Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Editor, Researcher

Bishop-Abbess and Homemaker: St. Brigid of Kildare

St. Brigid icon by Katherin Burleson

February 1 is the feast day of St. Brigid of Kildare. Brigid is one of my favorite saints. The primary reason she is one of my favorites is because we can’t separate history from legend when it comes to her story. She’s part woman, part saint, and part goddess. Throw in a few miracles and Brigid time traveling to be Mary’s midwife and the foster-mother of Christ, himself, and you just have one good story (and I love a good story).

Here is what we do know about Brigid: she created the first monastic community that grew into the most renowned monastic city in Ireland, Kildare. Brigid was the abbess of the convent and church and the leader of the town that grew up around Kildare. She was known for her piety, her hard work, and her hospitality. She worked side by side with her nuns tending sheep and milking cows, along with weaving and cooking. Gifts given to the monastery by the rich were given to the poor or sold for food. No one was turned away from her convent, and she provided for all. One of the legends say that Brigid could speak to a cow and get her to give milk three times a day when she needed it for visitors. Here is a table grace attributed to Brigid:

I should like a great lake of finest ale
For the King of kings.
I should like a table of the choicest food
For the family of heaven.
Let the ale be made from the fruits of faith,
And the food be forgiving love.

I should welcome the poor to my feast,
For they are God’s children.
I should welcome the sick to my feast,
For they are God’s joy.
Let the poor sit with Jesus at the highest place,
And the sick dance with the angels.

God bless the poor,
God bless the sick,
And bless our human race.
God bless our food,
God bless our drink,
All homes, O God embrace.

Kildare grew so big that Brigid could no longer run it alone. A local bishop, Cloneth came to the monastery to help her and he brought monks with him. The monks were master silver and bronze smiths who created beautiful silver and metal ornaments to go with the nuns’ woven and embroidered tapestries throughout the monastery and church. One of her biographers, a monk who lived at Kildare during Brigid’s life, said this about the monastery and town:

But who could convey in words the supreme beauty of her church and the countless wonders of her city, of which we speak? “City” is the right word for it: that so many people are living there justifies the title. It is a great metropolis, within whose outskirts–which Saint Brigid marked out with a clearly defined boundary–no earthly adversary feared, nor any incursion of enemies. For the city is the safest place of refuge among all towns of the whole land of the Irish, with all their fugitives. It is a place where the treasures of kings are looked after, and it is reckoned to be supreme in good order.

Cogitosus also hinted in his biography that Brigid functioned as a bishop preaching, hearing confession, and ordaining priests. The lines between laity and clergy, and the roles between men and women, were not as fixed in Ireland as they were in other places in Europe. It is possible that abbesses as powerful and influential as Brigid did function as bishops (this would quickly change once the Roman Catholic church gained a foothold in Ireland).

Roses Kildare Ireland by hugh.carlow/Flickr

Now it’s time for the fun stuff. As I mentioned before, the Celtic tradition honors Brigid as Mary’s midwife, Jesus’ wet nurse, and his foster-mother. “Time” was not a fixed, linear progression for the Celtic people. The material world and spiritual world intertwined in and out of each other. There were thin places were one could cross from one world to another with time running differently. This is why the legend of Brigid at the birth of Jesus was entirely believable for the Celts. The material and spiritual were not separate worlds in their thought. I also like this legend because, being the post-modern that I am, I like the idea of putting yourself into the story. Where am I in the grand story of God’s people? How is this story, my story? How is my story now becoming a part of the whole story? Brigid went on to become the spiritual mid-wife to Celtic women giving birth, and the midwife called Brigid into the house to assist in the birth.

Back before the stories of Brigid helping Mary and hanging her cloak on a sunbeam to dry out, Brigid was a goddess in the Celtic pantheon. She was the goddess of poets, blacksmiths, and healers. She was a triple goddess revealing herself as maiden, mother, and crone. The fair maiden to poets, the mother creating new life to blacksmiths, and the old wise woman who knows how to heal. She has long been the symbol of spring coming to the land and the arrival of more light during this time of the year. February 1 is her day, and she was called on to protect the sheep who at this time would be carrying lambs. In the Christian tradition she is remembered for being able to coax cows into milking, and for being able to churn butter for everyone who needed it.

Milking cows and churning butter brings us back into the everyday realm. There is a strong domestic atmosphere in the stories of St. Brigid. Brigid’s life revolves around the home: giving away food to the poor, churning butter to feed all those who lived in the area, sweeping the floor, sewing, and herding both cattle and sheep. She kept her monastery in good order for visitors. Her love for domesticity naturally led to her generous hospitality. There was always food, clothing, and a bed in her house for those who needed it. Like so many women, Brigid wanted a well-run house where her family (her nuns) would have a nice home, and those who visited would find refuge. I am surprised at how domestic I’ve become in the last few years. I’ve realized I’m becoming more like Brigid. I want a clean, orderly house that can be a home and refuge for my husband and I. I also want to extend hospitality to our friends and give them a place to come eat, drink, and be merry. I want them to find a refuge for awhile, rest and have fun while they are under our roof.

As the light comes back this spring, let us remember Brigid: a woman committed to her God, to helping the poor, and to taking care of all who came to her. She established a community that became a light to all who wanted to come pray, learn, work, or needed shelter and food. She believed that everyone was part of the realm of God, and for that reason alone should be treated with respect and cared for. Everyone should have a home they can come to. There is room at the table for all. There is enough food to go around. And if not, Brigid will be seen whispering in the ears of her milk cows.

A Collect for the Feast of St. Brigid:

Everliving God, we rejoice today in the witness of your servant Brigid of Kildare, who served as courageous leader and mentor, faithfully shepherding both men and women in her monastery and guiding them into holiness of life: Inspire us with life and light, and give us perseverance to serve you in our own day. This we ask in the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. (From The Saint Helena Breviary, Personal Edition, 281).

Here are two other wonderful posts about Brigid:

A Habit of Wildest Bounty: Feast of St. Brigid at Jan Richardson’s The Painted Prayerbook.
Celtic Prayer: Brigid, Comrade-Woman by Elizabeth Cunningham at The Virtual Abbey.

Originally posted February 1, 2010.

Sermon: Not Taking No For an Answer (Part 1)

I preached on the story of Jesus and the Canaanite Woman twice this summer. Once for a conference and the second time at my church. With the two different audiences I needed two different applications. Here is how I took the same Scripture passages and interpretations, but came up with two different applications specific to each audience.

This sermon was preached at the Christian Feminism Today’s biannual conference The Gathering 2014 on June 29, 2014.

Not Taking No for an Answer
Matthew 15:21-28 (Mark 7:24-30)
Year A, Proper 15 (Year B, Proper 18)

Jesus left that place and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman came out. “Have mercy on me, Lord, son of Bathsheba and David!” she cried. “My daughter is severely oppressed by a demon!”

But he didn’t say a thing.

His disciples came and begged him. “Send her away,” they said, “because she bothers us.”

