The "Nameless" Women in Mark as the Embodiment of God's "Upside-Down" Kingdom

One of the podcasts I love listening to as it pertains to Scripture is The Bible For Normal People. I’ve said this a few times before, but it’s true, I’m a huge Bible nerd. Sure, I love talking about women and race and all sorts of (unnecessarily) controversial topics when it comes to religion, but I always make sure to do that from the lens of Scripture. Why? Well, besides it being The Bible, I think it’s a truly incredible book that has been taken hostage by so many fundamentalists and biblicists and all kinds of folks that not only offer weak and lazy exegesis, but that do so to silence and to oppress, and to you know...

So yea, I’m just passionate about knowing it—decolonizing, deconstructing, and reconstructing harmful views and ideas and theologies that have been taught without thorough care and scholarship. Of course, I don’t expect to get it right every time (and surely, I don’t), but that’s part of the reason why it’s a life-long process, one that I’ve 100% committed to.  

Ok, enough of that tangent.

Back to the podcast.

On a recent episode, the hosts interviewed New Testament scholar, Daniel Kirk about his work regarding the book of Mark. It so happens that I’m going through Mark with one of my groups of high school girls, so I’ve been obsessively combing through commentaries and such lately. Because I really enjoyed this episode, and because I’m on a Mark-trip, I thought I’d summarize it (and highlight some of my favorite things).

First off, Kirk starts by setting the tone of Mark: the theme of redefining Messiah. According to Kirk, the whole gospel is about redefining the nature of Jesus as Messiah. Scholars use the term “messianic secret” when it comes to Jesus not wanting people to know he’s the Messiah. In Mark 7, for example, we see Jesus healing folks and then telling them not to say a word to anyone. Scholars argue this is because people were waiting for a Messiah, and hearing about Jesus would give them the wrong idea of what kind of Messiah Jesus was. You see, contrary to what they were expecting, Jesus would be a suffering Messiah, a servant that would give his life.

Part of this redefining messiahship also has to do with what Kirk calls the “upside-down kingdom.” The first time Jesus’s death comes up, he says the ever-famous line, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” This is “upside-down” because Jesus is saying that greatness and “finding your life” really comes in giving it up, in “bearing your cross”—a true paradox to greatness.

We see another kind of “upside-down” paradox in the feeding of the 5,000. The paradox in this story is that a lot of food—enough to feed thousands—comes from what looks like nothing, a few fish and loaves. This is the same idea with the parable of the mustard seed. Here we learn that the kingdom of God comes from small, unassuming things.

As the story goes, the disciples have a hard time getting this whole “upside-down” paradox. I mean, c’mon, Jesus is constantly talking about “giving up your life” and they’re consistently arguing about who is greatest in the kingdom and who will sit at Jesus’s right and left hand! But didn’t Jesus say if you want to be great you have to be least of all? In fact, he drives this point home by immediately taking a child after he says this and continuing by explaining that if you receive a child like this, you receive him, and if you receive him, you receive the father who sent him. As Kirk says, Jesus is telling the disciples that the way to God is not an upward escalation toward heavenly power, but it’s a reorientation—a downward slope in power. You see, we might think of children as innocent and cute and when Jesus says this, we think of a Sunday school “awwww” moment, but in antiquity, children were at the bottom of the society’s patriarchal pecking order—even under women and slaves. This is critical to understanding that there is a potentially massive social upheaval that’s seeded in the Gospel—it doesn’t explode and come from above, but it’s like a small seed, and if you enact it, everything changes.

What’s happening in the person of Jesus is an inversion of social power structures—and it’s creating a community that is entrusting itself to God in cross-shaped ways by refusing to play the power games in the way that has been taught. This is demonstrated beautifully in that Jesus goes to dinner with people who aren’t normally invited to the table.

This reorientation of the people of God is peculiar and may I add, pretty darn offensive (beautiful and offensive, now there’s a paradox).

Ok, so after all of this, Kirk makes a really, really amazing point. He maintains that if you read the book of Mark with this “upside-down” power dynamics grid—which elevates those otherwise pushed to the margins—one thing that becomes clear is that the “nameless women” in the gospel come off as “ideal disciples” in a way that the Twelve never end up living up to (remember how the disciples kept fighting about who’d be the greatest?) 

As Kirk says: If you want to know the best people in this gospel other than Jesus to look to as an example for the life that we should live, you need to look to the nameless women.

So who are these “nameless women”?

1) Peter’s mother in law

Mark tells us that Peter’s mother in law was sick in bed. Jesus went to her, healed her, and immediately after, she got up and started serving them. Kirk points out that Peter’s mother in law does the very thing the disciples refuse to do, and exactly what Jesus kept calling them to as they continued calling greatness unto themselves.

2) The bleeding woman  

We learn of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years who came to Jesus in a crowd and touched his clothes at the thought that this might heal her. After he felt someone touch him, Jesus asked “who touched my clothes?” The woman, came forward, terrified, to which Jesus replied, “your faith has healed you” (Mark 5:34).

Kirk contrasts this episode with the scene of the disciples being in the boat during the storm (a couple episodes before this) and Jesus rebuking them for being of little faith (Mark 4:40).

3) The Syrophoenician woman

Right in between the first feeding of the 5,000 where Mark says “they were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves” (Mark 6:51), and the second feeding of the 4,000, we find the story of the desperate woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter. This is by far one of Jesus’s strangest remarks to someone asking him for help. He told her that he can’t take the children’s food and feed it to the dogs, to which she responded “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” As Kirk puts it, she “mic-drops,” wins the only argument with Jesus in the whole Gospel by somehow having eyes to see that there is not only enough bread for the children at the table, but for whoever else is seeking.

When read in context of the feeding narratives, isn’t that just incredible? She understands what the disciples didn’t: all are welcome at the table and there certainly is enough food to go around.

4) The poor widow

In Mark 12 we learn of a poor widow who put in two small copper coins into the collection box for the temple treasury. Upon seeing her do this, Jesus said to his disciples, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than everyone who’s been putting money in the treasury. All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had, even what she needed to live on.”

Jesus lets the disciples know that in giving up her whole life, she is embodying costly, life-taking discipleship, the kind of life-taking discipleship Jesus himself engages in and asks of his followers.

5) The woman who anoints Jesus

In Mark 14 we learn of a woman who pours “very expensive perfume” on Jesus’s head. Scholars argues that this gesture is one of messianic anointing, an act that seems to confess Jesus as Messiah. What’s interesting about this is that when Jesus interprets the act, he says “she anointed my body ahead of time for burial.” This is the action that Jesus says, “wherever in the whole world the gospel is proclaimed, what she’s done will be told in memory of her.”

In this action, she was able to hold together Jesus as Messiah and Jesus as someone who is about to be buried—something the disciples just didn’t get—the reorientation of what Messiah means. As Kirk says, “the whole message that Mark is trying to get across is embodied in this action.”

It’s easy for the unnamed women in Mark to be ignored because they’re on the margins, or they don’t have names, or they’re “not important” because they weren’t part of the Twelve, but if we think the disciples are more important than these women for those reasons, then, as Kirk suggests, “we’re reading Mark with the same posture that Mark is seeking to overturn.”

Christianity, Life, Racism: It's All Complicated

A friend recently came to visit and naturally, we spent a lot of time chatting about faith. This isn’t anything new as I talk about faith a lot—all the time, actually. After all, I am finishing up a degree in theology and it requires that I think and write about faith well over 40 hours a week.

It’s actually pretty mentally and emotionally exhausting, now that I think of it—which is why I so crave carbs and a glass of red wine at the end of most days.

Most of my conversations with my visiting friend about faith revolved around the things I once thought fit neatly into perfectly separated folders in the desktop of my mind. The folder for “Christianity” had several subfolders: “Christology,” “Ecclesiology,” “Soteriology,” etc. I even had a “Calvinism” folder with even still subfolders, one for each letter of TULIP.

Oh, how complicated it all was back then. Which is ironic, you’d think such a neatly compartmentalized “faith” would make life simpler, no?

Well yea, that would be true if we lived in a Black and White world. But let’s face it, we don’t. I’m sure we can all agree that most of life takes place in the mess—in the grey areas, doesn’t it?

Let’s take racism, for example. I’m sure, we can all agree that it’s wrong. But many people want to pretend that it’s “Black and White” (no pun intended). Many people I’ve spoken to (or read Facebook posts from) assume racism is simply “a heart issue.” The problem with this is that it removes all responsibility from any of us to dismantle it, because, well, “it’s simple: it’s a personal problem.” And trust me, I wish it were that simple. What perhaps is foundationally “a heart issue” has permeated into a societal, systemic issue. Racism exists in the grey area: in stereotypes, in microaggressions, in the fact that Black men get shot not only in their own homes, but even when they’re doing the right thing by protecting active shooters. Racism isn’t just about slavery. It’s more than that. It’s complicated. It’s grey.

You can apply this same idea to not only all social issues, but life in general.

How do you convince a new mother who’s just lost her infant daughter that God is good? Or a young girl who’s just been sexually assaulted by a family member and finds herself pregnant? Or a father of three who is dealing with mental illness that’s affecting his entire family?

There are no easy answers. Life is complicated. Faith is complicated.

But the more I study Scripture, the more I recognize a God who is well acquainted with the complicated—a God who we’re told created people and then regretted it (Genesis 6). A God who wanted to wipe out folks, but then had a change of heart when asked to reconsider (Numbers 14).

A God who became human and wasn’t disconnected from society, standing on the outside, telling people what to do. Instead, God stepped in the muck, broke “purity laws” by engaging with the outcast—those deemed too dirty or too broken. When people died, God wept (John 11). When they were about to be stoned (for reasons justifiable at that time), God intervened (John 8).

It’s interesting, when I read the Torah, I don’t just see a bunch of nonsensical laws that need be dismissed, but I can see a story of a God completely aware of the complicated—of the grey area. According to Deuteronomy 22, there are different punishments for men who sexually assault women in the middle of the town in front of everyone, verses men who sexually assault women out in the country where no one else is around (and yes, both instances involve the man being executed). Now, of course we understand that these laws were written thousands of years ago when culture, society and life was completely different, but the point is that they’re oddly detailed and very circumstantial because, well, life was (and still is) intricate, complex…complicated.

Maybe Scripture feels like a hot mess most of the time because it’s a story of a God choosing to get dirty and to exist in the grey, among complicated people. And I think this should not only give us hope, but should inform our Christian ethic. Perhaps it’s not about making perfect sense of Christianity, having all the answers, knowing or deciding who’s in and who’s out. Perhaps it’s about sitting with God and with others in the muck, not being afraid of the mess, and living out our faith intentionally and carefully in each unique situation.

My Year of Disillusionment and How I Found Healing in Diversity

This past weekend Taylor and I had a community “welcome night” in our neighborhood. I know that needs a bit more context, so let me explain:

We live in this thing called “intentional community.” I promise it’s not a cult (sort of, heh). In the neighborhood where I live, there are about 12(ish) different homes all located on the same block—we call ourselves Madison Square. Those of us living in Madison Square have committed to, well, “living intentionally.” This means we cook dinner together every week, we get together regularly for “porch night,” where we enjoy beverages and theological conversations, we “retreat” together, and you know, knock on each other’s door when we need something (like the vacuum I recently borrowed—thanks Bethany and Jacob!) Besides living in our own homes, we share a larger “common house,” where we meet to chat about community stuff like voting on new members (I promise we’re not a cult) and things of the sort.

Our community consists of everyone from single folks to married couples, PhD to first-year Master students, and families of up to 5 kiddos to (semi) newlyweds. We also have incredibly diverse people: from our very own Irish who brings home some solid whiskey from the motherland, to my favorite Filipina who puts together one hell of a Kamayan dinner, to our local Tennessean ethicist who teaches us how to pray like the monks at the French monastery he once lived at. We’re all Fuller students (or spouses of) and all represent different Christian denominations, from Episcopalian to Presbyterian to Anglican to non-denominational to Evangelical Covenant to still others in between. Madison Square (and really, just Fuller in general) is a hot-pot of cultures, theological beliefs, worship styles and backgrounds.

Besides the awesomeness of learning from such diverse people, living in a tight knit community is beautiful because you know your neighbors got your back. For example, our kittens have taken off running through the back door a couple times. Every time they’ve done this, Taylor and I have either been out of town or on our way to do something we couldn’t cancel. It never fails—within hours, our neighbors have banded together and caught the runaway kitten—all without our asking or even being home. They just care and it’s really wonderful.

(I can’t not mention those outside of Madison Square—friends who have sat in the car with me for hours over In-N-Out and Destiny’s Child’s Survivor, passionately reminding me that my voice matters and regardless of how hard it gets, I need to keep talking about the hard stuff.)

Anyways, back to “welcome night” this past weekend.

I was asked to share with the group about what the past year in community has meant to me. Thinking about this question naturally led me to reminisce on our journey to Southern California and Fuller—the beautiful, messy, yet unbelievably transformative journey the past year has been. One word kept coming to mind when I thought how I’d describe my and Taylor’s spiritual and emotional state when we first arrived: disillusionment.

I’ll quote Barbara Brown Taylor from her book, The Preaching Life to give you an idea of what I mean:

“Disillusionment is the loss of illusion — about ourselves, about the world, about God — and while it is almost always painful, it is not a bad thing to lose the lies we have mistaken for truth.  Disillusioned, we come to understand that God does not conform to our expectations.  We glimpse our own relative size in the universe and see that no human being can say who God should be or how God should act.  We review our requirements of God and recognize them as our own fictions, our own frail shelters against the vast night sky.  Disillusioned, we find out what is not true and are set free to seek what is — if we dare.” 

