Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Teacher, Baker

The Proverbs 31 Woman: Dame Wisdom in Action

The Proverbs 31 Woman: Dame Wisdom in Action
Proverbs 31:10-31

Ah, the Proverbs 31 woman, let me count the ways I hate thee. I grew up hearing about this woman every Mother’s Day. How she was a good and submissive wife who obeyed her husband and took care of her kids and was happy with her life in the home. If you come from a conservative or fundamentalist Christian background like I did, you know what I’m talking about. Every single Mother’s Day the male pastor brushes off this passage and preaches how a good Christian woman ought to act. She’s the best wife, mother, and homekeeper of them all. She eschews the public sector to take care of her home and family. She keeps her house clean, obeys her husband and submits to him. She is a wonderful mother, and gets the meals on the table on time. She’s SuperWifeMom.

By the time I hit my teens I was groaning and tuning the pastor out. By the time I hit my early 30s, I was single, not too sure if I wanted to get married, and I knew I didn’t want do the whole kids thing. I stopped going to church on Mother’s Day. If there was one Saturday I conveniently forgot to set my alarm clock and not make it to church, without feeling guilty about it, it was Mother’s Day.

Unfortunately for the conservative evangelical background I grew up with, it was beat into my head that every good Christian reads the Bible for herself. She sees what is there, so she won’t fall into error. This backfired where I am concerned. I did read my Bible. I wanted to know what it said, and how I should act. And I noticed something. I noticed that what I heard all those years about the Proverbs 31 woman was not all of the story. In fact most of what I heard wasn’t even in the story! This woman was not restricted to her home and family. I got to know an entirely different women when I read her story for myself.

This woman is a household manager, industrious, produces and sells textiles, brings in income for the family, oversees planting of a vineyard and uses her own money to set it up. She has servants she oversees, she gives to the poor, and her household is a small business that provides for her family, and her husband is praised for it. This is not the picture of the stay-at-home mother that is normally depicted in sermons. She works both inside and outside of her home.

I learned there is a big difference when the Bible talks about a wife and how we talk about a wife, particularly a housewife. Carole Fontaine said this about that difference:

In the Bible, the term wife encodes a set of productive and managerial tasks that, along with a woman’s reproductive role, were essential to the existence of the Israelite household. There is no equivalent understanding of “wife” as a social category in the modern West, where women’s household work does not usually contribute to the family economy and tends to be ignored, trivialized, minimized, or otherwise degraded. The often insulting idea of “just a wife and mother” would have had no meaning in the biblical world.

Or as Rabbi Rosenfeld said at the beginning of his lecture on Proverbs 31: “First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Women have ALWAYS worked outside the home, and EVERY mother is a ‘working mother!” Women’s work was necessary for the survival of the family, and she generated income for the family. Textiles—the spinning, weaving, and making of fabric goods–drove the ancient economy for 20,000 years. Women’s work was the backbone of the ancient economy and the ancient household. And I will love Deirdre McCloskey forever for pointing that out to me. So this woman was much more than the imaginary 50s housewife some segments of Christianity hold up as the good Christian wife. I’m not hating her as much.

Then I discovered something about her this week that I never knew, and I may just be darn close to falling in love with her. While reading up on this passage one of the writers pointed out that this poem is filled with military imagery. In fact the word translated as capable in “a capable wife who can find?” is hayil. When it’s used for a man it’s translated as “strong” or “mighty,” and it’s normally used in the context of war. It also means the power that is able to acquire strength through gaining money and raising an army. Right off the bat, we are told this is a strong woman who knows how to get things done.

Then verse 11 says: “[her husband] will lack no gain” or spoils or booty. The writer, Raymond Van Leeuwen notes that using this word here is strange because it “suggests the woman is like a warrior bringing home booty from her victories.”

In verse 16 she “considers a field and buys it.” Here the word “buy” may not the best translation of the Hebrew. Literally, she “takes” the field, and this word is normally used of an army taking a city or a region. It means to conquer and subdue a territory. This verse shows the woman looking at a wild field and figuring out how to tame it and subdue it into a vineyard. In the Judean highlands turning a plot of land into a vineyard took a massive amount of work. The soil was rocky, and all of the rocks had to be removed, then the land terraced, and the rocks built into a wall, so that the vineyard didn’t wash down the hillside at the first good rain. It also had to be terraced to make sure that enough water stayed in the vineyard so the vines could grow. Like a general this woman surveys her battlefield and plans her attack. Anyone who has ever gardened knows this is not an over-exaggeration.

