completely supportive of women leading in their church

3. 82% say they can tell by their church’s actions that the church values the leadership of women

4. 81% say that their church provides women with the same degree of leadership opportunities as Jesus would.

5. 72% say they possess a lot of spiritual freedom in their life

6. 70% say that the media has little influence on their decision-making

7. 71% say fear is not something they experience ever or often in their life

8. 62% say that ALL leadership roles are open to them in their church.

9. Only 1% say they often struggle with jealousy

10. Among those who feel they are capable of doing more to serve God, and should be doing more, only 4% say that their fear of failure is holding them back from doing more to serve God.

I commented at Jim’s blog (where he published this data).  I’m wondering how this survey was taken.  If it was taken on paper (either virtual or literal) or by phone that would give different results … especially when dealing with a group of women.   I think that this is incredibly revealing of how the church has become a system of brain-washing rather than God’s Kingdom revealed tiny piece by tiny piece. Because the Kingdom of Heaven is not about men or women or leadership.  Or who will be first.  It’s about who will be last.  It’s about finding the lost sheep, the lost penny; giving away your wrap when someone needs a shirt; enabling someone to care for others when at first they can barely care for themselves; it’s about spreading the Love Divine around, not keeping it for yourself.

It made me angry to read these statistics.  It made me angry, not just for the women … but for all the people involved in those churches.  They are losing out.  This is not the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus talked about in the Sermon on the Mount, or as he walked with his disciples or at any time.  Would even Peter, or John the beloved disciple be able to answer these questions so affirmatively?  How about Mary Magdalene?  Good grief, if even the disciples struggled with jealousy why on earth can only 6 women out 603 acknowledge it?  Perhaps it was the word, often, that threw them off.  Maybe they decided that they could deny that jealousy was something that strolled in and regularly did battle in their hearts.  I know I will stand up and say that I am jealous all the time.  It doesn’t make me mean anymore, but acknowledging it to myself and being able to laugh at it has made it easier.

Then this report made me sad.  The kind of sad that aches in my bones.  Because when I look at it I see poverty.  The church in North America (like the US) may have a lot of money.  It may have a lot of stuff.  We may also have a lot of people for all I know.  But we are starving to death.  Emaciated and dying for lack of food, water and oxygen.  Worse, we are doing it to ourselves.  With a huge smile on our faces.  We are a people with anorexia or bulemia.  When we look in the mirror we see fat and happy, but the reality is we are starving.  Dying.

In the end, we can know a lot of stuff about the Bible.  We can even know a lot of stuff about God and Jesus.  But if we do not have love … love enough to be honest with ourselves and our neighbors and our communities, then we are nothing but a clanging gong.

Best Posts of 2008

Filed under:blog stuff, church, community, dreams, faith, justice, missional, theology, women, women in church — posted by Sonja on December 28, 2008 @ 7:39 pm

“Best Of” posts are beginning to pop up all over like dandelions in springtime.  They’re sparkly and eye-catching.  I always like them because they catch the year in review and give the reader a walk down memory lane.  But … you knew there was a “but” coming.  So often in church-y circles the “best of” posts are either all men or men in overwhelming proportions.  I’ve been blogging for more than three years now and I keep hoping this will change.  That the onset of the internet will bring about changes to this dynamic.  But I’m not seein’ it yet.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are some men (Rick “Blind Beggar” Meigs, Bill Kinnon, Brother Maynard, Brad Sargent, John Smulo, Shawn Anthony, Patrick Oden and some others to name a few) who are wholly committed to women in full partnership in life, ministry, blogging, you-name-it.  They have gone above and beyond to support women and engage them equally.

What does that look like?  I know a lot of folks are put off by idea of feminism and I’m mystified by that.  But let’s look at it from another perspective.  We all look at families and tend to agree that a “whole and healthy” family includes a mother (female) and a father (male).  No matter what your feelings are about who should be in charge and when, we all know that healthy families require both the male and the female perspective to adequately parent, raise, etc. the children.  At the very least, there are whole books on the subject of healthy families requiring two parents where one takes on the feminine role and the other the masculine (in the case of homosexual relationships).  We know very clearly what the lack of men does to a family and what the lack of a mother can bring to children.  So my question is … why do we find this lack of the feminine voice or perspective so very acceptable in church/ministry leadership?

It is in the interest of balancing out the perspectives that I present my Best of 2008 … plus one from 2007 because it was so good.

… in no particular order … UPDATED to include a recent post by Peggy Senger Parsons that is a must read.

Erika Haub – The Margins – “the church that came to me

“When she saw me her eyes teared up, and as she spoke she started to cry. She told me that she could not believe that I had let her into my home, with full access to all of our things, and then closed my door and gone to sleep. She said that she had never felt so trusted by someone; she had never felt so much pride and dignity and worth as someone who did not have to be doubted and feared.”

Kathy Escobar – the carnival in my head – “what could be

here’s my hope:

that we’d be people & communities radically in touch with Christ’s love for us & continue to risk our comfort, ego, time, money, and heart to offer mercy & compassion to others.  that we’d be somehow known as  ‘those weird people who love other people unconditionally, tangibly, and in all kinds of crazy, unexplainable ways.”

Tracy Simmons – The Best Parts – “The Rescue Parade

When people rescue dogs or trees or human beings, they are displaying how much they are made in the image of their creator. He longs to see all things rescued and restored. It’s in our spiritual DNA whether we are aware of it or not.

Makeesha Fisher – Swingin’ From the Vine – “Missional:  It Sure Ain’t Velveeta

Being missional is hard work. Getting down and dirty in people’s lives, giving everyone a platform and allowing your voice to form from within the context of community versus individual aspirations and spirituality is not a nice easy package deal. You can’t just cut off a block from the end of the yellow brick and nuke it to gooey perfection. It’s time consuming and risky and generally not very “pretty”.

Rose Madrid-Swetman – RMD -

Building To Serve Others Part 1
Building To Serve Others Part 2
Building To Serve Others Part 3

We discussed the pros and cons, the why’s and why not’s of taking the step of leasing a space. Our biggest fear was that we would lose sight of the congregation as the church. You see when we rented a basement room for Sunday worship only, everything else we did as a faith community happened in our neighborhoods, the host community and in homes. Moving into a leased space that we would have 24/7 access to could endanger us to put the emphasis on the building as the church rather than the church being the people.

Heidi Renee – Redemption Junkie – “Great Losers

I just can’t seem to walk past a smidgen of interesting brokenness or discarded story. I am so moved by outsider and found art because deep in my heart I long to be a mosaic artist. I have not yet begun to piece together those precious bits and fragments pocketed along my journey.

Julie Clawson – One Hand Clapping – “Experience and Empathy

It’s one thing to intellectually acknowledge the need for better health care around the world, I am discovering it is another thing altogether to attempt to imagine oneself in another’s position. I knew the need for equity before, but my experiences have helped me to empathize. I know I am lucky and privileged. I don’t desire to trivialize or cheapen the plight of others by claiming to truly understand, but I am a firm believer that empathy is necessary if one is to truly care and make a difference. And experience helps with that.

