Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Teacher, Baker

Women and Fiction: Writing the World Right

(I am working my way through Sandi Amorim’s Spotlight Questions (You can find the interview here). When she asked what was effortless and life giving for me, I answered: “Definitely reading. I love to sit down and get lost in a book. I love to learn new things. I’m always reading seven or eight books at the same time. I just love books. That leads into my love for writing and wanting to give the same blessings to my readers, my favorite authors have given to me.” It reminded me of this article I wrote for Christians for Biblical Equality’s E-Quality Newsletter.)

I’ve always lived in other worlds. As soon as I learned to read, I began devouring books. If I could understand most of the words, I read it. I was always asking Mom what this word and that word meant, and as a result, Mom soon taught me how to use a dictionary. I was in glasses by the time I was ten. There is no proof, but I think because I read so much, my eyes didn’t think there was anything beyond the length of my arm (or the tip of my nose for that matter). By the time I finished sixth grade, I had read the Little House on the Prairie books, A Wrinkle in Time trilogy (back then it was a trilogy), The Chronicles of Narnia, every Judy Blume book, and too many Nancy Drew books to count. In fact, I would sit down after breakfast on Saturdays with a Nancy Drew mystery and have it finished by supper. Of course, writing stories did not lag far behind learning how to read them.

Role Models

The first time I saw the power and potential of a girl, and later a woman, was in Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time books. Meg was strong and held her own ground. She did not have special powers and she was not a super-hero, but she did what was right. Her love for her family always compelled her to do the right thing, no matter what it cost her personally. Meg showed me that regardless of your age, you could change the world for the better.

I lived in books filled with girls and women with whom I could relate. I grew up with a complementarian model of who a woman was supposed to be, but I never fit in that mold. I was neither quiet nor submissive, and I was not very proper. I was competitive, opinionated, aggressive, and willing to defend my beliefs. In books I found woman like me, women I wanted to be like.

I will never forget meeting Eowyn in The Two Towers and journeying with her through Return of the King. She was the first woman I met who was also a warrior. She defied the customs of her time, went into battle, and fought for what she believed in. She was the one who destroyed the King of the Nazguls. In Eowyn, I found a sister.

Seeing Humanity in Others

But fiction has done more than just show me what women can do. The genres of science fiction and fantasy also help me to understand what it means to be human. There is a great potential for truth-telling in these genres. I think that is because the worlds in science fiction and fantasy are not “our” world. Because it’s not “us,” “our” culture, “our” world, we can say things that are not readily received in other forums. Over the years, these genres have confronted the prejudices of our world, battling discrimination based on sex, religion, and ethnicity, and going even further to ask, “What does it mean to be human?”

In Children of God, Mary Doria Russell weaves the stories of human and alien through religion. On the world of Rakhat, there are two species: the Jana’ata and the Runa. The Jana’ata will eat the Runa for survival and to maintain the population. Two of the human characters in the book are a Jewish woman, Sofia Mendes, and her autistic son, Isaac. Joining them is Ha’anala, a member of the Jana’ata. Sofia teaches them the Jewish faith. The biblical views begin to change the way Ha’anala looks at her world, and the way she sees the Runa. She realizes all of them are created by Godde. When she is older, she forms a group where the Runa are treated as equals, which becomes a catalyst for starting change in her world. Meanwhile, Isaac has limited speech and dislikes noise. He wants silence and clarity. He works continually on a hand-held computer, looking for what he calls clarity. At the end of the book we find out what he was working on: a symphony. John Clute noted that Isaac “understands the world solely through song, memorizes the genetic codes of the three races into three intercalating tone-rows, and harmonizes them” (Excessive Candour, issue 63, which is no longer online thanks to SyFy’s name change). He calls his composition “The Children of God.” The humans, the Runa, and the Jana’ata are all Godde’s children. The book ends with a question: Where will these three races—all children of Godde—go from here? Children of God makes us think: what does it mean to be made in the image of Godde? To be Godde’s children? Do we really consider those who are “other” (different races, cultures, religions, or ethnicities) as Godde’s children? Would we use and exploit other people if we saw them as children of Godde, or would we radically change the way live as Jana’ata did?

Neil Gaiman creates London Below in Neverwhere: A Novel. A whole world lives beneath the streets of London in old tunnels long forgotten. London Below is populated by those who considered misfits by the inhabitants of London Above. The residents of London Below are seen as homeless, dirty, and destitute. The people of London Above do not even see them; they look right past them. The dwellers of London Below have to talk to them to be seen, but once the conversation is over, the London Abovers forget all about it. Those who reside in London Below are unseen and forgotten people. This challenges the reader to examine how we see people. How do we view those who are considered “misfits”? Do we look past them? Do we see them at all?

