Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Editor, Researcher

The Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament Is Now Complete

DFV 2I am happy to announce that a project I’ve been an associate editor on for the last five years is now complete! The Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament can now be downloaded free as a PDF or you can buy a paperback copy. In addition to translations of the Bible that use masculine and non-gender metaphors for God, there is now a version that uses feminine metaphors for God. I hope The Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament will help expand your vocabulary and experience of the God who created both men and women in her own image.

You can download the free PDF copy at The Christian Godde Project.

You can buy the paperback version here.

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.

My Guest Appearance on Talk Gnosis

Earlier this month I was a guest on the vlog Talk Gnosis with my good friend Bishop Lainie Petersen (Independent Gnostic Church). We talked about why women are leaving churches and other organized religion for groups like the Gnostics as well as Pagan and Wiccan spirituality.

 

We followed that up in the one hour After Dark Podcast you can find here.

What about you?

Are you still in church? Or have you found another home for your spirituality where you don’t feel like a second-class citizen at best and a glorified slave at worse?

Pentecost: Blowing Where She Wills

Pentecost over Nature by Farid De La Ossa

This sermon was originally published on June 1, 2009.

She has been here from the beginning, stirring, creating, bringing form to chaos, and life to dust. In the beginning she brooded over the watery chaos waiting for God to give the word. In the fire, thunder, and smoke of Sinai she guarded the holiness of God and showed that approaching this god should not be taken lightly. When Elijah looked for God in fire, earthquake, and a storm, she came in sheer silence to show that she didn’t always appear with the flash and panache that human beings expect.

She gave birth to the church and is the One who gives us our unity, giftings, and words. But we don’t talk about her that much. In fact, the Church has never talked about the Holy Spirit much at all. She gets brushed to the side. She’s the runt of the Trinity no one wants to claim. And there’s a reason for this. The Holy Spirit scares us. We can’t control her. We can’t put restraints on her. We have our nice neat boxes for the other two members of the Trinity. God the Father and Mother is categorized with all of the attributes of God and put in the appropriate box. God the Son is neatly categorized by word and deed and placed in his box. For centuries theologians, scholars, teachers, and preachers have tried to do the same thing with the Spirit. But how do you put wind into a box?

(more…)

Lydia: Buisness Woman and Home Church Pastor

Every Lent I take part in Lent Madness. Instead of picking basketball teams to win a championship, we pit saints against each other to see who will win The Golden Halo. Today’s match-up includes one of my favorite women in the Bible: Lydia.

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. [God] opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to [God], come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us (Acts 16:11-15, NRSV).

Lydia is a biblical woman you probably didn’t learn about in Sunday School. Lydia does not fit the “traditional Biblical woman” model that some claim a woman should be: married, at home with children, and submissive. Lydia was not married. She didn’t have kids. She was a business woman who had her own household which she managed and ran. She was the perfect person for God to lead Paul to for the start of the Christian mission in Europe.

When Paul and his traveling companions arrived in Philippi, there was no synagogue for them to attend for worship. They decided to go to the river on the Sabbath where there was a place of prayer. Lydia was at the river. She was “a worshiper of God,” and listened to Paul’s teachings. In fact, we are told God “opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” In the next verse she and her household were baptized, and she urged Paul and his travelers to stay in her home. Lydia was the first convert to Christianity in Europe.

Lydia was a businesswoman, “a dealer of purple cloth” from Thyatira. Purple dye was a symbol of power and honor in the ancient world, and it was the most expensive and sought after dye in the Roman world. Thyatira was the capitol of the industry and renowned for its purple dyes. One had to have plenty of capital to deal in purple dye and the making of purple garments for sale. Lydia was a career woman, rich, and the head of her household. She was also quick to show hospitality to Paul and his companions by inviting them into her home. By the end of Acts 16 a new church was meeting in Lydia’s home. In most New Testament home churches, the head of the household was the leader of the people who gathered under their roof for worship. This could mean that Lydia was the overseer or pastor of the first church plant in Europe. With her connections from her business in purple cloth, she probably carried a great deal of influence with those in the upper echelons of society, and could champion the Christian cause to them. She probably traveled quite a bit, which meant she could be a missionary in her travels as Paul was. God knew what she was doing when she led Paul to this hospitable, influential woman to further the cause of Christ in Europe and throughout the Roman Empire.

