God in Her Glory {1b}: A Good Facebook Debate (for a change)


wwii-woman-we-can-do-it-feminismWow. I’ve actually been surprised at the response to the last post in this little mini-series on using feminine language to talk of God. I thought I was addressing one simple thing in the life of churches, but I misjudged the degree to which people would feel like this touched on everything from their thoughts on the Bible to the nature of Jesus himself. One of the best sets of exchanges was on Facebook in response to yesterday’s post. Below, I’ve reproduced a lightly edited version of the conversation. I hope you find it interesting as well. And let me know what you think!

DEBATER: Your post says, “The model of God as Father may be profound and true; but it is not the only model, and it does not render other models less true or profound.”  It’s Jesus’ own self-disclosure and revelation of God. It’s more important than any other ‘model’ and it isn’t really a model. “Father” is not a metaphor. Its a reality for Jesus. And I’m not talking about Jesus’ physicality like his weight or hair color. Jesus revelation is of God as Father. That’s the particularity. He said pray to God as father. And he’s the Son. That’s ontological. The feminine is redeemed in Jesus, but its redeemed not by Jesus taking on the sign of the feminine, but by taking on the sign of the masculine redeemer of the oppressed and abused feminine.

ME: Your last line especially uses terms and ideas entirely foreign to the Scriptures. I’m actually shocked that you saw no issue in writing that. Women need a male redeemer to be redeemed? Even if you point to the ancient cultural idea of the male kinsman-redeemer, surely you aren’t saying that this (clearly) cultural accommodation is some revelation of the essentially gendered nature of God and redemption? The Old Testament also had lambs being sacrificed, and not people. Does that mean that Jesus in some sense had to partly be an “actual” lamb rather than a metaphorical one?
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God & Her Glory {1}: “Our Mother, Who Art in Heaven…”


T78 INT 70

Well, they warned me.

It was my first year at my first seminary. I had the honor of being chosen for an “Inter-Seminary Seminar” course in which people from five very different seminaries got together, were given a topic they all disagreed about, and then spent a semester writings papers to and debating with one another.

One of those seminaries was a liberal Lutheran one. I was told ahead of time that the students (usually women) from this school, every year, always made a big, emotional deal about masculine language being used in the papers. And indeed, at the beginning of every single paper discussion, the first comment was always a tear-filled lament over the use of masculine pronouns throughout the paper.

And so, when it was my turn to write a paper, I tried to be sensitive to this. I changed “mankind” to “humanity”, “brothers” to “brothers and sisters”, etc. And yet, when my paper came up for discussion, they opened up once more with an impassioned complaint against the male-centered language. I told them that I had tried to be sensitive to that. They said, “no, the problem was in your use of the masculine pronouns for God!
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National Geographic (& a poem) on International Women’s Day


Sandorfi-KalfonariumToday is International Women’s Day, and to honor it, National Geographic has a powerful photo spread of women from around the world, called “Portraits of Strength”. While looking through some of the comments, I saw this beautiful poem posted by the poet herself. Read the poem, see the pictures, and listen to the stories of a woman today.

I am a tree
Helen Bar-Lev

Did you think I was a woman?
Oh no, I am a tree
rooted and immovable
impossible to conceive
the scenes
that I have seen

Now gnarled and warped
weathered and aged
wrinkled and withered
bent to the ends of recognition
too rigid to give in
to the whim of man
I stand true to the tune
of the wind echoing
my own inner rhythm
persistent, consistent, constant

Perhaps every tree
was once a woman –
only a woman could stand so strong
fall so proud
when the axe of age claims her
and earth sets a bed for her

© 10.2006 Helen Bar-Lev


[image credit: “Kalfonarium” by Istvan Sandorfi]

On Theology: Choose Your Own (Feminist) Adventure


Delaunay-City-Paris

I recently told some friends about this year’s Lent series on “Male Feminist Theology”. One of them looked at me suspiciously and said, “I know what each of those three English words mean by themselves, but I have no idea what they mean together; it sounds like you’re fitting together things that don’t naturally go together”.

People often hear phrases like “Black Theology”, “Liberation Theology”, or “Feminist Theology”, and feel like there is a profound arrogance at play–isn’t simple “Theology” enough? Why must each group have their own pet theological opinions that belong only to them? But this is to profoundly misunderstand these theologies.
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Quick Christian Feminism Quiz: What do you think of this image?


edwina-sandys-christa-edit

From Lynn Japinga’s excellent Feminism & Christianity: An Essential Guide (p.93):

Artist Edwina Sandys created a sculpture of a female form, arms outstretched as if hanging from a cross. The sculpture, entitled Christa, has created controversy wherever she is displayed. Critics say the statue defies the historical fact that Jesus was a man. Some viewers feel that the symbol of the cross is degraded or even blasphemed by a Christ in female form. Others are disturbed by the sexual overtones of the naked woman. Some people are troubled by yet another violent image of female suffering. A few people see in the sculpture the message that the death of Jesus symbolizes the pain of all human suffering.