Grace – Kingdom Grace – “Disciples or Converts

I think that we often circumvent the real life of the Spirit in conversion methods, discipleship methods, and in the way that we function together as groups of believers.  What are the ways that we tamper with natural growth and unintentionally cause lack of reproduction and other genetic deformities?

Pam Hogeweide – How God Messed Up My Religion – “First Time To Notice A Homeless Person

He looked over at me. Our eyes locked, me the middle-class teenager from a middle-class Vegas family; him, the ghost of someone’s son now orphaned and phantomed like the nobody he knew he was born to be and die as was. It was a definitive moment for me. In that one glance I saw past the dirty beggar who didn’t have a job or a home. I caught a swift glimpse of a man who was not born for greatness, but was just born. He had no purpose, no grand plan. No derailed American dream to be somebody. For an instance I saw my brother, my father, my son and my husband. This unknown man was more than a Utah phantom. But that one look told me that not only had he become invisible to others, the true man of who he was – this beggar was an imposter of his true greatness – but more urgently, he had become invisible to himself. He did not matter.

Christine Sine – Godspace – “Discerning The Winter Blues

I was reminded that I once read that the tradition of Advent wreaths actually began because farmers took the wheels of their wagons during the wet winter months and this became the framework for the Advent wreath.  Now I am not sure that any of us would consider taking the wheels off our cars over the winter but I do think that we need to build times of rest, reflection and renewal into our schedules.  Maybe we should stop driving our cars at least for a few days so that we can relax and refresh.  We are not meant to continually live in harvest season.  We are not meant to be continually producing fruit or even be continually blossoming.  In fact plants that are forced into bloom at the wrong season by florists never recover their natural rhythm.  Most of them will never blossom again.

Cheesehead – A Cheesehead In Paradise – “A Sermon for the Celebration of the Reign of Christ

(Let me say for the record, if any of you are considering running for elected office, and someone comes to church to see what kind of sermons you listen to, and nobody finds anything even the least bit sketchy that I have said—if nothing I preach is found to be even the slightest bit counter-cultural and it’s all perfectly agreeable—that’s probably not a good thing and you should call me on it.)

Christy Lambertson – Dry Bones Dance – Abortion Series

1 – Late Night Comedians, American Politicians & Abortion Week
2 – Nuance is Bad For Fundraising
3 – Put Away the Coat Hangers
4 – Let Me Tell You About Your Experience
5 – We Have Met The Enemy and They Are Partly Right (part I)
6 – We Have Met The Enemy and They Are Partly Right (part II)

That’s why I have declared it to be Abortion Week here at Dry Bones Dance (or possibly Abortion Month, depending how long I go between posts.) Whatever your position is, I’m not going to try to change it. Really. I promise. I just want to take an emotionally charged, extremely polarizing issue, and show how our public conversation about it – from both sides – virtually guarantees that we won’t ever get anywhere on the issue.

Erin Word – Decompressing Faith – “The Tribe

This tribe is not bound by collective adherence to a doctrine or by a building, but in mutual love for each other and a desire to set each other free from the things which have chained us. My tribe is not a place where anyone has to justify their experiences, but a place where we learn from a myriad of voices. My belief in the value of Jesus in my life is unwavering; many other aspects of my faith are in constant flux as I learn and grow. This I am able to do in a community where boundaries are elastic and belief is defined only by a love for Christ. Searching together for ways to better love on the world and on others, as Jesus exemplified, is the common thread we share.

Sally Coleman – Eternal Echoes “Perichoresis

Sally writes gorgeous poetry and takes stunning photographs of beaches, sunsets and people.

AJ Schwanz – AJ Schwanz “High Bar

And then I wonder:  am I just being me-centric?  Is this something God’s calling me to, or is this me being idealistic and believing the grass is always greener?  What if it doesn’t look the way I think it should?  What if it’s right in front of my face and I’m ignoring it because I don’t like the way God’s engineered it?  When push comes to shove, would I make the sacrifice; or would I be sad, hang my head, and walk away?

Cynthia Ware – The Digital Sanctuary – “Lord Teach Us To Pray, Virtually

I see the benefits….yet there is a part of me that still feels like something is funny about it. It feels like it should be ‘in addition to…’ instead of a replacement for interacting with your small group or people that can actually pray and stop by and drop off a casserole.

Molly Aley – Adventures In Mercy – “Obama Ushers In End Times

I literally thought that God wanted me to war against my culture.  I believed that culture was out to get me, out to get my kids, out to get my church. I mistakenly forgot the real enemy, and thought it was my culture instead, unlike God, who knew exactly what the real problem was when He came down INTO an equally-fallen culture.  He saturated Himself in it, unafraid to pal around with the worst of the lot and, interestingly, the only ones He had a real problem with were the ones righteously abstaining from said culture.

Peggy Brown – The Virtual Abbess – “Abi and Covenant

What The Abbess is looking for as part of the whole missional order discussion is a “rule of life” and a “rhythm of life” that provides a group of Christ followers with a focus, a framework, for the working out of our cHesed — our already-existing sacred duty to love God and love each other — in the context of apprenticing disciples.

Sr. Joan Chittister – From Where I Stand – “A Glimpse Of Oneness For A Change

The struggle between “red states” and “blue states” in the “United States” may be a political problem but, if truth were told, “oneness” is not something religion has been particularly good at over time either. Religions and religious professionals have been far more devoted over the years to creating Absolutes of themselves. They routinely cast other religious and their scriptures and prayers and beliefs into hellfire. They persecuted and oppressed and either forced people into their own religious tribe or hounded them out of it. They made converts at the end of a sword and divided families and called one another pagans and infidels. Many still do.

Judith Hougen – Emergent Self – “Part Two – Incarnational Reality

With very few exceptions, none of the people who’ve helped me understand and walk in incarnational reality have been Evangelical Christians. Which might help explain why conservative Christians can be mean sometimes. You really must deny incarnational reality (except in theory) in order to behave so contrary to the way of Jesus. You would have to work awfully hard to denigrate others while walking in a conscious awareness of God’s loving presence. Incarnational reality demands a response–either we open to Christ in each encounter, each breath, or we honor–I dare say worship–our own feelings, agenda, and sense of rightness.

Elizabeth Potter – Still Emerging – “They Used To Call Me Betty

The lack of fit intensified as I grew older such that when I relocated to a new city a number of years ago, I decided to ‘change’ my name. Rather than introducing myself to new people I met as “Betty,” I asked them to call me “Elizabeth.” It has taken years for my family to adjust to this ‘new’ moniker, but finally I have a name that fits. It is strong, and regal, and seems ‘just the right size.’ They used to call me “Betty,” but I have chosen to rename myself. Hello, my name is “Elizabeth.”

Kim Petersen – Chrysalis Voyage – “Robust Faith

Maybe it’s why I liked this response from a listener who wrote in: “Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Doubt is faith struggling. Where God is concerned there must always be room for doubt.” Chief Rabbi Sacks picked up on it earlier in his interview by challenging Humphrys: “If you didn’t have faith you wouldn’t ask the question…Faith is in the question.” Humphrys dismisses the statement as a cop out meant to shut down the conversation, but for me this statement contained the crux of the whole issue. Contrary to popular belief, there is not a shut down in intellect and a blind leap into the unknown. There is an intentional ongoing search for Truth and a coming to grips with and peace with that which will always remain a mystery. They are not mutually exclusive. A robust faith encompasses the doubt, the struggle.