Both of these books remind me of the core church doctrine that every single human being on the face of this planet is made in Godde’s image. What do we do with this doctrine, once it is truly realized? Are we able to handle the responsibility this places upon us? What about those we take advantage of, simply because we can? Are there certain people who are invisible to us, who we look through on the street? Fiction has challenged me, throughout my life, to encounter these hard questions, and ask what it means to be human. Godde not only created every human being, but Godde created them in Godde’s own image. I must constantly remind myself to remember this, to live out what I believe.

Male and Female in the Image of Godde

Lately these questions about humanity have morphed into an examination of what it means to be made in the image of Godde as males and females. What does it mean to be a woman created in the image of Godde? What does this look like in our everyday lives?

I’m not sure I’ve found the answer in fiction. But I do know one image from a book that points me in the right direction: Eowyn and Merry in The Return of the King. They ride into battle together, fight together, and defend each other until they are both down. Eowyn does kill the King of the Nazgul, but she could never have done it without the help of Merry. When I think of men and women, made in the image of Godde, this is what I see. Brothers and sisters standing side by side, fighting the evil in our world that would belittle or ignore any person made in Godde’s image, and building Godde’s kingdom together.

This article was originally published in Christians for Biblical Equality’s E-Quality Newsletter, Winter 2008.

Empowering Women: My 10 Favorite Books, Part 2

Yesterday The day before yesterday (this will post at 12:16 a.m. argggg) I posted the first five books in my 10 favorite books that empowered me to be the woman Godde created me to be, and that I think will help other women become all Godde has called them to be. Here are the final five books.


The books in this list are scholarly and use a lot theological jargon, but I think they are worth the time it takes to read.

She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse by Elizabeth Johnson

This is the book that showed me I could explore the Divine Feminine and remain a Christian and true to my biblical roots. Johnson is the one who introduced Sophia into my religious life: Spirit-Sophia, Jesus-Sophia, and Mother-Sophia. This book showed me that women’s experience of the divine was just as valid as men’s (i. e. normative) experience. After reading this book I started seeing how women’s experience of Godde was marginalized and neglected.

In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins by Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza

For me Schüssler Fiorenza picked up where Johnson left off. Schüssler Fiorenza dives into how women’s roles and experiences were marginalized, suppressed, and lost to history. Her reconstruction of early Christianity focusing on female disciples and apostles, and the roles that the Bible and sacred history hint at, flesh out a “theological reconstruction of Christian origins.” This book continued to show me how much of Christian history is that: his. It made me realize how desperately we need to balance out our religious experiences, traditions, worship, and Godde-talk with women’s words, women’s experience, and re-discovering the Divine Feminine.

Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories by Tikva Frymer-Kensky

If you only have one scholarly, wordy book about the women of the Bible on your shelves, this is the one. Technically the Bible we’re talking about here is the Hebrew Scriptures. Frymer-Kensky was a Jewish scholar and Middle East Historian par excellence. As far as I’m concerned no one could pick apart of piece of Scripture in the Hebrew, put it back into English, then add the historical, sociological and cultural background and make me wonder what I can learn from this woman and how can I apply this to my life. In fact, the last chapter is “Mirror and Voices: Reading These Stories Today” helps us start thinking about how these women’s stories can possibly change our own lives and culture.

Unfortunately Dr. Frymer-Kensky passed away in 2006 after a four year battle with breast cancer. Her first book In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth would be #11 on this list. After reading her two books, I was devastated to find out that would be all I would read. I would love for her passion for Scripture, helping us see the hard truths we don’t want to acknowledge, and the hope of change her work still gives people to live on in a few more books. If you light candles to honor those who have passed on, please light a candle for Tikva.

Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context by Carol Meyers

As In Memory of Her reconstructed early Christian origins, Meyers book seeks to reconstruct the ancient Israelite culture the creation stories in Genesis spring from. Discovering Eve, published in 1998 seeks to show what women’s lives in ancient Israel were like as a result of recent archeological finds at the time. Rural villages had been unearthed, and with them, glimpses of women’s lives. Meyers sees Eve as an archetype: Everywoman in the Bible. She shows us what the typical woman’s life would have been like when the Genesis creation stories were being told orally from one family to the next, one tribe to the next. Starting with the typical life and working backwards to show how Adam and Eve as the ideal Everyman and Everywoman came to be and why the Israelites were living in a dry, arid land where eeking out enough crops to live on was so hard instead of living in the water rich Eden.