Verse 17 has the most obvious military language: “she girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong” or in the good old King James Version, she “girded up her loins.” Men normally girded up their loins in the Bible for a heroic deed; a deed that involved fighting. Having a strong arm is another Biblical metaphor for being battle ready.

The end of the poem comes back to where we began with the word hayil. In verse 29 the woman’s husband tells her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Here hayil is translated as “done excellently.” The woman has done deeds of strength and power that again refer to warfare and gaining wealth. “Surpass them all” is another idiom for military activity–as in the army met the enemy and bested them.

So we see that this woman is not only pictured as a manager, entrepreneur, and merchant, she is also pictured as a military leader. There is nothing submissive or docile about this woman. She makes textiles, buys, sells, and fights for her family’s survival and good. And yes, she still sounds like SuperWoman. But there is a reason for that. Just as this woman is not the fictional housewife of the 50s, she is also not just a woman either.

I’ve always wondered why Proverbs 31 ended with this poem about this woman. So have others. It seems odd. And after all the focus on wisdom and gaining it, why does this book end with a woman going about her mundane daily activities? Part of the answer to this is how the Jewish sages defined wisdom. Wisdom was not just knowledge gained for knowledge’s sake. Wisdom was knowledge that was to be applied to everyday life. In the Bible God created the world and set boundaries and laws to govern what she created. Wisdom sought to define those boundaries and apply those laws to their daily lives. This woman is living wisdom.

But there is another reason why this book ends with a woman. It began with one. At the end of Proverbs 1 we are introduced to Dame Wisdom. We find out that Wisdom was with God when God created the heavens and earth. In fact, She was the master designer and architect of creation. She watched God bring order out of chaos. She rejoiced in creation, and calls out in the public square and city gates for men and women to follow her. She wants us to learn Her ways, so that She can give us good lives. She builds a house, prepares a feast, then goes out again to call everyone to come into Her house, eat Her feast, and learn Her ways. She continues to create and bring order to the world. After the tabernacle and temple are finished in the Hebrew Scriptures, there are huge feasts for all the people to celebrate. Wisdom does the same. She builds Her house then invites everyone over to celebrate. The last thing we hear about in Proverbs 9 is Dame Wisdom.

And the last thing we hear about in the book of Proverbs is the Wise Woman in the 31st chapter. The reason Proverbs ends with this woman is that it is showing us Dame Wisdom in action. This woman does everything Wisdom does in earlier chapters: she creates, brings order to chaos, feeds and clothes her family, and takes care of the poor. She doesn’t just live wisely, she is Wisdom Incarnate. These verses do not describe what the typical woman of that day is like. They are showing us Wisdom hard at work in the everyday world.

She shows us what we are called to do. Just like Dame Wisdom and the Wise Woman of Proverbs 31 we are called to live wisely in our everyday, mundane lives. We are called to learn what God wants, where our boundaries are and live by that everyday. For ancient Israel the boundary was there is only one God, YHWH, and YHWH alone will you worship and obey. For us as Christians our boundary is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. That is our boundary. Day by day we have to figure out how to live that love at home, at work, in the store, on the sidewalk, and at church. Within the boundary of that love, we are called to create, to order the chaos around us, to build God’s realm and to celebrate God’s reign here on earth. Or as Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it:

And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing’s small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
And,–glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.

Our call is to see God in our world and then live what we see. When we follow Wisdom and listen to Her, our eyes will be opened, and we will see the holy in everything. When we see the holy all around us then we will know how to live our own lives and show that holiness, God’s love, to others.

Originally posted on September 22, 2009.

Related Posts
Sermon Meanderings: The Proverbs 31 Woman
Proverbs 31: A “Capable” Wife, Huh?
Poem: In the Beginning Was

The Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament reviewed by Jann Aldredge-Clanton

DFV 2Rev. Jann Aldredge-Clanton has given this gracious review for the Divine Feminine Version of the New Testament:

Congregations who are striving toward more inclusive worship will welcome this new version. Their worship leaders may use inclusive, gender-balanced language in sermons, litanies, and hymns. But they have few options for inclusive scripture readings. The predominantly masculine divine language in these readings then strikes a discord with the rest of the service.