When Taylor and I left New Orleans a little over a year ago, we left utterly and completely disillusioned. Sure, we left with a sense of freedom to finally ask those hard questions (that led us to leave in the first place), but honestly, we were terrified at what answers we’d find. Like Barbara Brown mentions, disillusionment is painful. When we got here, we arrived a bit bruised and battered; also kinda bitter, carrying a whole lot of baggage (how’s that for alliteration).

But as I thought about what I’d share to the group about this past year, I realized for the first time that those deep-purple bruises we arrived with have finally started to turn that weird, almost-healed-yellowish color. I couldn’t help but notice that the baggage we brought isn’t feeling so heavy anymore.

I wish I could say that healing has come from dedicated mornings of meditating on Scripture, praying the anger away, and doing all of the, you know, textbook “good Christian” stuff. Sure, those things have happened and have been beautiful and necessary… But most of the unpacking of my baggage has come from those random and not-so-spiritual moments chopping onions around a table while I vent to new friends about past grievances. Healing has met me on those late nights of drinking cheap wine while lamenting with others over police brutality, sexual abuse within the Church, and harmful theology that has gone unchecked for too long.

I’ve been reminded this past year that disillusionment isn’t so bad when Jesus meets you there through the patient faces of those people who listen without judgment and show just enough compassion to keep you from getting too cynical —and not getting cynical is important. I read a quote a few months ago (I don’t remember where or by whom so if you know please let me know) that said something along the lines of, “I’m not worried about getting angry. I’m worried about getting cynical. Because cynicism is anger without hope.”

And so I will say, if you find yourself disillusioned, surround yourself with people who allow you to be angry, who welcome you despite your baggage, and who provide just enough hope to keep you from getting cynical. But perhaps more importantly, be that person for someone else—someone who may need to experience the compassion and patience of Jesus.

And lastly, as obvious as this seems, I think we need the constant reminder that this happens most effectively through the beautiful gift of diversity within community. Why? Well, hope looks different for everyone, and you may just need that faith-shifting perspective to get you through another day.

Stepping out of our comfort zones to build relationships with those who may pray differently, practice communion differently, and think differently theologically will help us get to that healthy place of disillusionment where we glimpse our own relative size in the universe and see that no human being can say who God should be or how God should act and come to understand that God does not conform to our expectations. 

 

 Dinner at Madison Square

Dinner at Madison Square

Why Bad Theology Matters

This month is five years since I started this blog…FIVE YEARS! As I was working on the new site (which includes password protecting all my old entries), the term “ignorance is bliss” reverberated in my head.

This blog has seen me through some of the most pivotal moments in my life: it’s traveled through Europe and South America with me, it’s gone with me on multiple “mission trips” to varying countries; it’s seen me through break-ups, moving to two new cities, the death of my child-hood pet, starting seminary, my engagement and marriage, transferring to a new seminary, and has sat with me as I’ve wrestled through deep theological shifts and changes.

It’s been a whirlwind—and really, those of you who have kept up with me, THANKS, I commend you, heh. As I read through all of my old posts, I laughed at how silly most of them were—you know, my hyper-spiritualizing EVERYTHING, the  overuse of Christian jargon, and let's not forget the really bad application to Scripture taken completely out of context. Oh well, it's part of the journey.

Along with being really embarrassed, I couldn’t help but recognize how much easier it was to be excited about my faith when I didn’t know about the dark history of Christianity—colonialism, colonization,  racism. It was easier when I didn’t know that literally everything I’ve ever heard a mega-church pastor preach from a pulpit, or everything I’ve read from Christian self-help blogs is an interpretation—a subjective one at that. It’s easy when you idolize certain Christian figures and think everything they teach is from God’s own mouth, because well, it doesn’t require much thinking for yourself—and frankly, I think many church leaders don't want you to actually think for yourself (because you might come to difference conclusions). It’s also easier when things are taught to you as black and white because you can learn to ignore the gray areas… and pretend that most of life doesn’t actually take place in the gray areas.

I’ll just be real: the less you know about Christianity, the easier it is to be a Christian.

A couple days ago, several students from my Women in Church History and Theology class taught by prof. John Thompson got together for the second time at his house to have dinner and drinks, catch up, share stories, and talk theology. As we sat at Dr. Thompson's dinner table, our conversation naturally gravitated toward being women and the obstacles we’ve encountered trying to pursue our calling. It was clear we all face similar tensions: being really discouraged and wanting to cry/scream/give up, while at the same time feeling empowered, energized, and ready to take on whatever comes our way because of the incredible women who came before us—women in history who faced serious consequences for living out their faith.

Our conversation reflected that tension as we flip-flopped between tears and laughter; encouragement and "wait, why are we doing this again?" At one point in the conversation we expressed our concerns about terrible exegesis,  and how God interestingly works despite really bad interpretations of Scripture (hey, this blog is proof). But despite that truth, we couldn't help but recognize the sober reality (and that tension once again), that bad theology destroys.  In fact, it quite literally kills. It’s killed people for centuries, and it kills people even now. Bad theology has justified genocide, ethnocide, and slavery. Bad theology has kept women silent and given space for spiritual and physical abuse. Sure, God can and has worked through it, but bad theology isn't harmless, and we shouldn't treat it as such. 

It's this reality that sends me into spirals of "why am I doing this again?" I mean, what difference could my tiny, vapor of a life possibly make when much of Christian history has produced some really terrible, really harmful stuff?

I don't know the answer to that question. But I do know one thing:  God will find really interesting ways to regularly remind me of my calling. Sometimes it's through a professor; sometimes it's through conversations with friends; sometimes it's through a national crisis that takes me to the streets to march; sometimes it's through the messages and emails I receive from you encouraging me to keep writing.

But there's also another reason I keep doing this—why I keep digging deeper, spending 60+ hours a week learning a bunch of languages, reading a bunch of books, and writing a bunch of papers. It’s because knowledge empowers.

Knowledge teaches me about the context and culture of the first century, so I can understand things like what it meant that Jesus said Mary was doing the right thing by "sitting as his feet." Knowledge taught me about first century imperial cult worship and what an honest application of  the command “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” would be. Knowledge teaches about the beautiful, liberating , life-giving implications of  "the Gospel"—how it should affect every aspect of life and society (including our activism) and that people before us used it to wield power instead of service. Knowledge teaches us about the past so that we can re-create a new future...so we can be better people, better followers of Jesus—better neighbors, citizens, friends.

Knowledge empowers us so that we can empower others.

If you’ve ever wondered why I write so much about women, it’s because I’ve experienced first hand the beauty and freedom that comes in being empowered by knowledge. And it's (quite literally) my job to pass on the knowledge I receive to you.

So, sure, ignorance produces bliss, but knowledge empowers. And my hope is that the deeper you dig into the knowledge of the Divine, the more empowered you’ll be to live like Jesus did.

What Does "Helper" Really Mean?

When I first began dialoguing with people about women and Scripture, I noticed something really interesting: biblically educated folks will agree that much of what Paul says concerning women should be read with historical and cultural context in mind. It was obvious early on that learned people will never say that Paul's letters are in no way contextual. For example, in 1 Timothy, Paul argues that women (besides keep silent) shouldn’t braid their hair, or wear gold and pearls. Interestingly, everyone I’ve spoken to agrees that doesn’t apply to our culture. Thus, most agree that at least some of what Paul says has to do with the context in which he lived in.

In the last seminary I attended, professors who held very strongly to complementarian practice still taught that “women shall remain silent” was a result of first-century cultural realities. I always found this interesting, and naturally, it led me to wonder: if the main issue isn’t (always) a disagreement on context, then what else (in Scripture) could be the cause for such polarizing views concerning women?

Throughout my study of this topic, I’ve noticed that the foundation of the “woman” debate sort of hovers around one main thing: the creation narrative, or more specifically “creation order.” (And when I say narrative in regards to creation—I mean narrative. I’m talking about what the story means theologically.

I could write five different posts related to Genesis 1-3 (perhaps I will), but for today, I just want to focus on the Genesis 2:18 and 20 claim that woman was to be a “suitable helper” (NIV) or “helper fit” (ESV) for man. Many argue that this verse is proof that women were created to be submissive to men. Now, I’m sure there’s a spectrum to this, as some will argue that women need only submit to their husbands (although I don’t see how that works practically for single women). Still others will agree with what I’m going to focus on in this post: the Hebrew phrase ezer kenegdo, or “suitable helper.

For starters, the word “help” or “helper” implies something very different in Hebrew than it does in English. In English, "helper" most of the time suggests someone who is under a person in authority, like an assistant, for example. However, this is very different from the Hebrew, as “help” in this particular context comes from one who has power to give help—it refers to someone in a superior position offering help to a weaker person who cannot help herself or himself.

I used to be a huge Matt Chandler fan, and I remember back in my full-blown complementarian days being so excited after hearing him preach a sermon about women as “helpers.” I’ll quote him directly, because he’s pretty spot-on about this:

God being called helper throughout the Scriptures brings honor to the position of helper. Since God has been called the helper, a helper cannot be inherently inferior. So if woman has been made a helper fit for him, a woman as helper to the man cannot mean the woman is inferior in any way.”

Chandler is right. Ezer can be found 20 times in the Old Testament. Seventeen of those times it is used to describe God, and the other three times to describe a military aide. When it refers to God, it's always in accordance with his engagement with humans and his relationship with Israel.

A few examples include:

Exodus 18:4, "…and the name of the other, Eliezer (for he said, 'The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh')." 

Deuteronomy 33:7 says, "And this he said of Judah: 'Hear, O Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him in to his people. With your hands contend for him, and be a help (ezer) against his adversaries.'" 

and Psalm 33:20: "Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help (ezer) and our shield."

You see, if one argues that woman as “helper” denotes man’s elevated position in relation to her, than the same would be implied for God—which we know isn’t true.

God helps Israel because he has the power to do so, and because Israel can’t do it alone.

The second part of the phrase is also important to note: kenegdo. This word is made up of two prepositions: ke which suggests “corresponding to” or “the adding of something that is essential,” and negdo which suggests “to stand in someone’s presence.” The two prepositions together express a relationship between two people facing each other, showing they are equals.

Ezer kenegdo in no way suggests subordination or inferiority—not in creation, nor in function.

Thus in Genesis 2:18—“I will make him a helper fit (ezer kenego) for him,” implies someone, a helper, who is suitable for the task—not a maid or an assistant, but a companion that corresponds to ‘adam (this word literally meaning “earth creature” not yet a proper noun), being of the same nature as him and of the same capacity for a relationship with God. As David Freedman puts it, “When God creates Eve from Adam’s rib, His intent is that she will be—unlike the animals—a power or strength equal to him.”

I will say that I’m not against the idea of true “complementary.” In fact, it’s very evident in Genesis 1 in that man and woman complete what it means to be human—specifically in completing the tasks given to them by God in regards to creation.

Woman is not a duplicate, but a complement that completes human creation.

 

____

Some resources to check out: Ben Witherington's Women and the Genesis of Christianity: https://www.amazon.com/Women-Genesis-Christianity-Ben-Witherington/dp/0521367352

Kevin Giles: https://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/priscilla-papers/genesis-equality-part-1

The Junia Project and CBE International also have quite a few resources on this as well! (linked are two that I used)

 

God Our Mother? On Mother's Day

Happy Mother’s Day, Moms!

In light of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d take a pretty conservative approach to thinking through the topic of God as Mother.

I know it sounds odd (and to some reading this, the opposite of conservative), but I recently read up on 14th century anchoress, Julian of Norwich’s work on Jesus as Mother…and it was so incredibly moving, I felt like I had an almost second “salvation experience.” Here’s why:

The idea of God as my Father always felt sort of foreign to me. The reason is because I’ve never had a relationship with my father, and while I have an incredible stepfather, his role as stepfather has always come in second to my mom’s role as my mother. For the first chunk of my life my mom was a single mother, acting as both mom and dad. My grandma also helped raise me, serving as a second-mom and pseudo-dad. So inevitably, when I read in Scripture about all the ways God is a parent, I naturally related that metaphor to my mother and grandmother’s parenting.

I noticed how this influenced me a couple years ago while traveling in Peru. I was sitting at a coffee shop doing some midday devotional reading when I arrived at Romans 8:15, which reads: “You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”—it hit me in that moment that I’ve never actually cried, “Abba, Father.” In fact, the word, “father” has never been uttered from my mouth, directed to anyone—not to a human, nor to God. I thought this was interesting, and for a while, I tried to force saying it toward God because, as everyone always told me, “God is THE perfect father,” regardless if I knew what that meant or not…

It never stuck, though. Father just wasn’t a name I used for God. But, despite my not referring to God as Father, I never once thought of referring to him in motherly terms, either. Because, well, thinking of God as Mother can be rather awkward.

However, putting pronouns and labels aside, we all know and understand that the Divine is a Spirit, which means God is not exclusively male or female. God is non-gendered, or to put it in a more “God-like” way: God is beyond gender.

If this is true, then why is Mother God such an uncomfortable term for most people?

Well, recent history within the church has steered pretty far from using feminine imagery for God. Interestingly though, this has not always been the case. In fact, our early church fathers and mothers used elaborate language concerning God, most of it rather fluid when it came to gender. Men like Calvin, Augustine, Origen, Iraneaus, Clement of Alexandria and others seemed rather comfortable using feminine imagery for Jesus.

For example, Clement of Alexandria says, “The Word [Christ] is everything to his little ones, both father and mother.” Likewise, Chrysostom is known to pray, “Thou art my Father, thou art my Mother…”

Before the female body was hyper eroticized, Augustine had a lot to say about breastmilk, nourishment, and God. He refers to the disciples “drink[ing] at the fountain of the Lord’s breast,” and uses motherly imagery: “For just as a mother, suckling her infant, transfers from her flesh the very same food which otherwise would be unsuited to a babe ... so our Lord, in order to convert his wisdom into milk for our benefit, came to us clothed in flesh.”

