Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Editor, Researcher

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

Sermon: The God of the Dead

The God of the Dead
The Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A
Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-42

The rocking chair was old, but it had been well made, and it’s structure was solid. It had been handmade, and made well. Unfortunately subsequent owners didn’t know what to do with wood. The layers upon layers of paint testified to that. Why did people paint over perfectly good wood? Hadn’t they any sense? It was her summer project. She set it out on her screened in back porch. It was going to take a lot of paint remover to get the layers upon layers of paint off, and she’d need plenty of ventilation. She was also going to need plenty of Q-tips to get the paint out of the grooves, the ridges, and the hand chiseled design on the back. But that was okay. She was a patient woman, and she had the perfect place in her living room for the rocking chair. Day after day she smoothed the paint remover on and wiped it off, humming quietly to herself. She patiently removed the paint in the grooves, ridges and carvings with Q-tips. The wood–the real wood–was beginning to show through. It was a beautiful mahogany, it’s red undertones still vibrant. Who in their right mind would paint over this? she continually thought. Finally, it was done. All the paint was off. The wood was dull and looked lifeless, but not for long. She carefully sanded it. She had to go to three different hardware stores, but she finally found varnish that matched the tone of the wood perfectly. She put on two coats of varnish, letting it dry in between. Then she waxed it to a shine. It looked new. It was no longer the old beat-up, glumly painted rocker that she had nearly stolen for $15 at a garage sale. It looked liked the handcrafted antique that it was. No telling, what she could get for it if she wanted to sell it. But that she wouldn’t do. She was now going to enjoy the fruits of her labor. She picked up the rocking chair, eased it through the back door and placed it in the living room next to her big picture window. It would be a wonderful place to read, to crochet, or just to watch TV in the evening. Everyone who came over oohed and ahhed over it. Including the woman she bought it from. The woman she bought it from never believed that the red mahogany rocker was the same battered up rocker she had just wanted to get rid of.

Some people have the ability to see something beyond what it is to what it could be. There are also people who have the ability to see beyond what a person is to what he or she could be. Jesus was one of these people. He saw beyond tax collectors, sinners, and prostitutes to people God loved and God could transform. He saw beyond reputations–good in Nicodemus’ case, not-so-good in the Samaritan woman’s case–to the heart and offered to them what they really needed. Like God, Jesus never gave up on anyone: even the dead.

But let’s begin with God who didn’t give up on Israel, even after their idolatry and trampling on each other put them into slavery. In fact, the people thought they were dead and in their graves. But God doesn’t give up on them. At the beginning of Ezekiel’s ministry God called him to call the people to repentance, so that they would not go into exile. But the people did not listen and Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. In the second half of his ministry, God called Ezekiel to reassure the people that God was still their God and still with them. Our passage today is one of the strongest statements God makes to the Jews in exile, and one of the most mind blowing promises in Scripture.

In a vision Ezekiel sees a field of dried, strewn out bones. It looks as if they died in battle, no one buried them. This was an ancient way of making sure people didn’t move onto the next world after death. This is how the Jews saw themselves. They were in captivity, and their land was gone. They had no hope. But God gives Ezekiel a vision, an incredible vision. These bones that have been lying in this valley for so long they are now dried up are commanded to life. And God doesn’t just do it. God tells Ezekiel to prophesy and tell these bones to come together, for flesh to form and muscles to develop. God worked through the prophet God had called instead of just doing it. When God renews life, restores life, resurrects life, God wants to work with us.

After the bones have bodies, they are still not living. So God commands Ezekiel to command the wind–God’s Spirit–to come and breathe life into the bodies. This would remind Ezekiel’s audience of the creation story in Genesis when God made the human out of clay and breathed life into the body. Now through a prophet’s word God’s Spirit comes and breathes life into the bodies that have raised from “dem dry bones.” Then Ezekiel is to tell the exiles just as God raised a living army from these dry bones, so God will restore the people to their land. They will once again be a nation, in their land. They are not without hope. They are not dead in their graves. God still loves them and restores them to their original covenant with God.