This month for my birthday I am going to give away a $25 Amazon.com gift card to a lucky person who buys my book, What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School by March 26 (my birthday!). Lydia isn’t the only woman who doesn’t fit the cookie cutter image of a “biblical woman” you probably didn’t learn about in Sunday School. There were the five sisters who stood up to Moses, the wise woman who saved her city from a besieging army, and the woman who didn’t take no for an answer–even from Jesus! Spend Lent (or Women’s History Month) getting to know your incredible foremothers of the faith. You can order What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down from Wipf and Stock publishers or Amazon.com. After you’ve ordered email me (shawna@shawnaatteberry.com) your order number, and I’ll put your name in the hat for the gift card. The lucky winner will be announced on March 26.

And join in the Lent Madness! It’s not too late to start learning about both our mothers and fathers in the faith, vote them to The Golden Halo and get to know some incredible people along the way. Read the comments! There is always a great discussion going on about the voting for that day.

My interview with the NotMom Blog

My profile at the TheNotMom.com Blog has been posted. You can read about my thoughts on being a NotMom, my chosen family, and why women without children weren’t that big of a deal for Jesus or the early church here. Please leave comments and show the other NotMoms some love.

I’m very thankful for my many chosen families, and all of the love and new roles they’ve brought into my life. In today’s world where we often don’t live near our birth families, and move so much more than we used to, I think it’s very important to have a chosen family close to you. I also think it’s important for theological reasons: Jesus said that anyone who obeyed God was his mother, brother, and sister (Matthew 12:50; Mark 3:35), so for me, my church is my family.

Jesus broadened the definition of family to include those who obeyed God. In fact, he ignored his biological family for his chosen family, which is why the American church’s idolatrous view of the biological family makes me angry. For Jesus, the chosen family that obeyed God was the most important family, not the one you are born into.

Why Susan Patton Is Wrong About College Women & Marriage

Susan Patton would be vastly disappointed with me. The mom of two Princeton sons, whose letter to Princeton and now an editorial in the Wall Street Journal telling women in college to marry while there before all of the good fish in the sea are gone, does not want to hear how I didn’t even meet my husband until I was 28, and then I didn’t bother to marry him for another eight years. According to her, I was a very lucky woman who had focused on my career and graduate studies to find a man at all since I didn’t grab one up in college:

Could you marry a man who isn’t your intellectual or professional equal? Sure. But the likelihood is that it will be frustrating to be with someone who just can’t keep up with you or your friends. When the conversation turns to Jean Cocteau or Henrik Ibsen, the Bayeux Tapestry or Noam Chomsky, you won’t find that glazed look that comes over his face at all appealing. And if you start to earn more than he does? Forget about it. Very few men have egos that can endure what they will see as a form of emasculation.

So what’s a smart girl to do? Start looking early and stop wasting time dating men who aren’t good for you: bad boys, crazy guys and married men.

College is the best place to look for your mate. It is an environment teeming with like-minded, age-appropriate single men with whom you already share many things. You will never again have this concentration of exceptional men to choose from.

The biggest problem I have with Patton’s view is her poor opinion of men. She seems to imply that men hit their peak in college then it’s all downhill from there. If I was one of Patton’s sons I’d be pretty depressed about my mother’s view on men. She seems to think that men are these delicate flowers whose egos have to be constantly assuaged, and after college they are just not going to become more intelligent, better people as they continue to grow up. To be honest, I’m pretty insulted on behalf of all the wonderful men in my life who are incredibly intelligent and love strong intelligent women. I have more than one male friend who has no problem with his wife, partner, or significant other making more money than he does. Patton’s view of men and their delicate egos does not line up with the men I know. Neither does her view that as a woman gets older she’ll find fewer and fewer intelligent men available. I have found the exact opposite to be true. And yes there are men who once they hit their 30s only date women in their 20s, but I don’t think it’s as normative as Patton implies. I have plenty of friends in their 30s who have married in the last five years to people the same age as them (or close to).

I’m sure this is exactly what Patton’s Wall Street Journal readers want to read. After all the old white boys club does not want their patriarchy to change. They want women put back in their place, so that men can continue to rule the world without worrying about pesky annoyances like maternity leave, family leave, equal pay, or the fact that birth control is basic healthcare. Patton is doing everything she can to help them out. Thanks Susan. I wonder if her views would be different if she had daughters instead of sons?