Meyers also gives an incredible translation of Genesis 3:16 that would revolutionize how we think about women and their roles in the home and society if anyone was interested in an accurate translation of the verse:

I will greatly increase your toil [work/labor] and your pregnancies;
(Along) with travail [physical work] shall you beget children
For to your man is your desire,
And he shall predominate over you.

Meyer’s theory is that not only will the women’s pregnancies increase, but the physical work she does will also increase. Meyers also makes the observation, that in context, the husband only predominates over the women, so that she will have children. Large families were needed to farm the dry, arid land, but with the large infant mortality rate (half of all children born did not live to their second birthday), and mother mortality, the woman would be hesitant to have sex. The husband could rule over her in this for the work that needed to be done to survive. Meyers points out that we no longer need large families to survive, and with modern birth control, the husband predominating over the woman is now a moot point. I think it’s a moot point since Jesus: Jesus came to reverse the curse, including this one. But Meyer’s additional reading of this verse, strictly in the verse’s context is absolutely brilliant.


The Saint Helena Breviary: Personal Edition

The Saint Helena BreviaryI will always be grateful to the Episcopalian nuns in the Order of St. Helena for this gender inclusive prayer book. The nuns chant the Daily Office: four services of prayer through the day that include Psalms, readings from the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament, and prayers. The nuns grew tired of the masculine-only language for Godde. Over a number of years they wrote liturgy and chanted; this breviary is the result. It’s imaginative language and poetic meter help me to see Godde in new ways.

Hopefully in the future there will be more resources for fairly orthodox Christian women using Divine Feminine language for Godde. A good friend of mine is creating a Sophia Daily Office (which I hope a publisher will have the guts to pick up), and I am working on The Christian Godde Project. We are translating the New Testament using Diving Feminine names and pronouns for Godde to begin to balance out the male language only versions (Heaven help us).

If you know of prayer, worship resources, or liturgies using Divine Feminine language, please leave them in the comments.

All book links are affiliate links.

Empowering Women: My 10 Favorite Books, Part 1

This is for the Day 2 Challenge, Write a List Post, for 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Challenge at The SITS Girls on BlogFrog.

For my list post(s) I have decided to give the 10 books that empowered me to be the woman and leader that Godde called me to be. This is the first post of two. I will post the second part including theology and worship books tomorrow.

Practical Books

All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today by Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty

This book was instrumental in helping me claim my life as my own as a leader in the church and as a single woman who didn’t know if she wanted to get married and have kids. I did get married, but I chose not to have children for the simple reason I am not called to be a mother (and The Hubby is just fine with being Uncle Tracy, thank Godde). This book gave me that option as a Christian woman. Scanzoni and Hardesty systematically take the reader through the Bible pointing out where mistranslations, mis-interpretations, and neglect have been used to caricature the women of the Bible as wives and mothers and nothing else. They lay solid biblical and theological groundwork for why women were created to be more than wives and mothers (without diminishing those roles: they are important!), and they illustrate how women were merchants, business women, spiritual and political leaders in The Hebrew Scriptures and The New Testament.

Ten Lies The Church Tells Women by J. Lee Grady

10 Lies the Church Tells WomenGrady, the former editor and now contributing editor for Charisma Magazine, systematically goes through the lies that most women grew up with in church:

        • God created women as inferior beings destined to serve their husbands.
        • A woman should view her husband as the “priest of the home.”
        • Women who exhibit strong leadership qualities pose a serious danger to the church.
        • Women can’t be fulfilled or spiritually effective without a husband and children.
        • Women shouldn’t work outside the home.

Grady goes through each lie telling how he has seen it effect women in many churches through the years, and giving women solid, conservative, biblical positions to stand on if and when Godde calls them to be leaders in their church or calls them to a secular vocation outside of the home. If you’re on the conservative side this is the book I recommend you start with. Grady has a high regard for the inerrancy of the Bible, and conservative women won’t feel like he is manipulating Scripture or putting traditions and world cultures ahead of the Bible.