Peggy Senger Parsons – A Silly Poor Gospel  “My Bus Karma

Bon Chance, Madame” is one of my code words with God. It usually means “Heads Up Peg – this may get rough”. With no great leading on the line, I should have taken my bag back, called my daughter and gone back to their house for another week of baby snuggling. But one of my character flaws is a severe allergy to anything that feels like going backwards. And one of my consistent delusions is that the normal rules of the universe don’t apply to me. The combo gets me in trouble all the time.

The Clothes Make The (Wo)Man

Filed under:art, being jesus, holy spirit, lost in translation, women in church — posted by Sonja on June 9, 2008 @ 6:47 am

This photo is from the on-line gallery of Phillip Toledano (thanks to fellow Scriber, Ben).
Fashion

Sit with that photo for a minute. Allow your emotions to bubble up and give them names. Let them have their own stories just for a moment or so. See what those stories might be, if you don’t just shove the emotions down or wave them aside or tell them what to do.

Now, think for a moment about how intimidated you feel when standing in the presence of someone who is dressed “to the nines.” How intimidated you feel when you walk into a room or space and suddenly you realize … you are not dressed the same as everyone else there. You’ll never be able to dress like everyone else there.

Now you have the sense of modesty that Paul was trying to instill in Timothy when he wrote, “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” His concern was not for sexual purity, but that the women would set a tone of hospitality and welcoming.

Our clothes tell people something about us. They tell a story about who we are before people ever get to know us. When we use those clothes to engage in power and manipulation to subdue others in our presence … by whatever means, we are negating the power of the Gospel in the very space that the Gospel is to be transcendent.

So … how should we dress? Well … that’s up to you and your particular dance with the Holy Spirit. See, none of us is the same. The rules are all the same, yet they’re all different. All we can do is ask questions of each other … where do you live? How do your neighbors dress? What are the local standards? What is welcoming amongst them? How do you create a welcoming environment in your space, where you are free to proclaim the Good News to people so they will hear it from you?

Modest?

Filed under:being jesus, church, life, lost in translation, women, women in church — posted by Sonja on May 12, 2008 @ 11:30 am

Fellow Scriber Wess wrote a post the other day about dress codes in church for women. He is a new dad with a tiny LightGirl of his own so these issues are largely theoretical for him, but do loom in his future. His post sparked a discussion about how women dress in church and in our culture. This sparked some discussion about whether or not women are responsible for the thought life of men.

Makeesha wrote a great summation of current modesty codes and some of their effects in the comments:

… we promote modesty from the wrong angle. It becomes about the man instead of being about the woman. It becomes about acceptance from God based on what a woman wears. In other words, I should dress modestly because my body creates some sort of temptation. My body isn’t about me, my body is about the man, about society. It’s an object to be controlled and preached about from the pulpit. My body is scary and shameful because it causes others to sin. My breasts aren’t beautiful creations that have 2 purposes of sexual pleasure and providing food and bonding for my progeny – they are temptations. My shape is to be veiled because it’s bad, because it causes my brothers to stumble. I am the object. I am the sin. I am the receiver. These are the messages the church sends when dealing with this issue. Regardless of the intent, this is what many many women hear – for some, it creates shame that causes the woman to hide away, to cover, to follow the rules – for others it creates a shame that causes the woman to seek validation by uncovering.

The rest of the conversation is well worth reading … and towards the end Wess challenged some of us to write further on the issue. So here I go.

It is currently fashionable for many in the church to hold women responsible for how men think, by suggesting that women dress more conservatively in order to “help” men keep their thoughts under control. There are nearly as many women who subscribe to this theory as men. The primary verse that is quoted to substantiate this is 1Timothy 2:9 – “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, …”

So I looked that verse up in many different versions and found that the word “modesty” is in virtually all of them. This is unusual to say the least, so it began to stick out and I began to wonder what that word was in the original text. What was it that Paul was trying to say to Timothy here?

First I wanted to verify for myself what it is that we mean in our current cultural context when we say the word “modest” or “modesty.” So I looked it up on dictionary.com and here is a summary of the definitions:

adjective
1. marked by simplicity; having a humble opinion of yourself; “a modest apartment”; “too modest to wear his medals” [ant: immodest]
2. not large but sufficient in size or amount; “a modest salary”; “modest inflation”; “helped in my own small way”
3. free from pomp or affectation; “comfortable but modest cottages”; “a simple rectangular brick building”; “a simple man with simple tastes”
4. not offensive to sexual mores in conduct or appearance [ant: immodest]
5. low or inferior in station or quality; “a humble cottage”; “a lowly parish priest”; “a modest man of the people”; “small beginnings” [syn: humble]
6. humble in spirit or manner; suggesting retiring mildness or even cowed submissiveness; “meek and self-effacing” [syn: meek]
7. limited in size or scope; “a small business”; “a newspaper with a modest circulation”; “small-scale plans”; “a pocket-size country” [syn: minor]

So to our ears, when we hear … “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, …” what that says to us is “I want women to dress modestly [marked by simplicity, free from pomp or affectation, and not offensive to sexual mores in conduct or appearance, humble in spirit or manner suggesting retiring mildness or even cowed submissiveness], with decency and propriety…” Given the context of the remainder of chapter 2, that appears to make sense. Given the current atmosphere in the western church in which we seem to have a morbid fixation on sex and sexual issues, it also seems to make sense. But was that really what Paul was saying?

I looked up the Greek word that is translated here as modest in our Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament ed by F.W. Danker (a large, heavy and imposing book). The word is only used one time in the whole New Testament and if I were smarter, I’d figure out how to type it here so you could see it. But I’m lazy. In any case, I found the word and the definition:

This term expresses the opposite of considering or treating something in a common or ordinary manner; a respect for convention. A term of reverence or respect.

Then as I was looking through all the different versions of the verses (I looked at it in the context of the whole chapter), I began to notice some footnotes that linked to it. One was for a similar verse in 1 Peter … so, okay. But there were two others that were particularly interesting. One for Revelation and the other for Isaiah. The thing I love about BibleGateway is that instead of bumbling my way through paper pages, I can just click and be there. So I did. Here are the scriptures:

The Letter to Laodicea
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

“The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Originator of God’s creation says: 15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, ‘I’m rich; I have become wealthy, and need nothing,’ and you don’t know that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, and white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent. 20 Listen! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and have dinner with him, and he with Me. 21 The victor: I will give him the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also won the victory and sat down with My Father on His throne.

Isaiah 3

13The LORD has taken his place to contend;
he stands to judge peoples.
14The LORD will enter into judgment
with the elders and princes of his people:
“It is you who have devoured[f] the vineyard,
the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15What do you mean by crushing my people,
by grinding the face of the poor?”

declares the Lord GOD of hosts.

16The LORD said: Because the daughters of Zion are haughty
and walk with outstretched necks,
glancing wantonly with their eyes,
mincing along as they go,
tinkling with their feet,
17therefore the Lord will strike with a scab
the heads of the daughters of Zion,
and the LORD will lay bare their secret parts.

