Upcycled Final Essay.

I’m all about repurposing, even when it comes to blog content. I wrote this as a part of an essay on feminist biblical criticism for a hermeneutics class I took last fall. Apparently I think I am both witty and intelligent, so I’m posting it here. Enjoy.

In this story (Numbers 12:1-16), Aaron and Miriam confront Moses and God about who has divine revelation and who doesn’t, essentially asserting that they too hear the voice of God as much as Moses does. Miriam does not have any overt speaking parts in this account, but her presence is still worth discussing.

Miriam’s place and occupation in this story is a little difficult to figure out, as she appears and then quickly disappears in the middle of Exodus. Her place was probably similar to that of most Israelite women, namely, as secondary beings to men, though she may have had some notion of a higher status being that she was related to Moses. The best idea one can come up with as to her occupation is that of a worship leader, and even this is based on very little strong evidence (because there is very little strong evidence about anything concerning Miriam). Miriam is out of place here, though, in that she is approaching Moses directly and with anger, and thus, presumably, without much deliberation. The fact that she is with Aaron lessens the impact this fact might have, as one could easily say that she is merely following her brother along. Nonetheless, she is present in a place she would not normally be.

As previously mentioned, Miriam does not have a clear voice in this text, but it is easy to infer that the one line not spoken by Moses or God (Numbers 12:2, And they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?”) at the very least included her (note the plural “they”), but, perhaps more likely, was her direct speech masked by writers who did not want to acknowledge such a bold and defiant act on the part of a woman. Being that, later on in the story, it is she and not Aaron who gets leprosy, I posit that the aforementioned speech was her, and not both her and Aaron. One can imagine that everyone present was shocked by her speech and the audacity with which she probably delivered it. The fact that her voice is completely edited out (and that all the pronouns in God’s speech in defense of Moses are masculine singular) speaks volumes about the patristic nature of Israel in that time.

The theme of power and experience defines this story. It is, at its most basic level, about Aaron’s and (for the purposes of this essay), more importantly, Miriam’s experience as subjects, so to speak, of Moses, who wields great power. It is easy to picture Miriam expressing to Aaron her frustration with how “high and mighty” Moses has been lately, and doesn’t God speak to us too? And telling him how tired she is of always having to do everything he says, and what, does he think that, just because he’s a man, he can tell her what to do—she is older, after all, finally asserting that she is going to give that brother of theirs a good talking to. Whether or not it is shown in the Bible, it can probably be said that many an Israelite woman had similar thoughts about a man in their lives at some point. However, Miriam’s response is unique, in that she actually does something about it—she confronts Moses—and is responded to by God, who is seemingly using power on behalf of Moses. God upholds him, and gives Miriam leprosy as a result for her actions, likening it to “spitting in her face.” The only possible conclusion that both affirms Miriam’s role in this story and does not claim that God prefers men over women is that God was standing up for Moses, the messenger, trying desperately to just keep Israel united enough to survive.

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Theological War Zone

I am a college student.

I am a senior Bible and Theology major in my final semester.

Thus, I am dealing with the perpetual hell that is senior seminar. Apparently I’m enough of an idiot to choose to do the GREEK senior seminar. Don’t ever do this. EVER.

Really, though, the work itself isn’t that bad. If it were just that, I’d be fine.

The problem is my classmates.

There are five of us, plus the professor. I am the only woman. I am also one of two egalitarians in the room. Three of the students attend Piper’s church. I go to Boyd’s. My professor has openly stated, as if it were fact, that women ought to submit to their husbands, that it is not possible to defend both Christ and homosexuality, and that everyone knows socialism is wrong.

Needless to say, I don’t belong there.

It’s like walking into a war zone every time I go to class.

I’ve realized, though, that this class is much like life for me on a daily basis, when it comes to theology.

I am a feminist. I support gay rights both inside and outside the Church. I believe in socialism and I think everyone deserves decent healthcare and education without spending the rest of their lives in debt. I don’t believe in violence and I think that using it in efforts of making peace is contradictory. I think what we do matters just as much as who we believe in, and sometimes I’m persuaded that works matters even more than faith. I believe that God is after every person’s heart and is open to influence and change. I think that we ought to live simply and wealth is not something to be gained, but something to be shared. I believe that it is our job to advocate for the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized, and that we have to break down ethnic, sexual, and religious discrimination. And I believe in a God who is on our, and everyone else’s, side.

