Friday, June 22, 2012
Borgen. Look. There's no Josh Lyman (yeah, I loved Josh - who didn't?), and the dialogue isn't quite as fast and funny as Aaron Sorkin-style writing, but if you liked The West Wing, you will have to like Borgen, a Danish drama about the first female Prime Minister in Denmark - her cabinet, her family, and the government's relationship to the media. I don't want to give anything away, but if you were interested in Anne-Marie Slaughter's article at Atlantic Monthly this week questioning what it means for women to "have it all," you will love watching Borgen's answer as Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg wrestles with her work/family balance. And, as a student of intercultural studies, I also have to say that it's fascinating to observe this small, wealthy, post-Christian European country through its own eyes.
Rain for Roots. We've been listening to these folk songs for little ones quite a bit over the last month. With lyrics by Sally Lloyd Jones and music by Sandra McCracken, Ellie Holcomb, Flo Paris, and Katy Bowser, they satisfy me both in terms of musical quality and content -- and Rosie LOVES them. My favorite thing about them is that each song points to God. A lot of Christian resources for kids tend to be moralistic, focusing on encouraging good behaviors - be patient, share, don't complain, obey.
And, sure, kids need to be taught these things. But in training our children, it's all too easy to subtly teach them to rely on her own ability to be good and acceptable to God, rather than to rely on God himself.
Sometimes kids just need to be pointed to God. So instead of hearing, "Daniel was brave and obeyed God - you should be brave and obey, too!" I like that Rosie gets to hear
Who heard Daniel when he prayed?
Who helped him not be afraid?
Who stayed beside him in that den?
Who brought him safely out again?
It’s God who kept him in his care.
He’ll keep you, too--no matter where!
Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices
This latest album from The Welcome Wagon is beautiful. My sister sent it to me for my birthday, and she reviewed it here.
A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny
Amy Julia Becker, a graduate of Princeton and Princeton Seminary, writes in this book about becoming a mother to her first child, Penny, who has Down Syndrome. I am almost finished with the book, and I appreciate her candor and care in sharing her story. (The kindle version of the book is only $2.99 for the month of June!)
Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion
I'm about a third of the way through this book, which details the history of the garment-making industry in America and shows how "cheap fashion" has changed the way Americans dress and turned clothing into a disposable good. So far it's dry at some points and fascinating at others, and I've got a lot of thoughts developing about how to think Christianly - redemptively - about the fashion industry. I'm sure I'll write more about this soon. (For now, how about this example of redeeming disposable clothing?) (Full disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher.)
On the blog front, this month I've become a huge fan of D.L. Mayfield's writing, and I love the stories Jessica Goudeau shares at Love Is What You Do. Both of these women work with refugees, and some (though not all) of their writing relates to that. Incidentally, this month I've been volunteer-teaching a group of Burmese refugees at a sewing factory in Gas City. It's worlds different than what I usually do, teaching wealthy Korean college students, and it's a challenge. I am stunned by the histories of these Burmese people, and by their resilience and work ethic and hope.
And, frankly, I can't wait to see Brave.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
But not me, at least not today. I leave my mama-spot in the shade, abandon my smart phone and my sun hat, and dive in. Rosie and I have the lake to ourselves. She runs out and runs in, jumping, saying “dino-ball”! I swim deep into the cold, then flip and come back to her, pretending to be a snapping turtle nipping at her toes, just like my mom used to pretend with me in the pool in San Antonio. She giggles, “Be a snapping fish again! Again!”
The wind is strong at the lake, the early evening air is mild. It’s quiet and it’s peace on earth, it’s summer in its purest form for me, and I float on my back and kick my feet and feel like I’m fifteen at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Rosie jumps into my arms. “I love you, Mommy!” she cries, passionately, and I love her too, and I know it’s not really just me that inspires that cry, it’s this me - the undistracted me, the wholly abandoned to the present moment me, the unashamedly swimsuited and swimming me. It’s the clearness of the sky and the coolness of the water, it’s the wind and the sun and the daddy who is willing to cook dinner. It’s the gifts of God, for the people of God, and it is for all of us, common grace, and there is nothing we have to do, and no one we have to be. We are just us, thankful.
Monday, June 18, 2012
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Grandma with Rosie, June 2012.
Today my grandmother, after a bout of pneumonia, had a feeding tube inserted. She will never "eat" another meal again.
I can't stop thinking about that.
About food, and what nourishes us; about breaking bread, and about doing it together; about Eucharist, and how every bite is grace; about life without these rituals of obtaining food, preparing dishes, eating a meal, and washing up.