He answered, “I wasn’t sent to anyone but the lost sheep of Israel.”

But she approached and bowed to him. “Lord, help me,” she said.

“It is not right to throw the children’s bread to the dogs,” he answered.

“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Then Jesus answered, “Woman, your trust is great! What you want will be done for you.” Her daughter Was healed that very hour (Matthew 15:21-28, New Testament: Divine Feminine Version).

4.2.7We read about two women in the Gospels who talked back to Jesus: Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus, and the Canaanite or Syro-Phoenician Woman in this passage. That these two women stood up to Jesus and talked back to him is usually explained away, if it’s even acknowledged. In one scene, Martha was tired from cooking; in the other, her brother had just died: of course she’s snippy, and Jesus is patient. In this scene, the Gentile woman knows that Jesus is just teasing her, and she plays along. Martha and this woman’s backbones are covered up, their nerve shoved into a corner. Neither of these women thought silence and submission was the way to go.

We have two very different stories about this women in the Gospels. We heard Matthew’s version, now let’s look at Mark’s:

Jesus left that place and went to the region of Tyre. He went into a house and didn’t want anyone to know it, but he couldn’t escape notice. A woman whose little daughter had a corrupting spirit heard about him and immediately came and fell down at his feet. She was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. Jesus said to her, “Let the children eat first, because it’s not right to throw the children’s bread to the dogs.”

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

He said, “For saying that, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.”

She went home and found the child lying on the bed. The demon was gone (Mark 7:24-30, NT: DFV).

What is the biggest difference you see between these two accounts? Matthew adds the disciples. They don’t appear in Mark’s account. After seeing the way Jesus comes off in Mark’s account of this story it’s not hard to see why Matthew added the disciples and made them the bad guys. After all when you trying to convince a Gentile audience that Jesus in the Savior of the world, it doesn’t look good for that Savior to ignore a Gentile in such great need.

In Mark’s account Jesus had been healing and teaching. He fed the multitude of 5,000. He had been debating (fighting) with the religious leaders. He came to a totally pagan, Gentile area to get away from everything. He was here for a break. He was not here to teach, to heal, or to fight. No one knew him here. He could sneak in, get some rest, and sneak out again. Or so he thought. Since Jesus was trying to stay incognito, we don’t know how the woman knew he was in the neighborhood. I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone else’s business, so my guess is she heard it through the local grapevine. She found out a great healer was in town, and she decided to act. She went to the house where Jesus was keeping a low profile, and there she fell at his feet begging him to heal her daughter, who was demon-possessed.

Based on everything we’ve previously read about Jesus in the Mark, we expect Jesus to act immediately. We expect him to get up and go with this woman to her daughter, like he did with Jairus in the previous chapter. We also know from chapter 5 Jesus had no qualms about healing Gentiles in Gentile territory: he healed the Gentile demoniac in the country of the Gerasenes. His first healing in Mark was healing a man with leprosy by touching him. But what we expect does not happen in this story.

Instead he told the woman, “It’s not right to throw the children’s bread to the dogs.” At this point (if we are honest with ourselves) our jaws drop, and we wonder “What happened to Jesus?”

A dog. Jesus called her a dog, a term of derision for Gentiles. But this woman is quick-witted, and she’s not going to take no for an answer. She let the insult slide over her with this incisive retort: “Yes, but even the dogs get to lick up the crumbs on the floor.”

Because this woman did not take no for an answer, because this woman did not submit–even to the Son of God–because she stood her ground, Jesus changed his mind. He had not come here to heal. He didn’t want to heal this woman’s daughter. But in the end he did heal the daughter. He did because of the woman’s retort. This woman’s daughter was healed because she talked back to Jesus, and didn’t assume her place was one of quiet submission. She didn’t take no for an answer, not even from the Son of God himself.

In Matthew’s version of the story, Jesus is passive, but he’s not the only one who is telling her no. The disciples—the representatives of the church are. And thanks to a man I met a few years ago who grew up in the Middle East, we have a different way to interpret this passage where Jesus uses the woman to help teach his disciples, his church, a few lessons.

Reverend Nadim Nassar, an Anglican priest, grew up in Syria and went to school in Lebanon. He now lives in London. There is a very cultural thing he grew up with that explains perfectly what is going on in Matthew if we know Middle Eastern culture. In the Middle East when the eldest son marries, he still lives at home with his parents, and his wife comes to live with the family. This is because as the main heir, the eldest son is expected to take care of his parents in their old age.

When the mother-in-law doesn’t like something the daughter-in-law is doing, or doesn’t think the daughter-in-law is treating her with enough respect, the mother-in-law does not tell the daughter-in-law. She complains about it to a neighbor in the daughter’s-in-law hearing.

“Miriam, do you know how my daughter-in-law treats me? I tell her every night, dry the dishes with a towel, don’t air dry them! But does she listen to me?”

“Abraham, have I told you how my daughter-in-law doesn’t respect me? I told her to water the garden this morning. Bah! Just look at my poor tomatoes withering away in this harsh sunlight!”

You get the idea. Now take this idea and apply it to the story. Jesus is the mother-in-law. The disciples are the daughters-in-law. The Canaanite woman is the neighbor. So what does that mean Jesus is doing in this story? In Mark’s story Jesus is the one who’s being exclusive, showing the members of Mark’s community that even Jesus was corrected when he thought the gospel was just for the Jews. In Matthew, the disciples want Jesus to send the woman away, and he takes a minute to teach the disciples (Matthew’s community) the gospel was not just for the Jews.

Jesus: “Look at my daughters-in-law thinking God is just for them. You called me ‘Son of Bathsheba and David.’ You know I can’t take the kids’ food and feed it to the dogs who come wandering in.”

Woman: “Oh you poor thing. Such disrespect. But you know even the dogs get the crumbs the children leave behind.”

Even in this context I think the woman surprises Jesus with her retort. Jesus: “Woman you have great faith. Go. Your daughter is healed.”

(Exegesis and interpretation is taken from my book What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up and Sit Down, ch. 3.)

I like this interpretation because it uses women’s roles and experiences to interpret Scripture. How often does that happen? Even about women in the Scripture? I always wondered what Matthew’s female listeners felt when they realized their life experiences were being used to proclaim the gospel.

But in the end two things remain constant in these two stories: Exclusivity is the first. Jesus, the disciples, and people in Matthew and Mark’s communities thought that God’s grace was limited, that it wasn’t for everyone. The other constant in this story is this woman telling Jesus, the disciples, and the Christian community NO—grace is always inclusive, and God’s healing power is for everyone. This woman does not take no for an answer when that no marginalizes her and limits God’s grace. In Mark she doesn’t take no for an answer from Jesus. In Matthew she doesn’t take no for an answer from the church. My sisters in Christ, we have a lot to learn from this woman.

Intelligent daughters of God. Strong daughters of God. Inspired daughters of God. How often do you take no for an answer?

Loving daughters of God? Presevering daughters of God? Gifted daughters of God. How often do you take no for an answer?