I know that when I take these stances, I put myself on the outside. I know I’m going to face opposition. I’m okay with that.

The problem is when this opposition doesn’t take the form of dialogue, but instead turns into dismissal. It isn’t that someone disagrees with me, but that they refuse to even listen to me.

When I have to raise my hand in a student-led, discussion-based class every time I want to say anything, and I still end up waiting three or four minutes to speak, I don’t feel as though my opinions are valued.

When my professor and all but one of my classmates use gender-exclusive language, I feel  like I don’t belong.

When I bring in sources by Gutierrez and Bell and Boyd and nearly the whole class is spent attacking them, I spend the rest of the day wondering why my heroes, the people whose words and actions inspire me and renew my faith in Jesus, aren’t even worth consideration.

When I am mocked, picked on, and disrespected, and it is written off as playful banter, I wonder if I made the wrong decision in my choice of this class, this major, and even this school.

I don’t know how many times I’ve pulled up the websites of other schools that I know would have been a better fit because I so badly want to transfer. And, honestly, if it weren’t my final semester, I would.

There’s something wrong with that. That I feel so unwelcome that I want to switch schools less than three months before graduation. That, because I made my stances (listed above) public, I lost my leadership role in a campus ministry and I was nearly kicked out of a pre-vocational ministry program. That I start to get nauseous and wheezy and panicky before every senior sem class. There is something wrong with this school when a senior theology major who has invested years of her life and countless hours of studying, writing, discussing, reflecting, and praying about her theological beliefs can’t even voice those beliefs without being responded to with anger and disrespect.

I had a friend tell me recently that this opposition should only encourage me to fight harder. What about when that opposition and disrespect comes from my friends? What about when I point out a sexist remark in a conversation or a reading assignment and it is met with mockery? What about when that opposition is so fierce that I have to leave in the middle of class because I’m either about to throw punches or there are already tears building up in my eyes?

It is impossible to fight harder when the other side won’t even engage the battle. When you aren’t even respected as a worthwhile opponent.

I feel like David against Goliath. But I don’t have the Israelites behind me and instead of Goliath stepping out to fight me, he says, “She’s not even worth fighting,” and the army just camps out right there on the hillside.

This post won’t end with a resolution, because I have no resolution to offer. I am stuck in a war zone. Though I wish we could discuss our theologies like equals and be okay with the disagreements, I doubt I’ll ever gain that kind of respect here. Until then, the fight continues.

Unrelenting Lutheran Lent

I am a non-denom-er.

I don’t ascribe to any specific denominational doctrine.

I pick and choose. There are elements of just about every (major) Christian denomination that I like. I don’t think we need to fully fit within one.

I also don’t put much emphasis on tradition. I find that my beliefs often contradict what tradition says, and while I’m willing to engage that debate, I rarely end up siding with tradition.

But it’s Lent. And that changes things for me.

The first church I went to was Lutheran. It’s also the church I have attended longest. So it’s had a pretty significant impact on my theology.

Do I think everything within Lutheran doctrine is correct? By no means. I actually disagree with much of their doctrine.

But, Lord, I love the way they do church.

I love the adherence to the church calendar. I love the church seasons and the colors that we associate with them. I love the liturgy and the lectionary texts. I love the hymns and the LBW. And I love love love the Sacraments.

Part of it is the dependability, the regularity, the consistency of it. Part of it is the unity that comes from knowing that everyone in the building is making the same statements and prayers together, that everyone (both within the individual churches and within the denomination itself) is meditating on the same text, and that so many from years past have sung the same hymns. Part of it is the beautiful meaning of the Sacraments and how deep they cut into the human soul. There are a myriad of reasons why the way Lutherans do church resonates so deeply within me.