About the turkey and gravy over biscuits she always made the weekend after Thanksgiving. About the nutty healthy cookies she kept in the freezer in case we came over.
About Last Suppers, and how I hope she had one worth remembering, and how I want her to know that every bite of bread, broken, is forgiveness; that every sip from the shared cup can be hope, sweet on the tongue.
Grandma with her mother and with me, June 1981.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
Or, to put it bluntly, I have a Master's Degree in Intercultural Studies, y'all. I've lived in four countries, Asian, European, American; I've visited nine others. I've been working cross-culturally in one way or another for eight years. Cultures require a lifetime of study, but I'm on my way. One thing I've learned is that what seems obviously good in one cultural context can be obviously bad in another.
Here's an example: in an American classroom, if one student lets another copy her homework, this is bad. We are individualists, and we believe work must be done independently for it to be honest. In Vietnam, though, if a student allows her friend to copy her homework, she has done a good thing. Vietnamese are community-oriented, and the "class" of students is a tightly-knit group of people who take every class together for four years. Their success or failure is as a class, and to deny help to a member of your in-group is not only offensive, but selfish and wrong.
Or take saying thank you. When a friend invites me over for dinner, after eating, I thank her and compliment the food. In Vietnam, if a friend cooks for you, and you say thank you, you have insulted her! Saying thank you is like saying, "We are not really intimate friends; I will formally thank you because it is my duty to do so."
I could go on and on about how right and wrong are contextual (if you want more, try Adeney's Strange Virtues). Cultural context is vital to understanding our relationships with people; but it's also vital in understanding the Bible.
One of my favorite guides in understanding the cultural context of the Bible is Ken Bailey, who has a PhD in New Testament and has spent forty years living and teaching in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem, and Cyprus. He writes in both English and Arabic, and has a strong understanding of Middle-Eastern historical context, contemporary context, and literary style. (I've written about his insight into the nativity story here.) Today I want to share what he says about 1 Corinthians 11-14, especially the passages that are sometimes used to argue that women should not teach in church.
The Literary Structure of 1 Corinthians
Understanding the literary structure of 1 Corinthians is a must. Bailey argues that the book is carefully composed in the structure of Hebrew parallelism:
I. The Cross and Christian Unity (1:5-4:16)
II. Men and Women in the Human Family (4:17-7:40)
III. Food Offered to Idols (Christian and pagan) (8:1-11:1)
IV. Men and Women in Worship (11:2-14:40)
V. The Resurrection (15)
The section we're looking at is section IV, which is structured thus:
1. Men and Women Leading in Worship: Prophets and How They Dress (11:2-16)
2. Order in Worship : Sacrament - The Lord's Supper (11:17-34)
3. Gifts and the Nature of the Body (12:1-30)
4.The Hymn to Love (12:31-14:1)
5.Spiritual Gifts and the Upbuilding of the Body (14:1-25)
6. Order in worship: Word - Prophets and Speakers in Tongues (14:26-33)
7. Men and Women Worshipping: No chatting in church (14:3b-40)
See how carefully constructed that is, with 1 and 7 paralleling each other in topic, as 2&6 and 3&5 do?
Chapter 11 - Women Can Pray and Prophesy (but should dress appropriately)
In chapter 11, Paul has already noted that both men and women were leading in the church services in public prayer and prophecy. And apparently women in the church had understood "all things are lawful to me" to give them to freedom to lead the services without covering their heads. When they exercised this right, problems emerged.
Christian women from a Jewish background came from a culture that affirmed that self-respecting women would cover their heads in public. Prostitutes, however, did not cover their heads in public. For a woman to be in front of the church without her head covered was distracting in the same way that to have a scantily-clad church leader on stage would be distracting today. Paul's response - and this is important! - is not to say, "Women, get off the stage and stop prophesying!" It is to say, "Women, cover your head so you don't distract others from God's word!"
If, then, Paul has already affirmed women in church leadership in chapter 11, why does he in chapter 14 tell women to be silent in church? This too, requires understanding the context.
Chapter 14: A Chatty Congregation (language, accent, attention span, oral learners)
Corinth was the largest city in Greece and undoubtedly the most diverse. Greek was the only common language, and while most men had at least enough Greek to function on the job, women who worked mostly at home were less fluent. The languages spoken at home would have been numerous.
"Added to this," Bailey writes, "was the problem of accent. Often when a public speaker is functioning in a second language, even when the speaker is fluent, there can be great difficulty in communication due to the accent. When a speaker's words and phrases are not understood, a low buzz can break out as listeners ask each other, "what did she say? What was that word?"