Can I make a confession? I take no for an answer far too often. In my ministry. In my writing. In my life. After all we have been brainwashed into believing that’s what, we as women, should do. Basically anything beyond marriage and children: we are told no. And all too often we accept that answer and adjust our lives accordingly.

I’m ashamed to say I do this everyday.

Yes, we have a lot to learn from our Canaanite sister. We have a lot to learn from this incredible spiritual foremother who stood her ground, looked the son of God in the eye, looked at the church standing behind him, and said, “No” back.

“No. I am not a dog.”

“No, I am not worthless because I’m a Gentile.”

“No, you cannot ignore me because I’m a woman.”

“No, you will not walk away. You will heal my daughter.”

No.

There are two things we as women are taught about the word no. The first is we should take it as an answer. The second is that we should never say it. It’s amazing how one little two letter word can rob us of our agency. Our autonomy. Our sovereignty.

My challenge for us as we leave this holy place and journey back to our daily lives is that we will take the Canaanite Woman with us, and we will let her teach us two very important lessons: How not to take no for an answer. And how to say no in response to those who would limit us.

Where do you need to stop taking no for an answer? Where do you need to start saying no to those who would limit your choices? Your career? Who you are?

As we get ready to return to our normal, everyday lives, I challenge us, yes me included—I challenge us to let this incredible woman walk with us and teach us how to stand up for ourselves and stand up to those who would limit us. I pray she will teach every, single one of us how to stop taking no for an answer.

Hilda of Whitby: Abbess and Bishop

Hild coverI am reading Nicola Griffith’s novel, Hild, which tells the story of Hilda of Whitby. It is a richly detailed historical novel that weaves a wonderfully plausible story of the life Hilda could have lived. Griffith’s prose borders on the poetic, and her descriptions of Hild’s spiritual life are sublime. I highly recommend her novel. It’s keeping me up until 1:00 and 2:00 in the morning because I have to know what happens next to Hild. Since I’ve been living and breathing Hild for the last couple of weeks, I’ve decided to re-post my own work of one of my favorite women leaders in the early church: St. Hilda of Whitby.

Hilda was one of the most powerful religious leaders in England during the 7th century. She was the abbess of a dual monastery of monks and nuns in Whitby. She held the same power of the bishops of the day, counseled kings, and five bishops came from her monestary.

Hilda was born in 614 CE to Hereric, the nephew of the king of Northumbria. She was baptized at the age of 13, and at the age of 33 she made the decision to become a nun. She was planning on joining her sister, Hereswith, who had established a convent on the fringe of Paris. She went to East Anglia where her nephew was king to prepare to sail to France, but Aidan, the apostle of Northumbria asked her to return to Northumbria. She obeyed, and he put her in charge of a small group of sisters on the north bank of the Wear river. After a year she was called to be the Abbess of Hartlepool. She stayed there for seven years until she built and organized a new monastery at Whitby on the dark cliffs overlooking the Northern Sea.

For thirty years Hilda was in charge of Whitby which was a monastery for both men and women. She ran a little city: there was a school, people to feed and clothe, travelers to provide lodging for, and discipline to be kept. She was not only in charge of monks and nuns, but also serfs who worked the land around the monastery. Kings, rulers, and bishops came to her for advice and counsel. In the midst of civil wars, Whitby spread the Christian faith. Whitby was a light shining for the gospel of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation in a time of wars and hatred. Venerable Bede tell us:

When she had for some years governed this monastery, wholly intent upon establishing a regular life, it happened that she also undertook either to build or to arrange a monastery in the place called Streaneshalch [Whitby], which work she industriously performed; for she put this monastery under the same regular discipline as she had done the former; and taught there the strict observance of justice, piety, chastity, and other virtues, and particularly of peace and charity; so that, after the example of the primitive church, no person was there rich, and none poor, all being in common to all, and none having any property. Her prudence was so great, that not only indifferent persons, but even kings and princes, as occasion offered, asked and received her advice; she obliged those who were under her direction to attend so much to reading of the Holy Scriptures, and to exercise themselves so much in works of justice, that many might be there found fit for ecclesiastical duties, and to serve at the altar (Ecclesiastical History, Book 4, Chapter XXIII).

While Hilda was the abbess of Whitby, it was one of the spiritual centers of England. She ruled a vast territory around Whitby, even providing soldiers in times of war. This was not unusual for the time. Abbesses managed their own realms and handled the finances to run them. Normally their domains were ruled by the pope bypassing the local bishop. Abbesses also “appointed local parish priests, heard confessions and cared for the material and spiritual needs of their people” (Grenz with Kjesbo, 41). There is also evidence that these women were ordained with the signs of the office of bishop: “the miter, ring, crosier, gloves, and cross”; however, later writings seem to replace “ordained” with “blessed,” obscuring the leadership role these women did play in the early church (ibid).

Hilda came to be known as “Mother” to her community. Many boys came to the monastery to be educated by her. Five of them became bishops: Bosa, Bishop of York; Hedda, Bishop of Dorchester and Winchester; Oftfor, Bishop of Worcester, and John of Gexham.

The story of Caedmon shows Hilda’s ability to bring out the best in others. Caedmon was always despondent because he could not sing after supper as was the custom of the day. One evening after leaving the festivities, he fell asleep and dreamed that Jesus came to him and told him to sing him a song about creation. The next day he told Hilda of the dream and sang the song he composed. Hilda recognized his talent and brought him into the monastery to devote himself to writing songs of Biblical stories in the Anglo-Saxon language. This is the first time since Latin became the official language of the western church that Scripture was translated into the vernacular. For the first time the Anglo-Saxons could learn and understand Scripture because it was in their own language. Caedmon’s poems are the earliest form of Anglo-Saxon poetry in existence (Baring-Gould 226).

In 664 CE HIlda hosted the first Synod of Whitby by order of the king of Northumbria, Oswy (who was her cousin). This synod was called by the king to peacefully solve the differences the Celtic tradition had with the Roman tradition, which included calculating the date of Easter. Historian Joanna McNamara notes, “Hild assumed a prestige usually reserved for bishops when she presided over the synod where the Irish and Roman churches competed for the allegiance of the Northumbrian king” (p. 127). The synod voted to align itself with the Roman branch of the Church. Although HIlda had been raised in the Celtic tradition, she obeyed and changed her monastery accordingly. This synod shaped the way Christianity would grow and develop in England, and “the fact that the synod, attended by all the leading churchmen of the isles, was held at a monastery ruled by a woman is a tribute to Hilda’s importance among her contemporaries” (Ranft, 118).

Hilda died in 680 CE after seven years of weak health. She was 66 when she died. These are Bede’s final words about her:

Thus this servant of Christ, Abbess Hilda, whom all that knew her called Mother, for her singular piety and grace, was not only an example of good life, to those that lived in her monastery, but afforded occasion of amendment and salvation to many who lived at a distance, to whom the fame was brought of her industry and virtue.