18In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; 19the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarves; 20the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; 21the signet rings and nose rings; 22the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; 23the mirrors, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils.
24Instead of perfume there will be rottenness;
and instead of a belt, a rope;
and instead of well-set hair, baldness;
and instead of a rich robe, a skirt of sackcloth;
and branding instead of beauty.
25Your men shall fall by the sword
and your mighty men in battle.
26And her gates shall lament and mourn;
empty, she shall sit on the ground.

When I read those in context with Timothy and the idea that modesty is about reverence or respect … I get a whole new picture of how women should dress and more importantly … why. Once again, it’s a heart issue. It has to do with the women and, interestingly, nothing to do with men.

As I said on Wess’ post, men … get past yourselves. If you find the way a woman dresses too distracting, find something else to look at. That is your responsibility. You are in control of where you put your eyes. You. And only you. It is the man who lusts in his heart who is the adulterer, not the woman.

A woman needs to dress according to her heart. Where does her heart stand with God. Look in the letter to Laodicea. And in the prophecy to Jerusalem. God is not so concerned about sex. He seems to be very concerned about how we treat the poor. How do the rich treat the poor. Are we proud of our riches and flaunt them? Do we grind the face of the poor into the ground?

It’s very easy to create a set of rules and standards. How far is that skirt from the ground? No pants. Dresses must be made from this pattern. Etc. Etc. It’s easy to tell who’s in and who’s out by those standards. If a woman comes in wearing pants … she’s out. The problem is … what if she’s wearing pants, but her heart is right? How would you know? Is it our right to judge? Why do we think those arbitrary rules are so important?

All Things Crash Together For Good

Filed under:being jesus, hockey, life, women, women in church — posted by Sonja on May 5, 2008 @ 6:10 pm

Sometimes things crash together in my life. They make a big messy pile and I stand to one side looking at the pile and wonder about it. The smoke and debris rise, then settle. I may cough a time or two. I often get fairly emotional and wave my arms in the air a lot. Then I get to dig through the rubble to find out what is there. What I can recycle out of the mess.

It’s happening right now. In seemingly unrelated sphere’s of my life similar events are crashing, raising dust and debris.

We had a meeting last Wednesday evening to wrap up last season and look forward to next for my daughter’s hockey team. It was a two hour meeting. For the first hour and a half the TravelTeamDirector told us parents about how the club is in trouble. Nationally youth hockey is growing at about 3% per year and girls hockey is growing at about 10-12% per year, but our club is not seeing those growth rates. We are stagnant or declining. Hmmmm. He asked for our help over and over and over again. Talked about how much the Executive Board valued including parents. Talked about how necessary we are to the health and well-being of the club. Then he brought up the last item on his list (not on the published agenda, btw). Next year’s HeadCoach. The Board would like to install a man who’s daughter is supposed to move up to the next level because of her age. But they would like to apply for a waiver for her to continue to “play down” on our team. There is only one problem with this. It makes our team ineligible for league playoffs and tournaments because we are playing with an athlete who is too old. So, in essence, we are playing “for the fun of it.” It takes all the competitiveness out of it.

Several of us expressed our lack of support for this plan in no uncertain terms. We were ignored. Our very real concerns for the long term effects this would have on our girls team and program were ignored. The fact that a proposal of this nature would never, ever in a million years be presented to a boys team (else the presenters be laughed out of the room) was dismissed out of hand.

I’ve known for some time that to play girls hockey in this club is a backwater team. Parents of female athletes are not known by other parents in the same fashion that parents of male athletes are. As in any organization, it’s “who ya know.”

I’ve continued to process this information and at the same time out in the corners of the blogosphere that I frequent there has been a renewed discussion about how male-centric the church in general is and whether or not it should change. If the emerging stream is changing that and how is it doing that. Jenell Paris wrote Cacklings From an Emerging Crone and Grace wrote When “Sorry” Isn’t Enough. You can also find some excellent words on power sharing by Makeesha here and here and Change, Power, Access by Rose Madrid-Swetman. I think Kathy Escobar may have started it all with Auntie Kathy, Are You Sure It’s Not Wrong For You To Be A Pastor? in which she shares e-mail exchanges with her 14 year old niece about her call to be a pastor and her passion for equality:

you see, the “we don’t really value your voice” message goes far beyond just whether or not women preach or teach. it’s the subtle ways women don’t have equal power, leadership, value, or voice, where entire generations of misogyny are built upon a few passages of scripture and the liberating message of Jesus gets lost. i am well aware many women have no desire to be a loudmouth like me. but i know they are strong and powerful in different ways and won’t get the chance to step into it ”unless it directly benefits the system somehow and it will only be to a point that the men in power feel comfortable with.” women will stay in churches year after year after year after year that subtly or even directly keeps them stuck, limited. …..

Jesus is a restorer, a rebuilder, a redeemer. but i believe sometimes we need to actively participate in his redemption. to me, i think it requires speaking out with more than just words against the subtle and direct ways we are silencing and devaluing 1/2 of the population. please, God, redeem this mess we’ve made.

You see among many things, I’m an observer of patterns. I watch the way people behave and see patterns. Sometimes it’s in individual relationships, sometimes it’s in larger group dynamics. Among the patterns I’ve observed is that power acts like drug on the mind. Exercise it and it will grab more of your mind, like endorphins. Power over others makes us feel … um … powerful in the moment. How it was used and whether or not we are mentally healthy will later determine our sense of dis-ease with a misuse of power.

One of my favorite scenes in a movie ever, is the scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts has come back to the hotel without any new clothes because none of the Rodeo Drive boutiques will serve her. So Richard Gere took her back to one, flashed his cash or credit cards (I forget which) and said, “We require a lot of sucking up.” When the manager of store started to fawn all over him, Richard re-directed the guy to Julia very dismissively. It’s hilarious and so overdone. And yet. That is the economics of all relationships … overdone, overexposed, gross in it’s ineptitude. We all require sucking up and we all suck up to each other on some level or another. In our marriages we love each other, so we suck up to each other as a natural consequence of that love. The payback is not financial, it’s emotional. In our friendships (depending on the level of friendship) a similar thing occurs. Once the circle moves out to acquaintances, sports/team relationships, business relationships and church relationships the transaction is more ritualized and the sucking up is more apparent. The hierarchy is more transparent as well.

So, the question is does power belong in a church in the first place? We talk about it belonging to the men, or being shared or being given up to women? But … does it even belong in a church in the first place? We talk about hierarchy, power and all the trappings as if they belong … creating assumptions that are not necessarily true. When I read the Gospels, I see a Jesus who questioned those assumptions and lived outside of them. He did not participate in the sucking up transactions. He did not participate in the hierarchy. He put aside all use of power, though all the power in the universe was at his disposal. What does the church do?

We look like a mirror image of my daughter’s hockey team. Somehow … I thought we were supposed to be different.

UPDATE: As I follow the ongoing conversation at Jenell Paris’ place this comment was made by Lara and it provides a beautiful picture of what equality in the church could look like and it is dramatically different from the dog-eat-dog equality we see in the rest of the world.

