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Posts Tagged ‘women’

It was supposed to be such a big put-down to Barak, who Deborah, the prophet, called up to gather forces and attack Commander Sisera of Canaan. She was assured of their victory and yet Barak, although willing to go, would not go without Deborah. He must have believed that her presence would give me more credence. He didn’t care that he might be seen as a less of a leader by bringing a woman along.

“Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the Lord will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” [Judges 4:9a]

But here’s where I cringe, just a little. We haven’t gotten much better in this culture. Oh, we’ve made some inroads, but truthfully, I still think people are surprised that a woman did this or that. It’s one of the reasons that Americans still hedge at the idea of having a woman president, as though her decisions might somehow be impeded by her sex. The glass ceiling still exists.

And the scriptures don’t help much. I am grateful for the many times that Christ, himself, opened doors for women in his age that were never open before. Women were called upon to be leaders and encouraged to embrace the Gospel fully, a promise of full participation. And yet, old laws held on to people’s minds, even Paul, who taught the old ways for women, to be silent and submissive and unengaged outside the home.

It’s still an insult to “run like a girl.”

 

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women and storyAbraham protected himself by claiming that Sarah was his sister in the land of Abimelek (Abimilech) and here, Isaac does the same thing, in the same geographical area, with another king (perhaps a son?), also called Abimelek (Abimilech). Scholars are not in agreement about these accounts since they are mirror of one another in so many ways. But for my purposes, they cause a completely different resonance: one that makes my blood boil if you want to know the truth.

When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.” [Genesis 26:7, NIV, emphasis mine] (See Genesis 20 for Abraham’s version.)

In some quarters, commentators have said that these parallel stories show God’s protection over the patriarchs and the beauty of their women. How swell. But in neither story, as told by the Old Testament historians, is there much information about the women and the circumstances in which they found themselves as a result of their husbands clever misinformation (lies). The reason for their deception, in both cases, was to protect their own lives because the ruler might kill the husband to acquire the wife. But a sister? Piece of cake, just hand her over (with gifts from the household of the King to the patriarch, I’m sure).

And so the women, beautiful they may have been, were thrust into the households of foreigners. Nice. Convenient and cunning.

I am more than aware that culturally, in those days, women were a type of property or chattel. They were owned by their husbands and subservient to the lord of the house. Despite these restraints, many women of that period still accomplished great things and often, with courage, they turned their world, the Esthers and Abigails and for all we know, many who went unnamed. But these accounts are few and far between.

Women are a often strong and flexible and most tenacious. They can take a bad situation and make it better. They can tolerate much. They are survivors. But not all women. Too many other women fall in the face of men who strike with force to gain their will. Other women self-medicate to beat back emotional pain. And still others eat until their bodies betray them altogether and beauty is no longer apparent.

I suppose Abraham and Isaac could be commended for their clever little deception. They both gained immeasurably by it and found much favor from the Abimileks in their sojourns. But for the women, it was a sacrifice. And I want to remember that.

As a contemporary reader of scripture, I often remind myself that it’s critical to look between the lines, to pray and contemplate the untold story. So often, scripture time is compressed into a single phrase but it’s really months or years. And in those time frames, there are women living, crying, hoping, and maintaining their faith, often in the face of trial. whats_your_story

For my sisters in faith today, I challenge you, don’t read like a man. Read from your unique femaleness. For it may only be us who hear and see and can recognize those underlying truths. In the centuries since those days, many women’s stories have been lost. We need to remember and we need to repeat our own narratives, to our daughters, to our nieces, to our girlfriends.

Tell your story. No one else is more qualified than you.

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Here we go again. That’s all I could think about while reading this chapter where the current Patriarch (in this case Isaac) lies about his relationship with his spouse in the name of “protecting the household” [i.e. himself]. The story is  almost identical to the Abraham ruse including the same Philistine players. What’s the point?

Genesis 26:7
When the men of that place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid to say, “She is my wife.” He thought, “The men of this place might kill me on account of Rebekah, because she is beautiful.”

In Wikipedia, a “Jewish Encyclopedia” article states that the parallel stories in all likelihood were used to dramatize and accentuate the beauty of the women involved. In other words, the best way to explain a woman’s beauty is through the machinations men go through to possess her or to be near her or to know her.

What is beauty? We all know, it is in the eye of the beholder. What do we go through today to be beautiful?

One of my favorite plays is the Rainmaker by N. Richard Nash in which a charismatic charlatan is able to draw out a young woman’s belief in herself and her personal beauty. If only every woman could see her own beauty and not depend on culture for approval or confirmation.

 

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Photo by Victoria Potter

Anger is not a disease, it’s a choice that eventually builds into a habit. I should know, I’m really good at it. I’m getting better at the outside version of anger but it’s a cover up for what’s happening inside.

James 1:19b-20
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s [and woman’s] anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

I think of anger as a bus because it’s always taking me somewhere, and rarely if ever, does it take me where I want to go or where I should be. It’s not always a bus; I also ride the anger subway, the anger jet and the anger canoe. Each one goes a different speed, but the results are the same.

And most of those trips leave a wake or trail of damage that takes much longer to repair than it does to destroy.

When I lived in New York, I took the subway a lot. At first, it was confusing and I’d have to watch the map and keep checking the walls for the name of the stop. But pretty soon, I got so accustomed to the subway that I knew where I was just by the look of the station.

Just because anger is familiar doesn’t make it a good thing. I know that intellectually.

I know that “anger management” talks about transforming feelings of anger into healthy expressions, like assertiveness or redirecting it into some kind of constructive behavior, or intentionally and rationally calming oneself down. I’m sure these are all good mechanisms and I should look into them.