There are two gender-neutral versions of the Bible on the market: The Inclusive Bible, a translation by the Priests for Equality, and The New Testament and Psalms: An Inclusive Version, a modification of the New Revised Standard Version. These versions are better than those that use exclusively masculine references to Deity, but they do not reclaim biblical female divine language to balance the male divine language so prevalent in most faith communities and the wider culture.

Until recently, congregations have had nowhere to turn for gender-balanced scripture readings. Now we can go to the Divine Feminine Version (DFV) of the New Testament. By including female language for the Divine, the DFV affirms the sacred value of females who continue to suffer from violence, abuse, and discrimination throughout the world. The DFV contributes to a theological foundation for gender equality, social justice, and peace.

You can read the rest of Rev. Aldredge-Clanton’s review here. If you would like gender inclusive hymns to sing along with your readings from the DFV check out Jann’s hymnals which include a rich variety of feminine, masculine, and neuter metaphors for God.

You can download the free PDF copy  of the DFV at The Christian Godde Project. You can buy the paperback version here.

Blogging Advent: Wisdom has built for herself a house

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Year B, Advent 4

“The Holy Spirit had to come upon [Mary] and the power of the Most High had to overshadow her so that Wisdom might build [herself] a house and the Word might become flesh” (From the Letters of St. Leo the Great).

madonna and childWisdom Has Built for Herself a House

Wisdom has built for herself a house
In the womb of a young girl.
A young girl strong and brave
A young girl who said yes.

Wisdom has built for herself a house
In the song of a young girl:
“The powerful are humbled, the lowly lifted
The hungry fed, the rich emptied.”

Wisdom has built for herself a house
In a manger tucked in a cave
Where animals provide warmth and music,
And shepherds praise her newborn king.

Wisdom has built for herself a house
Under the noses of the powerful:
Herod the power hungry couldn’t thwart her
Caesar the almighty was oblivious to her building.

Wisdom has built for herself a house
In the journey of the Magi.
Traveling by her light, seeking her truth,
Bowing to a child in his humble home.

Wisdom has built for herself a house
Where the hungry are fed
And the lowly are raised.
Will you join them at the table?

Wisdom has built for herself a house:
Will you powerful be humbled?
Will you who are full be emptied?
Will you come in and eat at the table?

(c) 2014 Shawna R. B. Atteberry

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.

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?

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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.

Stories of Redemption: Because God Really Does Keep Doing New Things

anointInstead of preaching a sermon, I dramatically told these stories based on the lectionary readings for the 5th Sunday in Lent, 2010. It’s still one of my favorite storytelling sermons.

Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8

Props

  • Jewish prayer shawl or yamika
  • Bible (I used my Hebrew Bible)
  • If you’re a women a shawl, scarf or pashima that can used as a head covering. If you’re a man a clay jar or other container.

Returning from Exile

(Put on the prayer shawl or yamika.)

May by the prophets really are nuts. We all know the stories: Isaiah running around Jerusalem naked. Not that anyone remembers what his point was–he was running around Jerusalem naked. Hosea marrying a whore to prove Judah’s idolatry was harlotry, and Ezekiel. Now there was a loon. Ezekiel came with the first group of exiles shipped to Babylon. He laid bound up one side for months then rolled over and laid bound up on the other side for months. Something about how long we’d be in exile. Did you know that man didn’t even mourn when his wife died? Said God told him not to because God wouldn’t mourn for the destruction of Jerusalem or the Temple. We Jews are used to our prophets being a little…unbalanced.

I think being in exile so long has unhinged this new group of prophets. Running around saying that some uncircumcised, pagan, Gentile is God’s anointed. Anointed by God like King David. Oh I know Cyrus and his Persian army are making trouble for Babylon, but to call him God’s anointed, and say God is going to use him to send us back to Israel. Like that is ever going to happen. But these prophets keep yammering on about God doing new things—things that will amaze us and dazzle us. They keep talking about rivers springing up in the desert, and God turning the wilderness into an oasis. Talk that’s all it is. We’ve been here for 80 years. Jerusalem was razed to the ground and the Temple with it. We aren’t going anywhere.