Theologians before us had a rather sophisticated knowledge of language, rightly assuming that there really aren’t words to describe the vastness of God. John Calvin affirmed this when he said, “If it be objected that God is everywhere called Father and that this title is more appropriate, I reply that no figures of speech can describe God’s affection towards us; for it is infinite and various…By no metaphor can his incomparable goodness be described.” Concerning the title Mother, Calvin also says about God, “He did not satisfy himself with proposing the example of a father, but to express his very strong affection, he chose to liken himself to a mother and calls them not to merely ‘children’ but the fruit of the womb…”

If it was common for the church fathers and mothers to use feminine imagery for God, why does it feel so awkward for us now?

The main argument from those who oppose calling God “Mother” is that in Scripture, God reveals himself as a Son, who in turn, calls God his Father. Because this is true, I don’t argue that we should seek to change what Scripture says.

However, it’s important to understand that God’s revelation involves contextualization. For example, God did not reveal himself in a hypothetical way to a group of people who lived above or beyond history—he revealed himself to a specific and historical group of people with their own specific culture. This is pretty obvious for us when we read how in antiquity, not only was it common for people to own slaves, but women were also considered property, oftentimes paid for with a bride price. God’s revelation was communicated in a way they could understand. And because we understand the patriarchal nature of the society in which Scripture was written, wouldn’t it be safe to argue that the dominance of male imagery for God is due to the way the patriarchal culture shaped them? As Marianne Meye Thompson says, “Thus God is pictured as a warrior, not because God loves to fight or kill, but in part because the world of the Bible was a world often filled with violence and warfare.” Patriarchal language is not incidental to Scripture, it’s normative.

Another interesting thing to note is that language about God is not only masculine…

God refers to himself as a nursing mother (Isaiah 49:15; Numbers 11:12), a midwife (Psalm 22:8-10), and as one who gives birth (Isaiah 42:14, Psalm 131:2). God relates to his people as a bear to her cubs (Hosea 13:8), an eagle hovering over her young (Deuteronomy 32:11), and a mother comforting and weaning her children (Isa 66:13, Psalm 131:2). Jesus compares himself to a mother hen (Matthew 23:37).

On that same token, the Old Testament uses the word “spirit” to refer to the Holy Spirit 84 different times. From those 84 occurrences, 75 of them refer to the Holy Spirit in feminine terms. For example, in Genesis 1:2 where the term “Spirit of God” first appears, it is in feminine form. In Judges, the spirit is always feminine. And in Proverbs, the Wisdom of God, which Christian tradition understands to be the Holy Spirit, is personified as a woman. In fact, this is one of the greatest ways that God is referred to in feminine terms. Throughout Scripture, Wisdom (God) is a she.

However, despite all of this—early church fathers' and mothers' fluid language for God, or Scripture’s reference to feminine attributes to God and Wisdom—I wasn’t particularly inclined to think of Jesus as Mother. Until…well, until I was assigned to read Julian of Norwich for class.

Julian lived in late fourteenth-century England. At the age of thirty, she fell seri­ously ill. As she lay dying in the presence of her mother and the priest who had given her the last rites, she had a lengthy vision of Christ’s suffering on the cross and his redeeming love. She re­covered and became an anchoress, walled into a small apartment, with one window into a church and one window onto the world where she had an active ministry providing spiritual advice to hundreds of people over several decades. Julian recorded her visions and her reflections in a book she called Divine Revelations.

In parts of Divine Revelations, Julian talks about how Jesus is a Mother:

Our true mother, Jesus, he who is all love, bears us into joy and eternal life. So he sustains us within himself in love and was in labour for the full time until he suffered the sharpest pangs and the most grievous sufferings that ever were or shall be, and at the last he died. And when it was finished he had born us to bliss…

The mother can give her child her milk to suck, but our dear Mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and he does so most generously and most tenderly with the holy sacrament which is the precious food of life itself…

This fairly word “mother” is so sweet and so close in nature itself that it may not truly be said of none but him. To the property of motherhood belongs natural love, wisdom, and knowing; and it is good: for though it be that our bodily birth be but little, low and simple in comparison with our spiritual birth, yet it is he that does it in the creatures by whom it is done.

A natural loving mother who knows and sees the need of her child keeps it full tenderly, as the nature and the condition of motherhood will. And as the child grows older, she changes her working, but not her love. And when the child is older still, she allows it to be beaten to break down its vices, to make the child receive virtues and graces. This working, with all that is fair and good, our Lord does it in them by whom it is done: thus he is our Mother in nature by the working of grace…

The mother may allow the child to fall sometimes, and to be hurt in diverse manners for its own profit, but her love will never allow any manner of peril come to the child. And though our earthly mother may allow her child to perish, our heavenly Mother, Jesus, will not allow his children to perish: for he is All-mighty, All-wisdom, and All-love; and so is none but he. Blessed may he be!

But oftentimes when our falling and our wretchedness is shown to us, we are so afraid and so greatly ashamed of ourselves, that we scarcely know where to turn. But then our courteous Mother does not want us to flee away—far from it! Instead, he wishes us to be like a child: for when it is hurt, or afraid, it runs hastily to its mother for help, with all its might. So wills he that we do, as a meek child saying thus: “My kind Mother, my gracious Mother, my beloved Mother, have mercy on me!”

As some of you mommies are experiencing, there’s something incredibly special about motherly love…from the fact that your body literally forms the child inside of you, to the fact that it provides the food necessary for it’s survival. The physical, emotional, mental and even spiritual bond a child can have with its mother is too much for words. I argue this kind of connection is so heavenly, so close to the connection we have with Jesus, that meditating on his love from this perspective can be unbelievably intimate, as it was for me—a woman who will one day be a mother, whom never had an intimate connection with a father—when I first read these words.

The truth is, “Mother God” is not intended to ever replace “Father God,” but perhaps expanding our view of language can not only help us understand the bigness and the beauty of God, but also benefit those who have never had a father to relate to.

Either way, may today be a little different as you celebrate the motherlyness of our Savior.

 

To be a Mother is to suffer;
To travail in the dark,
stretched and torn,
exposed in half-naked humiliation,
subjected to indignities
for the sake of new life.

To be a Mother is to say,
This is my body, broken for you,”
And, in the next instant, in response to the created’s primal hunger,
This is my body, take and eat.”

To be a Mother is to self-empty,
To neither slumber nor sleep,
so attuned You are to cries in the night—
Offering the comfort of Yourself,
and assurances of “I’m here.”

To be a Mother is to weep
over the fighting and exclusions and wounds
your children inflict on one another;
To long for reconciliation and brotherly love
and—when all is said and done—
To gather all parties, the offender and the offended,
into the folds of your embrace
and to whisper in their ears
that they are Beloved.

To be a mother is to be vulnerable—
To be misunderstood,
Railed against,
Blamed
For the heartaches of the bewildered children
who don’t know where else to cast
the angst they feel
over their own existence
in this perplexing universe

To be a mother is to hoist onto your hips those on whom your image is imprinted,
bearing the burden of their weight,
rejoicing in their returned affection,
delighting in their wonder,
bleeding in the presence of their pain.

To be a mother is to be accused of sentimentality one moment,
And injustice the next.
To be the Receiver of endless demands,
Absorber of perpetual complaints,
Reckoner of bottomless needs.

To be a mother is to be an artist;
A keeper of memories past,
Weaver of stories untold,
Visionary of lives looming ahead.

To be a mother is to be the first voice listened to,
And the first disregarded;
To be a Mender of broken creations,
And Comforter of the distraught children
whose hands wrought them.

To be a mother is to be a Touchstone
and the Source,
Bestower of names,
Influencer of identities;
Life giver,
Life shaper,
Empath,
Healer,
and
Original Love.

-Allison Woodard

On Cuba and Why Seminary Sucks Sometimes

I’ve been kinda “blah” lately, even though nothing negative in particular has happened. In fact, life is pretty good—generally speaking—right now. And nothing is really new, either…well, except that I’m taking a church history course…

But, that’s pretty normal considering I’m in seminary and this isn’t my first church history course.

However, the difference about this course is that its focus is not history from the perspective of those who traditionally write history—i.e. the winners, the elite, or those “on top.”

Instead, I’m learning about the history of the church from the perspective of women, or “deformed men” as Aristotle called us. Sure, it sucks knowing prominent men in the faith like Augustine and later Aquinas taught that women were ontologically and biologically incapable of exercising intelligence, virtue or any sort of leadership qualities—which obviously influenced theologians after them, etc. While my reading material and class discussions are hard to swallow, it’s actually been helpful in realizing why we are where we are when it comes to women in leadership, and who sat on the shoulders of whom, and what sort of theology was passed down from philosopher to theologian to modern voices in Evangelicalism…

Studying women in church history can be heavy…but to be honest, that’s not the reason I’ve been “blah.”

In fact, what’s made me feel this way is research I’m doing for a paper in the class. We were given the option to choose a topic within history/theology and gender. As most of you know, I’ve already been doing intense research in gender for the past year or so, so naturally I had a long list of topics I wanted to write about. But, there was one particular thing a friend and fellow woman of color, Joyce, said to me recently that has continuously rang in my ear: “Kat, there are a lot of white women that are writing really good stuff about egalitarianism…but there aren’t a lot of Cuban women that are writing about it from their perspective….you should tap into that.”

This struck me because up until recently, my Latina-ness didn’t mean much. I had so thought of myself as “white,” that everything that is feisty and loud and intense and…well, Cuban in me was slowly fading.

After a few days of thinking through research topics all that I could think of was: “I’m a Cuban woman. There’s history…and theology there.” I immediately got myself to the library and checked out about a dozen books on Christianity and Cuba. To my surprise, the mother of Mujerista Theology (liberation theology from a Latina perspective) is a Cuban woman.

The first book I picked up during my library binge was Miguel De La Torre’s The Quest for the Cuban Christ. I was so pumped to get home and read about the history of my incredible people. But, needless to say, my excitement quickly dissipated when I opened the very first page. The three beginning sentences read, “Women were raped. Children were disemboweled. Men fell prey to the invaders’ swords” (De La Torre, 3).

I immediately realized that this journey wouldn’t be light, easy, or even encouraging—it would be dark, heavy, and difficult.

I suddenly began to feel it. I honestly didn’t know this was a thing until I took my feelings to Twitter and the wonderful community there assured me that I wasn’t alone in what I was feeling. People have different names for it, but I’ve decided to name it: research grief. And yes, it’s a thing.

This grief began to surface once I realized the story of my people would be the story of the native Cubans—the Taínos—being invaded and colonized by Spain. Worse than that, it would be about how Spain’s imported “Christ” would infect the island and justify the greed for gold and glory. This “Christ” would support the ethnocide of the Taíno people. Spain would exploit and oppress these so-called heathens in the name of this imported “Christ.”

And this isn’t just true of Cuban history, but most of Latin American history, as well as African history and the history of America’s indigenous peoples.

Reading about this colonial “Christ,” whom people used to justify domination is painful, to say the least. At times my readings about the colonizers forcing people to be baptized or else killed is met with physical pain, even tears. Every few pages of story after story of torture is followed by personal moments of prayer and lament. Even though De La Torre reminds me that the supposed Christian invaders who claimed allegiance to the “true” God of the Bible while ignoring the Bible’s basic call for justice were not the true representatives of Christ (De La Torre, 3), I still can’t shake the sadness. This is the only Christ some people know of. This is the Christ that has infiltrated much of our theology and mission efforts—the Christ that is white, elite and of European decent.

While this is a reality, I know it isn’t the only reality. Jesus—the true Jesus can be found through the perspective of los humildes (the humble) as De La Torre calls them. And the more I read about Jesus from the perspective of los humildes—the colonized, the marginalized, those that didn’t get to write the history and theology books—the more deeply I fall in love with the Jesus these people represent—the indigenous Jesus—the Jesus that was born in a manger, rejected in his home town, tortured, broken and battered.

As I continue in my research, I remember that although the imported Christ infiltrated Cuba, the indigenous Jesus can be still be found beating in the hearts of los humildes—the truth and the beauty of this Jesus somehow still penetrated the island of my ancestors, my family.

Through this journey the past couple of weeks, I have been painfully reminded that I’m currently living about 3,000 miles away from where most of the exiled Cubans fled to during the Revolution in the 60’s—the second Cuba, if you will—my hometown, Miami. And my goodness, how easy it’s become to miss. I find myself lately missing my culture and my people. But mostly, I find myself more than ever missing my Cuban Abuela—the matriarch of our family who lived most of her life in this country as a widow—supporting her family, working her own business, volunteering at church, maintaining a home, and ultimately leaving a legacy.

Living so far from her gets harder each time I realize that her time here is slowing coming to an end as her body becomes more frail and her mind more distant. Because of her dementia, calling her on the phone has gotten painfully difficult, as I don’t know who I will be speaking to… or if she’ll know who she is speaking to.

But a few days ago, after a deep breath and a sincere prayer for strength, I decided to pick up the phone…I just needed to hear her voice.

“Hola, Abuela. Como estas?” (Hi Grandma, how are you?)

“Bien, aqui. Necesito que me hagas un favor.” (Good, here. I need you to do me a favor.)

“Que necesitas?” (What do you need?)

“Necesito que me lleves a coger mi pasaporte. (I need you to take me to get my passport.)

Although I knew my grandma can’t travel, and that she wasn’t in a state of mind to understand why, I still asked,“Porque, Abuela?” (Why, Grandma?)

