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AYOBW: The Original Villain

Originally, my musings on A Year of Biblical Womanhood were going to be limited to a baker’s dozen—one post each for the introduction and the chapters in the book.  But as I started reading through it again, I realized two things.  One, I don’t need to limit each chapter to a single post; each one is rich and deserves as much space as it needs to fully breathe.  Two, the women of the Bible that Rachel writes about at the end of each chapter also deserve their own space.  For those reasons, I’m extending this series as long as it takes.

First up among the Bible’s many women: Eve.

Well, now.  Isn’t that a topic to stir things up right out of the gate.  As Christians, particularly of the very conservative stripe, we’re taught early and often that Eve is the Original Temptress.  She’s the reason all of humanity is in such a mess.  (Note that in the artwork above, she holds a skull in one hand.)  It hardly matters that when it comes down to it, that’s not even what it says in the New Testament.  Paul explicitly says,

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man…

Right there, in black and white, Paul reminds us that sin came through Adam.  So why does Eve get the shaft?  Even way back in Genesis, God holds all three of the players in this drama responsible.  Yet one would hardly know that for the ways in which women have been blamed and judged accordingly throughout the whole of Christianity.

Rachel quotes Tertullian on this matter:

You are the devil’s gateway.  Do you not know that you are each an Eve?  The sentence of God on your sex lives on in this age; the guilt, necessarily, lives on too.

There’s a cheery thought.  Sadly, I think this is perpetuated far too often.  We are the ones who are held responsible not only for our own direct actions, but for the actions of men as well.  Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in matters of sexuality.  We’re told that we should dress modestly and avoid situations where we might become temptations for men.  Yet we’re also told that if we “let ourselves go,” we might lose our men to prettier women.  We must keep our husbands (of course, always husbands) sexually satisfied, whether or not we ourselves are satisfied.  Some of us are expected to pledge our virginity to our parents (particularly our fathers), with shame and guilt forthcoming should we fail to keep that promise.  The social consequences of sex before marriage are much more dire for women.

But we’ve forgotten one very important thing about Eve.

The association between Eve and guilt is so strong that we’ve forgotten who she really is.  Eve is the giver of life; in fact, it’s what her name means.  At the end of the section, Rachel draws the parallel between Eve “the mother of all the living” and us—not merely in the sense of childbearing, but in a broader sense:

We are each associated with life; each subject to the impossible expectations of men; each fallen, blamed, and misunderstood; and each stubbornly vital to the process of bringing something new—perhaps something better—into this world.

In a sense, Tertullian was right.  We are each an Eve.

I love those words, especially because we’ve been taught for so long that the only “new” thing we bring into this world is more babies.  Everything else is dependent on what men have wrought.  But we, as givers of life, have much more than our bodies to offer.  When we are given the challenge, we rise to it.  It’s not that we don’t need men, but that we ourselves are necessary for more than the duties of wife and mother.

It saddens me that when it comes to Scripture, we women are expected to learn from both the men and the women whose stories fill the pages, but the stories of women are nearly always solely for the purpose of educating and edifying other women.  There is a lot that men can learn from Eve, including that our mistakes may have consequences, but they don’t need to define us (her name is Life, after all, not Sin) and that through Christ we can all be bearers of life and light in the world.

May each of us, men and women alike, go out and be an Eve this week, bringing life everywhere we go.

A Year of What?!

Hooray, it’s finally here!  Today is the official launch day for A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans.  Today I’m celebrating by a) doing my happy dance, because it means I will soon have an actual paperback copy in my hot little hands and b) posting my initial thoughts on the book right here.  I would tell you all to stop reading my blog and get yourselves over to someplace that sells the book, but I like having you read this blog too much.  You can go buy your copy after you read what I have to say about it.

Here’s a little history:  I first found out about Rachel’s project almost a year and a half ago, while she was still in the midst of living it.  At the time, I was having a crisis of faith of sorts.  I was rapidly becoming disillusioned with the church and the way that, particularly, conservative evangelical Christians viewed the Bible.  It was during that time that I discovered the writings of Brian McLaren and was looking to read things written by other Christians who were ready to question the way things were done.  By clicking through various links, I came across a blogger (my apologies, I can’t remember who) that mentioned Rachel in a post and linked to her blog.