I ate every single one of those words. Those loony prophets were right! God did it! God did something totally new! Who ever heard of an emperor letting captives go back to their native land? But Cyrus did! He sent us home! And he returned all of the things that were in the Temple plus what we would need to rebuild the city and the Temple! And it’s a good thing too. Because we’re going to need every penny. The Babylonians literally did flatten Jerusalem. We have a lot of work to do, both building and farming. We have to have enough food to eat. But we are here. God really is sovereign over every ruler on earth. God did not forsake us. God brought us back. And we will rebuild this city and this country. Not just for us. We will rebuild for our children and for all the generations that will come after them.

Paul

(Pick up the Bible.)

People think I’m a little over the top. They say I only see black and white or good and evil. They say I like to rant, and that I’m not all the eloquent. Well what do they expect? Jewish prophets have always been melodramatic. Our people have always known how to get your attention and make our point. Of course, it probably doesn’t help that I’m a zealot. Whatever I do, I go all the way. When I was studying to be a Pharisee, I was always at the top of my class. So you know, I have the equivalent of five or six Ph. Ds in this: The Hebrew Scriptures. I studied with the best teachers, and I kept the Law. I did everything I could to climb the ecclesiastical ladder as fast as I could. When a cult started by this upstart carpenter, who had gotten himself crucified, started taking over the Temple and declaring the Law to be a thing of the past, I was more than happy to help put them away. I wanted to keep the Jewish faith pure. I hunted those people down and threw them into prison. I helped execute them.

Then this crucified carpenter, this Jesus, got hold of me, and I became as zealous for him as I had been for the Law. A lot has happened in the last 30 years, since I found myself blind by the side of the road to Damascus. Christianity has spread across the Empire, and I’m here in Rome. Not the way I wanted to be, awaiting a trial before Caesar. But I am here, and I still preach the Gospel. That one thing has never changed. To whoever listens I tell them about the all-encompassing love of Christ. When I tell the Philippines that I would give up everything to know Christ, they know I’m not exaggerating. I’ve already given up so much: my career, my reputation, my family. I have suffered. What I dealt out to Christians those many years ago, I have now experienced. I’ve been in prison, been beaten, and ran for my life. I haven’t been executed, yet.

I’ve done all of this for one reason: to know Christ. Knowing Christ is worth everything I gave up, everything I loss when I chose to follow him. Christ suffered before he was resurrected. As he said no student is above the teacher. I know all of my suffering has not been in vain. I have come to Christ through my sufferings, and one day my hope is that I will know his resurrection as well. And fully know him as he knows me.

I’m always in awe of how Jesus came back to Jerusalem knowing the suffering and death that awaited him. And Mary, dear Mary who like the prophets before her, performed an outrageous act to prepare him for that final journey to Jerusalem.

Mary of Bethany

(Take off prayer shawl/yamika and put on the head covering, or pick up the clay jar.)

Bethany is not that far from Jerusalem. I hear all of the talk, all of the gossip. I know the Jewish leaders want to kill Jesus. I’m sure they’re even more determined now that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus. I can’t believe my brother is sitting there, talking and laughing with Jesus and all of our friends. We’re having a big feast to celebrate. People have been in and out of the house all day to see Lazarus alive. There’s whispers and talk all around about revolution; how Jesus will march into Rome and overthrow the pagan overloads. Even the 12 are talking of revolution. It makes me wonder if they’ve been listening to the same teachings I’ve heard at his feet. Do they just tune him out when he says he’s going to die? They don’t want to hear it. They want a king, and the power that comes from being in the king’s inner circle. They are not listening. Either to Jesus or the rumblings of Jerusalem’s ruling elite who will do whatever they have to to hold onto their power. This Messiah will not be going to Jerusalem to be crowned. He is going to Jerusalem to die.

I come out of my revery and realize that I need to go see if Martha needs any help. Then I see it—the jar of nard. Very expensive nard. We had bought it for Lazarus’ burial. It hadn’t been used. I knew what I needed to do. I peeked into the room and everyone was settling around the table. I waited. I waited until they were settled and started eating.

I took the perfume and walked to where Jesus was reclining. I wasn’t going to anoint his head—kings had their heads anointed. I wasn’t going to do anything to feed their illusions. I knelt at this feet. The last pair of feet I had anointed has been Lazarus’ for his burial. I felt the stares. I broke open the jar and poured the nard over Jesus’ feet—all of it. I heard the gasps as people smelled the expensive perfumed mixture. I gently rubbed it into his feet—those roughened feet that soon would be making their last journey. I reached for a towel to wipe off the excess when it hit me I hadn’t grabbed a towel. I always forget something. An idea flickered in my mind. I took out the pins that held my hair. As my hair tumbled around me, another round of gasps echoed around the room. A respectable woman wouldn’t do that! I didn’t care. With my hair, I wiped the oil from his feet. I looked up and Jesus’ eyes met mine. His eyes echoed my thoughts. We both knew. It was a holy moment.