The response to [this image] reveals various theological assumptions. Some people dismiss…the sculpture because they are literally false. Jesus was a man. End of discussion. Other people consider these images offensive and uncomfortable. It insults Jesus, and them as well, to think of him as a woman. These imaginative reconstructions of important events in the life of Jesus pose an important theological question: What difference does it make that Jesus was male?

Have at it. What do YOU think about this piece? What’s your first gut reaction? Why? What difference does it make that Jesus was male?

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Lent & Male Feminism: Reflections & Repentance


ash-wednesday-faces-of-the-faithful-photos

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of the Lent season of the Christian Church Calendar. It is the time of year in which we turn up the volume on those darker whispers in our hearts to hear what they say. We turn our ears to the cries of the world bear the wounds of a weeping earth in our hearts and hands. And oh, the wounds are deep.

We come to this Lent with the weight of so much on our collective shoulders: so much brokenness, so much injustice, so much pain, heartache, death, and violence in the world. I honestly thought that 2015 would bring relief from 2014. So far, it has not.

But in the midst of the chaos that reigns both within and without, I am determined to turn my thoughts and this blog towards one area in which the Church as a whole needs to repent; an area in which I feel we can make some real progress in this day and age: Women in the Church.

I do have an on-going series on this topic that I’ve been adding to for the past couple of years, but I think it’s important and helpful to turn towards it particularly now. Lent has always had a deep connection to this topic for me.
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Congrats to the Women of the Church of England!


female-woman-bishop-anglican-communionI thought it would make more headlines this week in the U.S, but it didn’t, so I thought I’d put it here. Two days ago, the Church of England voted overwhelmingly to allow for female bishops in their ranks. They had for twenty years now allowed for female priests but–as is the odd logic that accompanies church hierarchies such as this–they thought it a step too far to allow women to be bishops. I don’t know. But either way, let us rejoice their is one more place in the world where women can fully and freely exercise the gifts God has given them.

Click here for more posts in my occasional series on Women in the Church.

Anna, the Prophet of the Lord | Luke 2.36-38


There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke 2.36-38

What a powerful testimony. She was only married for seven years before her husband died. She had been a widower for 84 years. What pain and loneliness she must have felt. And yet, how did she spend it? Serving God’s people as a prophet, being especially in tune with those “looking for Israel’s redemption” and then proclaiming Jesus to them. Even before the Cross and Resurrection, Jesus was the answer for the longing of God’s people for redemption.

Also, Luke said he went through all of the accounts and picked and chose what would get “in” and what wouldn’t. Of all the little anecdotes he chooses to keep in and keep out, he chooses this. What a powerful woman she must have been for her to have been seered into the collective consciousness of God’s people retelling this story.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

An Egalitarian Easter Week Meditation [QUOTE]


From Cyprian, 3rd-century bishop of Carthage, to a virgin consecrated by the church:

““I will multiply,” says God to the woman, “thy sorrows and thy groanings, and in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” You are free from this sentence. You do not fear the sorrows and the groans of women. You have no fear of child-bearing; nor is your husband lord over you; but your Lord and Head is Christ, after the likeness and in place of man; with that of men your lot and your condition is equal. . . .”

Moses the Levite? | Exodus 2:12


Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman.
Exodus 2.12

These are Moses’ unnamed parents. It’s interesting that the text makes a point to say they are both Levitra, the priesthood branch of the family. Notice that both Aaron and Miriam, Moses is siblings, would have also come from the priesthood side of the family. I wonder if this gives Miriam a certain Priestley role in the community as well? Either way, I never noticed that Moses and Aaron are both Levites. This gives Moses a much more priestly, rather than prophetic, role in what he does, and the function he serves in the story and the community.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

The most succinct defense of infant baptism I’ve ever read.


“It might be argued that there is not one explicit reference in the New Testament to a child being baptized. Have we any warrant then for doing it? If we require explicit texts for our practice, then there would be no warrant for women to come to the Lord’s Table. There is no single explicit reference to that in the New Testament. Our warrant is not in isolated texts or precedents, but in the Gospel itself. Christ died for men and women, adults and infants, and we acknowledge that in faith in baptism…”

— from James B. Torrance’s beautiful book Worship, Communion, and the Triune God of Grace 

Male Headship & Societal Injustice | Esther 1:17-22


Queen_Vashti_Refuses_to_Obey_Ahasuerus_CommandToday’s post falls into both our new section of the site called Marginalia and our on-going series on Women in the Church.

For this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will rebel against the king’s officials, and there will be no end of contempt and wrath! If it pleases the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be altered, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, vast as it is, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.”

This advice pleased the king and the officials, and the king did as Memucan proposed; he sent letters to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, declaring that every man should be master in his own house.
Esther 1.17–22

I can imagine a conservative evangelical looking at this and saying to themselves, “Now, the king’s court is recognizing a natural order in the way God has made a marital relationship to work, even though they go about reinforcing this biblically-supported picture in the wrong way–through force and not love”. I hope that’s a fair representation.

But either way, (1) they would not want us to pull from this text any lessons about how male headship itself is wrong, just how it’s done badly here, and (2) they would still think the concern of these males is justified (and perhaps even right), as we’ve seen similar dynamics play out in our culture in the aftermath of feminism.

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