I liked Rachel’s style immediately.  She nurtures a much more gentle approach than I do, and that’s been good for me.  I have a tendency to just be kind of cranky, but Rachel invites discussion.  I’ve learned a lot just from reading her blog.  You can imagine, then, how excited I’ve been in anticipation of her book.  When I saw that she had an application on her website to be part of the launch team, I jumped at the opportunity.  Free copy of the book?  The chance to use my social networks to spread the word about a great project?  Making new connections with fellow team members online?  You bet I wanted in!

Which is how I ended up here.  Today, I’m going to tell you all the things I love about this book.  Over the next few weeks, I will be writing my thoughts chapter by chapter.  I would love if you all bought the book and joined in with me so that I don’t ruin all the fun for you of reading it yourselves.

I think I fell in love with AYoBW on the first page.  Rachel has a great sense of humor, something that is evident throughout.  Rather than complaining about how hard it was to live out a literal interpretation of the Bible, she pokes gentle fun at herself.  From her Jar of Contention to her ruined apple pie to her misadventures in sewing, she doesn’t ever take herself too seriously.

At the same time, Rachel clearly takes the Bible seriously.  She makes every effort to understand the original context of the Scriptures while not ignoring the modern-day applications.  In each chapter, she discovers a way in which she can honor God and the Bible without resorting to strict, legalistic readings of the text.  This view is refreshing, given the tendency of conservative Christians to decry the demise of “traditional” family roles.

Reading AYoBW is like sitting down with a friend for a cup of coffee and a chat.  It’s important to keep in mind that this book is what Rachel experienced.  The vast majority of what she’s written is her own journey and her reactions to situations; she talks about people she meets and places she visits.  This is not meant to be some academic dissertation on the theology of feminism.

When I finished the book, my husband asked if I thought it was only appropriate for women.  I said that I thought he would probably enjoy it as well, especially since we have been talking together a lot lately about women in modern American society.  I have seen some reviews that suggest it is unnecessary for people more liberal than Rachel and unwelcome by those more conservative.  I disagree; I believe there is something in this book for everyone.  Even when there are points of disagreement, there is room for conversation and clarification of our different views.  The only people who won’t benefit from Rachel’s book are the ones who won’t read it.

As you can probably tell, I loved the book; it exceeded my expectations.  My hope is that every Christian will read the book and use it as a springboard for discussion.  Rachel gives us plenty to think and talk about, as well as practical ways we can take action.  Let’s give this book a chance to help us connect at a deeper level: with God, with the Bible, and with each other.

You can read my other reviews of the book at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and CBD.  Stick around this week, there will be great stuff going on, including links to my fellow launch team members’ blogs.  Don’t forget to submit your essays for the contest, there are only 4 days left!

The Godless, Sinful Esther?

So, yesterday, I was just thinking to myself, Gosh, I haven’t seen anything cringe-worthy from Mark Driscoll in about a week.  I hope he writes something I can use in a blog post.*  Lo and behold, he read my mind and did just that.  Please go read it before you read this, because what I say won’t otherwise make nearly as much sense.  Warning: Contains things that may make you reach for large, breakable objects.

Driscoll’s assertion that Esther was engaging in “sinful” behavior and likening her to a contestant on The Bachelor is rather horrifying.  It displays his gross lack of knowledge about the time period during which Esther is set.  He makes it sound as though Esther heard King Xerxes was looking for a wife and took the opportunity to put herself out there for him.  Did Driscoll even read the text?  It is apparent from both the text and the context that this is not the case.  There is no mention that Esther wanted any of this.  In fact, she was likely forced into participation.  At the beginning of Esther 2, we see that the King’s officials are rounding up pretty virgins to parade in front of their King for his own entertainment.  It is possible that Esther enjoyed this star treatment, but the Bible never actually says this.

Second, Driscoll’s claim that Esther was unconcerned until “her own neck was on the line” is also patently false.  If he’d carefully read the text of Esther 4, he would have quickly seen that Esther herself was greatly troubled over the edict to annihilate her people.  Her own neck was not at risk at that point, since no one in the royal court even knew she was a Jew.