Whereas God restored and resurrected a nation that had been destroyed, in our New Testament reading, Jesus will resurrect a friend and restore him to his family. John tells us that Jesus loves Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. They have a close friendship. So it is surprising when Jesus does not go when Martha and Mary send news that Lazarus is sick. Jesus waits two days and then travels to Bethany. When he gets there, Lazarus has been dead and buried for four days. Martha meets Jesus before he gets to the house and tells him that she knows her brother would not have died if Jesus had been there. She goes on to tell Jesus that even now she knows God will grant whatever Jesus asks. Martha and Jesus go on to have this conversation:

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

Whereas Peter has the ultimate confession of Jesus being the Messiah in the other three Gospels, in John, it is Martha who gives the ultimate confession of faith. She is the one who proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son that God has sent into the world. She also makes this confession before Jesus raises Lazarus. In John this is the faith that is true, the faith that Jesus is looking for. Faith that believes that Jesus is the Son of God apart from the miracles and signs.

After this Martha goes to Mary and tells her that Jesus wants to see her. Mary goes to Jesus and tells him the same thing Martha said: Lazarus would not be dead if Jesus had been there to heal him. Then they go to the tomb. At the tomb Jesus is greatly troubled and angry. He is angry because God hates the things that destroy us. Jesus came to make sure that sin and death no longer had the last word. In fact, this is the last event in his public ministry. After this Jesus prepares for his “hour,” his death, and tries to prepare the disciples as well. Jesus decides that death will not have the last word with Lazarus and his sisters. Jesus orders the stone to be removed from the front of the tomb. The always practical Martha reminds Jesus that Lazarus has been in the grave for four days–there will be a stench. Jesus reminds her of what he told her when she met him on the road to her house. If she believes she will see the glory of God.

The stone is removed, and Jesus calls out “Lazarus, come forth!” Do you ever wonder how many people in the crowd fainted when Lazarus actually stumbled out of the tomb? Once again God’s people are told to help: they unbind Lazarus from the burial clothes he is wrapped in.

In both stories something or someone is given new life: Israel in Ezekiel and Lazarus in John. In both stories we see that God does not like the things that destroy God’s people: sin, death, and destruction. We also see that God chooses to work through God’s people: through Ezekiel, through those who rolled back the stone, and through those that removed Lazarus’ bindings. God also uses us to restore and bring new life into our worlds. These stories remind us that God has never stopped creating and re-creating. God still restores and gives new life. These stories tell us that God alone is life, and that God hates death and destruction. And God uses God’s people, God uses us, to continue to re-create, restore, and give new life to the world God created. Earlier in John Jesus said that God never stops working. God never stops working in the world, and God never stops working in us and through us to make us the people God wants us to be and to continue building God’s kingdom in this world.

Blast from the Past: The Biblical Family?

This was originally published on 10/12/2006.

Abraham had two children with two different women. Isaac and Rachel had two children. Jacob has at least 13 children, 7 of them with Leah. What does the “typical biblical family” look like? It’s hard to tell by the patriarchs. Abraham had a wife and a concubine. Isaac and Rachel were monogamous regardless of the number of children they could produce. Then there’s Jacob with two wives, two concubines, and a brood of kids. I think it’s safe to say that there is no one “typical” family model in the Bible no matter how much some conservative Evangelicals want there to be. The New Testament is even foggier with Jesus changing the rules about family. In fact he redefined family saying “Whoever does the will of my Mother who is in heaven is my sister, my brother, my mother” (Matthew 12:15, NT: Divine Feminine Version). He also didn’t go in for putting family above all else mentality that we see in conservative evangelicalism. He said no one could put their family above him and still call themselves a disciple of Christ. This redefinition of family continues through the New Testament as the Church, the body of Christ, becomes family. Paul mentions several family members “in the Lord,” but he doesn’t mention one biological family member in his writing. We only know Paul had a sister and nephew thanks to Luke. We know Priscilla and Aquila were married, but we have no idea if they had kids: Paul and Luke never say. Then there’s Paul and Jesus–neither of them even bothered to marry. It also appears that Barnabas, Lydia, and Timothy were all single as well. And yet they are part of the body of Christ, part of the family of God.