Until an indignant voice broke the holy moment. “Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii and the money given to the poor?”

Judas. Of course, it was Judas. Like he had any concern for the poor. He just wanted to line his own pockets.

I took a breath to say as much when Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me with you.”

The room was silent. No one wanted to admit what Jesus said was true. He wasn’t here to reorder one nation according to their standards. He was here to turn the world, as we knew it, on it’s head and bring the kingdom of God—the reign of God—to this very world. But for that to happen first he had to face his destiny in Jerusalem.

Sermons: Tables of Love

I preached this sermon on Thanksgiving 2007.

Tables of Love

Scripture Readings: Psalm 100; Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Philippians 4:4-9; John 6:25-35

When I think of tables, I think of eating with friends and family. Through the years these tables have taken different shapes and forms. Sometimes it’s just me and another person and at other times there could be 15-20 of us gathered around. Sometimes it’s quiet conversation and other times a cacophany of chatter, dishes, and someone yelling down the table to get someone else’s attention. I’m Irish-Italian; we tend to be a loud bunch. Of course that didn’t change when I headed off to seminary, and all of my friends were religion geeks like me. There was still a lot of talking over one another, around one another, and yelling at someone in order to get a word in edgewise. I felt right at home.

The table I normally think of is our family table growing up. Mom, Dad, my sister and me every night for supper. We didn’t have very many family rules set in stone, but eating supper together was one of them. When friends were over, they ate with us. Same thing if family visited: eating supper together never changed except when we slept over at a friend’s or had a school function. Some nights there was a lot of chatter, some nights we played Jeopardy more than we talked, and other nights we ate in relative silence because we were tired. The ebb and flow of activity may have changed but supper itself did not. We ate one meal as a family at the table everyday. Period.

One of the hardest things to get used to when I moved out and started living on my own was eating alone. It seemed odd, wrong. And not just because of family dinner. Before college I had always eaten breakfast with my sister, lunch with friends, and dinner with the family. In college I always ate with friends or a the family that adopted me at church. Eating by myself bothered me more than living by myself. In the movie Under the Tuscan Sunher neighbor invites Francis over for supper saying, “It’s not healthy to eat alone.” I absolutely agree with him.

In fact the Mediterranean people know how to do supper. I lived in Barcelona for a year as a Nazarene in Volunteer Service or NIVS for short. I loved their attitude about food. Food was something to be enjoyed, not scarfed down. I am a slow eater. I always have been and I will stubbornly remain so. I get teased because I refuse to scarf my food down in order to “do” something more important. What’s more important than nourishing yourself? And I don’t believe you can nourish yourself if you inhale your food. I fit right in in Spain and with the Mediterranean mindset: food is to be enjoyed and preferably enjoyed with family and bunch of friends. They take supper seriously. There it is a three hour affair with three or four courses and a lot of conversation. Talking, joking, sharing the day, getting caught up. It’s relaxed. Everyone is enjoying themselves. Everyone is enjoying the food. I fit right in. I found out the Italian genes I got from my full-blooded Italian great-grandmother ran true in my blood. They somehow skipped the rest of family.

How the Mediterraneans view supper is very much how people in both the Old and New Testaments viewed supper. Breakfast was some bread, probably left over from the night before. Lunch was at work and normally a piece of dried fish and what ever fruit or vegetables that were in season. But supper–supper was different. You were paid for your work at the end of the day. You went shopping then came home, and the whole family–and you have to remember in the Bible this would be three generations who lived close to each other–all of them would get together and eat supper. It was a relaxed, joyous time for the family. They had food, they had each other. They enjoyed their day’s labor at the end of the day. And they took their time. This meal was not to be rushed. It was to be savored and enjoyed. It was the only time the entire family ate together.

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The E-book and I Are Making the Rounds

If Sandi or Monnette’s blogs have you sent you my way: Welcome! I’m delighted to be featured on both of their sites.