Biblical equality is not really about leadership, once we get down to the nitty-gritty. It requires a complete revisiting of the idea of leadership. We reject the worldly views of leadership and recognize that everything in the church is really about service. We are all servants, we are all to sacrifice for one another, none of us is to lift ourselves over the other. Instead of viewing Biblical equality as an efort for women to climb to the top, it is better to see it as all of us becoming more humble and willing to serve one another.

That leads me to the other point. Because Biblical equality is really about submission instead of leadership, nobody has to tell egalitarian women to submit. We already do, as do our beloved egalitarian brothers and our traditionalist sisters. The people who really have major issues with submitting to others are traditionalist men who believe that the sexual hierarchy exempts them from the clear Scriptural command to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

That Gender Thing (Again)

Filed under:being jesus, church, community, faith, holy spirit, theology, violence, women, women in church — posted by Sonja on March 31, 2008 @ 8:27 am

Married To The Sea

marriedtothesea.com

Well … that’s pretty damn offensive, isn’t it?  Grabs you right by the lapels, shakes you up … and screams in your face.  But it doesn’t happen in the Protestant Church, so it’s meaningless for us … right?  We can laugh at it and go home.  Those foolish Catholics … if only they’d let their priests get married, they wouldn’t abuse children anymore … they could have sex when they wanted to.

I’ve got some news for you.  It’s not about whether or not the priests get married.  Child molesting is almost always about power.  It’s about institutions.  It’s about turf wars.  We have the same problems painted in different colors here in Protestant-land.

Keeping women out of the priesthood, out of teaching, fighting these gender wars … it’s about power.  It’s about institutions and it’s about turf wars.  You can layer the color on as thick as you want, but the base problem is that the men who are in power do not want to share.  For them it has become a zero-sum game and when women win, they lose.  They cannot see any other outcome.

Most of the battles currently being fought in the Church are ultimately about control.  They are about who will control the information.  Who will control the people.  Who will control access to God.  What a mind-rape.  It’s offensive and bears the mark of being against God, if I’m not mistaken.

God does not manipulate.  She is not overbearing.  He does not beat us up.  God is love … anything else is a clanging gong (have you ever heard one?  It will bend you double in pain).  God is love.

Esther

Filed under:faith, holidays, holy days, justice, life, redemption, theodicy, theology, women in church — posted by Sonja on March 21, 2008 @ 8:00 pm

Every once in a while Jewish traditions cross with Christian traditions in odd ways. They make for interesting bedfellows because of the foreshadowing and stories that the Jewish traditions raise for us. This year is one such year.

Tonight at sunset begins the Jewish holiday of Purim. This is the feast which celebrates the deliverance of the Jews from a death sentence; a holocaust of sorts in the 5th century BC. It’s a wonderful story filled with love, lust, greed, princesses and princes. I’m only surprised that the artists at Disney haven’t gotten hold of it yet. Last year I had the opportunity to tell the story in a unique fashion. In the first person, so to speak. I spoke with a heavy accent, like the aunts in My Big Fat Greek Wedding … so read the following with that voice in mind.  Oh, and spit when you say Haman (just for effect):

I am Esther. No … no, no, no. Not THAT Esther. I am her granddaughter. (Laughs a little) … oh look at me … I am not beautiful enough to win the heart of a king. Not even in my youth. My grandmama … now she, oh she was a different story.

And she could tell some stories too. I was never quite sure which ones to believe. But I loved it when she called me over to her wing for tea in the afternoon. It was our special time. I’m named for her, you see, so we had a special friendship. We’d relax on the pillows and drink cup after cup of tea. She’d allow the eunuchs to bring it to her, but then she’d shoo them off. She never did get used to having so many servants around. She liked to pour her own, you know.

Now me, I’ve always lived in this beautiful city Shushan. I get a little nervous when my husband thinks about leaving town for the country side in the summer. But grandmama, she grew up at the country place. It was second nature to her. She and Uncle Mordecai (may his name be blessed) lived there for the longest time. Her parents died when she was very young and he was all she had left in the world. He had never married (he was what we used to call a “funny” uncle … may his name be blessed … ), so he took my grandmama in.

So, today we celebrate Purim, the festival of Lots. Now here is the funny thing. My very grandmama, Esther, told me that this holiday is about her. That we are even now celebrating her story. Well. I find that almost too big to be believed. So. I will tell you the story she used to tell me while we lay about on our pillows, sipping tea. Then you will tell me if you think it is true or not.

Grandmama and Uncle Mordecai (may his name be blessed) had been living out in the country side in a little town by a lake until she was a young woman. They were doing well in this little town, but when Grandmama grew older the town’s busybodies began to busy themselves with Uncle Mordecai (may his name be blessed) and Grandmama. So they left for larger and more anonymous pastures, he being a “funny” uncle and all. They came to the city of Shushan and he was able to establish his business once more.

Shortly after they arrived and settled in, the King’s messenger came through the streets announcing an interesting beauty contest. It seems that the queen had shamed him at a party and she was now the former queen. He was looking for the most beautiful and poised girl in the land to become his new queen. Uncle Mordecai and Grandmama looked at each other. Grandmama was thinking, “Well, I’m glad I have no chance at that! Now let us proceed with our work.” Uncle Mordecai (may his name be blessed) was thinking, “How blessed am I to be the uncle of the most beautiful and poised woman in all the land!! Now I must proceed with my work.” And he gained her acceptance of the idea that she would enter the contest.

Poor grandmama. I and my parents grew up in the royal court. We understand the intrigue and the servants and the gossip. Grandmama was a simple country girl. Beautiful, intelligent and poised. But innocent and naive in the ways of the court. She told me many times over of the miracles and amazing tales that gained her the crown. But I cannot recall those rambling reports. The end result however was that Grandmama was chosen to become Xerxes queen. Who knew a simple Hebrew country girl could become Queen of all Persia?? But that’s exactly what happened. Of course, Uncle Mordecai (may his name be blessed) helped with some of the strategy, and Grandmama was fortunate to have drawn the favor of the best of the court eunuchs. King Xerxes was blinded by Grandmama. I’ve seen the mosaics from the time. She was perfectly lovely.

Grandmama and Uncle Mordecai decided that it would be best if she kept her heritage a secret. Hebrews were not exactly popular in Shushan back then. There weren’t too many of us. We’d drifted north after the diaspora, and many of us had originally been taken as slaves. In later years we’d won our freedom, but were still living outside of Israel. There wasn’t much to go back to. There still isn’t … although I’ve heard that some are gathering now to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem and are following a new leader called Nehemiah. My own grandchildren have said they will go to join him. Me, I’m not so sure …. I think I’m too old to travel that far. But to see the Temple before I die, it would do these old eyes good.

Well … Grandmama made herself busy learning the duties of being Queen and more, learning the intricacies of the royal court. OY!! What a mess. She’s told me more stories about her faux pas. And … she lived in mortal fear of the consequences of her mistakes. After all, Vashti had been banished for simply refusing to dance one night when the King and his friends were drunk.