When we see family in the biblical and Middle Eastern sense of the word, it is not the nuclear family we are used to. Family was the extended family, which usually lived together, may be not in one dwelling, but all of their houses or tents were right next to each other. When a son married, the parents built a room on top of their house for the couple. The couple then moved in. The family was run by the oldest living male–the patriarch–and everyone lived together: parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and children. This was family in the Old Testament and New Testament. In Acts we also see the concept of household, which included all the relatives plus the servants and slaves. How many people were added to the body of Christ when Cornelius and his whole household repented and were baptized? His wife (or wives), children, relatives, servants and slaves? Lydia’s household also were baptized. Who all did that include? Lydia’s relatives? An aged mother or grandmother, siblings, nieces, or nephews? Then there were her servants and slaves, all of whom repented and were baptized. Lydia’s household became the first church in Europe (Acts 16). Households and families were very different than the Western nuclear family. In fact, in many parts of the world, this is what family and households look like today. Not even Christians in other countries will agree with the American Evangelical definition of “family.”

There is a reason I’m bringing all of this up. I have seen a couple of articles about larger families starting to be more common than the typical 2-3 child norm our society worships. Of course these larger families are looked down upon, especially the mothers who decided that this is what they wanted: to have a large family. On the other end of the spectrum are couples like my husband and I. We’ve chosen not to have children. Both of these decisions should be fine with the church along with those who have chosen to remain single. All of these families are represented in the Bible. My husband and I should not be classified as “selfish” because we’ve chosen not to have the culturally accepted family. Neither should women like Leslie Leland Fields, who wrote, The Case for Kids at Christianity Today, be judged on why she and her husband have six children. In the article Leslie talked about the reaction outside of the church her big family receives, but I can see raised eyebrows in the church foyer when they walk by as well. It is more acceptable in the church for a larger family because we see children as a blessing from God. But I still have heard comments about “what were they thinking” directed at couples with a lot of children.

Back to my end of the spectrum: please do not believe that because I don’t have children that means I hate them or don’t want to be around them. I love children. And every child needs at least one adult in their life who shares their life and hangs out with them because they want to and not because they have to. I love being that person. I love being Aunt Shawna. When I told this to one of my friends, Virginia, she absolutely agreed. That meant a lot to me because Virginia is a mother (she has two kids), and she is called to children’s ministry: she’s a children’s pastor. I take very seriously the part of the infant dedication or infant baptism where the pastor turns to the congregation and asks the congregation to do all they can to help the parents raise their children in Christ and in the Church. When I say, “I will,” I mean it. I will do anything I can to help parents raise their children to know the love and grace of Jesus. Whether they have two, six, or ten, no set of parents can raise children by themselves: they need the church; they need a community. This was something the extended family provided in the Bible: parents weren’t all on their own raising a family. This is also the way neighborhoods used to be: the entire street helped parents raise their kids. It wasn’t a Lone Ranger thing.

In her book Real Sex, Lauren Winner points out that both singleness and married life teach the church about God and her kingdom. Marriage teaches us about God’s love for us, the church. Marriage teaches us what faithfulness in a relationship looks like. It also teaches us about forgiveness and compromise. Just as marriage is not easy, it is not always easy to be part of the community, and it’s not always easy to be in a relationship with God. Singleness teaches the church utter dependence on God. Singles don’t have a partner always there to help. They have to depend on God for their intimacy. They teach us that there should always be an empty spot in our lives for God alone. They also remind us that in the end the only marriage is between Christ and his Church, and all of us will be siblings. Our primary relationship with each other is not as spouses, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. Before our marriage vows are our baptismal vows. Before we married, we were a sister or brother to our spouse.