Today on Deva Coaching, I am in Sandi Amorim’s Featured Spotlight. Sandi is my business coach, and she made me answer the questions, so I could finally get my Hire Me page done. I answered the questions, and the Hire Me page is now live! I’m very happy about the forward movement.

Monette Chilson on Sophia Rising has reviewed my E-book, What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down. I am very happy with her favorable review. Monette blends Christianity, the Divine Feminine and yoga on her blog, Sophia Rising, and I will be happy to review her book when it comes out next year.

Sandi mentioned on her site that I interviewed her about Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down. I interviewed four people on their responses, and here are all four 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.

If you stop by please feel free to introduce yourself in the comments. I would love to get to know you. I hope everyone has a Happy Friday!

Sermon: Everyone Has a Story, Judges 4

This weeks Old Testament reading (Proper 28A/Ordinary 33A/Pentecost +22) is Judges 4:1-7. Unfortunately, the reading stops before the story really gets going and gets good. You really should read the entire chapter, verses 1-24. I wrote this sermon eight or nine years ago, and it is still one of my favorites. Probably because it has some of my favorite people in the Bible.

Everyone Has a Story

Judges 4-5

One of my absolutely favorite news segments was “Everybody Has a Story.” Journalist Steve Hartman had this absolutely cockamamie idea that a person didn’t need to be rich, or famous, or even a celebrity to have a story. He believed that ordinary people, living ordinary lives, in ordinary places had stories that the rest of us would want to hear and might even help us live our own little, ordinary lives. Even Steve admitted he wasn’t sure his idea would work. But for years Steve Hartman proved that everybody has a story. One of things I loved about this news segment is that Steve found some of the most unlikely people, in the most unlikely places, who have lived through and done some of the most unlikely things.

His stories reminded me a lot of the stories I read in the Bible. Ordinary people, doing ordinary things, living ordinary lives. But instead of a pesky reporter dropping in, a pesky God decides to show up and change those ordinary lives forever. That’s what happened in Judges 4.

An Unlikely Couple

The first three verses of this chapter are typical for the book of Judges. In the book of Judges Israel is caught in a very destructive cycle. They decide to worship the gods around them instead of Yahweh–the God who brought them out of Egypt. God then gives them over to an enemy who oppresses them for a while–in this case 20 years. Then the people come to their senses and cry out to God who then raises a judge to deliver them from their oppressors. There is much rejoicing and the people obey God during the life of that judge and then the cycle starts all over again. This is called a downward spiral because not only does the same cycle keep happening, but each time it gets worse.

When we come to verse 4 we read: “At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel.” Now we come to the first twist in this story–the judge is not a man–it’s a woman. We have an unlikely judge–she’s a wife and probably a mother. And why is she the judge and not her husband? Because God called her and not him. Yes, it’s as simple as that. And what about Lappidoth? I always wonder about this man. He’s only mentioned once in the Bible, but he intrigues me. Since Deborah is judging Israel at the palm of Deborah and fulfilling her calling as a prophet, I’m assuming he’s okay with the arrangement. And yes, in our day and age, we go, “Well duh, yes, she can work if she wants to.” Back then, in that day and age, Deborah should have been home being a wife and mother–cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids. The place she should not have been was out in public, resolving disputes among the people. That was man’s work. That should have been what Lappidoth was doing. But this unlikely couple obeyed God’s rather strange calling on their lives–God called Deborah to be a prophet and judge, and both she and Lappidoth obeyed God’s calling.

So, not only Deborah, but Deborah and Lappidoth are the first unlikely people we meet in this story. Now we will meet our next unlikely person.

An Unlikely General

Barak enters our story next. H’s a general, commander of the army of Israel. Deborah tells him that God has spoken and wants Barak to take an army and move against Israel’s oppressor: Sisera. Up to this point the men God called to judge Israel’s enemies have been gung-ho about going and wreaking a little havoc. God told them to go and destroy Israel’s enemies, and they went and destroyed Israel’s enemies in some very creative ways with no cajoling or prodding. So when Deborah calls Barak and tells him God’s ready to move against Sisera, we expect Barak to yell, “Yippee, it’s about time!” and go. But that’s not what he does. Barak puts a condition on his obedience: Deborah must go with him. The general wants a woman to accompany him in battle. And this woman, this married women who probably had children, says, yes. If that’s what it takes to do God’s will then she will go, so that the enemy can be defeated.