“Necesito ir a Cuba.” I need to go to Cuba.

Tears rolled down my face as I realized that while her mind wasn’t present with me in the conversation, her heart was where it will always be—where mine is longing to be—in that beautiful island with los humildes.

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What's Behind That Buzzword "Patriarchy"?

Being awakened to the world of women’s equality has literally changed my entire life. Obviously. It’s an overwhelmingly liberating world…particularly because if you know me you know that given no limits, I will do anything and everything for the advancement of God’s Kingdom. You see, before I learned how to study Scripture, I believed man when he told me I couldn’t do everything…just some things... But as I’ve said, a deep study of the Word showed me that I indeed can actually do all that God has called me to do. At Pentecost the Spirit was unleashed on all peoples—both men and women—to partake in the up-building of the Church.

As you can imagine, this egalitarian world is still so new to me. On the one hand, I’m feeling alive and encouraged. I’m being supported by so many incredible humans around me—not just BOSS women, but insanely amazing men. Really. Those of you fighting for our cause are literally heaven-sent. Some of the people that have been advancing my work and my ministry in this new season have been men using their platform and privilege to step aside and give me opportunities to grow. More than that, they’ve put themselves aside in such a way as to allow the Spirit to work through me. As a dear friend recently reminded me—it’s not about gender, it’s about God. When women aren’t given freedom to flourish in all their gifts, the Holy Spirit is stifled and the Church suffers.

On the other hand, however, I fight feelings of betrayal….strange feelings toward people I once looked up to and admired whom I thought had my best interest in mind. Specifically toward “friends” I was once close to now tearing me down by posting my articles on Complementarian pages to receive help in catching me in my “heresy”… but refuse to engage with me personally when I ask for input. Or even members of my own family consistently opposing things I (and my husband) post. It’s not easy, but I tell myself it’s not personal.

The beautiful thing, however, is that for every kick in the gut I get, I receive insurmountable amounts of encouragement in return…like countless messages from women I’ve never met reaching out to thank me for speaking up, or even random men finding my phone number through my business site and leaving me a voicemail just to encourage me to “keep being bold no matter who comes against you. You’re a daughter of the king” (God knows what you need when you need it).

Part of the problem is that many people have been trained to believe that their interpretation is theonlyand theright interpretation (most of these interpretations coming from 16th-19th century White European colonialists). Now, the different interpretations aren’t the problem…it’s thinking yours was the one sent down by God from Heaven that’s the problem. What’s particularly dangerous is when certain interpretations disempower, silence or oppress people.

When it comes to women in particular, most of the people who tell me I can’t preach believe Paul said women shouldn’t “exercise authority” as a universal truth for all peoples at all times. Yet, most of these same people also believe women don’t need to listen to Paul’s instruction (which is in the same passage) anymore concerning head coverings or braided hair because these instructions don’t apply. This is an example of picking and choosing what to obey from a text... which is in itself…an interpretation. A deliberate decision was made when coming to this conclusion—a decision to choose what is cultural and what is not from one specific text (for more on this, check out my post on Patheos).

Needless to say, I’m big on getting people to understand that NO ONE comes to Scripture without their own cultural lenses and biases. Considering this, I argue that the cultural lenses through which these texts have traditionally been built upon are patriarchal in nature.

Okay, I’ll admit… I’ve been throwing around the word “patriarchy” a lot lately. We all know what it’s referring to, but I never thought too much about the specifics behind it until recently when I heard this incredible podcast with Carolyn Custis James where she shares about her study concerning women, specifically in a cross cultural sense.

She explains that patriarchy literally means “the rule of the father,” and refers specifically to inheritance, in which the first-born sons are considered the crown prince of the family. To put it simply: it’s a social system that’s impacted every culture in which men prevail according to their family line. We see this every day in simple things like last names being carried on by sons instead of daughters, etc.

While patriarchy bears much weight on Western society, its fullest effects are seen in many parts of the non-Western world, particularly in places where women are still sold for a bride price, or in places where babies are left to die when they are born female. So, as much as I try and stand up against it here in America, I know our situation is trivial compared to how many women have it across the globe (a problem of which I can’t fix, but I am committing to doing what I can on a global scale—more on that later).

As we know, the backdrop of the Bible comes out of a patriarchal culture—while it isn’t the message of the Bible, it’s certainly in the background. Interestingly, though, Scripture (and more specifically, Jesus) when read closely offers narratives that are radically opposed to it. Unfortunately, many people in the West miss the radical implications of anti patriarchy in Scripture. But lets not forget that if we lived in a culture where women aren’t even allowed to show their faces in public (which is still true in some parts of the world), we’d feel the weight of stories like that of Debra, Ruth, Esther, or Judith (hers found in the Apocrypha).

Truthfully, the more we understand patriarchy’s implications, the more radical the message of Jesus will appear to us even here in America.

If we’re wondering if patriarchy was God’s good, original plan, we must start at the beginning. In the first two chapters of Genesis, we see God creating male and female to rule Creation together. Initially, Scripture doesn’t show humans ruling each other. Men and women were created to be a reflection of God—to speak and act for him—together. Interestingly, patriarchy is nowhere to be seen in the Creation narrative.

The most significant example of this is found when Scripture says, “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife” (which is echoed again in Matthew). This fundamental implication for husband and wife found in the second chapter of the Bible (before the Fall—before sin entered the world) is significant, as it is a statement completely opposed to patriarchy. You see, in patriarchal systems, women leave their families to become their husband’s property. In a sinless world, God’s plan is the opposite—showing that a husband is to leave his family to join his wife.

It isn’t until the Fall—until sin enters the narrative—that human’s outward rule is turned laterally toward one another and patriarchy is introduced, creating the rule of men over women.

Going further, Jesus interacts with women in a way that violates how things typically worked in patriarchal systems. This can be seen in things as simple as Jesus having public conversations with women. The story of Mary of Bethany offers a great example of Jesus going against the grain, as she is praised for sitting at His feet, namely, being His disciple (for more on this, check out this post). It’s hard to get excited about this text in the West, where women are able to go to the university and become professors. But imagine what its like to hear this message if you’re a woman in a culture that doesn’t allow you to receive an education, and if you attempt to do so, you run the risk of getting poisoned or having acid thrown in your face. Imagine how liberating it would be to hear of Mary being affirmed by Jesus for being his disciple.

You see, the Gospel is liberating for all peoples and sometimes, putting on the lens of someone else can help us see it a little more clearly. The Bible comes alive when we look to see how God is revealing himself and how the stories of people show his love empowering them to do his work in the world.

For more on patriarchy, check out Carolyn Custis James’s book Malestrom.

Mutuality in Marriage: Priscilla and Aquila?

If you’ve spent any time in church (or in the New Testament text) you’ve heard of the famous couple, Priscilla and Aquila. Narratives centered on co-laboring couples like the Priscilla-Aquila team have always excited me because mutuality in ministry is something I envisioned for my marriage from even before I met my husband. Weirdly enough, I didn’t have many marriages (in this sense) that I could relate to, as so many wives I knew were so great at being the cutest (and I mean that sincerely) arts-and-crafts/Pinterest kind of wives who baked cookies from scratch, made parenting look easy, and had dinner ready when their husbands came home hungry and tired from a day of ministry. While I genuinely think that’s impressive and a beautiful reality for many women, it just wasn’t me…or my reality. I’ve never done a serious Pinterest project or even thought too much about having kids of my own. In fact, I dreamed I would be the person coming home hungry and tired from a day of ministry…

I remember the heavy feelings of insecurity I felt because of this. Was I not “wife-material”…or as they call it in some circles—a “Proverbs 31 wife”?

Instead, I would read commentaries for devotionals and lift weights at the gym on my spare time. I never got around to doing the things Christian sub-culture tells you a wife should do. When I was single, I constantly worried: what was marriage supposed to look like for me? Was I not supposed to initiate Bible studies with my husband? Teach him what I’ve learned? Once I knew I was “called to ministry” I wondered how that would look vocationally—was it appropriate for me to pursue this if I married a guy who didn’t? On top of this, I can be pretty independent, opinionated, and assertive…qualities that are typically valued highly in men, not women. Was I supposed to change my personality completely? How would I even start to do that?

Needless to say, things changed when I met Taylor. He didn’t care at all about having a “Proverbs 31 wife”; in fact, he liked the qualities about me that I had begun to feel insecure about.

During one of our first conversations, we talked about all the things we both wanted to accomplish in our careers, in our education, in our spiritual growth, and in our ministries. The closer we got to each other (and to marriage) the more excited we both became about the idea that we get to co-labor in ministry, education and life. In fact, the fact that we were on the exact same page and on the same playing field was part of the reason we decided to get married in the first place.

During this time, we had both been working for a campus ministry organization in New Orleans. I was working almost full time with the ministry, particularly in leading discipleship groups with the women while Taylor was volunteering fewer hours doing the same thing with the guys. We also both have a passion for teaching, so on the nights when the ministry got together as a big group, Taylor and I both tag-teamed on teaching the lesson for the night, which for a few months was the book of 1 Samuel. We had a ton of fun doing that.

One particular night, however, the leaders got together to prepare for the next few weeks, and a fellow coworker who had been hired to help run the ministry made a comment to us after he had repeatedly heard students refer to my husband and I as, “Kat and Taylor.”

“Why does everyone say it like that?” he asked in the middle of a meeting.

“Say what…like what?” I asked.

“Kat and Taylor. Why does everyone call you Kat and Taylor?” He emphasized.

“Ummmm. I don’t know. What else are they supposed to call us?” I asked.

“Well, it should be Taylor and Kat.” He stressed.

Huh?

It took me a second. What in the world was the difference?

Taylor and I went home after that meeting and chatted for a bit about how weird…and comical that comment was.

But, I’ll admit. I found myself thinking about it the following few days. Why did this man care…care enough to say something? Considering the fundamentalist camp he’s involved in, I knew what he was implying: the husband is supposed to lead the relationship, thus his name should come first when speaking of them in conversation.

In fact, this man felt so strongly about this that he even felt the need to correct us.

Naturally I wondered, is this rooted biblically, or is it simply tradition masked as biblical truth?

Well, to answer this question, I did a little digging and visited our favorite co-laboring couple in Scripture: Priscilla and Aquila.

Priscilla and Aquila were a married couple from Rome. We pick up their story in Acts 18 when Paul meets them as refugees in Corinth. They had immigrated there after the edict of Claudius, which kicked all the Jews out of Rome. Corinth had a distinctive business and social environment, as it was smack dab in the middle of really important trade routes. Workshops and guilds dominated the structure of the city, which sets the stage for Aquila and Priscilla’s business partnership with Paul. Luke makes it clear in chapter 18 of Acts that all three of them, not just Aquila, practiced the same trade, and that aside from working with them, Paul stayed with them during his time at Corinth, which was 18 months. There’s no doubt that their involvement with Paul was vital to his ministry in Corinth.

After their time in Corinth was up, Paul, Aquila and Priscilla eventually left together en route to Ephesus. The couple stayed in Ephesus while Paul continued on his journey. What’s interesting is that Luke decides to linger the narrative on Priscilla and Aquila and the episode they encountered with Apollos. The narrative tells us that Apollos was a well-educated Jew, eloquent and effective when he spoke. While Apollos knew about Jesus, he had only been aware of the baptism of John. Luke tells us concerning this, “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they received him into their circle of friends and explained to him God’s way more accurately” (emphasis mine). Again, Luke is pretty clear about who taught Apollo the more accurate way—not just a man, but also a woman. Some suggest women should not teach; particularly not teach men, but here we see an instance where Priscilla did just that.

Considering this, I’d like to pose a thought/question concerning Paul’s letters: how are we to read this Acts narrative that assumes women had equal footing to exercise authority over men in comparison to a seemingly contradictory remark by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:12?

My suggestion is this: perhaps Paul, in his letter written specifically to Timothy, was addressing a specific issue in a specific congregation—the one Timothy was the pastor of (for more on the this check out this post).

When we read Paul’s letters, we have to remember that we are reading one part of a conversation. It’s similar to listening to someone talk on the phone. If you walk into a room and hear a friend telling someone in a conversation, “go inside and don’t go outside again until tomorrow,” we would need to understand the context of why this person is telling someone on the other line to do this. We wouldn’t automatically start telling everyone this is what they must do, but we’d first try and understand the situation. This is how we are to be true to Paul’s letters (and everything else in Scripture)—what are they saying, to whom are they saying it and why are they saying it? In essence, this is what we do when we read the Old Testament, the Gospels, and all the epistles, particularly when we read verses that address issues like slavery, for example. Understanding context is foundational to doing proper exegesis, and this is how we can understand a passage like 1 Timothy in light of a narrative like Aquila and Priscilla’s…

Anyways, we know that they made a tremendous difference as far as ministry goes, as Paul addresses them two other times in his letters. His mentioning of them at the end of the letter to the Romans is particularly special, “Say hello to Priscilla and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus, who risked theirown necks for my life. I’m not the only one who thanks God for them, but all the churches of the Gentiles do the same. Also say hello to the church that meets in their house” (emphasis mine). In the first century, those who led churches in their homes functioned as that churches pastor, or pastors in this case (many scholars also attribute this role to Lydia in Philippi—but that’s for another post). Paul shows no distinction of hierarchy when addressing the couple, but that they both led the church, they both risked their lives for Paul, and they both were coworkers with him in ministry.

So back to my original question...was that man’s comment about our name order rooted biblically, or is it simply tradition masked as biblical truth?

Well, besides everything I’ve already mentioned, a final thing to note is: out of the six times that Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned in Scripture…FOUR of them mention Priscilla’s name first.