Let’s take this a step further for families of all kinds. Large families teach us we don’t always get what we want in community. Siblings may have to share bedrooms and toys. They can’t hog the bathroom or the computer. They also have to conserve: their clothes will go to the next sibling. They have to learn to share. They also have to learn to compromise. They know life isn’t all about them when there are younger siblings too play with and care for.

Childless families remind us that we don’t always get what we want. Not all of us are called to be parents, just like not all are called to be parents to a large family. Childless families remind the church that family is a much larger concept than those who live under our roofs. We also remind the families with children that they don’t have to go it alone. We are here to help. We spend time with their kids because we want to. We also remind the church that marriage is not for children alone: we can use our marriages to build the kingdom of God. Childless couples have more time and resources for short-term mission trips, giving to those in need, and in helping the families at church raise their children in a godly way.

All of us together show the world what the kingdom God is like. It’s like the single person who depends on God for the intimacy she or he craves when they crawl into their bed alone every night. It’s like the married couple who does not let the sun go down on their anger and works through their argument to reconciling peace before they go to the bed. It’s like the family with two children who show us how important it is to know our limits and to do what is best for the entire family. It is like the family who has six children and teaches us that life does not revolve around us: we have to share, we don’t always have to space we want, and there are others who need us. All of this is what it looks like to be part of the church, part of the family of God.

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.

(more…)

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

Rev. Laura Grimes officiating Mass

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

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

It’s because I keep reading things like this:

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

Why I Wish I Had Gone to College by Young Mom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is God’s good design.

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

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

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

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

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

Women’s & Men’s Work

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

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

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

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

What the Bible Really Says

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

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

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

The time for lies is over.

That’s not what the Bible says.

It never has been. It never will be.

Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down Podcasts

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

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

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

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

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

Stop listening to the lies

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

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

Don’t listen to lies. Buy Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down and learn what Godde and the Bible really say about women by clicking the button below.
Buy Now

Paul Was Not an Evil Misogynist: Podcast with Mark Mattison

photo © 2007 Francois Bester | more info (via: Wylio)Earl

A lot of people blame Paul when part of the Christian Church claims that man is the head of the women and the head of the home , and, therefore, cannot hold leadership positions in the church. They say Paul said that:

Men are the head of women & the head of the home.
Paul told women to be quiet in church.
Paul told women they couldn’t teach men.

Too bad for them Paul didn’t say all these things. Paul’s words are interpreted to say these things, but that’s not what Paul actually said.

Earlier this year I posted on why the Apostle Paul was not the evil misogynist he’s cracked up to be. I looked at the verses in 1 Corinthians 11 that are normally used to keep women subordinated to men, and out of leadership positions, and showed that the passage can be translated to empower women instead of marginalize them. My friend, Mark Mattison, posted on the same subject at The Christian Godde Project over the weekend. In this podcast on Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down, we talked about Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church and why a few verses cannot be taken out of either letter to be what Godde meant for all time. Here are the verses we’ll be talking about this podcast:

Now I praise you, sisters and brothers, that you remember me in all things, and hold firm the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.

<You say:> ”But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christa, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christa is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head unveiled dishonors her head. For it is one and the same thing as if she were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to have his head covered, because he is the image and radiance of Godde, but the woman is the radiance of the man. For man is not from woman, but woman from man; for neither was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.”

But the woman ought to have liberty over her head because after all she will judge the angels. The point is, neither is the woman independent of the man, nor the man independent of the woman, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, so a man also comes through a woman; but all things are from Godde. Judge for yourselves. “Is it appropriate that a woman pray to Godde unveiled?” Doesn’t even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her instead of a covering. But if any man seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither do Godde’s communities (1 Corinthians 11:2-6, DFV).