O God of peace, by whose grace the Abbess Hilda was endowed with gifts of justice, prudence, and strength to rule as a wise mother over the nuns and monks of her household, and to become a trusted and reconciling friend to leaders of the Church: Give us the grace to recognize and accept the varied gifts you bestow on men and women, that our common life may be enriched and your gracious will be done; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (From the The Saint Helena Breviary, Personal Edition)

Sources:

Sabine Baring-Gould Virgin Saints and Martyrs (Hutchinson and Company, London, England: 1900).

Shawna Renee Bound, Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: A Biblical Theology of Single Women in Ministry (unpublished thesis, 2002).

Edith Deen, Great Women of the Christian Faith (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, Inc., 1959; reprint Uhrichscile, OH: Barbour and Company, Inc.).

Stanley J. Grenz with Denise Muir Kjesbo, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995).

Kate Lindemann, “Hild of Streonshalh 614-680 CE” at Women-Philosphers.com (http://www.women-philosophers.com/Hild-of-Streonshalh.html accessed on November 20, 2008).

Joanna McNamara, Sisters in Arms–Catholic Nuns Through Two Millennia (Harvard University Press, Cambridge: 1996).

Patricia Ranft, Women and Spiritual Equality in Christain Tradition (Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, England: 2000).

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Women's History Month: St Frances of Rome

Today is the feast day of one of the few married woman saints: Frances of Rome. I found it highly ironic and funny that this was today’s Epistle reading in The Book of Common Prayer:

Now about what you wrote: “It’s good for people not to touch each other.” But because of promiscuity, everyone should have their own spouse. Spouses should fulfill their duty to each other. Committed people don’t have authority over their own bodies, but their spouses do. Don’t deprive each other, except by mutual consent for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to [fasting and] prayer, and then come together again so the Satan won’t tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But I say this as a concession, not as a precept. I actually wish that all people were like me. But everyone has their own gift from Godde; one has this and another has that.

I say to the single and widowed, it’s good for them if they remain like me. But if they don’t have self-control, they should marry, because it’s better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:1-9, DFV)

Aah Paul, you old curmudgeon. The thing I hate the most about his allowance to marriage is that  he doesn’t even use his own Jewish tradition to defend marriage. He says, “Well, OK, if you’re going to screw anything with two legs then get married, but you really should be a curmudgeonly celibate single like me.” (Disclaimer: I was single for 36 years and loved it–thought for awhile I might not marry–now I am married. I LOVE being married. I’ve been happy on both sides of the fence.)

Here is what Paul’s defense of marriage should have looked like:

Aquila and Priscilla

Remember why our Godde created marriage in the first place. In the beginning…

Sophia-Yahweh said, “It is not good for the human to be alone. I will make it a power equal to it.”

Sophia-Yahweh caused the human to fall into a deep sleep. As the human slept, Godde took one of its ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Sophia-Yahweh made a woman from the rib which was taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken out of man.” Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother, and will join with his wife, and they will be one flesh (Genesis 2:18, 21-24, adapted from the World English Bible).

So you see dear sisters and brothers in Corinth, it is fine if you want to stay single, but marriage is Godde-ordained as well. Godde made marriage because it was not good for the human to be alone. Now the communion does not have to be marriage–that’s why Jesus had disciples. It is not good for us to be alone, which is why we need both marriage and community. We can’t make it though this life alone. Both marriage and celibacy have their place in the world and in the community. Some will stay single like me. Most will marry like Peter and his wife (1 Corinthians 9:5), Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:2), and Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7). Both celibates and couples can serve Godde and bring Godde’s kingdom into the here and now by loving each other, loving the stranger, and showing the world around us that life can be different.

That’s what Paul should’ve said to the Corinthians.

Saint Frances is the perfect example of this vision of the Christian life and marriage. She lived what Paul should have said.

Saint Frances of Rome

Saint Frances ministering in her house and church

I am used to seeing medieval women saints as nuns. Either they are single or a widow. I was delighted a few years ago when I discovered a married woman saint who lived during the 14th century. March 9 is the feast day of St. Frances of Rome who was a Benedictine oblate. She was also married. An oblate is a lay person who is connected to a Benedictine community and observes The Rule of St. Benedict in their daily life at home and work. St. Frances founded a lay congregation of women called the Oblates of Mary; they were attached to the church of Santa Maria Nova in Rome. The order she founded is now known as the Oblates of Saint Frances of Rome. In this period of Christianity there were nuns who chose God’s highest calling and wives who settled for marriage. Rarely have I read of a woman who was both a contemplative and wife. Not to mention a saint. And she didn’t settle. She obeyed Godde’s calling for her life right where she was in her marriage and home.

After her marriage, [Frances] continued an intense spiritual life of reading, prayer and visiting churches . . . she built a chapel in their palace, visited the sick, gave alms to the poor, and nursed patients in the hospital of Santo Spiritu. The tension she experienced in trying to combine intense devotions with the life of a wealthy Roman matron resulted in a breakdown. After a year of suffering, she was miraculously healed by a vision of St. Alexis.

From this crisis, Frances learned how to offer the three always interwoven threads of her life to God: first her family life, including her children, household duties, and role as wife. Second her civic life of healer, spiritual director, organizer of almsgiving and charity for the poor of Rome. Finally, her spiritual life with its liturgical and mystical experiences. Interweaving these three threads is characteristic of Benedictine spirituality: just as the Rule counsels the monk to take his brothers into account in every aspect of his life in the monastery, so Frances continuously responded to her family and her city. Like a monk who finds in the enclosure of the monastery not a prison, but a home, she created a sphere of inner freedom within the confines of this dense community.

. . . [After the death of her mother-in-law], the family unanimously chose Frances to run the household. . . She was seventeen. . . She was thus in charge of a large, wealthy Roman estate, supervising servants and overseeing kitchens, food purchases and harvests. Because of their political sympathies, the family figured prominently as a center for papal support in Rome, and she was in charge of the entertaining associated with their role in the drama of the divided papacy…

Frances longed attracted the attention of women who wanted to give their time, wealth, and energy to the sick and the poor. Now they approached her asking her to give institutional expression to their way of life. They were attracted to the Benedictine order. . . Characteristic of their freedom, the oblates could live either in community or in their homes. . . .The women who followed this path did so freely, unlike the medieval children entrusted as oblates who were unable to choose for themselves. However, like the child oblates, they brought with them monetary funds to build up the common good. (From Benedict in the World, Portraits of Monastic Oblates quoted in Benedictine Daily Prayer.)

You can find out more about from St. Frances at Catholic.org and Wikipedia.

Lord God, in Saint Frances you have given us a rare model of both married and religious life. Teach us to serve you with constancy so that we may be able to see and follow you in all circumstances of our daily existence. Amen.