Harlot by the Side of the Road by Jonathan Kirsch

This is one of my all-time favorite books, period. This book began when Kirsch, a Jew, decided to start reading The Hebrew Scriptures to his son at bedtime. He was amazed at the stories they hit not too far into Genesis: a drunk and naked Noah. He went on to discover adultery, gang rape, incest, and war. He didn’t remember any of this from when he learned the stories as a child, so he began investigating the forbidden tales of the Bible and out came this wonderful book. These are the stories that all of us who claim The First Testament as our holy scriptures want to leave out. Here are a few of the chapter titles to give you an idea of the forbidden tales he uncovers:

  • Life Against Death: The Sacred Incest of Lot’s Daughters
  • The Woman Who Willed Herself into History: Tamar as the Harlot by the Side of the Road
  • The Bridegroom of Blood: Zipporah as the Goddess-Rescuer of Moses
  • God and Gyno-sadism: Heroines and Martyrs in the Book of Judges

This well researched book is very accessible to readers who are not scholars and theologians. Kirsch helps us see some of the women in the Bible who have been considered as sexually loose or whores in a new light. He also helps us to see how we, as people of The Book, can start navigate the abuse and violence of our world in a biblical context.


Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber

Here’s what people don’t realize about women working and financially supporting their families: women’s work drove the ancient economy. Women’s work, weaving and textiles, fueled the ancient economy of trading. The money women made from their looms was their own to manage how they saw fit. Women have always worked to support their families. It’s just in the first 20,000 years almost everyone worked from home (with the exceptions of soldiers and traders). Men used to work from home to support families too up until Industrial Age divided work and home into two separate spheres. Wayland Barber shows how women’s work made trade and ancient economy go round. I found the history and her research fascinating. It is also a very accessible book: you don’t have to have a specialized vocabulary or a degree in history to read this book. Here are two of my favorite excerpts.

We also have many letters that the traders’ wives wrote to them from far away in Ashur, the capital of Assyria [Syria]–letters not just about how the family was getting along, but also about business matters. For at least some of the wives, daughters, and sisters were in business for themselves, acting as textile suppliers to their menfolk six hundred miles away in Anatolia [Turkey] and taking considerable profit therefrom to use for their own purposes (p. 169).

In the early layers of the Late Bronze Age sites in Israel…we suddenly begin to find locally made clay imitations of Egyptian fiber-wetting bowls, developed for just this purpose [splicing and twining linen]. The appearance of these humble textile tools, used only by women, alerts us that this is a time when women had just arrived in Palestine from Egypt in considerable numbers and settled there–and there is no other such time that we have found. Thus out of the several points in Egyptian history that scholars gave suggested for the date of the Exodus, the women’s artifacts tell us that this one (around 1500 to 1450 B. C.) is the archaelologically (sic) most probable layer to equate with their Exodus from Egypt (p. 254).

A Woman’s Place: House Churches In Earliest Christianity by Carolyn Osiek, Margaret Y. MacDonald with Janet H. Tulloch

This is a more scholarly book but well worth the time it takes to read. Osiek, et. al. unearth the structures of ancient households and the churches meeting within them during the first 300 years of Chrisitianity before the Christian religion was legalized and churches began to be built. One of the reasons given that women should not be pastors and bishops is that a woman’s sphere of influence should be the home. But the early churches met in homes where the matriarch of the family ruled. The authors show how much responsibility women had within in their homes and how much power they wielded within their homes, which translates into women having power within the churches that met in their homes.

All book links are affliate links.

Thank you to Elizabeth Ferree at The Life of a Home Mom for giving me the idea for this list post! (She’s @homemom3 on Twitter.) Actually I took two of her ideas for a list post and crunched them together, and it got me excited to write this post. This is a first time in a long time I’ve been excited about writing a post. Thank you Elizabeth! And thank you to The SITS Girls for putting together the blog challenge, so we can encourage and inspire each other!

The Power of Story

In stories, the subconscious mind gives voice to some of its most deeply cherished longings. In myths and legends, men and women make desperate attempts to tell one another who they are, why they are here, where they are going, and what they are meant to do. –Jim Ware, God of the Fairy Tale: Finding Truth in the Land of Make-Believe*

I was frightened, and I tried to heal my fear with stories, stories which gave me courage, stories which affirmed that utlimately love is stronger than hate. If love is stronger than hate, then war is not all there is. I wrote, and I illustrated my stories. At bedtime, my mother told me more stories. And so story helped me to learn to live. Story was in no way an evasion of life, but a way of living life creatively instead of fearfully. –Madeline L’Engle, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (Wheaton Literary Series)*

Stories have always been important to me, to who I am. I have read stories since I learned to read, and before that my mother told me stories. One of the first stories I remember writing was in the second grade. The only thing I remember is that it was set on Venus–we were studying the solar system in science.