I’m okay, most of the time, with not having this in my life. I go to a Baptist school and a non-denom church. I’ve seen plenty of adult immersion baptisms and I’ve done communion with Welch’s and Wonderbread more times than I can count. I sing 90’s worship songs at church on Sundays and listen to a forty-five-minute-long sermon. My husband (who you can now find here) grew up Baptist-Covenant, so he’s not big on anything that has to do with liturgical churches, and I’m okay sacrificing that for him. I can deal without Lutheranism for forty-five weeks out of the year.

But…Lent is different.

I’ve learned that many non-liturgical churches (and their members) don’t really do Lent, or they do it in a very different (and almost unrecognizable to me) way than liturgical churches do. It’s this thing in March or so that starts by getting some ashes smudged on your face and you give something up for forty (or forty-six, because many don’t realize that you’re supposed to break your fast on Sundays) days. Then you go to Easter service and everything’s good and not weird again. Which is fine, I’m not bashing that. There is nothing in the Bible that says you have to celebrate Lent.

But it’s not fine for me.

Christmas, Easter, they’ve been taken over by capitalism and pop culture. I know Jews who celebrate Christmas because, why the hell not, everyone else does. Lent is different. It’s still ours. It’s precious. It’s beautiful. It is mournful and solemn but it pushes towards the joy we know is coming. It moves us to rethink ourselves and our actions and commit ourselves yet again to Jesus, to prepare ourselves for this coming joy. It requires us to walk in the steps of his pain, but it also sets us free to rejoice with him on Easter morn. It is the most stunning example of how we ought to live as followers of Christ that I’ve ever found in the Church.

And we do this every year. For six and a half weeks. Beautiful.

Two days ago, I (and my husband, reluctantly) went to Ash Wednesday service at a Lutheran church in our neighborhood. We sang hymns out of the LBW. We listened to the (classic twelve-minute-long) sermon. We took communion of kosher wine and unleavened bread. We prayed the confession. We received the ashes. It was wonderful.

I recall, as the pastor was reciting the Words of Institution (for Holy Communion, for all you non-liturgical types), I was mouthing along with her. I watched as every person spoke the Lord’s Prayer together. I saw everyone bow their heads and offer their empty hands up to receive the elements. And, for the first time in far too long, I received Holy Communion. And it meant something.

Lent, at that moment, renewed its grasp on my heart.

Because I was reminded that this Communion was not simply something done to unite my brothers and sisters and I. I was reminded that I am being invited to a table, not only with all these people, but with Christ. I, who am not worthy, was offered an outstretched hand and the simple invitation of “Come, the table is prepared, all are welcome.” I was reminded that this bread and wine is not just bread and wine, it is the manifestation of the body broken for me and the blood shed for me on the Cross that we are walking towards in this season.

Broken. Unworthy. Sinful. Invited anyway.

But first, we must walk. Forty (forty-six) days in the valley of the shadow of death. My sins. Seeing every ugly detail thrust out into the open like that. Still, we must walk. At the end of this valley lies a hill with a Cross atop it. We must make it that far. The further we go, the more I look back. I want to return. I want to stop walking. I begin to limp. Soon, my legs give out. I can’t do this anymore. No matter. I will be carried there if by no other means. Laid at the foot of the Cross. You who carried me here are now nailed to it. Your body is broken before me and your blood runs over me. I lift up my hands to give something, anything, to stop your pain. Hush, child. Now is not your time to give. You must receive. I don’t understand, I am the wrongdoer. Before you can explain, your last breath escapes. I cry out in mourning. If it is all I can do for you now, I lay you in your grave. I weep. I come back two days later to find your grave opened. I don’t understand, I don’t know why. I ask the first person I see, the gardener, if he knows what happened. He turns and his face is yours. I don’t understand. Joy fills my heart and I am ready to dismiss the last six weeks as a dream. You tell me no, I can’t. I must always remember that journey. Without it, we would not be here. This joy is a product of that pain. But rejoice, child, for the pain is now over; the journey is complete.

Come. The table is prepared, all are welcome.

Badass Is The New Black.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard pastors talk about how important it is for Christian women to be modest.

Incidentally, most of those pastors were men.