In the meantime, Uncle Mordecai (may his name be blessed) continued to build his business and went about town freely. Until one day when he passed through the city gate and neglected to properly pay his respects to the King’s advisor, Haman (may his name be cursed). Now Uncle Mordecai meant no disrespect of Haman. Uncle Mordecai, as a proper Hebrew, did not bow or scrape to any man.

Haman (may his name be cursed) could not rid himself of the image of Uncle Mordecai (may his name be blessed) refusing to bow to him … in public … in (of all places) the city gate … the place to be! Did Uncle Mordecai not know who he was dissing? No, Uncle Mordecai was unconcerned. Haman knew, just KNEW, he had been humiliated. He began to lurk in the places that Uncle Mordecai frequented to see if Uncle Mordecai would bow to him. He had himself announced to see if, perhaps, UM had simply made a mistake. But, NO! Uncle Mordecai (may his name be blessed) simply kept about his business as if Haman (may his name be cursed) did not exist. And Haman’s rage grew. And grew. And grew.

In the course of his obsession, Haman (may his name be cursed) discovered that Uncle Mordecai (may his name be blessed) was a Hebrew. So Haman hatched a plan to exact his revenge … not simply on Uncle Mordecai, but on all of Uncle Mordecai’s people as well. He was a clever man and he presented Uncle Mordecai’s insolence to the King. But the way he told it, the whole Hebrew people might at any time be insolent in just sucha manner to the King. Haman (may his name be cursed) concluded that the best and most efficient manner of managing this problem would be to kill all the Hebrew people. Kill them so that none of them would ever dis him or the King again. And everyone in the empire would know what becomes of those who do not give proper respect to the King or his advisors.

Haman (may his name be cursed) presented this plan to the King with all appropriate supplication and whining. And the King bought the idea that Haman was selling! So they rolled the dice to see which day would be best to kill all the Hebrews throughout the empire, thus protecting Haman (and the King) from further disgrace. The date was set for the 13th of Adar. The edict was sealed with the King’s seal and sent out into all the land, but the city of Shushan was bewildered.

Now, Uncle Mordecai (may his name be blessed) put on sackcloth and ashes when he read the edict. Indeed, many Hebrews did the same throughout the land. He was, however, able to get a message to Grandmama about the impending doom and urged her to plead the case of her people before the King. She sent word back, “But I cannot. Anyone who approaches the King without being asked first, is put to death!” Uncle Mordecai, replied … “You must. All Hebrews will be put to death and you will be included in that. Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for just such a time as this?”

Then it was Grandmama’s turn to hatch a plan. She sent instructions to Uncle Mordecai (may his name be blessed), to gather all the Hebrews in Shushan and have them fast for three days and three nights. She promised to fast with them. At the end she promised to approach the King. And so. The tables were now turned. It was Uncle Mordecai who was following Grandmama’s instructions.

The next day, Grandmama prepared herself very carefully. She anointed herself with her best perfume and her grandest cosmetics, then she stood at the foot of the throne room in her most beautiful day gown, with her eyes downcast …. just … so. Until at last the King took notice of her and gave her permission to come forward and speak. At that moment she invited the King and his most favored advisor, Haman (may his name be cursed) to a special dinner party that evening. The king was glad to accept. My Grandmama had the best cooks.

At the dinner, the King grew curious and asked my Grandmama, “Now, what is it you wish from me? Just ask … even though it be half of my empire and it will be yours.” Now Grandmama had become very wise to the ways of the King in her short time at court, and knew not to ask right away. So she said, “If you think well of me and if it would make you happy, please just come again to dinner tomorrow night. I will ask you tomorrow. In fact, it would make me happy if both of you came to dinner tomorrow.”

The next day, Haman (may his name be cursed) could not relish his satisfaction at dining two nights in a row with the King and Queen because the bitterness of Uncle Mordecai’s insolences were so sour in his mouth. The only thing that gave him any solace was giving the order to build a gallows for Uncle Mordecai (may his name be blessed). This was his wife’s idea. And he was able to go to dinner that evening with a somewhat lighter heart.

As the serving eunuch poured from the second bottle of wine that night, the King once again inquired of Grandmama, “Now, my sweet young Queen, what is it that you desire from me? Just ask … even though it be half of my empire and it will be yours.”

Grandmama gathered all of her courage into her throat and replied (with her eyes properly downcast and just a shimmer of tears upon her lashes), “Oh, my King. If you think well of me and if I make you happy, I beg of you … please spare my life and more than that, I beseech you to spare the lives of my people. My people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. If we had merely been sold as slaves, I would not bother your royal Greatness with such petty details, but we are to be executed in several months time on the 13th day of Adar and I have no one left to turn to.” She said this last with a proper quiver in her voice as one facing execution without crime or trespass.

The King roared his displeasure at the disgrace that was being brought on the royal household, “Who is HE??? Where is the man who has dared to do such a thing?”

And Grandmama revealed the traitor, “The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman (may his name be cursed.”

The King (in a rage) paced about the palace and the garden, whilst Haman threw himself upon Grandmama and her mercy … begging and pleading for his very life. But it was to no avail. The King upon his return, sent Haman (may his name be cursed) to his death upon the very gallows he himself had built for Uncle Mordecai.

Now, I’m not really clear on how it happened next. The King could not undo his own edict with his seal on it. So he sent out a new edict which allowed the Hebrews to defend themselves against all those who hated and despised them. In some towns and cities (such as Sushan) this meant that many people decided to align themseves with the Hebrews (and Uncle Mordecai who had been elevated to the King’s advisor) and so great festivals erupted. But in other places it seems that battles were fought and as many as 75,000 people were killed on that day which was meant for the annihilation of the Hebrews.

Uncle Mordecai (may his name be blessed) next asked for the execution of all ten of Haman’s (may his name be cursed) sons. The King granted him this request. So it came to pass that Uncle Mordecai the Hebrew became the exterminator of Haman the Aggagite. Which has some greater meaning that Grandmama kept trying to tell me about. I forget now.

I only knew Uncle Mordecai (may his name be blessed) in his most declining years. He was a very devout man. Stern, but ever with a twinkle in his eye for little girls with flowers in their hair. He used to tell me stories about Grandmama when she was a little girl, but she was ever so much more obedient than I. She knew how to find the hidden things, how to seek after the important bits. Grandmama and Uncle Mordecai … well … they knew how to find their way back to Adonai in all of this. But, me. I hear this story and I cannot find Him anywhere. Grandmama used to insist that yes, He was at work behind the scenes … I say He was so far behind, he must have been in Egypt. To me, Adonai became the God who hides in this story. Where is He? He is nowhere to be found. Afterall, He is not the God of Xerxes, nor of Haman and that is clear in the destruction they planned for us. He is the God of Uncle Mordecai and of my people and even my people went about killing for sport.

So at last we are at the end of my story … we celebrate this day and this redemption. But I ask you now, do you think this story my Grandmama told me was true? Just how did we come to celebrate Purim? Why is this day so different from all other days?

You can find the real story of Esther in your Bible or click on that link. It’s one of my personal favorites. Where is God in this story? As we enter the days where we commemorate Jesus’ death before the resurrection, I wonder about the presence of Yahweh and how we hear Her. How we act or don’t? Then, when we do, sometimes we carry out not justice, but revenge.