There is also one other huge problem with Patton’s article. She’s wrong. Women with college educations are more likely to be married by 40 than woman without college degrees, whether these women married in college or not. In College Women, Don’t Listen to Marriage Concern Trolls Amanda Marcotte cites a study done by Paula England who said: “[Women with college educations] marry later, but they catch up. By age 40, 75 percent of college-educated women are married, compared to 70 percent of those who attend high school or some college and 60 percent of those who did not complete high school.” Older men don’t seem to be turned off by smart women their age if 75% of those women are married by the age of 40. England’s study also found that college educated women who married later stayed married longer. How many friends do you have who married in college and are now divorced? So not only are women who didn’t marry in college more likely to get married than women without a college degree, they are more likely to stay married.

I also have theological concerns about Patton’s views on women, men, and marriage. The biggest concern is one I have talked about over and over on this website, and it comes straight from Christian conservative circles as well: it’s the belief that a woman’s primary purpose in life is to marry and have children, and everything else in life should be subsumed under those two roles. It has to be that way because woman was made to be a “helpmate” to man. Of course no one wants to talk about how that word is a mistranslation of the Hebrew phrase it interprets (it is not a translation). Ezer Cenegdo literally means a help or power equal to. Woman was created to be a help and a power equal to a man. In English Bibles the King James Version has the most accurate translation: helpmeet. They also never talk about the reason woman was created is because it was not good for the man to be alone. You will never hear any of these conservatives say that a man’s primary responsibility in life is to be a husband and father to the exclusion of everything else because it is not good for a man to be alone. Just because human beings are created for companionship does not mean that one relationship and family unit should override everything else.

In fact, Genesis 1 has a very balanced view of work and family life:

Then Godde said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So Godde created humankind in Godde’s image, in the image of Godde Godde created them; male and female Godde created them. Godde blessed them, and Godde said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26-28, adapted from the NRSV).

The creation story in Genesis 2 interprets humanity’s dominion over the earth into the man and woman tending the Garden of Eden. Again in that creation account human beings are told to work and reproduce. They were to make the earth fruitful and be fruitful themselves. Work and family have always gone hand-in-hand in the Bible. The main difference today is that men and women no longer work at home as was true in the Bible, but both men and women have always worked to financially provide for their families from the very beginning. This idea that women have to devalue their education and career to be marriageable is not Biblical, and I would go so far as to say it is sin. It encourages us to disobey the greatest commandment: to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and with all of our strength (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27).

I’m not saying marriage and parenthood are not vital roles in life or are not needed. I’m happily married. I have to say it’s one of my favorite sacraments. I’m just saying it’s not the be all and end all of life for women, and we need to stop talking about it that way. Especially as Christians with a call to love Godde above all else and commanded to build her kingdom on earth. Churches should be encouraging their women to do everything in their power to hone their Godde-given skills to build the Kingdom of Godde in our lives, neighborhood, and cities. Kingdom building may start in the home, but it never ends there.

Yes, Susan Patton is wrong. She’s wrong about women. She’s wrong about men. And she’s wrong about marriage. Women and men created in Godde’s image are to be revolutionary world changers bringing the love and peace of Godde into their worlds through the gifts and callings Godde has given them. They should be taught to encourage one another to continue in their faith and education, and to spur each other on to be better Christians and better human beings. They can’t do that if half of them are being told to hide their lights under bushels and pretend to be less than they are for the other half. Potential husbands and wives should be taught that the stronger they are as individuals the stronger they will be as a couple. And this is how Godde intended it.

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).

(No affliate links)

Giving Men the Titus 2 Treatment

Earlier this week Rachel Held Evans published a brilliant blog post, If Men got the Titus 2 Treatment. What if we universalized specific commandments to men to be for all time in any culture the way we universalize verses like Titus 2:5 for women? The result is a brilliant satire of what Christian men would hear if proof-texted verses were used to dictate their lives. My favorite is this one:

Take a look around our culture and you will see millions of men who earn a living by working in climate controlled office buildings. Such work may be mentally strenuous, but far too often, it can be accomplished without even breaking a sweat.

The curse of Genesis 3 clearly describes man’s primary activity as difficult physical labor. “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground,” God declares in Genesis 3:19….

So men who wish to honor God with their lives and humbly submit to His will should make physical labor their primary occupation, and resist the urge to give in to our culture’s glorification of “white collar” work, which is a departure from biblical principles of masculinity.