But Barak’s condition costs him: he will not be the one to kill Sisera. In another irony of this story, a woman will kill Sisera. Of course, at this point, we think the woman will be Deborah.

Again Lappidoth impresses me. No, he’s not mentioned in these verses. But his wife is going into war with Barak, and he doesn’t forbid her. In all likelihood, he is probably one of the 10,000 who go into battle. Again this unlikely couple obey God, at what could be great cost to them.

Although Barak wanted assurance of God’s presence, and it did cost him the full glory of the battle, I don’t think we should be too hard on him. Remember Deborah was a prophet–she was God’s representative on earth, speaking the words God gave her. I think if I was Barak, I might want her to come along too; I might want that assurance of God’s presence that Deborah, not only gave to Barak, but gave to the soldiers as well.

So we have an unlikely couple and an unlikely general that God is using to accomplish her plans. Now we are coming to the most unlikely person in the whole story.

An Unlikely Ally

Word reaches Sisera that Barak and his troops are on the move, and Sisera rallies his army to meet them, thinking that he has pretty much won this battle. But God had other plans. Deborah gives the command for the troops to march and Barak leads the way. As they are moving toward each other, God throws Sisera’s army into a panic. I like the account of the battle given in Judges 5:20-21: “The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera. The torrent Kishon swept them away, the onrushing torrent, the torrent Kishon. March on, my soul, with might!” God once again fought for her people and delivered them from their enemies. In the middle of the fight Sisera sees that things are not going his way, and I’m thinking that what he does isn’t something generals of armies should do: he runs. And this chicken is about to run into a fox.

Back in verse Judges 4:11 we have a verse that appears out of nowhere about a man living in the area. It seems like an odd verse to insert between Deborah’s command to Barak and the preparations to march to war. In this verse we learn about Heber, a man descended from Moses’ father-in-law, who lives in the area. Now in verse 17 we find out why that piece of information appeared out of nowhere. Sisera runs to the place where Heber and his wife, Jael, are staying. At this point in the story it appears that Sisera is home free. There was peace between Heber and King Jabin–Sisera’s boss. For all appearances he should be safe. And Jael plays the perfect hostess…for a while. She invites him in, gives him milk to drink when he asked for water. Then she tucked him in with a rug for a nice nap. But instead of standing guard at the tent as Sisera ordered her, Jael has other plans. Deborah will not be the woman who defeats Sisera–Jael is. And she is a more unlikely person for the job than Deborah. Jael is not only a woman. She is a Gentile woman. She is not from one of the tribes of Israel. God will use this Gentile woman to deliver Israel from their oppressor. Instead of standing guard and deflecting Israel’s soldiers when they come looking for Sisera, Jael sneaks to where he’s sleeping and kills him. Jael is waiting at the entrance to the tent when Barak comes, and she leads him inside the tent, and shows him his enemy, dead. All that Deborah had spoken happened. Israel defeated the army of Sisera, and Sisera had been killed by a woman. After the victory song of chapter 5, we read that Israel had rest for 40 years.

Using a very unlikely combination of people: a wife and mother, a hesitant general, and a Gentile woman, God delivered Israel from their enemies. When God came these people were living their normal, everyday lives. They didn’t think anything was going to change, and they sure didn’t think God would use them to make those changes. But God did.

An Unlikely People

And I’m not sure which should surprise us more: that God uses ordinary people to do His will, or that God gets mixed up with us unpredictable, insecure, hesitant humans at all. Even with Barak’s hesitation and insistence on Deborah coming to battle with him, God still gets mixed up in the lives of these ordinary people, with foibles and quirks, and uses them to accomplish her plans for her people.

I bet Steve Hartman would give his eyeteeth to be able to tell this story on the evening news. You see what Steve doesn’t know is that there is a reason why everyone has a story. It’s because God made everyone. We all have stories because we are made in God’s image. But it gets better than that. God comes to us and wants be a part of our stories. The God who is Creator and Ruler of all wants to take part in our ordinary, mundane, messy lives. Then she wants to use our lives and our stories to build her kingdom and accomplish her plans, not only for the Church, but for the world. But don’t freak out–God doesn’t send us out alone, just like Barak didn’t go out alone. God goes with us, so that everyone we encounter can be a part of her story–just like we are.

So as you live your ordinary life this week, remember all those ordinary people you see have stories. And God wants to be a part of those stories.