 

Three Years Ago on ShawnaAtteberry.com: Phoebe

Three years ago on this site I wrote a post, which has become one of the most popular posts on this blog on Phoebe. Phoebe was a wealthy woman who was the pastor of a church in Cenecherae in Greece, and she was also a patron of the church. She gave money for mission work like Paul’s as well as helped her own and other churches with their expenses and problems they may be having with the Roman government. Paul entrusted her with the letter to the Romans and trusted her to make his case for their financial support of his mission to Spain.

Phoebe: Pastor & Patron

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well (Rom. 16:1-2)

Paul trusted Phoebe enough to entrust his letter to the Romans to her. She is a woman Paul highly commended and respected. She is a “sister,” “deacon,” and “benefactor” to the church at Cenchreae as well as a sister and benefactor to Paul.

Paul uses the word, diakonos to describe Phoebe. The odd thing about Paul using this word to describe Phoebe is that it is the masculine form used to describe a woman. The feminine form is diakona. Most versions translate diakonos as “servant” here, but when it used to describe men, it is translated as “deacon.” It is also paired with “of the church of Cenchreae” This is the only place in the New Testament where diakonos is followed by a specific congregation in a genitive construct: she was the deacon of the church in Cenchreae. This is the only place linking a specific person’s ministry with a specific church. This seems to indicate that Phoebe served as a deacon or pastor in the church at Cenchreae.

Paul uses another word to describe Phoebe: prostatis. This is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament. It is also another word that is translated so that its main meaning is not obvious in the translation. The normal translation is “helper” or someone who has helped. In secular Greek sources, the basic and most obvious translation of the word is patron or benefactor, and women in this role, are well attested in the Roman world. Women who were benefactors in the Roman world supported the arts and temples, as well as philosophers and debaters. Phoebe was a wealthy woman who served the church out of her means as the women in Luke 8 served Jesus out of theirs.

Aida Besançon Spencer has also suggested that prostatis could be derived from the verb proistemi, which means to “to stand, place before or over,” or “to help by ruling” (Before the Curse, 115). The times the verb appears in the New Testament it has the meaning of ruling or governing (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thes. 5:12-13). In the Pastoral Epistles this word is used to describe bishops and deacons governing their households well. In other Greek sources, such as Josephus, the masculine form of the verb is used to describe rulers and leaders like Moses, Herod, and Agrippa (ibid). This word could mean that Phoebe was a ruler or another overseer in the church.

Phoebe was an independent woman who had her own means, and served the church in a leadership role. Paul comes very close to commanding churches he had no hand in planting, and Christians, most of whom had never met him, to welcome her and provide anything she needed because she was both a deacon and a benefactor/ruler in the church. She was not only the benefactor and leader in the church at Cencherae, but Paul himself had also benefited from her generous rule.

To find out more about the leadership roles women had in the Bible buy What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down.

Why I Keep Harping on Biblical Women, Equality, & Women Working

Rev. Laura Grimes officiating Mass

There’s a reason why I keep harping on the subjects I do. There’s a reason I’m writing a book called Career Women of the Bible. And there’s a reason I wrote the E-book, Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down. There is a reason why I keep blogging about women in the Bible who were:

  • Religious leaders
  • Secular leaders
  • Business women
  • Merchants
  • Entrepenuers

It’s because I keep reading things like this:

I believed the “Beautiful Girlhood” spiel. I did it everything the “right way”. I stayed at home, I submitted to my father, I skipped college, I prepared to be my husband’s helpmeet, and I regret it. I had years of my life go by where I was little more than an indentured servant to my parents. My husband and I were forced into thousands of dollars of debt working for an abusive employer that we could have thumbed our nose at if I had been able to get a job. While I was without the commitments of marriage and children, I could have easily gained an education that could have served me and my husband well in early marriage. All those years living as a quiet submissive housekeeper, I could have been discovering interests, and developing as a person.

Why I Wish I Had Gone to College by Young Mom

It’s because I keep reading about lies like this on the Are Women Really Human? blog:

YOUNG LADIES MUST PREPARE TO BE HOMEMAKERS…Prepare to Marry Young If God’s Will; Don’t accept cultural norms and practices…Don’t Assume College or Career:

  1. Be aware of serving the cultural idol of education and career.
  2. Be willing to lay aside the pursuit of higher education if marriage comes early.
  3. Be willing to lay aside a career when married.
  4. Think of a non-paying (but very rewarding and important) “career” in the home related to your husband and children.
  5. If unmarried, consider a “feminine” vocation or job that will benefit family later.

Detwiler further divides reasons married women work outside the home into “necessary” reasons and “wordly” reasons. The only “necessary” reasons are a husband’s unemployment or disability, or to save up money or pay off debts. The clear implication is that any woman who works outside of the home when her husband is also employed is sinning if her work is not indispensable to family finances. Meanwhile, worldly reasons for a woman to work outside of the home include:

6) Identity and fulfillment primarily in work outside the home. Not content with obscurity of being a wife, mother and homemaker… [my emphasis] 8 ) Husband and wife may think she can work outside home with little or no harm to the marriage and family. 9) Realization by a woman that it may be easier to work outside the home than in the home as a wife, mother and homemaker.

There’s an obvious disdain here for women and especially mothers who have outside employment. Detwiler clearly implies that such women are lazy, self-absorbed, and unwise parents. He clearly associates a woman working outside the home with “harm” to her marriage and family. He states that there is “lack of biblical support” for women to work full-time outside of the home.

It’s because The Council for the so-called “Biblical” Manhood and Womanhood just released a curriculum for kids and teens with this warped view of the creation stories in Genesis:

While God created men to be generally oriented toward work, God created women to be generally oriented towards relationships of helpfulness and companionship.

This is God’s good design.

A design for male headship — leading, protecting, and providing for the woman.

A design for female submission — submitting to and helping the man; a companion-helper ‘fit for him.’

Some will be doubtful … even upset by this teaching of God’s good design for men and women.

Yes I am upset about this. But not because it’s Godde’s good design. I’m upset because it’s one big, fat lie. If you want to see a drastically different way to interpret these same verses read this: Does It Really Mean Helpmate?

So yes, I keep harping on Women, the Bible, and Equality.

Women’s & Men’s Work

Of course what these people fail to tell you is that not only is there a “lack of biblical support” for women outside of the home, there is also a lack of support for men working outside of the home in the Bible. That’s because EVERYONE worked at home during biblical times. In ancient agrarian societies the home was a self-sufficient farm where everyone worked to make sure the family had shelter, clothing, and food. Few people left the home to “go to work.” The same was true for merchants at that time. If you lived in a town or city and sold merchandise, you lived above or next to your business, and the whole family worked in that business. The only people who worked away from home were traders and soldiers. That’s it. Everyone else worked at home.

The biblical model of family was not destroyed when women started working outside of the home. The biblical model of family was broken when men started working outside of the home at the beginning of the Industrial Age.