Third, I have no idea where Driscoll gets the idea that Esther has been avoided.  I suppose that some evangelical communities might avoid it, since it shows a wife standing up to her husband (two of them, in fact, if we count Vashti).  Other than that, I think Driscoll may just have been hanging around with the wrong people.  I’ve loved Esther since the first time I read it.  I have heard great sermons preached on it.  Then again, Driscoll seems content to believe that he holds the market on “real, true” Biblical teaching.  In fact, the preachers and teachers who avoid or discount the book of Esther are often anti-Semitic.  So, there’s that.

Fourth, I am unclear as to why Driscoll believes Esther has been “misinterpreted.”  (Unless, of course, one wants to lump him in with the anti-Semites…)  For one thing, that’s illogical.  He says it’s not often taught, yet it’s grossly misinterpreted?  By whom?  If no one is teaching on it, then it isn’t being misinterpreted.  Except by Jews.  Well, then.  That’s certainly telling, isn’t it?  What he’s saying is that for thousands of years, Jews have been misreading a sacred text.  Um.

Fifth, if Driscoll wants to maintain that Esther is a “godless” book, he can do that.  But he also has to give up both of his other favorites—Ruth and Song of Solomon.  Ruth only ever mentions God in passing, and only in the sense that Ruth has decided to convert for Naomi’s sake.  Otherwise, it follows Esther down the “God is not present” path.  There are no miracles in Ruth.  Not only that, he seems unaware that Ruth catches her man by uncovering his “feet”—a frequent euphemism for a body part somewhat higher up than the actual feet.  Song of Solomon is short on both God and miracles as well, and that one is about hot sex between people who may or may not be married (depending on one’s interpretation).  Dude, please just read your Bible.

I’m sure someone else will have something more to say about this.  I’m out of words.  I gave up on making sense out of Mark Driscoll a long time ago.  All I can say is that I am grateful I’m not a member of his church or one of its offshoots.  Of course, if I were, it would keep me blogging for a long, long time—or at least until others figure out the kind of pastor he really is.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

*Not really

A Valentine Worth Following

I’m not a huge fan of Hallmark-induced holidays.  But I am a fan of love, marriage, sex, and my husband, all things worthy of celebration on Valentine’s Day.  Because I adore him, today’s “follow me” post is about—you guessed it—my husband.

I could tell you all the things I love about my husband, and why you should love him too.  But I think I may be a bit biased, so don’t just take my word for it.

Even though I’m the one who writes, my husband does keep a blog.  It’s highly specific, and not everyone’s cup of tea.  He’s not all about his personal journey or his life experiences or finding new asinine things said by Mark Driscoll.  He leaves that up to me.

Instead, Hubby is taking a 9-year trip through the Bible, dashing off his thoughts as he reads.  He took a brief break in 2010 to lead our church through the Bible in one year, but returned to regular updates last year.  He is currently at the midpoint of the read-through.

If what you want is a daily chunk of Scripture and a thought or two to go along with it, then join my husband for the back half of his reading.  If you prefer to start at the beginning, you can find all his posts archived on his blog.

You can check it all out here: Nine Year Bible (the link is also in my blogroll). ♥

Who’s In Charge?

One of the problems we create with the statement, “the Bible says it, that settles it” is confusion over when we need to rethink Scripture at face value.

It’s a lot easier to take a Bible verse and state authoritatively that the question has been answered.  But it gets murky sometimes.  When Jesus says that the only reason for divorce is marital infidelity, what do we do when one spouse is abusing the other?  For many people, that’s been addressed by convincing people to stay in those relationships to avoid sin.  Other churches have broadened the definition of “unfaithfulness” to include abuse, as it is not remaining faithful to the promise to love, honor, and cherish.

I would agree that no one should stay in an abusive relationship, and that it is not sinful to leave.  But I also don’t take everything in Scripture at its simplest interpretation.  For those churches that claim Biblical literalism, they have no choice but to admit that they are selectively interpreting Scripture.

A good example of this problem is authority, as instructed in the Bible.  The text is full of exhortations to keep our place in the chain of command and submit to those above us:

Children to parents: “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)
Slaves to masters: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” (Colossians 3:22)
People to spiritual leaders: “Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed.” (2 Thessalonians 3:14)
Citizens to government: “Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.” (Romans 13:5)
Wives to husbands: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22)

The problem is, those verses have been misused.  I’m not even talking about their use by abusive parents and spouses, corrupt government officials, slaveholders, or deranged cult leaders.  I mean the rest of us have misunderstood and have used those verses to lock our fellow humans into unhealthy relationships.