Now, some men will say they find office work more stimulating and rewarding than manual labor, or that it provides more financial security in their particular situation, but these men are more interested in pursuing selfish ambitions and wealth than submitting themselves to the Word of God. Our culture’s rampant obesity epidemic among men can be clearly traced to this departure from God’s perfect design. And it threatens to undo our whole society, negatively affecting our children and generations to come.

This post clearly shows what happens to theology when Christians do not do the hard work on interpreting Scripture for their own times and lives. As post-Industrial Revolution and post-technological people we cannot go back to the agrarian, everyone works at home, model that was normal for biblical times. We have re-interpreted the Bible for men working outside of the home and made that interpretation normal. For the last 45 years second-wave feminist theologians have been interpreting the Bible for women who work outside of the home. For the last decade third-wave feminist theologians have taken up the banner and interpreted the Bible for our technologically connected world. Now its time to make those interpretations normative, just as we did for the men.

Five years ago on Shawna R. B. Atteberry: You mean I can be a feminist homemaker? Really?

In order to start writing for the blog again, I decided to take a look at what I have done in years past. This one popped up for me right away as I still have a love/hate relationship with housework. I love a clean house; I hate cleaning. And as a feminist the idea that I should do the brunt of the work rubs me the wrong way, even if I do work from home, and it’s convenient. I decided since I have never resolved this sticky issue, to post this post again. Earlier this summer I was glad to see that I’m not the only Christian feminist woman who just doesn’t know how to resolve the tension between feminism, house work, and being a good Christian. Melanie Springer Mock, Kendra Irons, and Letha Scanzoni took up this very issue at Christian Feminism Today in The “Final Feminist Frontier”–Housework. (You’ll also want to check out Melanie and Kendra’s awesome blog: Ain’t I a Woman?)

(Originally posted 8/28/2008) I’ve never been a great housekeeper. Normally I’m barely a passable housekeeper. I watched my mom work all day then come home and clean and clean and clean. I decided that I was not going to do that. (I made it very clear to my husband before we married that I would not be doing all the housework.) Housework was not that important. It didn’t help that for the last two years I’ve struck out as a freelance writer and do a lot of work from home, where a lot of the time I feel like a glorified housewife. But lately my feelings have been changing, and I have been wanting a cleaner house and less piles. I’ve always been a pile person, and it used to not bother me. But now it’s getting cumbersome and tiresome. I think it’s because I’m getting older, and I just don’t have the energy to dig through piles to find one piece of paper or a book. Plus I really do like being able to see the top of my coffee table and not have to crawl over a pile of books to get into bed.

Of course this put me into a crisis mode. After all I’m a feminist. I’m a feminist who came out of the group of Christians who think the highest calling for a woman is to be a wife, mother, and yes, housewife. So for me to admit that keeping house wasn’t that bad (and might even better), was nothing short of an existential crisis. And before you start gloating, Mom, I’m still not going to clean like you do. I still think you cleaned far too much. There has to be a happy medium between piles and dust and spotless clean. Then an online friend, k8tthleate introduced to me a wonderful book: Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. The book begins with these words:

I am a working woman with a secret life: I keep house. An off-and-on lawyer and professor in public, in private I launder and clean, cook from the hip, and devote serious time and energy to a domestic routine not so different from the one that defined my grandmothers as “housewives.”

I think what I like most about Mendelson is her emphasis on house-keeping. Oh yes, there is cleaning, but that is just one part of keeping a home and making it a place of welcome for the family, comfortable to live in, and a space we feel comfortable inviting friends into. I’ve discovered that’s what I want to do: I want to keep a home. I want to be able to invite people over without having to do a hurricane cleaning out before they come over (again not as easy to do now I’m no longer 20-something). I’m taking baby steps: putting stuff away, finding homes for things, and vacuuming and mopping on a more regular basis (once a month really isn’t enough). And we’ll see how it goes.

Are you doing things you didn’t think you’d do? Are there things you’re changing your mind about?

Updated 8/21/2013: I am still a lousy housekeeper with multiple piles, and my floors wished they were mopped once a month. And unlike what I wrote five years ago about liking the concept of “house-keeping,” I’m not too keen on the idea right now. I’m definitely more on the hate side of my love/hate relationship with housecleaning right now.

What about you? What are thoughts regarding the keeping and cleaning of your home? Where do you fall on that love/hate continuum?