I think the reason I prefer fiction to nonfiction is you can say things in a story that is harder to say in an article. You can challenge the status quo and confront issues from the side instead of head on. I think story carries more power and truth than an article based on fact. We have confused fact and truth: they are not the same thing, and they cannot always be equated. Facts and datum are just one part of truth–one facet. Not everything can be quantified and qualified by scientific method. I think that is the main reason that literalist Christians who have to prove the Bible as fact irritate me. Godde and her acts in this world cannot be reduced to mere facts and datum. And that does not make Godde or her actions any less true.

Story has the power to make you admit you are not the person you want to be. In story we can admit to what we really want and what we’re really looking for. It’s a safe haven, a sanctuary. There we can admit what our wildest longings and passions are, and it’s okay. I have learned more about God and life through story than I ever have through facts thrown at me about how God exists, and here’s the time line (or insert another chart) to prove it. I have learned more about who I am and who I want to be through story than through any other means. There is a reason why 60% of the Bible is narrative or story. We live in our stories. Life does not happen in one set of equations to another set of facts to another set of definitions. Life happens in living with each other, our stories overlapping, and growing into new and different stories.

I like to write nonfiction, but there is a reason why I write creative nonfiction: I need a story. But truth be told, I will always be  more at home in fiction than nonfiction, and fiction will always be my first choice when it comes to writing. (Hmmm may be I really do need to balance working on fiction and nonfiction more. May be I would write more of both if I wrote my first love along with the second. Is it possible to work on both a novel and nonfiction book at the same time?)

Here’s the last of my storytelling rambling: Nothing beats a good story…except for writing a good story.

(Originally posted on July 22, 2006. Sometimes you need to read back over old blog posts to remind yourself what you’re really supposed be to doing.)

*Affiliate links

Dear Blog: It all boils down to this–your mistress is a total flake

My dear neglected blog:

I know you don’t feel dear or loved or even somewhat liked. Because I’m so rarely here. I so rarely write and post. I procrastinate. I neglect you. I even ignore you. I’m so sorry. You see…I’m not just a flake–I am a huge, bigger than life FLAKE. I had to admit it after reading Sonia Simone’s post: The Complete Flake’s Guide to Getting Things Done. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Are you smart and motivated and passionate, and have lots of cool things you’d like to get done, but somehow when it comes to doing them, you just . . . don’t?

Are you great at ideas but lousy at execution? Talk a good game but don’t get any results? Spend a lot of time thinking about where you want to go, but not much time actually moving your ass down the road that would take you there?

You, my friend, are a flake. Congratulations. We are a worldwide force. If we could all get ourselves moving in the same direction, we would change the world. However, that will never happen.

I’m sure you’re recognizing several behaviors. I have grand plans for you, but I never quite get around to writing and posting. I am so passionate about how you could change how we think about the women and the Bible and tell the real story of women working outside the home, but then I hesitate; I doubt; I procrastinate; and then I find something else to do (yes, yes, I know Twitter is an addiction, and I don’t blame you for being jealous of all the time I spend there). Yes, I talk a good game but I don’t get any results, and you my dear friend remain neglected.

But don’t worry. Sonia has words of advice and help for flakes like me:

The Plan in 7 Reasonably Painless Steps

1. When you’ve got something to do, figure out what you really want to get out of it.

2. Do the pivotal technique. Think about what you want, then get clear about where you are right this minute. Notice the difference.

3. Figure out the next action.

4. Do what you feel like.

5. Rinse, lather, repeat.

6. Start a compost pile for ideas, notes, plans and insights.

7. Stick to three or four primary areas of focus.

So dear blog, I want you to know I am taking Sonia’s steps, and that you are one of my primary area of focus. I am going to find ways to be a flake and still get things done. I am going to find ways to be a flake, show my love for you, and write regular posts to show my love. Because I know you are tired of empty words and broken promises. But I’ve taken my first step. I’ve admitted that I have a problem: I’m a total and hopeless flake. And instead of changing that, I need to learn how to work with it. So dearest blog, I promise to stop turning away and use Sonia’s 7 Reasonable Painless Steps to show the attention and love that you deserve. You deserve to be updated regularly and marketed to shine as the gem I know you are.

Thank you for giving another chance (again).