Not only did women work to financially support their families: women’s work drove ancient economy. Women’s work–spinning and weaving–making textiles to trade fueled the ancient economy, so different tribes could trade for precious metals and exotic foods. In Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, Elizabeth Wayland Barber shows the monetary value of women’s work for their families. She also shows the power and autonomy women had as textile makers and traders in the Middle East. Women have always worked to financially provide for their families. They’ve also made, bought and traded. It’s nothing new. What is new is this ridiculous modern idea that man goes to work, leaving his family behind for the better part of the day, then comes back home with money. That’s new. Not women working. (For an excellent overview of the work women did do in the Bible to support their families and bring in money see Sunzanne McCarthy’s “Women’s Orientation to Work” blog series, starting here.)

This is a totally foreign concept to most people although it describes well over 90% of our history. (History did not begin with the Industrial Age, the Victorian Era, or 1950s suburbia.)

What the Bible Really Says

photo © 2006 Dale Gillard | more info (via: Wylio)Women working in the Bible, bringing home the bacon, and being leaders is also a foreign concept to most people. Again and again I heard from readers who were amazed at what women did in the Bible after reading Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down. They were amazed to find women judges, military leaders, and women who wouldn’t take no for an answer from Moses, Jesus, or Godde. They were amazed to find a woman negotiating with a general on behalf of her city, and most of them were flabbergasted that Tamar was praised for disguising herself as a prostitute to insure she would have children for her husband’s family through her father-in-law.

They were amazed to find out that the quiet and submissive woman the women in the Bible were supposed to be is nothing but a caricature. It’s what men who have interpreted the Bible for centuries want women to be. It’s not what Godde created women to be.

And that’s why I keep doing what I do.

The time for lies is over.

That’s not what the Bible says.

It never has been. It never will be.

Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down Podcasts

Want to hear about what four of my readers said about the women they met in the Bible in Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down? Here is what we talked about in these four 30 minute podcasts:

Mark Mattison and I talk about how passages in 1 Corinthians are interpreted to keep women silent in church and submissive to their husbands. We talked about the many different ways these verses can be interpreted that make women equal with their husbands and equals in church, preaching and praying in their congregations. How many people know about these different interpretations? Not many.

Catherine Caine and I talk about how the traditional Christian views affect people who aren’t Christians. Catherine is a secular humanist in Australia, and she talks about how the traditional view of women can influence business as usual on an unconscious level. She also loved how earthy and action-oriented the women in the Bible were. She loved how they made decisions and did what needed to be done without any drama or hand-wringing.

Sandi Amorin talks about her experience growing up in the Catholic Church and how her questions about “Where are all the women in the Bible?” went unanswered. Sandi was amazed that she had never heard about most of these women in church. Sadly that’s not unusual. Women in the Bible who go against the “traditional” view of women are ignored and marginalized. We don’t hear their stories because they were anything but submissive and quiet.

Lainie Petersen and I talk about how the lie that Godde made women to be quiet and submissive leads to the abuses we see throughout the church today: domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and the reality that churches are much more likely to blame female and children victims than to hold male abusers accountable for their actions. The consequences of this horrible theology are brutal, and no one in the church likes to talk about it, much less do anything about it.

Stop listening to the lies

Most of all: don’t believe the lies anymore.

  • Women were made in the image of Godde.
  • Godde calls women to be both religious and secular leaders.
  • Godly women have always worked and financially supported their families.
  • In the Bible women not only worked–they had careers too.

Don’t listen to lies. Buy Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down and learn what Godde and the Bible really say about women by clicking the button below.
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One of the Reasons Women Leave the Church: Podcast with Sandi Amorim

In August Adelle M. Banks reported on a study that showed church attendance among women is dropping along with women volunteers within church. I think my podcast with Sandi Amorim offers one of the reasons women are leaving the church: they are tired of hearing that women were created to help men and that women cannot hold any authority or leadership position in the church. They don’t hear about the strong, independent women in the Bible, and they never hear about the many religious and secular female leaders who populate the Bible. The church has told women for centuries it’s fine for us to do all the unpaid grunt work, but don’t dare cast your eyes to the pulpit or church boards.

We’re tired of it.

Sandi Amorim

(Disclaimer: Sandi is my business coach, and she is totally awesome!)

Sandi Amorim is the mastermind behind Deva Coaching: asking the right question at the right time. Here is how Sandi describes herself:

I’m an instigator willing to urge, provoke and incite you to SHINE.

Some have said ruthlessly compassionate. I say I’ll do whatever it takes to have you shine.

Aries. Firstborn. Mediterranean by blood, leader by inclination. It’s a volatile mix but it seems to work.

I ask questions and listen to you in a way that lures you through the turbulent waters of life to a place where you can, once and for all, own who you really are.

That may mean loving you more than is comfortable or socially acceptable and kicking your ass when required.

This is my siren’s song to you. An appeal to step up and be who you were meant to be.

Sandi is a former Catholic who left the church as a young adult because she couldn’t ask questions. A lot of those questions had to do with women and where were they in Bible? And why couldn’t she be an altar girl (in the days before the Catholic Church allowed girls to do that)? Sandi is now looking to renew her relationship with Godde, and she is very interested in a Godde who created women to be equals with men, and a Godde who calls those women to lead, protect, and teach their people. Like Catherine Caine she noticed, when it comes to women in the Bible, they act. They did what needs to be done, regardless of society’s perceptions. She liked the women she met in the E-book, and you can hear her thoughts on a couple of them in the following excerpt:

Podcast: SandiAmorimFull.mp3

Like Sandi, do you think this is something that young girls need to hear about? Do they need to know these stories?

Find out what strong, intelligent and incredible women populate the pages of the Bible. Discover that women can be more than helpers and volunteers. They can be leaders too! Buy Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down.

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When Plan D Is Godde's Plan A

Now when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went to live in Capernaum by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali, to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying,

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
toward the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
the people who sat in darkness saw a great light,
to those who sat in the region and shadow of death,
to them light has dawned.”

From that time, Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, because the Realm of Heaven is near!”

Walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers: Simon, known as Peter, and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea — because they were fishermen. He said to them, “Follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.”

They immediately left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, mending their nets in the boat with their father Zebedee. They immediately left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus went about in all Galilee, teaching in their assemblies preaching the Good News of Godde’s Realm, and healing every disease and sickness among the people (Matthew 4:12-23, New Testament: Divine Feminine Version*).

This last Sunday our deacon at church, Tim, preached a powerful sermon on this passage. First I have to change a word in verse 12. In the NRSV it says: “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee” (emphasis mine). Tim pointed out that to withdraw was to make a tactical retreat. Retreat? Jesus? Then Tim pointed out that this was the third tactical retreat in the Gospel of Matthew. This is only chapter 4 of Matthew’s Gospel, and Jesus has retreated three times? Really?

This Gospel does not start out in Galilee as Luke’s story does. In Luke Mary and Joseph start out in Nazareth, go to Bethlehem for the census where Jesus was born, then they returned to Nazareth. Matthew does not start in Galilee. There is no census in Matthew’s story. In Matthew, Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem: they lived there. We see this when the Magi arrived to pay homage to the newborn king: when they “entered the house and saw the young child with Mary, his mother, [they] fell down and bowed to him” (Matthew 2:11). Unlike all the nativity scenes you see over Christmas, the magi did not come to the stable. There isn’t even a stable in Matthew. There is a house: Mary and Joseph’s home.