The short attention span for simple people (like modern television addicts) was most certainly another problem...
I have preached in village churches in Egypt where the women were seated on one side of the church and the men on the other. There was a wooden partition about six feet high separating the two sections. I preached in simple colloquial Arabic, but the women were often illiterate and the preacher was expected to preach for at least an hour -- and we had problems. The women quickly passed the limit of their attention span. The children were seated with them and chatting inevitably broke out among the women. The chatting would at times become so loud that no one could hear the preacher. (These villages had no electricity and no sound amplification.) One of the senior elders would stand up and in a desperate voice shout, "Let the women be silent in the church!" and we would proceed."
Can you imagine, then, what the church in Corinth must have been like?
"Paul had just affirmed that the Corinthians were getting drunk at the Lord's Supper and that the prophets and tongues speakers were all talking at once! It seems that some of the women gave up and started chatting. Who could blame them? Yet all needed to work together to create the required decency and order necessary for meaningful worship."
Let me share one last cultural insight Bailey offers.
"Middle Eastern society is predominantly an oral culture...People process information by talking more than by sitting quietly and reflecting. This can be observed at many levels of society. A university professor will have the attention of the class and turn to write something on the blackboard. The moment he or she pauses to write, the entire class breaks out talking. They are not inattentive or rude, they are simply turning to a fellow student and chatting about the subject...They are simply verbalizing the information they have heard in order to better absorb and retain it."
Paul is concerned with order in worship. The prophets are told to speak one at a time, or to be silent. The speakers in tongues are told to be silent unless there is an interpreter. And the women are told not to chat in church, but to save their questions for later.
Paul, whose friendship with and respect for women like Junia, Phoebe, and Priscilla is well-documented, is not teaching that women must always be silent in the church. Instead, women leaders are to lead appropriately, and women in the congregation are to participate appropriately, all for the building up of the Body.
Understanding the cultural context is vital. You can tell those teenagers in the balcony to put away their cellphones and stop giggling - to be silent in church! - but that woman on the mic? Let her speak. Today I'm linking up with Rachel Held Evans in her Week of Mutuality, dedicated to discussing an egalitarian view of gender. The goal is to show how scripture, tradition, reason, and experience all support a posture of equality toward women, one that favors mutuality rather than hierarchy, in the home, Church, and society.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
My parents have a beautiful, loving marriage of thirty-three years. Despite fairly significant differences in the way they approach life (Mom’s a vegetarian, for example, while Dad’s as red-blooded a carnivore as they come), they are loyal to each other in every way. They love and serve God. They make decisions together, and they treat each other with kindness and respect.
They are also pretty fierce complementarians. They believe that God designed different, but equally valuable, roles for men and women in the home and at church, that these roles are hierarchical, and that the truth about God and his church is best displayed in a marriage where the husband is a servant-leader and the wife submits to him as his helpmate. They taught me how to defend this position, and they taught me that it was the only legitimate interpretation of Scripture.
Buckled in the eighties minivan, we pass a church marquee. The pastor’s name, printed right there on the sign, in front of God and everybody, is a woman’s name. I mock it, the same way I mock Michael Dukakis with the neighbor kids in the backyard – that is to say, I mock it out of total ignorance. A female pastor?! Well, they clearly don’t believe that Scripture is God-breathed! Hope somebody leads them to Christ!
At Walnut Valley Christian Academy, we have a four-year class called Worldview. Spring semester, freshman year, we read Expository Preaching by Haddon Robinson. For final projects we prepare sermons. I am nervous, and overcome stage fright by imagining myself as Hilary Clinton (true story). I preach, to my co-ed class of ten, on Daniel, and Mrs. Fuqua gives me an A+.
Sophomore year I self-identify as a feminist. We study How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart, and we write in-depth papers on small portions of Scripture. I don’t want to be bored with the project. So I choose “that passage” from 1 Timothy 2. You know the one. “I do not permit a woman to teach, or to have authority.” I read the commentaries we have at home. I conclude that while some of Paul’s principles did seem to be cultural rather than timeless, the fact that he referred to pre-fall Creation order (“for Adam was formed first, then Eve”) to make his case seemed to indicate that these were in fact guidelines for all time. However, I decide that the way he combined “teaching” and “exercising authority” meant that the only role specifically barred from women was that of head teaching pastor. I feel my conclusion is a little arbitrary.