I had a college roommate who took the verses on slave obedience so literally that she extended them to their natural conclusion.  She told me at one point that she believed that slaves who escaped via the Underground Railroad had condemned themselves to Hell unless they repented and returned to their owners.  (If that doesn’t make you several kinds of horrified, I don’t know what will.)  The irony was that she wasn’t white.

Most of us would (hopefully) not agree with her conclusions.  Nor would we mount a case for blind obedience to Jim Jones or Adolf Hitler.  (Again, putting my hope in reasonable people here.)  We might even relent in the case of a woman being beaten by her husband (although I’ve heard enough people try to make a case for reconciliation there, too).  The majority of us would not encourage children to unquestioningly submit to a parents who are molesting them.  So why would we make statements which imply that we must obey authority regardless?

It doesn’t seem as though Scripture is particularly nuanced on this point.  Each point of obedience is balanced with an equally strong call to those in authority.  Parents should not lord it over their children, husbands should love their wives, masters should treat slaves fairly, and leaders should be of good character.  The problem is, we are never told what we should do if those in power fail to uphold their end.  We’re not given the option to rebel if it seems harsh, unfair, or wrong.  In fact, there isn’t even any condemnation for the vile institution of slavery at all.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we are already choosing which parts of Scripture we want to take as an all-or-nothing proposition.  We’ve already determined that even though it never says it in Scripture, there are times when disobedience is righteous, healthy, and desirable.  But we pretend that doesn’t exist.  If we don’t face it head-on, then we can hide from the fact that we take Scripture a lot less literally than we’ve let on.

Why not embrace that?  We have a choice here.  We can admit that life is much more messy and complicated (something Jesus understood well), or we can continue to insist that the Bible is God’s version of an Owner’s Manual for us.  Many of us have already moved on from a black-and-white vision for our lives.  It’s time the church acknowledged it too.

My Life, In Purple Font

I’m a scheduler by nature.  I like to have a calendar handy.  I use Google Calendar because there are four people under this roof.  It’s easier to have everyone’s life neatly typed in using multi-colored blocks.  I got the purple ones, of course.

I prefer a paper calendar.  It’s visually appealing to me.  It took a long time to get used to this new-fangled electronic planner.  In fact, the only reason I use it is that I can access the calendar on my phone.  I can now check everyone’s schedule before I make my next appointment at the dentist’s office, for example.  Very handy.

Anyway, I’m now wildly off-topic.  Sorry.

The whole point of bringing up the scheduling thing is that I want to be able to organize my blog a little better.  I’ve read that it’s best to stick to one general “thing” on a blog, such as faith, sex, writing, sex, etc.  I failed that test.  I tend to write about whatever pops into my head at the moment.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing, necessarily.  But it’s probably confusing for the three or four people a month who stumble upon my blog and find that I don’t write exclusively about sex one thing.

So I’ve decided, for the sake of the ten people who actually read my blog, that I will organize the heck out of it.  That way, if you only want to read my posts on sex (and who doesn’t like to read about sex?), you will know what day to visit.  Those of you who were blushing at my last sentence (you know who you are) can skip those posts.

Here’s the New and Improved! blog schedule:

Mondays: Faith, theology, and the Bible.  Here, more good stuff about literalism, interpretation, cool stuff I find in Scripture.

Tuesdays: Blogs, Twitter, and around the Web.  People I follow, blogs I read, stuff I find.  Featuring people a lot more interesting than I am.

Wednesdays: Women.  I think that sums it up, right?

Thursdays: LGBT issues.  Inspired by Naked Pastor David Hayward’s Gay Thursdays, I will also talk about these things on Thursdays.  Hey, maybe we can start a trend!

Fridays: Kids and Family.  Because I do like to talk about my kids, of course.

Saturdays: Everything else. Sometimes, there’s just no good place to put it.  So it goes here.  I suppose that includes my occasional rant about writing.

Sundays: I don’t post on Sunday.  Even God took a break.

So there it is.  If I don’t have anything to say that week, I’m giving myself permission to post exactly nothing.  And sorry, I didn’t include a category for sex.  I guess you’ll just have to be surprised.