In Matthew’s Gospel Mary and Joseph are in Judea because that’s where the Messiah is supposed to be. Judah was the son of Leah and Jacob that Israel’s kings were descended from. Jerusalem, Judah’s capitol, was in the territory of Judah. Bethlehem where David was born, was in the neighboring territory of Benjamin. Eventually Judah would absorb Benjamin, and this is where the line of David began. Judah, in Jesus’ time called Judea, was where the Messiah, the Son of David was to be born. Bethlehem and Judea were supposed to be the home of the Messiah, who would save Judea from foreign powers. But Mary and Joseph could not stay in Bethlehem after the Magi’s visit.

Being warned in a dream that they shouldn’t return to Herod, they went back to their own country another way.

Now when they had left, an angel of the Lady appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise and take the young child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod will try to kill the young child.”

He got up, took the young child and his mother by night, went to Egypt, and stayed there until the death of Herod to fulfill what was spoken by the Lady through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called my son (vv. 12-25).”

The reason Godde warned Joseph to go to Egypt was that Herod was about to go on a killing spree. When the magis didn’t return to him, Herod became infuriated, and to remove the threat to his throne, he had all the boys under the age of two in Bethlehem slaughtered. Instead of raising Jesus in Judea, Plan A, Mary and Joseph were now refugees in Egypt, what they considered Plan B.

We don’t know how many years they stayed in Egypt before Godde sent Joseph another dream:

But when Herod was dead, an angel of the Lady appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise and take the young child and his mother to Israel, because those who sought the young child’s life are dead.”

He got up and took the young child and his mother to Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling Judea in the place of his father, Herod, he was afraid to go there. Being warned in a dream, he went to the region of Galilee and moved to a town called Nazareth (vv. 19-23).

Herod the Great, the king who killed anyone to secure his throne (including one of his wives and two of his sons) was dead. Mary and Joseph thought they were returning home to Bethlehem, to Judea, and back to the plan. But when they arrived in Judea they discovered Archelaus, a tyrant after his father’s heart, was king. Another dream. Another trip. Another home. In Galilee. The hinterlands of Israel. The part of Israel that was known for being a home to half-breeds and Gentiles. It was the hinterlands, barely a part of Israel, far away from the center of power, far away from the home of David, and the line of David. They were on the wrong side of the tracks. Plan C had taken place. As leaders in Jerusalem would later say: “Search the Scriptures: no prophet has ever come out of Galilee. This guy is not the Messiah.” But that was why Galilee was the perfect place to be: no one would suspect a threat to the throne, the King of Jews, to be living in the borderlands of Galilee.

Several years passed between the end of Matthew 2 and beginning of Matthew 3. A rough and tumble prophet named John the Baptist was preaching repentance of sins and the coming of the Kingdom Godde. John was in the Judean wilderness (we’re now back on the right side of the tracks), and Jesus was there. Jesus was back where he was supposed to be: in Judea. John baptized Jesus at end the of Matthew 3, and Godde declared Jesus to be her “beloved son.” In the first part of Matthew 4 we read of Jesus’ temptations. He resisted the devil and passed the test. He was set to begin his ministry as the Messiah, and he was in the right place: Judea, home of the Davidic kings. He was finally where is he was supposed to be.

Then there was another bump in the road: John was arrested. When Jesus heard of the arrest, “he withdrew to Galilee,” so he wouldn’t be arrested too.  Another tactical retreat. The start of Plan D. Far away from the power center of Israel, in the hinterlands of Galilee, filled with half-breeds, Gentiles, and peasants, Jesus found his footing. On the margins, among the poorest of the poor, Jesus began to preach “The Kingdom of Godde is among you,” and the Gospel took off. Jesus spent three years in Galilee in Matthew. The success of his ministry in Galilee finally brought him to Jerusalem.

May be Plan D was Godde’s Plan A.

I always feel like I’m working in the hinterlands. Out on the margins. That I won’t be heard, and if I am heard, I won’t be taken seriously. After all I’m not in any of the power centers of theological feminism. I’m not a Ph.D., and I have no interest in pursuing a doctorate. I’m not in academia as a student or teacher where the “action” is, and I don’t want to be there. I’m not a part of the secular feminist movement because there doesn’t seem to be room for religion, and honestly, it does not interest me. I’m just a woman sitting in her living room with a laptap and passion to see women who have been held in bondage by religion set free.

And we won’t even talk about what Plan I’m on. First a pastor then missionary then pastor again and church planter, and there have been several writer incarnations in the past four years as well. I get tired of changing plans: I want to be in Judea, doing what I’m going to do for the rest of my life, without all of these side trips to the hinterland.

I’m a woman who is tired playing the Good Ole Boy’s game of using 8 verses out of the over 30,000 verses in the Bible to slap women down and tell them there place is in the home raising children and no place else; that they have no voice in church because of these measly 8 verses. I’m tired of having to prove that I have a Godde-given right to be an equal partner in my marriage and be a leader in the church. I’m tired of having to prove that I, as a woman, am a human being, made in the image of Godde, called to preach the Gospel.

I want to change the rules of the game. I want to create a new playing field. I’m off the defense. I am now leading the offense and playing my game. That game includes showing the sheer absurdity of letting 8 verses out of 31,102 verses condemn women to a lifetime of submission and silence when there are so many more verses in the Bible showing:

  • Women speaking their minds
  • Making different decisions than their husbands
  • Being leaders in both the secular realm and sacred realm
  • Shaping the covenants with Israel and the Church by their decisions and actions
  • Being powerful leaders of both men and women in the Early Church

I want to the rest of the Biblical witness to interpret these eight verses and put them in their proper place and context.

That is exactly what I’m doing. I’m writing my first E-book in that will be the first in a series called What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School. The first book is Women Who Didn’t Shut Up and Sit Down. This book will begin to show my offensive. It will show how I’m going to play this game from now on. And as I do this I’m going to remember where Jesus started: the hinterlands, the margins. His ministry did not begin with fireworks in Jerusalem. It’s okay to be out on the margins, in the borderlands.

Before going to church Sunday, I was listening to NPR’s Being. Kristen Tippett interviewed Francis Kissling. Francis noted that most of her work has taken place on the margins. She said that’s where all change has to begin: at the margins. Because the people in the middle–the Status Quo–do not want to change. Change cannot begin there. So I will continue right here in my living room, on my laptop, working on the margins. Jesus was heard. Francis was heard. May be I will be heard too.

Because Plan D or Plan M or Plan W for us can be Plan A for Godde.

*Unless otherwise stated all Scripture is taken from the New Testament: Divine Feminine Translation.

Customer Love: Free services in November

I’m taking part in a Customer Love challenge, and one big to show customers you love them is to offer free services. For the month of November the following two services are free:

I’m a spiritual director, and this month you can have a free 30 minute session with me.