But I would like to get better at catching the moment BEFORE I get on the bus. What is it that makes me want to jump. One of my previous pastors said it was “fear” and I can certainly agree with that in many cases: fear of loss, self-esteem, worth, value, control, etc. I think there are other moments too that are driven by something else than fear. Maybe it’s disappointment.

I have written and talked about the power of disappointment before, particularly in women. It’s wrapped up in expectations and hopes and dreams and when that disappointment comes, particularly repetitive disappointment, I think it mutates into anger: displaced, misplaced, and often illogical in appearance.

No easy solution, but certainly, the advice from James is sound: be slow to speak. Maybe, just maybe, if I could slow the process down, just a little, I could recognize my triggers.

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I confess, I can’t get through this section of Timothy without copping a little attitude. In particular I find the “Adam first” argument weak, at best. If Adam was so perfect, why did he need a helpmate or companion? Both were made and both were needed. No, this conflict is about power.

I Timothy 2:11-14
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.

Apparently, Paul encountered issues with strong women; why else would he bother to write this mandate? It wouldn’t be necessary to write that women were not permitted to do something unless they were doing it. That’s how I read it: women were not quiet, not in full submission, and were teaching at will to both men and women. Several of the early house churches were in the homes of women (I’m thinking of Lydia and Priscilla). So, what happened? We’ll never really know but controversies have raged as a result and women have been selectively silenced.

Previously, I have written about women and silence. I believe God has given me words to say and to write. I have gifts in the performing arts and in public speaking. I have experienced blessings in my roles as teacher and prophet. I have been blessed and I am humbled by the touches of God. I cannot go back.

I place my inability to follow these words of Paul at the feet of God. If I sin, then it is God who will judge and no other.

I will not play the power game nor will I try to justify my choice. I will not pretend these scriptures do not exist nor will I try to manipulate what they say.

True power is from the Holy Spirit who is no more gender specific than God is. If we, both men and women, used the gifts of the Holy Spirit, then dominance would be a non-issue.

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Can’t do it. I can’t be silent. I won’t. And that doesn’t make me less fond of my beloved Savior nor He of me. Nor does it mean the Bible is so full of holes that it’s unreliable or useless. In fact, I’m not even arguing with the truth of it. I’m just not going to do it.

I Corinthians 14:33b-34
As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.

There are certainly cultural and historical bases for this verse (and others) about the roles of women in the church. I understand that.

And yet, on one hand, New Testament women were free to worship and participate equally in the promises of Christ and even perform as leaders (e.g. Lydia & Priscilla) and yet, on the other hand, great limitations were placed on their authority within the church.

Some liberal-leaning Bible historians have explained away this verse by saying it refers to the disorder of the Corinthian church and that women were calling out across the room asking for explanations and the like. Good luck with that one. Maybe so.

And yet, I tend to agree with the more conservative approachs: Paul meant what he said. So be it.

But I cannot keep silent. I don’t cover my head in church and I still wear jewelry and I don’t always “submit” to my husband’s point of view. These things are also part of who I am and I come to Christ honestly.

I have been gifted to speak and even, on occasion, to write well. There have been anointings. The Holy Spirit has flowed through me and I have spoken out of that secret place. I have experienced the pleasure of my God in His creation–me. And although I love the scriptures and all that those words have given to me and revealed to me, I will not allow this verse to condemn me.

So, I’ll wait. And on that great day when we no longer “see through a glass darkly” [I Corinthians 13:12] but understand the greater meanings of our three-dimensional life on this earth, it will all make sense.

I trust God and lean on His grace and that grace is sufficient, even for this intentional rebellion.

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On Easter morning, we need to consider this detail: women played a key role as messengers of truth. In fact, from the visits to Bethany through Jesus’s Paschal journey and on into the days and weeks after the resurrection, women were players: devoted, faithful and strong. They still are.

Romans 16:1-2, 6, 12-13, 15 and more
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church . . . Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus . . . Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. . . . Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. . . . Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman . . . Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.

At first blush, Romans 16 appears as boring as Matthew’s genealogy used to be for me. But a closer examination reveals the same mystery: the powerful women! There are lots and lots of women mentioned here and in most cases, they are clearly cherished by Paul.

The genealogy in Matthew 1:1-16 was such a sleeper for me until I experienced an epiphany and saw the reason behind mentioning the women in those verses (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary). They had a message for me: if God could use them, he could use me. And out of that revelation, I created a one-woman show that I toured for several years called Pente.

Now, in this chapter, I see another group of women with very little story to illuminate their place in the timeline, and yet, they are there: Phoebe, Priscilla, another Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’s mother, and countless unnamed ones since households were listed by the head of house alone. But women were there, serving, loving, praying, and working in tandem with their families to illustrate the message of Jesus.

Scholars assume Phoebe actually carried the letter of Paul to the Romans. Was she allowed to read it? Did she travel from church to church (there were many house churches) in that great city? Did she carry additional personal messages from Paul? She was from a coastal city of Corinth, at least 600 miles from Rome. That was no gentle expedition. I’m not saying she was the Pony Express, but it’s amazing for that time period for a woman to travel with this type of a mission.

I know, there are other places where Paul seems to give women the back seat. I struggle with these sections too. But as I study those areas along my New Testament trek, I want to remember this Paul, who sent Phoebe with a critical letter to the gentile believers in Rome.

All of the women to whom Paul is sending greetings are commended for their “work.” I doubt he means “woman’s work” either. He is talking about the same work that all of us are called to do: being a witness in word and action: fulfilling the call of Christ in our lives, equally distributed by grace.

Oh yes, this is a day to remember and celebrate that Jesus’s work on the cross included a great emancipation for women of faith. Amen.

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