I heard things like, “Don’t be a stumbling block to your brothers in Christ,” “Modest is hottest,” or even “You don’t want to be like Bathsheba, do you?”

Or, worse, posts like this. Seriously, what the hell is that even about. I went on a rant for two days about that damn thing; ask my husband if you need proof.

Now, I have to preface this by saying that I think modesty can be a good thing–for both men and women. Our bodies were created by God (Psalm 139:13), and we ought to present ourselves in a way that honors that. This goes far beyond modesty, though, to such things as eating nutritious, healthy food, staying active, and maintaining proper hygiene. If you dress in a way that does not line up with the fact that your body was literally created by God, then you’re not doing it justice. So, don’t dress like a prostitute, you’re better than that.

I have nothing against the concept of modesty in and of itself. What I do have a problem with is the ways it is addressed in western Christian society, first of which is the idea that it is a woman’s responsibility to be modest so that her brothers in Christ do not sin.

Yes, the Bible does say that we’re not supposed to be stumbling blocks for one another, but that is both addressed to mixed-gender crowds, and is not referencing attire. If we want to use this phrase, then we have to also call men to the same sort of modesty, and it has to be about more than clothing. The way we act, speak, dress; all of it needs to be done in a way that does not deter our brothers and sisters from what we’re actually trying to accomplish.

What I want to know, however, is why it is a woman’s responsibility to make sure that a man does not sin, instead of it being his own responsibility. Take that post from earlier. If that weren’t complete BS, I would have to be constantly focused on whether or not the way I walk, or sit, or even just stand, let alone the way I dress, is making any man sin, instead of focusing on more important things, like, I don’t know, everything else.

Seriously, if just seeing a woman sit without her legs crossed makes you start lusting after her, you have bigger issues that you need to deal with. It is not her doing that has made you sin, it is yours. Get some help. Pray. Work on it. Do whatever you need to do so that you can look at a woman without automatically thinking about sex. But do not blame her for your own problems.

Let’s look at that Bathsheba bit earlier. I often hear that the whole David-and-Bathsheba scandal was really her fault, because she shouldn’t have been bathing on her roof, and a righteous man like David would never have sinned if it weren’t for that. However, Bathsheba would have been totally justified in bathing on her roof–it was spring, and very sunny, and she would have gone up to her roof to bathe in order to dry off quickly. David, however, was not justified in being in his palace–his army was at war about 30 miles or so away, and he should have been with them instead of spying on naked women from his deck. Even disregarding this, he by no means had to have sex with her just because he saw her naked. He could have seen her and promptly have turned around or have gone back inside. He did not have to stare, and he definitely did not have to send his guards to go get her. He most likely would have had them tell her he wanted to have her over for dinner, or something of that ilk, and led her on with false pretenses. He also probably got her drunk before having sex with her, making it not just sex, but rape. And, if it had really been her fault, he wouldn’t have had to try to cover up her resulting pregnancy by asking her husband (proven a righteous man by the rest of the story) to sleep with her. Altogether, David’s sin was not a result of Bathsheba’s action, but of his own jackassery.

The second problem I have is that this assumes there is no GLBT community in the Church. This whole notion is based on the idea that if straight men see straight women doing or wearing just about anything, they’re going to sin. Would it be okay for a lesbian woman to see another woman dressing or acting immodestly? How about a gay man seeing another man doing the same? Could a gay man (or a lesbian woman) see a straight woman (or a straight man) this way? Could a gay man and a lesbian woman see each other being immodest? And what the hell should we do when our bisexual brothers and sisters are around? Should we check every person’s sexual orientation before we let them see us?

This concept falls apart very quickly when reality is factored in.

Third, and this ties in to the first a bit, is that this idea that women are in charge of making sure that men do not sin. This is nothing but another instance in which women are seen as servants of men. Clearly, a man would not lust after a woman if that “sick she-ass,” to quote John Damascene, hadn’t caused him to do so. Instead of calling him out on his sin and finding ways to help him get past it, she ought to submit to his reality and his rules. This mentality puts a bandage on the problem instead of fixing it. Women, as equals to men, ought to stand up for themselves and say no, we will not submit to your rules. We will act and dress in a way that speaks truly of who we are as created beings. If that causes problems for you, then those problems are greater and deeper than just the way we dress, and it is you, not we, who needs to fix them.