…and in ancient writings, the names that are written first hold way more weight than they do even now. Not only was Priscilla a co-laborer with her husband, but the ordering of the text shows us that she was the more distinguished among the two and deserving of high praise…

So I would say…no, the man’s comment was not rooted biblically at all…and whether it’s Kat and Taylor or Taylor and Kat, our only hope as a couple is to be as effective and hardworking in ministry as our favorite co-laboring, refugee couple in the first century, Priscilla and Aquila…or Aquila and Priscilla…however you decide to order it.

 

*For more on exegesis and reading Scripture in context, check out this great resource.

2017: The Year of Breakups

2017 was a wild ride.

It seems every year gets more and more intense. I’m not sure if that’s just a part of life and getting old…or perhaps…the more crazy things I get to do, the easier it becomes for me to choose to do crazier things in the future—like pack my life into my car on a whim, for the second time, and move across the country. I will say however, out of all the intense things I’ve had the opportunity to do in 2017—backpack Europe, start a business, road trip through the US, move across the country, adopt two new kitties (yes, the kitties for me were a highlight)—the most intense would be working through a major faith-shift, or crisis, or whatever you want to call it.

I’ll explain…

I began seminary as an Apologetics major. For any of you who know anything about the Enneagram, I’m an 8, so being an Apologetics major makes total sense, ha (we aren’t called “The Challengers” for no reason). I began seminary wanting to “defend Christianity” (lolz). What that really meant was that I wanted to get better at arguing and defending my personal viewpoints concerning certain Christian opinions (which at the time, I held as absolute truth). More specifically, one of the things I wanted to argue, which I considered essential to salvation, was Calvinism (yes, I know, too many TGC and Desiring God articles). But weirdly so, I was passionate about it…

…until a couple months into my first semester of seminary, when I met my husband, Taylor.

One evening, while I was getting ready to state my case for my adherence to all of TULIP, Taylor asked me, “Why is it that your focus is Apologetics?”

“Because I want to be an expert at defending my faith, of course,” I said proudly.

“Well, you know…your greatest apologetic is knowing the Word…”

Hm.

I’ll admit: a lot changed for me in that moment. Perhaps part of the reason for my being so moved by Taylor’s comment might’ve been because of the fact that I was majorly crushing on him… Heh. Either way, his comment turned a light bulb on in my head.

“My greatest apologetic is knowing the Word,” I liked the way that sounded.

It wasn’t too long before I had switched my focus to Biblical Studies, and Greek quickly became my love language. The more I got into the nuances of the text, the more I realized something they don’t mention before you start seminary: Biblical Studies and Systematic Theology aren’t particularly the closest of friends. The longer I spent in the Biblical Studies camp, the more I began to lose my grip on certain points I had once held so dearly. I’ll be honest, it was scary; I didn’t want to admit what was happening—how could I change my mind about something that I had once felt so certain about?

The second “aha” moment for me happened during my first Greek exegesis course on the Parables of Jesus with professor Bill Warren (one of my favorites!). We got to the parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14. Like all of the other parables we’d come across, we chatted about traditions and customs particular to ancient Middle Eastern culture. At one point, however, Dr. Warren chuckled and said, “By the way, next time your theology friends argue over whether they’re Calvinist or Arminian, point them to this parable.” He chuckled some more and continued, “This parable right here is proof that it’s not an either/or issue…it’s both/and.”

BOTH/AND? This was the first time I had ever heard this. I was floored.

Strangely so, though, it made perfect sense.

As soon as class was over I darted down stairs where Taylor was studying, “Taylor! It doesn't have to be Calvinism OR Arminianism—it can be both!” We continued chatting about this for the rest of the afternoon. The more we wrestled with both/and, the more liberated I began to feel. The little box that I had once created in my mind, where the Divine had fit neatly in a perfectly articulated 5 point acronym, had begun to shatter completely.

In that moment, I realized more than ever how mysterious YHWH really is, how little I truly understand…

…and how incredible that all is.

I recently heard a podcast where Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggeman, talks about the West, and our obsession with certainty. He goes on to explain how the Western church has immersed itself in Enlightenment rationalism, and consequently, has been a chaplain to the establishment economy. The Western church has underplayed the dramatic openness of faith and has wanted to press things toward certitude, assuming that God is settled in to our personal agendas.

Brueggeman explains that the enterprise of Israel’s faith wasn’t to reach finality, but it was to figure out what fidelity required. In the same way, our venture of faith shouldn’t be to simply reach finality, but continue to figure out faithfulness and devotion—what does it require or permit us in our current circumstance? Just like Israel, we are to know that in the next circumstance, faith needs to be reformulated all over again (think: exile; what faith looked like for Israel before, during and after).

Simply put, the reformed tradition: Semper Reformanda—ALWAYS REFORMING—is deeply biblical and should truly be how we live out and practice our faith.

Always. Reforming.

So… 2017 is over, and for me, it was a year of breakups. I broke up with Calvinism, Complementarianism, and my constant need for certainty...among other things. No, breakups are never easy. But boy, are they sometimes necessary.

And I must say, in all of it, I realized how little I know; how small I am; and how grand, mysterious, and liberating it is to spend a lifetime getting to know the Divine.

So for 2018, my challenge for myself and for those of you reading this is to not be afraid to always reform. Learn something new; stretch yourself; challenge your way of thinking; change your mind. And perhaps have your very own faith-shift, or crisis, or “aha” moment or whatever you want to call it.

 

 

CHEERS to 2018, friends!

Patriarchy, White Privilege, and my Husband, Taylor.

The scene is 5:30pm on a Wednesday afternoon sitting inside of the Payton 302 classroom, enjoying beet hummus and pretzels on the final day of my “Race, Religion and Theology in America” class. The past ten weeks we’ve wrestled through Kameron Carter’s Race: A Theological Perspective, Willie Jennings’s Christian Imagination, Ruben Rodriguez’s Racism and God Talk: A Latina/o Perspective, Sang Hyun Lee's From A Liminal Place: Asian American Theology.

For ten weeks, fifty strangers from all over the world sat in a class and prayed together, shared personal testimony, offered encouragement, and lamented together over systemic injustices in society and in the church. We dialogued about European colonialism, The Dark Ages, The Enlightenment, slavery, Jim Crow, and Kaepernick. We talked about Korean Minjung theology, Liminal Space and Double Consciousness.

Now that the quarter is over, I’ll SO miss listening to opinions from people with other worldviews and cultures. I’ll miss hearing the plight of my Asian-American brother or my African-American sister. I’ll miss learning to understand how they view the world…how they view God.

This “end of the year potluck” was bittersweet. While we sat with food in hand, my friend Julia quietly said, “look around…look how beautiful this all is” –dozens of countries, skin tones and hair colors represented within a few hundred square feet.

Julia and I engaged in conversation about next quarter’s schedules with a fellow classmate. We spoke about the different professors that are offering classes, and how the three of us desire to learn from minorities. I explained that in my last context I had only learned from White males who had mostly come from small towns in the South. I explained that while this wasn’t bad, it had been hard for me to relate, “I’m a Cuban girl from Miami who owned a fake ID by the time I was 16.” As you can imagine, I felt very out of place during my first two years at a Southern seminary. The fellow classmate who was conversing with us chuckled, “wow…yea…” he said. He thought about this for a second and then asked, “Can I ask you both something?”

“Sure,” we said.

I imagined what this question might be related to, considering he was indeed a White male (not from the South, but exposed to all the same privilege, nonetheless).

“What have you found, if anything at all, to be helpful when learning from a White male professor? I ask because, well, I’m a White male…and I guess I just want to know how I can be helpful.”

“…Because you’re in seminary with the purposes of eventually teaching and preaching to people one day?” I affirmed.

“Exactly,” he said.

I understood precisely where he was coming from—why he asked this question. He is a physical representation of a lot of what has been oppressive in society. But to my surprise, he didn’t have to say another word for me to already know there was something different about him. You see, out of place of humility and Christ-like-ness he asked a great question—a helpful question—a mature question…and just the fact that he was asking it proved that he has A LOT to offer as an eventual White male professor or pastor. It’s as simple as coming from a place of desiring to understand.

I wanted to tell my fellow classmate all of these thoughts, but I didn’t. I will, hopefully, if I see him again. But I didn’t mention any of that because as soon as he asked his question, one specific word came to mind: Taylor.

My husband.

“Well…” I said. “My husband is a White male…he’s a really, really White male…from small-town Arkansas. In fact, he sports a bright red beard and is covered in freckles.”

“Oh wow, ha…” he laughed.

“I left my last setting angry, bitter, hurt...” I continued, “But you know what’s been the greatest means of my healing?”

“What’s that?” He asked.

“My white, male, red-headed husband from small-town Arkansas,” I said.

You see, my husband has been one of the greatest champions of freedom and equality for women, minorities, the marginalized, and the oppressed. He’s not afraid to lay down his privilege and stand for what’s right. He’s not afraid to speak against patriarchy and injustice…knowing he WILL receive backlash (and oh, how he has).

My husband educates himself in Black literature and Black culture. He goes to the library regularly and checks out books from authors like James Baldwin. He imagines himself in others’ perspectives, and then writes short stories about their experiences.

When we lived in New Orleans, my husband befriended a group of Chinese exchange students. He met up with them regularly, taught them about his culture and learned all that he could about theirs--particularly about Communism, Buddhism, and delicious Chinese food.

When we first got married, my husband became obsessed (for lack of a better word) with Latino culture. He read books about Cuba; he asked my family members questions about their past; he downloaded Spanish vocabulary cards to work on the language daily.

Recently while lying in bed, my husband looked over at me and told me he had written a poem about me. The poem was about my Cuban culture.

Every time we’d visit my grandmother in Miami, my husband would sit quiet, with a giant smile plastered on his face while the rest of us bantered in a language not his own for hours on end. He never understood a word (other than the few I’d translate), but he was happy to just be a part of it.

When my husband encountered a woman that he doesn’t particularly get along with at work, he came home, shared his struggle, and then asked me if I thought he was being sexist—if his feelings were justified, or if they were a result of gender stereotypes.

My husband is the most talented coffee professional I’ve ever met. A couple weeks ago, he competed at a Latte Art Competition. He didn’t win. A woman did. My husband celebrated her victory because he thinks women should be better represented in the industry.

My husband speaks up against the history of sexual exploitation women have experienced, and the abusive men who have perpetuated it—he speaks up against men like Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump.

If you read my post about my break up with Complementarianism, you read about the pastor who spoke negative about me because “I didn’t ask for permission” to read the Bible with some girls in the church. My husband sat in front of that pastor, told him what he did was wrong, and then preceded to tell the pastor he was leaving his church. That pastor was also his boss. My husband not only left the church, but he also quit his job because the environment was rooted in patriarchy, and my husband wouldn’t stand for that.

My husband regularly asks me questions about my experiences. He listens. He learns from me and isn’t threatened by me. He knows my strengths and he follows me when I lead from them.

My husband moved across the country so that I could study higher theological education freely and without barriers. He believes in me and he supports me.

My husband lays down his privilege regularly.

Just like Jesus did.

I explained some of this to my White male friend while sitting in that classroom…”you’re a White male,” I said. “And you can be a really, really, helpful one in this messed up world… just be like my husband. Be like Taylor.”

____

T, I’m sitting here in our living room while you’re at work and naturally, there are tears rolling down my face. I just want you to know that you’re my role model. You are life-giving, edifying, encouraging, mature, loving, peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, faithful, self-controlled, strong, intelligent, bold. I can’t believe you are the human that my future (very much in the future) children get to look up to. I’m so proud of you.

A Poem on Reformation's 500 and Racism

In light of the Reformation’s 500, I reflect on the thoughts of Ruben Rosario Rodriguez in his book Racism and God-Talk: A Latino/a Perspective:

The role of the contemporary theologian parallels that of the prophets of ancient Israel: both men and women arising within the faith community to

1) exhort it to remain faithful to its true identity

2) simultaneously proclaim God’s judgment upon the community’s disobedience.

In that respect, I echo the cry of Luther--reform.

We’ve come so far,

yet,

we have further to go.

Still so many –isms.

-isms that oppress.

Racism… sexism… products of cultural factors…

… history tells us that particular theological traditions are part of the cultural matrix that generates these
-isms.

… history tells us that the Christian church has perpetuated oppressive attitudes and practices.

As the Reverend MLK Jr. once said, "The most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning."

So let us consider: to what extent do deep theological commitments foster or resist oppressive worldviews?

No, Christian theology is not intrinsically racist. Nor is it intrinsically sexist.

But, Christian doctrines remain open to interpretation and can be manipulated for good…

…and often times manipulated for evil.

Contemporary theologian: are you nailing your theses, disputing oppression silently preserved in the faith community… even as you offer your exhortations? Do the commitments you encourage perpetuate and foster or do the commitments you encourage resist?

Mary, Martha and Cliché Christianese

As most of you know, I didn’t grow up in the church. I quickly learned, though, once I became a regular church attendee that church culture can be…interesting. What made it interesting were those overused “church phrases.” You know which I’m talking about, those clichés yanked from Scripture for the intent of fitting them on a mug or a T-shirt.

Early on in my faith journey, I began wrestling (there’s another church word for you) with the importance of slowing down and taking time to rest. One specific night while at one of my first small groups, I admitted to a new “mature in the faith” friend about how busy I was with life-stuff and how this was taking away time from me focusing on my faith. My well-meaning friend looked at me and as-a-matter-of-fact-ly told me that I shouldn’t “be a Martha.”

“Huh?” I asked.