Your humble flake,
Shawna R. B. Atteberry

Company Girl Coffee 9/18/09

Company Girl logo

This week I realized how important and vital self-care is. So Important! I did not realize this until Wednesday. After last month’s bout of depression, My Fantabulous Hubby decided I needed some pampering. So he bought me a spa day. Oh. My Goodness. I have never felt so relaxed or in body ever. And I feel so much better even two days later. I’m still relaxed and at peace. My mind is not racing like it normally does. I really have to prioritize taking care of myself. It makes such a huge difference.

My major epiphany is that I HAVE to take care better care of myself. Self-care has to be a priority, a top priority, and not something I do if I have time. Major, major revelations on how badly I treat my body, and that has to change.

I love how my friend Hiro put this on another friend, Havi’s, blog:

When the care and cultivation of your life is your first priority, your kingdom flourishes, far from the clash and clamor of marching bands, armies or shoes hurled in any direction. Flourishing kingdoms nourish the world around them, the way a river nourishes the land through which it flows–and are nourished by it in turn.

(If you’re wondering “Sovereignty? What the heck is she talking about?” Havi had two marvelous posts up on handling people who throw shoes at us, Destuckifying When the Shoes Are Flying and Sovereignty Casserole. And More About Shoes. If you’re not following both of these wonderful women, you really should be.

I’m preaching Sunday, and the sermon is going well. I’ve really enjoyed researching the Proverbs 31 Woman, and now I need to make some decisions and write the sermon. I’m not totally freaking out, which is the normal Friday procedure. So that’s good. Some of my musings on the Proverbs 31 Woman can be find here and here. After coffee hour Sunday, two psychologists in our church are going to be talking about spirituality and mental health (this is Mental Health Awareness month). I’m really looking forward to it.

I also said no to something I could have went to tomorrow, and I wanted to go to, but it was just going to crunch things up too much. So I said no, so I wouldn’t be freaking out about the sermon and how much I’m behind. Very glad I did that.

I started Charles de Lint’s new book last night, The Mystery of Grace. Charles is one of my favorite writers, and I am so happy for a new book. The man can weave worlds and characters like no one else.

I had a really good week, and I am thankful for it. How was your week?

(There are no affliate links in this post.)

What I'm Reading

I am working through Problogger’s 31 Day to a Better Blog, which I am hoping will make me a more consistent blogger as well as a better blogger. Today’s assignment is a list blog, so I decided to share with you what I am reading.

Books I Just Finished

Books I’m in Various Stages of Reading

On the four books I’m reading, so far so good. Well, Julia’s book rocks, but that doesn’t surprise anyone does it?

What are you reading? Any books you suggest I put on my “To Read” list?

Reflections on Leaving Ordained Life

I recently finished reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith. I’m so glad I read it. Although we left ordination for different reasons, our experience of leaving overlaps in a lot of places: The slamming realization that you can’t go on. The shame and guilt of not being able to suck it up and go on. The disorientation of what do I do now? Who am I? All those years for what? What will people think? What do I say?

The painful and brutal wilderness after making the decision. The loss of purpose. To her the loss of the institutional power and her collar and the identity it gave her. For both of us the loss of what to do now that we aren’t “chosen.” Handling being one of the masses instead of The Pastor and The Priest. Both of us have religious educations we can’t do much with outside of the church.

I was so excited when I read this in the wee hours a couple of weeks ago:

There was no sense of seeking another position at another church if my problem was with the institution, and besides, I did not want to move. How and where I lived had become more important to me than what I did for a living (emphasis mine).

Yes! That’s me! I have no desire to leave Chicago. I love the South Loop. I love the people. I love my view of Lake Michigan and watching the sailboats on the lake. I love that Grant Park in one block away. I love our condo and our life. To continue to be a Nazarene pastor, I would have had to move. I have felt guilty for that. But I have found someone else who felt the same way. “How and where I lived had become more important to me than what I did for a living.” Yes. For me too.

I also feel called to minister, right here, in the South Loop. This is where I am called to be. This is where I am called to live, to walk, to shop. This where I am called to pastor, to minister, and to worship. I always said flippantly that if The Church of the Nazarene wouldn’t let me do what God called me to do, I would leave. I just didn’t realize how hard, painful, and disorienting it would be. Like Barbara, I didn’t realize how much of my identity was wrapped up in being “a pastor.” I didn’t realize how angry and bitter I would be to realize I spent 13 years working my ass of to be ordained, only to be ordained for four years. Were those wasted years? May be not. It’s nice to know I’m not the only who has felt these things and wondered the same thoughts.