Meanwhile, I take on about every leadership position open to me in the church. I lead small groups of junior high girls every Tuesday night. I am a counselor on retreats. I exhort the whole youth group, boys and girls, about our besetting sin of materialism. I testify in front of the church (the mega-church) about the value of community. In college I join a similar church, but almost immediately I find the college group oppressive. There is a clear ladder of spiritual superiority, a clear moral mold. I ditch, and help lead the youth group instead. The first time I lead a small group Bible study for girls, my co-teacher looks at me amazed. “I think you have the gift of teaching,” she says.
I go to southeast Asia, and I see God do miraculous things. I begin to wonder if the gift of apostleship (church-planting) is open to women, because a new church is being born around me, in the middle of a spiritual desert.
Then a church from my hometown asks if I’ll send a video message for the Father-Daughter Banquet in February. It’s not my church, and I’m not sure why they’ve asked me, but I agree, and carve out time to record. I speak about the things I appreciate in the way my dad raised me, connecting his parenting to appropriate Scriptures, and encouraging the fathers at the banquet to imitate my dad’s example. I send the video off and forget about it.
Until a few weeks later, when I hear that things didn’t go so well. In fact, some men in the audience, some male leaders in the church, think my video was wrong. Not that what I said was wrong: but that I, as woman, said it to men.
I thought that's what they had asked me to do.
A little bit heartbroken, I kind of go, “to hell with it,” and keep doing the work God has put in front of me.
Despite all this, I never really explored egalitarianism until this year. Perhaps I was hesitant to make a fuss. But I’ve grown increasingly ecumenical in my theology, and a solid half of the people who mentored me spiritually in my twenties were egalitarian. We rarely spoke of it, this belief that hierarchy was a result of the fall, and that embracing the kingdom of God included embracing the mutuality of pre-fall creation, but it was clear in the way they lived. When we joined an Episcopal church, I felt I should be conversant with the theological arguments for women in leadership. I read How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership, and it was interesting. When I read Finally Feminist, though, my jaw dropped, because this was an honest, compelling way to understand Scripture, and one I had never heard.
Though I’ve always been a feminist, a part of me did not want the egalitarian case to be so convincing. I didn’t want to disagree theologically with my parents, especially on a subject that is pretty foundational for them, and for most of the Christians I grew up with. Beyond that, for me the freedom and fullness and possibility of egalitarianism is scarier, and harder, than the clearly defined roles in complementarianism.
But what interpretation is easiest for me to live with isn’t the best evaluative question. Which one is the truest to Scripture?
This is how I lean, now. I lean towards mutuality. I know, like any good student of expository preaching, that you can’t make a watertight case either way. Intellectually, though, I think Finally Feminist is the best interpretation of these scriptures that I’ve found, and it makes sense in my life experience, too. I’m wondering if it might be time to make a fuss about it.
Monday, June 4, 2012
So why write? With all those reasons not to, why devote time to a practice which is not currently paying any of the stacked-up bills?
"I feel something kicking," is surely not a strong enough reason, unless that something is a Holy Something, but who can say for certain about that?
Last month I was skyping with my youngest brother, David. When I left home for college, he was only five years old. We've barely lived together, but we're siblings, anyone can tell.
David was making beef jerky as we skyped, dipping strips of red flank steak into a simmering marinade, then lying them flat to dry for hours in a barely warm oven. I asked him about it, if his meat was grass-fed or grain-fed, if he had done it before.
"It's my first time," he said. "I might not do it all right, but I'm taking your advice. I'm playing at it."
My baby brother reads what I write, and he might be able to avoid some of my mistakes because of it. That in itself might be enough reason to write.
A year ago, I wrote about my struggle with turning thirty, how I hadn't fulfilled the ambitions of my childhood, but instead spent my days changing diapers in the rural midwest. A woman I barely know emailed me, and said she was blessed. That's a reason.
People I know have called me "a good writer" for years, but you never can trust people you know. They're biased, clearly. Last week, though, an editor emailed me out of the blue. He called my voice "literate and literary w/o being overly academic; tackling pop culture in a "serious," Christian way; and reflecting on life and motherhood, with a sense of humor." And he doesn't know me.
I have a voice.
This all helps, but none of it really gets to the heart.
I must write for my soul's health. When I write, I process my life. I figure out what I believe. I see how God is at work. I pray. When I don't write, very little of any of those things happens.
So I will follow the advice that I heard over and over again at the Festival of Faith and Writing. I will pay attention to my life through writing. I will love the world, and question it; love my craft, and offer a possible answer. I will follow my dread, and avoid the "stumbling block of humility." I will write as a way to come to the altar and die.
What discipline is essential to your soul's health?