He continued sharing the famous sister-squabbling story with me. I know you’ve heard it before: Mary is busy in the kitchen doing housework, as she should be; she gets angry at her sister Mary because she is “resting” at Jesus’s feet…when she should be doing housework alongside Martha; Martha complains to Jesus and Jesus affirms that Mary is doing the right thing by not working so hard, but by sitting and listening to him. And so the moral of the story becomes: “Don’t be a Martha, be a Mary” i.e. “take time to rest and listen to Jesus instead of working so hard.” I’ve even heard it go as far as to be used to denounce “works-based salvation.”

And don’t get me wrong…I get it. It’s cute and offers a great lesson to rest in the presence of Jesus, because after all, hard work is what our culture is all about, isn’t it? I’ll admit, I became a Mary-evangelist—even telling people to “not be a Martha” myself.

It wasn’t until semi-recently I learned about two interesting things that forced me to take another look at this text: syntax and culture.

It happened several months ago during a Greek exegesis course on the book of Acts with Dr. Gerald Stevens (incredible professor/class). We got to translating Acts 22:3, where Paul states, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers…” Dr. Stevens proceeded to explain that “at the feet” was a phrase commonly used in the First Century when referring to Jewish rabbis. “Sitting at someone’s feet” was a grand deal, as it meant that you were involved in higher education by learning from them and being their disciple. It was common practice for boys to do this after spending the first part of their lives attending the synagogue regularly for the purpose of memorizing the Scriptures. What rabbi they sat under played a huge role into their spiritual formation, as each rabbi had his own interpretation and thoughts about the Scriptures. As Paul states, he sat at the feet of a very prominent Jewish rabbi at the time, Gamaliel. This was a serious thing and gave Paul high status as a “Pharisee of Pharisees.”

As I’m sure you already know, things were different for women in the First Century. Jewish girls were not sent to the synagogue daily to be educated in the Scriptures, and consequently, did not get to be a disciple, or “sit at the feet” of prominent rabbis. To give you some perspective, a famous rabbi in the First Century, Rabbi Eliezer, is known for saying things like, "Instructing a woman in the Law is like teaching her blasphemy" and "Let the Law be burned rather than entrusted to a woman."

Harsh.

But, why is this important?

Well, let’s visit the famous Martha-Mary account and see:

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’  But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her’” (italics mine) –Luke 10:38-42

M. Hanson offers a critical reading of the Greek text* (along with robust historical insight) in her book A New Perspective on Mary and Martha. She reminds us that the text states that Mary was someone who sat at the Lord’s feet. Based on what we know about this terminology, namely, that it’s figurative (how Paul used it about Gamaliel) not literal (physically doing it in the moment), it implies a position/title of “disciple.” Going further, when we look at the literary context, several verses before the Martha-Mary episode, “The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place he himself was about to go”—Luke 10:1. Because of this, Hanson suggests that Mary may not have even been present in the narrative, because she was probably out evangelizing, as the text offers.

I’m a lover of all things literary-context, and I found this to be striking. Perhaps Mary was doing as Jesus had commanded her? Perhaps this is why Martha addresses Jesus, asking him to tell Mary to come help…instead of asking Mary herself? After all, wouldn’t this be more socially acceptable considering the cultural context?

Regardless if you agree with Hanson about whether Mary was in the room or not, we can all still agree on one thing: Mary being a disciple of Jesus was quite scandalous. Perhaps that’s why Martha was bothered…because her sister was breaking cultural norms? However, how does Jesus respond to Martha’s suggestion? Well, she’s doing what’s good, of course (Luke 10:40).

S. Attebury explains considering C.S. Crowley’s research that by placing the study of the word of God above the socially and culturally imposed gender role of the time, Jesus made it clear that a woman’s worth and dignity is apart from what society might claim. Her status is not dependent on her relationship to a man or her role in culture but is dependent on her relationship to God.

As always, Jesus throws a socially acceptable custom and norm on its head.

It’s also important to notice that just two chapters before this Mary-Martha episode in Luke 10, we hear about specific women disciples who accompanied Jesus through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. Besides the twelve, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and “many others” who actually paid for the ministry out of their own pocket (for more on patrons, check out this post)—Luke 8:1-3.

As J. Lyle Story puts it, “True service must be preceded by the non-sexist response of genuine discipleship. The response of faith and listening to Jesus are universal in nature and provide the common and equal ground between women and men. This is Jesus’ radical message, which effected changes in Christianity in the First Century AD. Women, as well as men, are summoned by Jesus to responsive discipleship to Jesus’s words. The Jesus story could not be told without a realistic narration detailing the women who were touched by the radical Jesus; they surely belong to the company of disciples.”

Perhaps a critical reading of Scripture leads us to see deeper into the movement of Jesus—a part of which involved affirming women in leadership, ministry and discipleship. No, Jesus’s intent wasn’t to start a feminist revolution, but to start a Gospel one—which consequently, would lead to hope and freedom for all peoples including the poor, the diseased, the immigrant, the non-Jew, the other, and yes, the woman.

 

___

* Hanson also points out that nowhere in the text does it say that Martha was doing housework. The Greek states that she was “busy with much serving.” The Greek word used for service is diakonia, which implies any type of ministry-type service. Hanson gives a wonderfully compelling argument for the leadership role that Martha and Mary BOTH played in this story and in the account of Lazarus in the book of John.


1 Timothy 2: Why Does Paul Tell Women To Shut It?

Ah, 1 Timothy 2…the foundation of most debates concerning women in ministry. It is here where Paul tells women to...shut it.

Why does he do it?

Well, let's back up for a second, as a lot of critical issues go into this text...including: literary context, grammar, history, and culture. I’d love to get into each of these, (and perhaps eventually I will) but for the sake of time, I’ll focus specifically on cultural context.

Timothy, whom we ascribe as the recipient of this letter (hence the title) was the leader of the church at Ephesus. Location is important within the context of culture, as we all know. For example, a letter addressed to a church in Los Angeles, California would be very different in cultural climate compared to a letter written to a church in Machamba, Mozambique (or even the difference between a letter written to a huge city-church in L.A. from a letter written to a small-town, rural church in Oregon).

So a little bit about Ephesus:

Ephesus was the capital of the province of Asia. One of the main things it was known for was its devotion to the goddess Artemis. Her temple came in second in regards to the seven wonders of the ancient world; it was four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens! Many people would travel from all over the world to Ephesus to pay their respects to the goddess, as well as learn about the origin of life. On top of this, many people’s incomes revolved around Artemis worship, as we can see in the narrative of Acts (19:26–28). Verse 27 even states, “The whole province of Asia—indeed, the entire civilized world—worships her…” In the Acts narrative, the city’s silversmiths, who generated a ton of profit from making silver models of Artemis’s temple became angry with Paul because he had been going around saying that gods made by human hands weren’t actually a thing. Because of this, the silversmiths were losing business and naturally, became angry. This led to a city-wide riot that forced Paul out of Ephesus. The angry mob of people chanted (for two whole hours), “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:28). Clearly, (as we see within Scripture itself) Artemis was a really big deal.

So what was this Artemis cult all about?

Well, first of all, the Artemis cult was female-led. Artemis was believed to be the Mother Goddess—the source of life, the one who nourished all creatures, and the power of fertility in nature. Maidens turned to her as the protector of their virginity, barren women sought her aid, and women in labor turned to her for help in childbearing. It was believed that Artemis was the child of Zeus and Leto and the sister of Apollo. Artemis came to be called the goddess of childbearing because she helped her mother deliver her twin brother. She also sought the company of a human male partner, instead of her own kind. Thus, making Artemis (and the rest of her female adherents) superior to men. Because of the belief of female-superiority, the Artemis cult also taught that evil was brought forth by man, as he was the one deceived in the Creation account.

Now that we have a bit of background, let’s take a look at the passage at hand:

“In the same way, I want women to enhance their appearance with clothing that is modest and sensible, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive clothes. They should make themselves attractive by doing good, which is appropriate for women who claim to honor God. A woman should learn quietly with complete submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to control a man. Instead, she should be a quiet listener. Adam was formed first, and then Eve. Adam wasn’t deceived, but rather his wife became the one who stepped over the line because she was completely deceived. But women will be brought safely through childbirth, if they both continue in faith, love, and holiness, together with self-control.” 1 Timothy 2:9-17

While non-egalitarians use this passage to promote male hierarchy, most don’t comment much on that last verse concerning child-bearing, as it makes absolutely no sense without proper cultural context…

So let’s use some of what we now know about the culture at that time to connect the dots and make sense of Paul’s instruction.

Greg Hoag offers some incredible insight in his book on the worshippers of Artemis. In fact, his research mostly stemmed from Ephesiaca—a novel written by Xenophon of Ephesus around the year 50 AD (which happens to be around the same time Paul was in Ephesus). In the novel, Xenophon of Ephesus talks about cultic activity associated with wealth, and specific things women used to show their piety to the goddess Artemis—namely, dress codes and hairstyle. This is significant, as it links directly to the first instruction Paul gives to women in 1 Timothy 2:9. You see, worshippers of Artemis would ordain themselves with gold and pearls as to flaunt their wealth, as well as wear their hair in a certain way that imitated the goddess, in order to show their commitment and express their worship. This is exactly what Paul is addressing in the text—telling the Christian women to NOT adorn themselves with expensive clothing and hairstyles (associated with Artemis), but to adorn themselves modestly, with good deeds, to show their piety toward God.

Hoag also explains that women worshipped the goddess daily in the temple precincts through incantation and reciting of prayers. They were to be assertive, competitive, vocal, and well versed in their religion. Besides reciting prayers, they were to serve piously and compete fiercely to attain various religious roles linked to their adornment and activities. Hoag explains that the women aggressively promoted the Artemis myth, which alleged that the goddess, the woman, was the author of man. He suggests that this explains the use of the word αὐθεντεῖν in verse 12, which translates to “to usurp authority.” Women during this time were going around saying that they were superior to men and doing so in such a way as to promote heresy. What Paul is addressing in his prohibition on teaching in this passage is heresy and false doctrine (this is consistent with the introduction in the first chapter of 1 Timothy, as Paul opens the letter with a warning against false teachers). As Hoag puts it, “Women must cease propagating the heresy that promoted the woman as the usurper of authority from man, the woman as the originator of man, and that man was the one deceived in the creation account.”

Lastly, Paul’s final word about childbearing fits perfectly in the context of Artemis as the goddess of childbearing. You see, women received heavy social pressure if they didn’t remain loyal to the goddess. The consequence for unfaithfulness was—you guessed it—death during childbirth. Among the women that Paul is addressing in the congregation at Ephesus were converts from this cult to Christianity. These women feared being in danger of vengeance (in the form of death) from the goddess for serving God instead. What makes this text so beautiful is that Paul is offering them hope and freedom, reassuring them that they will indeed be brought safely through childbirth (vs. 17).

So in conclusion, the cultural context of 1Timothy is rich and robust. The words offered in this passage in regards to women are, on the one hand, words of instruction concerning their old way of life, yet on the other hand, words of hope and freedom concerning the practice of their new way of life.

Paul is saying to these women that they don’t have to dress to impress, belittle and oppress the opposite gender, or fear for their lives. Instead, they can walk in the joy found in Jesus, as he relieves them from all of that and brings freedom, hope and the opportunity to engage in worship mutually and liberally with men and with each other.

What a joy this is! May we read and savor Scripture in the truth that it was intended, because wow, what a difference it makes!

 

For sources (and further readings) click here, herehere, here, and here.


Appreciating Phoebe in Context: Part 2

This is the second post of a two-part post on Phoebe, mentioned in Paul’s closing in the letter to the Romans. In my last post I focused mainly on verse one, speaking about translations and how non-objective they can be. I also broke down a bit of the word deacon, or its Greek transliteration, diakonos. For this post I want to focus on verse two, particularly patron/client relationships and letter writing in the first century.

This discussion is special for Taylor and I, as it is the very first thing we came across that made us start asking questions (and having conversations) concerning women’s role as leaders in the New Testament. The topic of conversation began one night after Taylor came home from his Greek exegesis class on Romans.

“Hey, you know Phoebe mentioned in Romans 16?” He said to me.

“Yea, the deacon?”

“Yea…there are some really interesting things about her role concerning the letter to the church in Rome.” Taylor continued… adding a whole lot of new and fascinating info I had never been taught at church.

From then on, I was hooked…and on a hunt for more.

“Welcome her [Phoebe] in the Lord in a way that is worthy of God’s people, and give her whatever she needs from you, because she herself has been a prostatis of many people, myself included.” (Romans 16:2)

The first thing I want to focus on in this passage is the word prostatis, which means patron, sponsor or benefactor. “Patrons,” and their relationships with “clients” were an integral part of first century culture. Patrons were typically the wealthy and powerful in society, who would collect “clients” in lower social statuses and help them financially… or with other benefits, like opening up social opportunities for them, etc. In return, clients would increase the honor of their patrons by speaking well of them and praising them to society. The more clients a patron had, the more honor they received. Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh explain in their Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels that clients related to patrons as superior and more powerful kinsman, while patrons saw their clients as dependents.

As we begin the conversation on who Phoebe was, it’s important to start with this in mind, because when Paul calls Phoebe a “patron,” this is what he is referring to. Interestingly, Paul doesn’t just say Phoebe is his patron, but “a patron of many.” Meaning, Phoebe had pretty high status…and probably a lot of money.

As James Dunn notes in his commentary, some versions of Scripture translate the Greek, technical term, prostatis as “helper,” which give modern readers a false idea of what’s being said (for more on this, check my last post).