  • My big passion is vocation: believing that what you do in life is service to Godde. If anyone wants to talk about their relationship to Godde/Divine and their work, let me know. Some of us grew up with the lie that whatever Godde called us to do we would hate, but we just had to buck it up and obey. It never entered our mind that Godde might want us to do what we’re good at and love to do. So if you’re having trouble reconciling being called to do what you love to do with your spiritual life, I would be more than happy to help you sort it out.
  • Speaking of lies: there’s also a lie that women should not hold leadership positions in church and must submit to her husband and male leaders in the church is all things. So if you’re a woman and need help discerning a call or need help navigating The Patriarchy (particularly The Christian Fundamental Patriarchy), please let me know. I’ll be more than happy to listen, give you biblical grounds for both female leadership and women equal in all areas of life as men, and help get you started in discerning a possible call to spiritual leadership.
  • I can also help if you have depression. I have clinical depression, and being entrepreneur who bucks the system and works at home alone can get to the most mentally-healthy person, and can really knock you flat if you have a form of depression. I’ve found a few tricks to help that I would be happy to share. And I am more than happy to listen (and not offer any advice) if that’s what you need. It doesn’t have to be about vocation or depression, if you just need someone to listen to where you are in your spiritual walk and help you see where Godde/Divine is, let me know.

The second thing I would like to offer is writing/editing help. I’ve been a writer for most of my life and worked as an editor for 8 years. If you need help with your writing, let me know, and we’ll get together. I love good writing and to help people be good writers. And I love to tell stories (I’m Irish after all), so if story-telling is tripping you up, I’m your girl.

To set up a time for spiritual direction or help with your writing you can send me an email. Or you can shoot me a tweet or direct message on Twitter. If we’re friends on Facebook, send me a message. (If you want to be friends on Facebook, click here.)

I hope everyone has a good week, and I’ve planned lots of goodies for the blog in the coming month, so check back often! Or you can press the envelope in the buttons below to subscribe to my blog or follow my RSS feed.

Why I'm not having children

I’ve debated whether or not to write this post for the last couple of years. I’ve hesitated to write this post because Kelli Goff is right: The most controversial thing for a woman (especially a married woman) to say is “I don’t want to have children.”

For some reason the idea that not all people, including plenty of women, have the desire to become parents, and more specifically, the idea that not all people who can have children, should, remain two of the most taboo things any person, particularly any woman, can say out loud. While endless media coverage has been devoted to the so-called “mommy wars” between working moms and stay at home moms and those who are pro-choice and those who are not, the real gulf, is one so controversial that the media hardly covers it at all: the gulf between those who do not wish to become parents and everyone else who thinks that by shear of virtue of being on this planet and not being a serial killer, you should.

I grew up in a secular world that assumed I would have kids because I’m a woman, and I grew up in a sacred world that assumed the same. In fact, the Evangelical/Fundamental tradition I grew up in told me my highest calling in life was to be a wife and mother. By my early 30s I wasn’t sure I wanted to be married or have children. I had spent a year in Barcelona in 1997, and I liked the freedom of being single. I loved the idea that I could pick up and leave tomorrow if that’s what Godde wanted me to do. I loved my freedom. I was not sure marriage and children were worth what it would cost me. I changed my mind about marriage (I am happily married to my best friend), but I did not change my mind about having children. We are not having children, not because we can’t, but because we don’t want to. I’m ready to go off the birth control pill and decided it was time to just fix what I consider to be a problem: the possibility (however slight) that I might get pregnant. Tuesday I am going in for a tubal ligation. I am relieved. Not only will I get off the pill, there will be no more pregnancy fears. If I was still in my former tradition I probably wouldn’t say anything about the surgery. Or if I did, the automatic response would be: “Well you can always adopt.” Not having kids–choosing not to have kids–is not a conscious option in my former circles.

Now I go to church with two other married woman who made the decision not to have children (and there is another couple who don’t have children–I don’t know if they chose that or it just happened that way). Both of them are on the other side of 50 and have no regrets that they did not have children. The church I attend is fine with our decision not to have children. They don’t treat us like errant children who aren’t getting in line to go to recess. I no longer hear, “Oh you’ll change your mind” in that voice denoting someone patting your head because you’re the silliest, little kid they ever saw. I know how lucky I am. Even in the most progressive and liberal Protestant churches the assumption is, if you’re a woman, you’ll have children.

I was reminded when Elena Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court how taboo it was for a woman not to choose to have children. As Keri Goff points out in her article:

Why has every major profile of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed the fact that they do not have children, as if it represents some boat they missed on the world tour known as life? Not to mention the veiled (and not so veiled) references about their sexuality that permeate cyberspace. As though no children = gay by default.

Could a political couple, who chose not to have children, even get elected in our country with its obsession over “family values” (whatever that is; hard to tell with all the family-values politicians committing adultery or some kind of fraud)? So with trepidation I confess that I do not want to have children, and that I am taking steps to make sure there are no future surprises. I know it’s the right thing for me and my family, and yes, my husband and I do make a family, children or no children. I grew tired of narrow definitions of family a decade ago when no one in society or church would recognize that I was part of a family, even if I wasn’t married. It didn’t seem to matter that I was a daughter, sister, aunt, and niece. What I wasn’t was all that mattered: I wasn’t a wife or mother. I still find this to be true now that I’m married. My husband and I aren’t a “real family” because we don’t want children. It’s not enough that we’re husband and wife.

I know there are those who will think I am selfish for not having children, and you’re right. I am selfish. I know how much time and energy it takes to raise kids. I know how large of an investment it is, and there is no return policy. I do not want to spend my time and energy raising kids. I want to spend my time and energy writing books. I am going to give birth and create new life: I’m just going to stick to giving birth in a metaphorical and spiritual sense.

I keep thinking that, of all places this should be OK is within the church. After all, Jesus redefined “family” in his teachings. For him family was not your biological kin but those who obeyed Godde: “But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother'” (Matthew 12:48-50). It should be fine for a Christian woman not have to have kids to fully follow the calling Jesus placed on her life, but it isn’t. It’s assumed that all other callings will be subsumed under The Call to Motherhood. My only response is no. My highest calling is not to be a mother. My highest calling is to be a writer. I can’t even say that my calling to be a wife beats out my call to write. I’ve been a writer ever since I could write (a good 34 or 35 years now), and I was making up stores before I could write them down. I’ve only been a wife for four years. This idea that I should suppress who I really am–a writer–to be something I am not and have no desire to be–a mother–is just un-Christlike considering what Jesus thought of biological families and how he treated women, especially single women.

I am glad that I found a church that does not believe every woman’s highest calling is to be a mother. I’m glad I’m in a place that recognizes my gifts and talents and encourages me to use them to build Godde’s kingdom in our world. Because there are plenty of Godde’s children that need our love and care who are not part of any other family. I’m hoping that my writing reaches a few of these people and draws them closer to Godde.