It is time to move on. Like her I love the idea of being part of the priesthood of all believers and the freedom that gives me. And I need to stop being scared of that freedom.

Related posts

A Year of Loss and New Beginnings

(There are affliate links in the post.)

Biblical Women Who Didn't Submit: Abigail

Conservative and fundamentalist Christians of the extreme kind are getting some press right now. It’s due to Kathryn Joyce’s new book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Articles by Kathryn or reviews of her book have appeared on NPR, Mother Jones, Salon, Religion Dispatches, Feministing, Feminste, Pandagon, and Emerging Women. Members of the Quiverfull movement are biblical literalists who believe families should have as many children as God gives to them. (The name quiverfull comes from Psalm 127:3-5: “Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.”) They do not use artificial birth control, and have families as large as 20. They homeschool their children. There are strict gender roles: men work and the public square is their place. Women are to be homemakers and  mothers. Their sphere is to be in the home. And of course, wives are to be totally submissive to their husbands. The husbands are the high priests and heads of their homes. Their wives must always defer to them. In the May/April issue of Mother Jones, Kathryn Joyce’s “The Purpose-Driven Wife” discusses another fundamentalist group (not part of the Quiverfull Movement) that gives the classic complementarian view of a submissive wife and mother:

[The wife’s] priorities may include rising early to feed the family, being available anytime to satisfy a husband’s desires (barring a few “ungodly” or “homosexual” acts), seeking his approval regarding work, appearance, and leisure, and accepting that he has the “burden” of final say in arguments. After a wife has respectfully appealed her spouse’s decision-a privilege she should not abuse-she must accept his final answer as “God’s will for her at that time,” Peace advises. The godly wife must also suppress selfish desires (for romance, a career, an equitable marriage), practice addressing her spouse in soothing tones, and maintain a private log of bitter thoughts to guide her repentance. “If you disobey your husband,” Peace admonishes in The Excellent Wife, “you are indirectly shaking your fist at God.”

According to them the Bible says so. Actually the Bible says so in three verses out of the entire canon. Twice in Paul’s letters and once in 1 Peter we read that wives are to submit to their husbands. But we see a different picture when we read about the women in the Bible. They did not submit in all things to their husbands. In fact some of them defied their husbands and did what was best for their families and households. It was a very good thing that Abigail did not submit in all things to her husband, Nabal. If she had she would have been slaughtered. Her story is found 1 Samuel 25.

A Decisive Woman

Abigail’s husband was Nabal. Immediately we know the man is going to do something stupid: Nabal means fool. And Nabal does not disappoint us. David has not been crowned king yet. At this time he is on the run from Israel’s king Saul. David and his band of mercenaries protect shepherds from wild animals and bandits. In return, when the landowner sheered the sheep and feasted at the end of the season, he would feed and give gifts of food to David and his men. Nabal, not only decides he’s not going to pay up, he adds insult upon insult about David. David has 400 warriors, and he is angry. He decides that he is going to kill Nabal and his household.

One of Nabal’s slaves who heard what Nabal said to David’s messenger goes to Abigail. He tells her what happened. Now if Abigail would have been the submissive wife that Martha Peace thinks all women should be, Abigail would have submitted to her husband’s idiocy, been resigned to her fate, made her peace with God and waited for David and his men to wipe out her household. But Abigail did not submit: she made a decision and acted quickly.

Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys and said to her young men, “Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. As she rode on the donkey and came down under cover of the mountain, David and his men came down toward her; and she met them (1 Samuel 25:18-20).

The next two verses tell us: “David had said, ‘Surely it was in vain that I protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; but he has returned me evil for good. God do so to David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.'” The English translation waters down David’s actual vow: “God do so to David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male who can piss against a wall to him” (Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories by Tikva Frymer-Kensky, 317-18).*  In very vulgar language we see David’s rage as he vows to wipe out Nabal’s entire household.

A Wise and Strong Woman

Abigail meets David on his way to fulfill his oath. The first thing she does is get down from her donkey and fall on her face before David. Now we find out what kind of woman Abigail is: she is a wise woman. She embodies Lady Wisdom from Proverbs 1–8.

‘Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt; please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. My lord, do not take seriously this ill-natured fellow Nabal; for as his name is, so is he; Nabal* is his name, and folly is with him; but I, your servant, did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent.

Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, since the Lord has restrained you from blood-guilt and from taking vengeance with your own hand, now let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be like Nabal. And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. Please forgive the trespass of your servant; for the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord; and evil shall not be found in you as long as you live. If anyone should rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living under the care of the Lord your God; but the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. When the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you prince over Israel, my lord shall have no cause of grief, or pangs of conscience, for having shed blood without cause or for having saved himself. And when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant (1 Samuel 25:24-31).

Abigail first offers to take David’s oath and God’s judgment on herself. Oaths were taken very seriously, and David had said that God’s wrath could come down on him if he didn’t kill every man in Nabal’s household. In order for David to save face in front of his men, Abigail took God’s wrath on her own head. She is willing for the curse to fall on her if David will hear her out.

She goes on to tell David not to mind her husband: he is named “Fool,” and he is a fool. Abigail had not known of the servants he sent or their request, or she would have sent him the food and gifts he had earned. Her wisdom now kicks into high gear. She tells David that she knows he will be king of Isreal, and she doesn’t want anyone to be able to hold anything against him. If he kills Nabal and their household there will be blood guilt. Nabal is a powerful and wealthy in the southern part of Israel, and some could accuse David of killing him and his family to gain power and further his own career. When David comes into power there should be no blood guilt or doubt that God has called him and made him king.

She assures David that God will take care of his enemies, and to let God deal with Nabal. Not only is Abigail a wise woman, but she also becomes a prophetic voice in this story. She assures David that he is God’s anointed, and that he will be king of Israel.

Prophet and Deliverer

David listens to her, and decides she is right. He praises Abigail for coming, being Lady Wisdom, and staying his hand. He accepts her gifts and leaves.

Abigail returns home. Nabal is drunk, and she waits until the next morning to tell him what happened. The next day she tells Nabal what she did. She told him of how she met David and prevented him from killing Nabal and their entire household. Nabal was so shocked he became paralyzed and ten days later he died (the general consensus is he had a stroke). After Nabal died, David “wooed” her and purposed marriage to her. Abigail accepted.

Abigail was a wise and strong woman who could make quick decisions and act on them. Her wisdom, diplomacy, and stength save herself and her household. She also kept David from slaughtering innocent people due to his rage with one man. An act that could have cost him the kingship of Israel. Unfortunately after Abigail marries David and become part of an ever growing harem, she disappears. But she reminds us that God gave women wisdom, strength, and power to protect not only their own lives, but the lives of those around them. God gave women the reason and capacity to make decisions, especially when their husbands decisions would have meant certain disaster.

* I cannot recommend Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories highly enough. Dr. Frymer-Kensky does an excellent job of putting bibilical women in their social and historical setting. Her translations and grasp of ancient semitic languages is amazing, and she’s a wonderful storyteller. She was an incredible woman with an incredible mind and died much too young. I also recommend her first book, In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth. In this book she explores how the Bible’s idea of men and women being made in the image of God is a very different take on humanity and the relationships of men and women than the rest of the ancient world had.

All biblical quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version.

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Lent: Journeying thru the Hollows and Empty Spaces

This has been a time of reflection for me. Normally by this time in Lent, I am just ready for Easter to get here and be done and over with it. But not this year. This year I am not minding staying in the self-examination of Lent. I’ve journeyed through this Lent with Jan Richardson’s Garden of Hollows: Entering the Mysteries of Lent and Easter. It’s been a journey of acknowledging my hollows, my empty spaces, and the wounds that need healing. A Year of Loss and New Beginnings came out of this reflection. I needed to write about what happened last year. I needed to tell my side of the story. It was necessary for that wound to heal.

I have lived with hollows of depression, fear, anxiety, weakness, and procrastination. And it’s been okay. I haven’t gotten lost in them. They aren’t big canyons that I can never crawl out of. They are hollows, but there is an ascending side as well as descending. I have experienced a great deal of peace this month. It’s okay to admit to my problems and weaknesses. It’s okay to live with them and just let them be. It has been a time of letting go. Letting go of the demons that drive me that shouldn’t.

Not that the demons have gone any where. But their voices are not as loud. I’m not procrastinating as much. Fear is not freezing me as often. I’m having more ideas, and I am writing more. I’m exploring. I’m going to be taking some risks. It feels good.

This last week of Lent will be spent quietly. I plan on continuing daily prayer and centering prayer, letting myself breath, and allowing my hollows just to be. I plan on writing and posting, cooking and laundry, community time and solitude. And I’ll see where me and my hollows are on Easter.