It’s Like, Literally…

If there was any question before, let me put it to rest: I despise the word literally.  In most cases, it’s either used incorrectly or it’s unnecessary.  But that’s not what I’m going to talk about here.  Um, literally.

Nope, today it’s all about Biblical literalism.  Now, I’m sure this is going to land me in hot water with more than a few people.  But I’m laying it on the line.  I suppose it’s on my mind because I had to teach a bunch of 5- and 6-year-olds a literal interpretation of Job.

While I take Job very seriously, I don’t take it as strictly factual information.  It’s a great story, but there are a lot of problems with it.  Allow me to list some of them:

-God makes a bet with Satan
-God gives Satan free rein in this guy’s life for the sole purpose of finding out whether he will stay faithful
-Job gets better than a fairytale ending

I don’t know about you, but I’m not fully at ease with the idea that the Creator of the Universe likes to play games with our souls.  If indeed God loves us, that’s not much of a way to show it.  Speaking only for myself here, I don’t do that to my kids.  I have no reason to think that God treats us worse than we treat our own children, especially since Jesus says just the opposite.  I’m inclined to trust Jesus on this one.

My next problem is the idea that bad things are just the work of the Devil.  That’s quite a stretch.  And again, that sounds like Cosmic Forces playing games with tiny little humans as pawns.  That really doesn’t sound much like the God featured in the rest of the Bible, nor the one we encourage people to trust.  We arrest humans who do that to their kids.  Just sayin’.

Finally, that better-than-it-was ending is just kind of…crap.  It reads like a tack-on, something someone threw in there so that we wouldn’t get all depressed reading about poor Job.  It’s also pretty misleading.  God lets Satan screw with us to prove a point, then makes it all better by replacing everything?  Yeah.  Right.

Now, that’s all based on a literal, historical reading of the text.  It’s what one gets with the idea that Job was a real person and every event laid out in the book is factual exactly as it is written.  In other words, it’s the belief that God did indeed make a bet with Satan over the soul of a human being.  I think there are much better readings, which leave it as poetry, allegory, and a sort of morality play.  When taken as a whole, rather than individual fact bites, it’s clear that there is a larger purpose to the story.

I always leave discussions on Biblical literalism feeling at least a small amount of rage under the surface.  I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the words, “It’s literal unless it’s obvious it’s not or the text says it’s not.”  Well, that sure clears things up.  What one person believes to be “obvious” may not be to someone else.  A good deal of that is left to interpretation.  This is, of course, why some people take the Bible’s account of creation strictly at face value, and others see it as more poetic and nuanced.

This problem occurs in several well-known Bible stories: Adam and Eve, Noah, and Jonah, to name a few.  I think that one reason people feel so attached to literalism is that there is this fear that if we can’t believe in the Ark, we won’t believe in Jesus.  This is not at all true.  But what happens is that there are incredible stretches of the imagination in order to plug the holes left by literal interpretation.

For example, Noah takes two of every animal (and seven pairs of some) on the Ark.  Does that include polar bears, raccoons, and kangaroos, none of which are native to the Ancient Near East?  If Noah included those exotic animals, how did they get there?  How did they migrate their entire populations to the regions in which they now dwell?  Did those species arise later?  If so, then why is evolution false, or did God just magic them out of thin air?  The phrase “doesn’t bear close inspection” does not apply here.  Inquiring minds want to know: How does this all fit together?  To say it isn’t important brushes aside very real problems that must be addressed if one insists on taking everything as historical fact.

If, on the other hand, we take those stories not as absolute truth that must be defended but as insights into the nature of our relationship with God, we can have a much more generous approach to the text.  Instead of asking, “Well, what about…?” we can ask, “What does this mean?”  We can lay aside petty concerns about fact versus fiction in favor of developing understanding of God’s character and ours.  It doesn’t matter if the story happened just as the text suggests, because we’re concentrating on the key points—God wants us to trust and follow, even when it’s scary or strange, and that marvelous things happen when we do.

So getting back to Job, it seems as though a more responsible way to read the text is not to insist on literal interpretation, but to concentrate on meaning.  Some good things to come out of the text:

-Just because we experience bad things, it doesn’t mean we displeased God
-We don’t understand everything God does, but we can trust that God cares for us
-Eventually, all things will be made right (even if not in this lifetime)

Now, those are lessons I can get behind.