Going further, Arland Hultgren explains in his commentary on Romans that in this context (with Phoebe already addressed as a deacon and a patron) we can expect that she welcomed people into her home, which would have been the house church in Cenchreae. This is not only consistent with the fact that she was a woman of means, as patrons were in society, but also suggests that she would have very well played a pastor-type role in her house church. Other commentators also explain that in 1st century literature, prostatis had the connotation of “leading officer,” “president,” “ruler,” “governor,” or “superintendent.” (Philip Payne offers some great insight on this here.)

Just to put this in even more perspective… Phoebe as patron very well included the financial support of the letter itself, as writing and delivering this kind of correspondence was no cheap task. We’re looking at about a $10,000 investment (there weren’t inexpensive paper and pens back then), which Phoebe would have been the benefactor of.

Woah.

Okay, so we see that Paul begins the closing remarks of his robust and densely theological treatise by referencing Phoebe’s credentials (sister, deacon, patron)…but then he continues with his hopes of the Roman church welcoming her.

This is certainly interesting, and any modern reader should stop for a moment and ask…why? Why would Phoebe be heading to Rome on behalf of Paul? We now understand that part of it could’ve been because she was his patron/sponsor. But why is it necessary for him to mention her credentials to the Roman church? Well, the other part of it has to do with understanding the details of first-century letters. Paul’s mentioning Phoebe here is of utmost importance and signifies a few different things.

For one, we’ll start with delivery. As we know, letters in the first century had to be physically delivered. Typically, when sending a correspondence (which would take weeks to months to arrive), senders would let the receivers know who would be the one delivering…mainly for trust purposes, and also so that the receivers would welcome deliverers at their arrival. The senders specifically chose these letter carriers, thus Phoebe being chosen bears no light weight. I’ll get more into why soon, but for now, I want to reassure you that scholarly consensus affirms that Phoebe is indeed among Paul’s letter carriers. (Based on his other letters, some of his other carriers include Timothy, Titus, Tychicus, and Epaphroditus). But concerning Phoebe, even (THE) Martin Luther (himself) states explicitly in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans that this particular letter was sent through her. Still earlier, Pseudo Constantius’s early-fifth-century commentary on Romans states: “Here the apostle demonstrates that no discrimination or preference between male and female is to be tolerated, because he sends his letter to Rome by the hand of a woman and sends greetings to other women in the same epistle.” (Miller, 17)

As I mentioned previously, Phoebe as letter carrier bears more weight than just delivery. Letter carriers didn’t merely take the letter physically, but they were involved closely with the writing process. Why? Well, once a group received a treatise like this, there would naturally be questions that would arise because of it. Think about the back-and-forth between Paul and the church in Corinth (scholars agree that there were four letters total—only two of which we have). Since a letter carrier (i.e. Phoebe) had to be involved with the writing process, it means she (specifically) was with Paul (and Timothy) as he directed his amanuensis, Tertius. I know some of us imagine Paul sitting solo handwriting this letter himself, but producing a letter like this was in fact a group effort. Paul needed Phoebe there to advise her about how to handle certain questions once the Romans got a hold of the correspondence and started wanting some clarification on things.

Going even further… besides carrying the letter, Phoebe’s job was to present it to the house church(es) in Rome. The presentation of a letter addressed to a group would involve reading the letter out loud to the recipients, most of which would have been illiterate. This reading has been described as “oral performance” because it involved the rhetorical skills of the reader: skills such as voice inflection, facial expression, and gesticulation. As I mentioned, this well-prepared reader served as interpreter of the letter, having the authority to speak for the author in order to communicate clearly both the letter’s content and the author’s tone. Oral performance was the job of the letter deliverer, who may have been cho­sen precisely for this reason. This oral perfor­mance has roots in both of Paul’s overlapping literary settings: Jew­ish and Greco-Roman. (This book is a phenomenal resource on first-century letter writing)

M. Luther Stirewalt in his book Paul the Letter Writer explains that Paul chose a “surrogate” or personal representative whom he trusted as an envoy who was informed and responsible to interpret, speak for, and report back to him. Stirewalt explains the importance of oral delivery for these letters, “[Paul] must have known that presenters would inevitably color the message with their own personal aspects and speech habits. Separated from the people, confronted by the necessary temporal delays, Paul depended on a third party to complete and update communications and to return mes­sages from the correspondents—to expand and interpret his written word, and to translate his thought and intention when the messages were presented orally before an assembly.”

As David Miller so perfectly puts it: “In the modern church, we have a title for a person who stands before a gathered congregation and with rhetorical skill delivers a prepared message based on Scripture. That title is preacher.”

So in conclusion, Phoebe was a patron—a woman of high status, with money—who took on clients and supported them. In this case, she supported Paul in the financial expenses of the letter, writing the letter, physically delivering the letter, and then preaching and interpreting (both in theological and rhetorical skill) the letter to the church in Rome.

In other words, Phoebe was a. major. boss. and we truly do ourselves a disservice in not appreciating her as such.

 

For more resources (besides the ones mentioned above), see:

F. F. Bruce, The Letter of Paul to the Romans, rev. ed., Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985);

Randolph Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2004);

James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9–16, (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1988);

Philip B. Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009);

Leonard Swidler, Biblical Affirmations of Woman (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979);

On “patrons” in the first-century see:

John K. Chow, Patronage and Power: A Study of Social Networks in Corinth, Journal for the Study of the New Testa­ment Supplement 75 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1992);

Frederick W. Danker, Benefactor: Epigraphic Study of a Graeco-Roman and New Testa­ment Semantic Field (St. Louis, MO: Clayton, 1982);

Esther Yue L. Ng, “Phoebe as Prostatis,” Trinity Journal NS 25, no. 1 (2004);

Carolyn Osiek and Margaret Y. MacDonald, A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2005);


What's So Important About Phoebe? Part 1

I started to write a post about the ever-famous Phoebe, whom most people affirm as a deacon. I figured this post would be quick and simple to write. I knew what I wanted to talk about: first century letter writing and the weight which sat on Paul’s words about Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2.

Well, my post started to get really, really long. The more I researched (about things other than just first century letter writing) the more I realized I couldn’t fit everything into one post. So here’s part one: on translation and the role of deacon.

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.” Romans 16:1

We don’t know much about Phoebe, as Romans 16:1-2 is the only place she is mentioned in the New Testament. Paul makes the reference in the closing of his letter to the Roman church. While the reference may seem short, it is certainly important when given its proper weight and understood in its proper context.

Ah, where to begin…

Well, first…the transliteration for the word describing Phoebe here is the Greek word diakonos, which literally means deacon (and no, not “deaconess” as that word—diakonissa—is not used in this text). Unfortunately, some versions have chosen to use other words in this passage instead of “deacon”… such as “servant” or even in others: “helper.” While “servant” is not an inaccurate translation, as yes, deacons are servants; it fails to show the fullness of what Paul is saying.

Before I get into the logistics, I want to say a quick thing about translations:

Translations are just that…they are translations. Translated by…people…just like you and I with their own biases, traditions, presuppositions, etc. The Greek language is WILDLY different than our own, and as people study the Greek text, they come up with their own version of what Scripture says/means. This is particularly why we have hundreds of English translations. Translating Scripture from Greek to English completely word-for-word is nearly impossible, as there are legitimately NO words for some Greek words, so a lot of translating involves explaining type, like-ness, etc. It’s more of a “defining of a word” than translating it, itself. For those of you who are fluent in Spanish (or any other language), think of how many idioms, phrases, or even specific words in Spanish that just don’t translate literally into English. When trying to explain, you say something to the extent of… “well, it’s sort of LIKE…”

All of that to say, when translators choose specific words over others in their translations…they are not doing so objectively (without bias or presuppositions).

With that in mind, we notice how most English versions of Scripture translate diakonos in Romans 16 concerning Phoebe as “servant,” while these same English versions translate that same word diakonos in other places (i.e. the pastoral letters, Ephesians, Colossians, Corinthians, etc.) when referring to a male as “deacon” or even “minister.”

Of course, when read in Greek it’s the same exact word with absolutely no difference, but when read in an English translation, there are two different words used—giving readers two different ideas of what it means. So naturally, I can’t help but ask: why the inconsistency? Why “servant” for Phoebe, but “deacon” or “minister” elsewhere?

As Arland Hultgren expresses in his commentary on Romans, “Although the term can be translated simply as ‘servant,’ as in some versions of the English Bible, suspicion arises that the translators of those versions could not come to terms with the idea that a woman could possess a title or office comparable to that held elsewhere by persons who were male.”

Interesting…

Another thing to note about diakonos is the instances in which it is used. As I mentioned previously, the word can be seen a few other places in Scripture. What’s important here is the stark difference in the use of it in Romans 16 vs. all of the other passages.

In every other passage besides Romans 16, diakonos is always spoken of in a general “servant-like” role—like Paul referring to himself, Apollos or Timothy as such. In these instances, it is never about a specific congregation, but always about general ministry—evangelism, teaching/preaching of the gospel, co-laboring, etc. (Some can argue that the seven men chosen to focus on the widows in Acts 6 are specific “deacons,” but this is a moot point, as these men were chosen in the moment, for a particular response to solve a temporary situation). The difference between Paul’s general use of diakonos, and the way he uses this word in relation to Phoebe is that in Romans 16, Paul is localizing Phoebe’s position of deacon to a specific congregation—the church in Cenchreae. This suggests that Phoebe was not just a general servant, but a deacon—a servant who held a position at a specific church.

Why is this important?

Well, nowhere in Scripture do we see the position of church pastor or overseer of a church being given to any specific person (except Jesus, of course). Phoebe is THE ONLY person mentioned BY NAME as anyone holding any type of office in a specific church in the New Testament. The closest we get to something similar is John calling himself “the elder.” Even so, nothing in the context of what John is writing insinuates a specific/local church. Phoebe is the only specified person—deacon—named by Paul, holding an office of a particular congregation.

Now, we must always remember something very important when considering the New Testament: it is indeed written in an entirely different time in history. When teaching Scripture, I always try to remind people that (as was so harped on me in seminary) we must honor the context and timing that Scripture was written in. With this in mind, Philip Payne suggests that the letter to the Romans was written before any remaining reference to the office of a local church “overseer.” Thus, when Paul called Phoebe a “deacon” in this letter, it could have very well been the only officially recognized title for a local church leader at that time and/or place. Making Phoebe even more…legit.

Lastly, we can’t ignore the amount of historical evidence that points to women holding leadership positions in the early church. Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia in AD 110 calls two specific women he tortured “ministers.” Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Chrysostom all referred to women holding offices as deacons (leaders) in the early church and preaching the Word of God (all of these before the 4th century). Not to mention women holding these offices were also referred to in the Council of Nicaea and plenty of other ancient documents (more on this in another post).

So in conclusion: 1) translations are TRANSLATIONS and sometimes subjective 2) Phoebe is given a title for a specific, local church, 3) Phoebe is the only person mentioned by name holding a leadership position at a specific, local church, 4) There weren’t many other titles other than “deacon” to choose from for high-leadership roles in the church at the writing of Romans, 5) women holding high positions in the early church was not an uncommon practice according to many early sources/ancient texts.

Stay tuned, as I’ll be focusing on verse 2 on my next post! For references click here, here and here.


Church Unity: Is it Even Possible?

So, I sat down yesterday to write a heavily researched blog on Romans 16 that I was planning on posting today… and then two things happened: 1) I had a good conversation with a friend about culture and church unity and 2) I heard a few people dialogue about culture and church unity. So naturally, I felt inspired to talk about…culture and church unity.

Of course, since “coming out” with where I stand on issues like women, inequality and social justice, I’ve thought a lot about this “Christian unity” thing. My mental struggle goes back and forth between, “Do I share my story? Do I talk about what I’ve learned? Is it worth it? Do I speak up about certain issues? Am I being divisive? Is it worse if I’m silent? Is it worth it? Should I say something? Am I wrong? Am I right? Is it worth it?” This has been my struggle for a really, really long time. You can ask my husband. I’ve been/am a hot mess.

As I’m sure you figured…my final conclusion was something along the lines of: I don’t have all of the answers, but it’s worse if I stay silent…and…I hope it’s worth it.

The conclusion of my conversation with said friend yesterday pretty much ended with, “It’s hard. Figuring this unity thing, while still trying to stand up for what is right is…hard.” So, for this post, I’m just going to ask a whole lot of questions that I don’t have the answers to…and do some reiterating of the things I heard in the dialogue among the Christian thinkers, because they summed up some of what I was wrestling with…

These days, unity amongst the Church is difficult to see, as there is an endless amount of opinions on (and thanks to) the Internet.

I’m no exception, as I too am another Christian sharing another opinion…hoping for unity amidst a world of disunity.

Disunity has been found in the Church since the (literal) first century (think of the Jerusalem church vs. the church at Antioch fiasco in the beginning of Acts!) What makes it so difficult is that since the first century, so many “tribes” have formed under this one large umbrella “tribe” of Christianity, each with radically different beliefs. The funny thing is that most of these groups consider themselves to be the One True Christianity, so in an attempt to seek unity, each group tries to convince everyone else to believe their particular brand of Christianity is true.

So really, which “tribe” is true? What does it even mean nowadays, anyways? Christianity began with Jewish followers of Jesus and then eventually, Gentile-believers, with disagreements about which customs to keep (purity and table-fellowship) and which customs to get rid of (circumcision). Many schisms happened around this time, even Paul and Barnabas’s disagreement during their missionary journey. Fast-forward to a major rift in church history in the 11th century, the East-West Schism, where Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox traditions divided. And then from there we see another huge and relevant schism—the Reformation. But even within the Reformation we have Luther’s beliefs and Calvin’s and later Wesley’s and Whitefield’s…

Interestingly, all mentioned considered themselves part of the Church.