I suggest an alternative. Instead of saying “modest is hottest,” (which is a contradiction, but that’s not the point) let’s define modest as badass. This shows that our concern is not for what other people see, but what we believe about ourselves (i.e. that we are created beings), it gives women power and authority instead of making them submissive, it gives the sense of having a greater purpose in our lives, and it states that there is more to us than just how we look. It says, “I am a force to be reckoned with. I am so much more than a body: I am also a brain, and a heart, and a soul. My body was not made for gazing upon, but for action. And I don’t care what you think of me, because I’m fixed on something greater.”

Go be badass, friends. You might just shake things up a bit.

Stronger than your Strength.

I’ve debated telling this story for months now. I had decided not to until Sarah Moon’s post here prompted me to do so in the name of feminism (and you all had better know by now that I can’t resist that).

It’s a hard one. One that, of all the people in my kome, only one other person knows, and that’s because I married him. And he doesn’t even know the whole story because I can never tell the whole thing at once. Even here, it will not be complete, or even close to it.

This story is my story.

I haven’t always followed Jesus. That was a recent development, somewhere in late 2008-early 2009. I grew up in the shadow of the church, though, perhaps because my middle and high school shared a parking lot with a Lutheran megachurch. My mother and I went there occasionally throughout my youth, and I went through confirmation there, though it meant very little to me at the time. I sang in the senior high choir at this church as well, but my doing so wasn’t out of desire to praise Jesus or even to make beautiful music for him, but because I loved to sing and didn’t have time to be involved in my school’s choir.

All of that changed during my junior year of high school. But before we get into that, a much more painful story needs to be told.

Remember how I said that my mother and I would attend church? Notice that my father is nowhere in that statement? This is not because my parents are divorced or even that my father is dead, but simply because he had no desire to be a part of a church, or even a part of my or my mother’s lives.

I say this as one convicted of how wrong it is of me to judge him: my father is an awful man. This may not really be true, I don’t know, but every experience I had while forced to live in close proximity to him makes it seem pretty accurate.

In his (not our, his) household, he was the king, and my mother and I were his servants. Everything had to be done his way, and he was never wrong nor could he ever be wrong. His authority was not questioned, and should anyone attempt to do so, they would hear it (as I would quickly learn in high school). If we did something wrong, he would yell at us, degrade us, tell us we were worthless and that we couldn’t survive without him. This started with my mother before I could remember, and with me when I was six years old, if not earlier (I can’t fully remember).

My mother, born in the late 50’s and an ardent feminist in high school and after, did not know what to do. She ended up in a constant state of chaos, smiling one minute and crying the next, and furious the minute after that. She became very controlling over me, as I was the only person over whom she could have any authority. She would often chastise me for not meeting my father’s expectations, blaming me for his rampages, and then come into my bedroom late at night, weeping, saying she wasn’t sure if she loved my father anymore and that she wanted out.

For this reason, I had a suitcase packed in my closet from the time I was twelve or so until I went away to college. I was always ready to get out of that hellhole. But where would we go? My father was right in one thing, we couldn’t really survive without him. My mother worked full time, but her highest level of education was an Associate’s degree, and thus she didn’t make nearly as much money as my father did (especially after the company for which she worked 25 years shut down, leaving her in a very difficult place for finding a new job). She paid the bills with her income, leaving her with not a whole lot to spare. We would have had nowhere to stay if we had left, since her family lived far away, as does my father’s, not that they would have taken her side. We both wanted to leave, but we had nowhere to go. We were stuck.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit rebellious. I’m also very hotheaded. In high school, I decided not to be like my mother, that I would be strong, and I started standing up to my father, though not always in the best manner or in the most profitable situations. This went swimmingly, as you can assume, and I made things a hell of a lot worse. I ended up running away to friends’ houses for the night on occasion, simply because I thought that if I stayed in that house, I would not see the next morning.