Are Women Human? (Celebrating International Women’s Day)

Filed under:being jesus, history, international women's day, theology, women, women in church — posted by Sonja on March 8, 2008 @ 3:53 pm

Well … it sorta depends.

It depends on who you ask. It depends on the period of history into which you were born.

Then there are a whole category of men who think that women are definitely human, they are just not quite as good as men. Or they are as good as men, but not quite as advanced … sort of overgrown children. Why is this? Oh, because the men are afraid of the women. Now, the men have lots of very elegant reasoning … but the bottom line is … they are afraid. Men frequently establish second class status to things they are frightened of.

Lemme ’splain that a little bit. I’m no Biblical scholar. However, I play one on television.

Hah … as if. I wonder what a Biblical scholar would look like on television! All sarcasm aside, I’m no Biblical scholar, television or not. However, I’ve studied the question about women’s standing before God from a Biblical standpoint fairly extensively. I’ve read many pertinent books and studies. I’ve read all the pertinent scriptures in the original languages and with all the different interpretations you can imagine. In short, I’ve been there done that. Do I definitively know God’s heart on the issue? No. I do not. But I have what I think is a pretty good idea. Alot of people disagree with me. That’s fine. They’re allowed. I think they will be called to judgement for the damage that their misguided opinions are doing (otherwise known as sin). But that’s between them and God. It’s not my call.

Here’s my theory … if you go all the way back to Genesis 1 you find this:

26Then God said “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

28And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Here we see the very first indication of people … created together. At the same time. Both given dominion over the earth and everything in it. Both given equal stake in creation. Both as equal beings. Two peas in a pod as it were. Yin and yang, male and female. Equal in being, status, everything … all the way down the line.

Things are clarified for us in Genesis 2:

18Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper* fit for him. Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper* fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

*Briefly, the “helper” debate revolves around the idea that a helper must be in a subordinate position. I’m not going to get into a lengthy treatise here except to say that the Hebrew word (ezer – the root from which we get ebenezer, Israel and many other words, btw) which is used has many meanings which do not adequately translate into English. We have used a word which has very limited meaning to us … it might be asked why the translators chose that particular word and not another less loaded word? What cultural/societal needs were met by using this translation rather than another?

As you may or may not remember from Genesis 3 the male tendency would be towards domination. He must work to subdue the earth now … when we chose to be independent of our relationship with God, that was the evil that the male of the species would bring to the earth; dominance.

Here is the definition of dominance from Dictionary.com:

1. rule; control; authority; ascendancy.
2. the condition of being dominant.
3. the disposition of an individual to assert control in dealing with others.
4. high status in a social group, usually acquired as the result of aggression, that involves the tendency to take priority in access to limited resources, as food, mates, or space.
5. the normal tendency for one side of the brain to be more important than the other in controlling certain functions, as speech and language.

However, if we read the first couple of lines of the “curse” on Adam we find something curiously interesting: “”Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ …” Recall for a moment, Adam’s response to God when questioned about how he knew of his own nakedness: The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Ahhhhh … ha. Adam (and his descendants) have never quite gotten past the idea that it was all Eve’s fault. God is allowing him/them to live in that. “Because you have listened to voice of your wife …”

Now. What is the rest of that sentence? It’s not that she doesn’t have anything good to contribute the relationship. The rest of the sentence is “…. and disobeyed Me.” That’s fairly key to the whole operation. It’s not that Eve is really the terrible person here. Or that all advice from Eve is to be ignored. Or that Eve was less advanced and did not know what she was doing (after all she was also punished), but that Adam willfully and with eyes wide open, upon listening to his wife, chose to disobey His Creator. Listening to his wife wasn’t the bad horrible thing that he was being punished for. He was being punished for disobedience. Ultimately, he, and Eve, were being punished for the same thing that got Lucifer thrown out … pride. Hubris. Not unusual, since Lucifer (Satan, the serpent) was doing the tempting.

Large groups of men (entire civilizations that occupy large portions of our globe) have been operating under the fear that women will lead them astray ever since. Now whether or not this is a story/myth that is descriptive or prescriptive is of little importance to this post.

Now there have been whole civilizations that rose up and were quite successful where the men were not afraid of women. Native American cultures, ancient celtic cultures, African cultures to name a few. But the predominant culture that has consumed the globe is one in which the dominant men were afraid of women. I realize I’m speaking in generalizations and broad brushes. I realize that not *all* men are afraid of *all* women. But, generally speaking this is the case. In terms of our general rules and trends in Western culture which has spread throughout the globe at this point, men are afraid of, and feel the need to dominate women. They must demean them. They must overpower them and keep them in a position of powerlessness.

Here is some history for you. Jesus was the first feminist. Jesus was the first masculinist too, for that matter. Jesus taught that all human beings had worth and value. This was an earth shattering principle at the time. At the time only men had worth and value. Women and children were chattel. Do you know what that word – chattel – means? No, I mean do you *know* in your bones, what it means? I didn’t think so. It means that you have the approximate value of a sick mule. Children even less. Women were worth the labor and potential of the sons they could provide. Children were worth-less until they were of an age to provide labor. I want you to take a moment and imagine the life you might lead if your value were tied to how much work you could do and how many sons you could push out of your belly (especially since you have no control over that … and we now know this is a result of the sperm anyway). What happened to infertile women? Do you begin to understand why adultery was such a big deal? It was important to know who’s son your wife was carrying …

So, unless a woman could work and provide children, she was a liability to her husband. This process began at about age 14 or 15. LightGirl is 14. I shudder when I consider this possibility. Men did not speak to women in public settings. Men carried on their commerce separate from women. There were separate spaces for men and women in the Temple and synagogues. Men and women were separate and unequal. Jesus ignored all of that. I could say he changed it, but he really didn’t. He set a new example by ignoring it. He went about his business and talked to people. Now the people who most commonly listened to him were women … because they had the least to lose. But go into any church today and take a head count … you’ll still see more women than men. Women still understand that Jesus has come to redeem them. Women are far more open to hearing His message of self-sacrifice. Women can speak that message too. Who better than a woman to talk about how lay down your life for someone else? I’m sorry to say, but there are not many men who can speak to that with the same personal experience that the vast majority of women have.

In any case, Jesus ignored the cultural mores of the time and spoke to women. He healed women. He discipled women. He accepted support from women. Women were amongst his band of followers. This was unheard of. There were no other rabbis in the land who had done these things. No other rabbis who spoke to women. Or healed women. Or taught women. Or accepted support from women. Or had women in their band of followers. It’s not that Jesus elevated women above men. It’s that he accepted them as equal to men.

So to answer my own question. Yes, women are human. Yes, we are equal in all ways to men. Men have nothing to fear from us, IF they will choose to follow God’s voice when it’s important rather than ours. But then we also have to be discerning about their voices as well. All of us are responsible to discern the call of God on us from the cacophony of other humans in our lives. Ultimately, that is what we are each called to … a loving dance with the Creator Herself. And anyone who attempts to interfere in that is just asking for trouble.