So what do all of the Christian denominations have in common, anyways? Well, it certainly is Jesus. But within that, people (who aren’t a part of the “tribe”) can’t help but wonder what Jesus each is talking about.

Is it the “TURN OR BURN” Jesus?

The snake-handling Jesus?

Is it the Catholic Jesus?

The feminist Jesus?

Or the Calvinist Jesus?

Of course, we know there’s only one Jesus. But when the rest of the world looks upon us, what Jesus do they think we’re affirming? I’m sure we all agree that it’s the same Jesus that tells us to love God with our whole mind, heart, strength and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourselves…

So, then…does this mean we’re all going for the same thing?

If this is true, how do we reconcile our differences?

When considering “tribes” it seems people usually hang on to what one believes as the telling factor as to whether they’re “in” the Christian circle or they’re not. And no, I’m not talking about belief in Jesus. I’m talking about things like what one believes about God’s sovereignty, or hell, or women, or alcohol, etc. (as my friend, Dakota, mentions in her blog post, these things are in fact important, but should they be the means by which we judge how someone stands before God?)

I noticed that one thing most people don’t tend to look for to gauge whether someone is “in” or not is the fruit in their life. I can’t help but wonder what unity would look like if we determined where someone stands according to how much of this fruit they bear—how loving, faithful, patient, kind, peaceful, gentle, self-controlled they are, and not what their view on the book of Genesis is?

Naturally, I also think: how about Jesus? How does He tell us to identity one another? Well…

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 15:35

And then there’s grace. Does grace not apply to belief? I hear so many people say that there’s NOTHING I can do that can separate me from the love of Christ—there’s no specific thing that can get in the way of His love for me…but then these very same people tell me that I’m not “in” because of a certain thing I think differently than them. Where do we draw the line on grace? Can the adulterer be shown forgiveness for his trespass, but the “Arminian” cannot for his stance on sovereignty?

Is it doctrine vs. deeds? Fruit vs. belief?

In my conversation yesterday, my friend and I brought up unity, and Jesus’s plea for such when he prayed in the garden. This led me to wonder: does unity mean we never disagree? Does disagreement automatically mean disunity?

What must be considered when it comes to unity among a diverse and fragmented Church? Does unity mean uniformity? Does reconciliation happen only when we’re on the same page, think the same theologically, have the same culture and background?

I think we can all agree that this is impossible. I also think we may confuse unity with uniformity. When you mix slaves and masters, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, Asians and Africans, Hispanics and whites, rich and poor, you can’t help but get a beautifully diverse and broken Church with disagreements and conflicts. But even within that beautiful mess…is there a possibility that the Church can be united? I choose to believe the answer is yes. The fact of the matter is: we’re a family. And families fight from time to time. But like family, no matter what, we have each other’s back. So no, we will never be unified in our beliefs, in our culture, in our worship; but yes, we can still have unity…if we try.

So, why don’t we come to the table together and break the bread of communion? At the end of the day, saints, we’re all in need of the same grace. Now, it doesn’t mean we don’t call out abusive behavior, or stand against injustice. These are all results of the brokenness, and as much as I absolutely love the Church, I recognize her imperfections. I can’t help but think of Bonhoeffer and his wrestle with the Church he so loved. I think of his struggle with those in his “tribe” who silently stood by Hitler as he rose to power. I think about what it took for him to stand up and fight against the injustice in his beloved Church…to the point of being executed. I think of Luther, and his turmoil against the abuse in the Church during his time—his decision to fight for reform—his calling out corruption. I think about MLK Jr. and his sacrifice, his refusal to stay silent and the impact this made.

Just as previous saints did, we recognize the Church’s brokenness… and on her behalf, with arms open, we reach out and we heal. We embrace those with different beliefs among the body, and in our world, and together, we love.

Coming to the table together doesn’t always have to mean, “I stand for everything you stand for,” but it can mean, “I am broken in the way that you are broken.”

So let us agree, Church, and let us disagree; let us be united in our un-uniformity; and above all, let us love.


Postscript: Encouragement and (some) Resources

I just want to say thank you to everyone who reached out through Facebook comment, blog comment, private message and text message. You all (even two out of the three people who outspokenly disagreed with me) were so loving and encouraging...a true testament to what doing this journey together should look like.

I must say, I couldn’t help but notice one thing: many, many people (men and women) are truly struggling with this “woman issue” (which I so detest to call an “issue”). So many women reached out to me saying they are wrestling and haven’t known where to look or who to talk to. And you know what’s surprising? Even MORE men have reached out to me telling me they agree, are sorry, and want to also learn more. And so to those of you who struggle and wrestle and feel like you want to dig deeper in your knowledge of Scripture, I tell you: DON’T STOP SEARCHING. Don’t stop digging. Scripture is beautiful, insightful and divine. It is an endless treasure chest that can and should be explored and enjoyed. While it is dense and theological, it is also approachable and historical. There is so. much. to learn. And don’t let that discourage you. Oh, how exciting it is as you will never get tired or bored of discovering the beautiful truths within the pages.

My journey began with lots and lots of prayer. Most of my initial findings were legitimately found by accident—reading through commentaries and textbooks assigned to me in my classes.

Things began to get a bit more serious when I took my first Greek exegesis course and learned about 1st century Palestinian culture, specifically Jewish culture. I learned how Rabbi’s and their disciples interacted, and what the story of Mary “sitting at Jesus’s feet” while Martha did housework would have actually meant to a 1st century Jew.

In my Greek exegesis of the book of Acts I learned about nuances in the languages. I learned about patron-client relationships in the ancient world, and how that affected Paul’s relationship to Lydia when he met her in Philippi.

I learned about Junia, the apostle, mentioned by Paul in Romans 16, and how her name has even gone through the measures of being changed by certain translators, adding an “S” to the end of it to make it sound like a masculine name.

I learned the details and insights into 1st century letter writing, and what it actually meant that Paul would mention “Phoebe” first in the ending of his letter to the Romans.

I learned about Greco-Roman “household codes” and why slave-master, husband-wife and father-child relationships are always mentioned as a unit in the New Testament.

I learned about the context in Ephesus—the prominent cult-worship of the goddess, Artemis, and how this provided the background of what Paul wrote in his letter(s) to Timothy.

…and I could literally go on for pages and pages and pages. I promise to get into the details of each of these points…eventually. But for now, I want to leave you with some resources:

On Women in the Ministry of Jesus I recommend Ben Witherington's work. This was the focus of his doctoral thesis in 1980. While a hard copy of his book, Women in the Ministry of Jesus: A Study of Jesus' Attitudes to Women and their Roles as Reflected in His Earthly Life can be quite pricey, you can find a summary of his work by clicking this link. 

Ben also has some of the most renowned socio-rhetorical commentaries on the New Testament that I HIGHLY recommend when wanting to understand context in the 1st century. They can be found for sale here. He also has done extensive research on women in the early church; his book about that can be found for purchase by clicking this link.

Kenneth Bailey is the leading expert in Middle Eastern culture concerning the New Testament right now. For a general summary of what he has to say, click here.

For information on Greco-Roman household codes, which is vital to understanding much of what's being addressed in the NT about wife and husband relationship, visit here and here.

1 Timothy info: there's SO MUCH on this that it would take an entire post, but a general understanding of Ephesus and the cult-worship of Artemis (think of the fiasco in Acts 19), you can watch this video. Witherington also goes into some contextual exegesis here

For women in Philippi click this link.

Ahhh, Junia. This is a big one. There's a whole lot out there which I will get into, but for now, you can start here.

Okay, that should be a good start. While it literally doesn't even scratch the surface, it will at least get the ball rolling. As I break things up post by post I will provide more and more resources. If you're interested in podcasts as well, let me know, as I also have great ones concerning this topic!

FYI, read these at your discretion, as many are academic writings.


My Official Breakup with Complementarian Theology

 

I listened to a sermon today.

That’s not too odd, considering it’s Sunday and I’m a regular church attendee.

But, I listened to a really, really good sermon today (which doesn’t happen every time I attend church).

The sermon was about walls—walls we build and walls we tear down. It wasn’t just about our personal walls, but social and cultural walls. Walls sometimes play a positive role, providing protection and security. Sometimes, they play a negative role, causing separation and isolation.

The sermon talked about the way walls are used for good and for evil. The Jerusalem wall in Nehemiah was referenced, as well as the mention of walls in David’s writings, and the analogy of walls in Ephesians chapter two—where the imagery speaks of a wall of hostility being broken down by Jesus. This wall is that which separated God’s people with the rest of the world, as well as the physical wall that was in the Jewish worship center separating the Gentile (non-Jewish) court from the holy place (where non-Jews were not allowed to enter).

The sermon today was informed, educated, contextually accurate, and culturally relevant.

The sermon spoke about the physical walls that were built in the ghettos of Poland where people were living in forced labor camps. It spoke of the barricade-walls that were used during Jim Crow era to separate whites and blacks. It referenced the metaphorical walls we’ve built in our own society, the “us” vs. “them” …the walls between political parties, social classes and races.

When speaking about the negative aspect of walls—the ones built in society, the preacher displayed this picture…

churchclergy.jpeg

A physical wall formed by church clergy during the terror at Charlottesville. They stood firm, hand-in-hand, forming a wall against white supremacy.

I left this sermon with tears in my eyes. I walked away with an overwhelming desire to step over boundaries I’ve unknowingly created in my world. I left broken yet encouraged, saddened yet hopeful. I walked away reminded of what God intended for his people through Jesus—that the wall of hostility would be broken down; that all would be equal; that there would be no distinction between a Jewish person and a Gentile person, a man or a woman, a slave or a freed person.

I left this sermon moved and changed. The message was one that I surely won’t forget. But more than that, tears filled my eyes because of one specific detail: this sermon was preached by a woman. A pastor. A woman pastor. And this sermon was preached at my new church in my new home in Southern California.

This might seem like a huge deal to some of you, and it may not seem like a big deal at all to others. But you see, the last ten months have been a bit overwhelming—flooded with an endless amount of praying, reading, studying, sleepless nights…and lots and lots of tears.

I’ve never considered myself a feminist. I didn’t go to the marches, I didn’t sign petitions, I didn’t repost any memes about women’s equality. I didn’t jump on the women’s-rights-train because I was a Christian—a Bible-believing, Calvinist-preaching, rightfully-submitting, conservative Christian. I belonged to the tribe of Reformed Theology. I read the right theologians, meditated on the right devotionals, listened to the right preachers. I even stuck to the ESV and the HCSB versions of Scripture. I didn’t give too much of my energy to social issues (unless it was about abortion) and I didn’t speak up against injustice, because well, I was to be set-apart from post-modernism, liberalism…culture.

I remained “unstained from the world”… until, well, until I began to feel the pangs of inequality myself.

While in my first two years of seminary, I was encouraged to study and learn and grow in my knowledge of God. I was taught that we were all given gifts by the Spirit, and that we should exercise them in obedience for the edification of the church….except, of course, if my gifting was to teach or preach or lead…because, well, I was a woman, and women can’t do that…their “role” is different.

The first church I attended during this time accused me of being “unsubmissive” because I initiated a Bible study with a group of young women. The problem was that I didn’t ask for their permission. And the pastor’s solution? Well, to speak hurtful things behind my back, of course. In the midst of this chaos, I called several other pastors and friends and asked for their opinion, wondering what in the world I did wrong. A good friend (and pastor) of mine admitted, “to be honest, Kat, you’re a woman. Some men in this context feel threatened by a woman’s initiative and leadership.”

Another time in a hermeneutics class, a well-meaning professor went off on a tangent to the class how important it was that everyone learns Greek and Hebrew, as it changes the way we read and teach Scripture. It was clear that he really was only talking to the males in the class when he finished his speech with, “and ladies…your husbands will be really impressed if you can exegete Scripture alongside them…” my heart sank as I heard this, flabbergasted that he would imply I go through the pain of learning Greek…simply to impress my husband. I nearly fell off my chair when he ended that sentence with, “right, Kat?” I was one of the outspoken students in class, not only debating theology, exegeting Scripture in Greek, and having an educated opinion alongside my male peers, but also spending just as much of my personal time studying…not to eventually lead the church, but to impress my husband, of course.

The more I spoke and shared my knowledge of Scripture, the clearer it became that my knowledge didn’t carry the same weight in a man’s world.

Thankfully, this knowledge I had gained led me to deeper study… sleepless nights digging through journals and commentaries, devouring the work of previous scholars who were experts in biblical writings and ancient culture. The more I studied Jesus’s teachings, Jewish religion, Roman and Greek culture, the more I saw that patriarchy was so clearly…wrong.

So I kept digging. I kept praying. I shed more and more tears. I became obsessed with the 1st century. I became obsessed with Greek words and their English translations. I became obsessed with, well, the Bible…and other ancient writings. The more I studied, the more I recognized the exegetical inconsistencies with fundamentalist translations and conservative interpretations…

Patriarchy.

It didn’t add up.

For so long I was blinded to it because I hadn’t stepped outside of the boundaries created by tradition. I was ignorant. I didn’t know any better. For years I sat silent and unnecessarily “submissive.”

And it didn’t just end with patriarchy…

Inequality.

Injustice.

It’s not what Jesus stood for.

“If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love. This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you.” (John 15)

I say this to you as someone who now understands inequality: I’m sorry. I’m sorry for my ignorance and for my silence. To my hurting and oppressed sister who has been taken advantage of, whose voice wasn’t valued because of her gender. Your voice matters. To my black brothers and sisters who fight the battle of inequality on a daily basis. Your life matters. I’m sorry to all of you who have been abused spiritually and emotionally by those who claim to represent Jesus. Sometimes, wrongfully so, right doctrine deems more important than His love.