I finally reached a point where I would do anything to not go back to that house. I stayed out as long as I could. Remember the bit earlier about my school sharing a parking lot with a church?

That church became my new home.

One of the youth pastors there who I knew well invited me to come to their youth group. This happened near the beginning of my pivotal junior year. It was a few hours after school got out, so I would hang out at school, or the coffee shop near my school, and do homework until group started. Eventually, I just started going straight over to church after school and either doing homework or volunteering there. I became a permanent fixture in the youth department and ended up being the worship coordinator for the young adult service they held on Sunday nights. I also started dating a guy from that church who had a great Christian family that took me in. It was a pretty sweet deal.

Until I became so consumed with the love of Christ, though I didn’t know it at the time, that he started changing my life.

I was all set up to do exactly what my father wanted me to do. I was going to go to the University of MN-Duluth for my senior year of high school (MN has a program where high school juniors and seniors can do college classes for both high school and college credit, and the state pays for it, which I did do both years), and then I was going to go to Purdue University and study neuropharmacology, become a doctor, and make lots of money. That was how he had planned things. That was what I was going to do.

But, after all of my involvement in the church, I felt pulled towards–today I call this “called by Jesus”–to vocational ministry. I started looking at other colleges, Christian colleges, to attend. I talked to my pastors about seminary and ministry and everything else related to that. I eventually settled on the school I now go to, partially because my boyfriend was going there.

I had finally found someone who loved me and loved Jesus, and I didn’t want to let him go.

There’s this thing with abuse victims that makes them people pleasers, which was the only way I knew how to relate to anyone, and so I just started doing whatever this boyfriend wanted. He loved Jesus, but he was still a teenage boy, and it wasn’t long until he started pressuring me to have sex with him. We never did, thank God, but that led me on a slippery slope that would end literally with me choosing life or death for myself.

But we’ll get back to that in a minute.

My choice to go to a Christian school and do vocational ministry did not sit well with either of my parents, especially my father. He now had two faces, one full of rage, the other of disengagement. He either hated me or I simply did not exist. My mother became very frustrated, probably because she didn’t understand my decisions. This pushed me further and further out of their house and into the church and the arms of my boyfriend.

He was a normal teenage boy. He wasn’t looking for a long-term relationship. I was not a normal teenage girl. I was looking for someone to promise to love me, to really love me, forever. I looked for this in him. In the same way that he pressured me into physical commitment, I pressured him into emotional commitment. This cracked the summer after my junior year of high school. He tried to break up with me, I was devastated, and convinced him to stick around. This lasted for two and a half weeks. He finally had enough and broke up with me.

I didn’t know what to do. I felt like the only person who ever loved me had just left me in the dust. I came dangerously close to committing suicide.

I still thank Jesus for that church. Three different girls who had become very close friends of mine came and visited me after all of this went down (my parents were out of town), as did two of my pastors. They brought me food and gifts and gave me rides to church. I was there every day, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and they never let me be alone.

At the same time as all of this, I had been reading The Shack by William Paul Young. I will not argue over its merits here, that is not the point. The picture of God in that book showed me that the unconditional, forever-love I had been seeking was only available from one Source. I committed myself to Jesus, to loving and following him, on July 5th, 2009.

Since then I have grown and struggled with this Jesus in remarkable ways. I married an amazing man of God who knows that the best way to cultivate a marriage and a family is to do as Paul said, to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). My faith life has not been easy in this time, and there have been many seasons of doubt, but the beautiful Love that first called me has captivated me ever since.

Here I stand. Breaking the cycle of abuse. Refusing to be an angry dictator or a passive subject. Stronger than my father ever was, not by my own strength, but through Jesus.

I said I was doing this in the name of feminism, so I figure I ought to address it. Piper, Driscoll, and anyone else out there who wants to tell me I am not strong enough, let this story be a message to you. Neither I nor you nor anyone else is strong enough on their own. Jesus, the great Love, is the only one who can provide us with the strength to overcome anything that we may endure. You say I am weak, you say I need a man to lead me. I say to hell with that. I am strong. I overcame. I needed no man, no leader, solely Love.

I dare you, tell me I am not enough.