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Read these other outstanding posts by women bloggers on women’s issues:

igniting the ember: emerging women finding their voice by Kathy Escobar
the world handicapped by half by Makeesha Fisher
The Voice by Makeesha Fisher
International Women’s Day by Julie Clawson
I Don’t Have the Balls to Be a Leader by Kingdom Grace
Complementarianism Sucks: Telling Women to be Quiet in the name of Jesus by Pam Hogeweide
International Womens Day by Minnowspeaks

Back To the Drawing Board

Filed under:being jesus, children, faith, home school, justice, life, love, reconciliation, women in church — posted by Sonja on February 15, 2008 @ 2:00 pm

This week in the Osgiliath Classical School we’ve begun a new project. We are studying the weather. As a spine for this study we’re using a book called The Kids Book of Weather Forecasting with meteorologist Mark Breen. The LightChildren were each assigned the task of reading the first chapter and then they had to work “together” to design a weather log and come up with a list of tools that one might need to keep a weather log current.

First there was a two day argument over when they would work together. Once they began to work together, there was a loud and protracted argument over who’s list should “win.” LightGirl had a list that was created mostly around her senses. LightBoy had a list that was mostly more objective measuring tools. He, in fact, scoffed at her senses. She attempted to win him over to her more organic manner of observation. However, they were both clubbing each other over the head with their respective lists, in a metaphorical sense. When the clubbing left metaphor and became physical, I intervened.

“Alright, you two,” said I, “did you actually read your assignment?” Vigorous head nods followed by open mouths ready to assert their righteousness. I quickly went on before words could leave the open mouths, “I believe the assignment was that you were to work together,” and I emphasized the word “together.” “This means, LightGirl, that you do not come up with a list and LightBoy goes along with it. And LightBoy, you do not get to come up with a list and expect that LightGirl will go along with it. Do you both understand me?” More head nods, but the mouths are still open ready to defend their honor and tell me how horrible the other sibling is.

“No, I don’t think you do. You are both trying to win. There is nothing to win here. You will only win when you work together. It is very likely that there is something of value in both of your lists and that there is something that needs to be dropped in both of your lists. I do not know what those things are … that is for you to figure out” The mouths are closed now and they are beginning to look at each other as realization dawns. “Now. Get thee hence into the school room and work together on one list between the two of you.”

Off they went. They sat down in the school room and worked out a plan to figure out a list and then worked out a list. Then they presented it to me. The plan involved looking through their book together! Stunning. And thinking and talking together. Their final list was impressive. Lo and behold, it contained elements of both of their original lists.

I often allow arguments to carry on (until it gets physical). I allow them to work out their own relationship within certain boundaries. It can get painful and loud for the parents. But it is training ground for them to understand how to live with others. How to work out difficulties. How to work together even when each is certain they know the “right” way. I try to emphasize that they are always in this together. There is never a time when one is right and the other wrong. If When there is a fight, they have both contributed to it and both must contribute to reconciliation. As my mother used to say to my brothers and I, “It takes two to tango.”

So when I wrote yesterday about reconciliation, apology, power, dominant culture and oppressed culture, I was coming to it from that perspective. But most of you don’t know that. I forget that I’m kind of a blank slate when I write. Not an entirely blank slate, but I’m not as three dimensional to you as I am to myself. Most of us bloggers are. If anything, when we read a blog, we bring to it our own perspectives, prejudices, backgrounds, etc and read it through our own particular lens. Sometimes that lens has been broadened, sometimes not, sometimes it has been more healed, sometimes less. Sometimes the issue being written about is the driving force behind how we read the blog that day. There are so many different permutations and combinations of those possibilities, it kind of makes my head explode to think about it.

I am humbled by the grace extended to me by Patrick, Peggy, Grace and Christy in the conversation that followed. My experience of such has been rare indeed. So, if I may, I would like to give some context and flesh to my post from yesterday.

When I read posts such as Josh’s critique and participate in conversations about women in church, I often hear a sense of bewilderment and frustration from men of my generation and younger generations. The frustration that I hear sounds something like this, “I don’t know what to say/do. It never seems like enough. There are women in leadership now. We are moving forward. Why won’t women stop complaining.” Please, please read Josh’s critique … it is very good and he does make some very valid points. But … maybe it’s just me, but I can also hear a sense of bewilderment and frustration underlying his piece. A certain sense of why is this happening here? Why is this continuing to continue?

So, I very baldly and badly wrote that we “need” an apology. Which is not entirely true, as Peggy and Patrick were both very kind to remind me. We women do not “need” an apology. We “need” God/Papa to remind us that we are loved despite any of our earthly hurts. However, what I was trying to communicate was that it would be helpful to the process between the genders if an apology were offered at some point. I was trying to communicate that on the basis of what has happened in South Africa in the 1990s and what is poised to happen in Australia now, an apology might be a way of helping to drain those wounds.

As Peggy wrote, and I deeply agree with, I’ve got issues with a sense of entitlement. So I’m not certain that I think women are entitled to an apology. But I need to say that in my outloud voice now, because it’s obvious from the comments that at least some of you heard me say that. An apology extended as the result of a demand, is almost worthless as we all know. It is usually extended because of some form of extortion in that case, whether physical or emotional. The apology rendered is then meaningless, and we’ve all endured our share of those.

So what is the purpose of an apology? I’ve spent a lot of time over the past several years studying that question. I’ve read a couple of books. In short the purpose of an apology is to let a person who has been wronged know that you understand the hurt that has been done, you regret the harm was done in the first place and you will attempt to make it stop. It is an attempt, however feeble, to take some form of responsibility for a wrong done and to understand the harm that has been caused to the person who was wronged. Those are the two main prongs of an apology. Take responsibility and understand harm.

You’ll notice that my definition of an apology did not include anything about feeling guilty or bad about oneself. I did not write anything about eternal shame. I did write about remorse which is something different. Guilt is entirely different from remorse … guilt is a state of being, while remorse has to do with an action. One ought not to feel guilty about the state into which one was born. However, one might feel remorse about the status of those who are not in that state. Does that make sense?

None of that, however, makes an apology necessary. In fact, an apology is simply irrelevant in the economy of God’s forgiveness. S/He loves us and will heal our wounds, if we will allow that. What then, do we do about trusting the other? The one or ones who harmed us? Our wounds may be healed, but the trust has been broken and the relationship has not been reconciled. An apology offered (not demanded, but offered) is an incredible first step in that process of rebuilding trust between the two parties wherein the trust has been lost, to whatever degree.

That is where I think that an apology offered by male leaders of institutions (churches, both local bodies and denominational) could go a long way toward helping to re-establish some of the trust that is currently lacking in some of the female Jesus followers. Are we entitled to it? No. Do we also have junk to apologize for? Yes. Yes, we do. But as Christy wrote in her comment, “It’s not about asking people to feel bad and guilty – it’s about recognizing that all of us are responsible to do our part to work for justice.” It’s about all of us … all of us in this together, recognizing our responsibilities, the harm we’ve done, and the good we’ve done. That the inequities are harmful to the dominant culture just as much as they are to the under dogs. That justice, grace and mercy are for all of us, not just some.

So, let’s go back to the schoolroom and make our list together. Okay?


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