Mark Mattison

Mark is an independent scholar who was the founder and is still a contributor at The Paul Page, which keeps up with all the scholarship coming out on the Apostle Paul (no small task). Mark is also one of the founding members of The Christian Godde Project and the general editor of The Divine Feminine Version New Testament. Mark and his family live on the wrong side of Lake Michigan in Michigan (key words: lake effect snow) where they get a whole lot more snow than we do on the right side of  Lake Michigan in Chicago.

Podcast: MarkMatthison1Corinthians11.wav

Find out what Paul really said about women keeping silent and not teaching men when you buy Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down. (Hint: Paul wasn’t talking about all women for all time. He was talking to very specific troublemakers in very specific congregations.)

Buy Now

The third full length podcast with Sandi Amorin will be posted next Monday (10/3)!

The So-called "Biblical" Marry a Strong-ER Christian Man Myth

I regularly do searches on Twitter to see what people are talking about within the world of Christiandom, especially when it comes to women. Some form of this tweet pops up on a regular basis:

If u r a strong Christian woman, marry a strong-ER Christian man or you’ll be frustrated. (I take no responsibility for the horrible grammar.)

I have a confession to make:

Hello, my name is Shawna (Everyone: Hello Shawna!) I am a strong  Christian woman who did NOT marry a strong-ER Christian man. I married the man that I am a power equal to.

Everyone: Huh?

I married the man that I am a power equal to, which happens to be the literal translation of the phrase in Genesis 2 that is normally mistranslated as “helpmate.” In Genesis 2:18 Godde says, “I will make him an help meet for him.” And yes readers that is the good ole King James Version because the KJV is the only translation to translate ezer cenegdo correctly. Notice it does not say helpmate. It says help meet. In Old English meet means equal. Godde will make the human a help equal to him. Woman was created to be an equal. Normally when ezer (help) is used it refers to Godde. Someone or the entire nation of Israel is calling on God to come and help them. Help is not a term of subordination, not if the same word is used to describe Godde. Ezer has another meaning: power. Both help and power come from the same root in Hebrew. So ezer can be translated as either help or power: the reason you can help someone is because you have to power to do so. The second  part of the phrase, cenegdo means to stand face-to-face, or stand as equals. The literal translation of ezer cenegdo is a help/power equal to. Woman was created to be a help/power equal to man.

This totally changed my view of what I was looking for in a husband. Actually it didn’t change it. I just hadn’t had the words to describe what I wanted before. I always planned on marrying an equal; an equal who respected me and wholly supported me in what Godde called me to do. Now I knew who I was looking for: I was looking for the man that I was a power equal to. And I knew he’d be quite a man. I’m one heck of a force of nature to be reckoned with. It turns out the power I am equal to was right under my nose: one of my best friends. After eight years of being friends, we married, and he is the power that I am equal to. I am very happy that I did not marry someone stronger than me spiritually. I married someone who was equal with me spiritually. As far as I’m concerned that’s the only way to go.

I’m not the only one to think so. Priscialla and Aquila thought that too. Priscilla and Aquila are always mentioned together, and most of the time Priscilla’s name comes first in Acts and in Paul’s letters. This was unheard of that time. Wives’ names NEVER came before their husbands’ names at that time, in that culture. As far as Priscilla and Aquila, Paul, and Luke were concerned, Priscilla was not the property of Aquila, she was his ezer cenegdo, his equal. Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos together, they made tents together, and they pastored home churches together. Priscilla was the power equal to Aquila. Considering they planted churches in at least 3 cities across the Roman Empire (including Rome), I’d say that being equals worked out pretty well for them.

In other words, you as a Christian woman, will not be frustrated if you do not marry a man who is spiritually stronger than you. That’s not who you are suppossed to marry. You’re supposed to marry the man that you are a power equal to. Or anyway that’s what Genesis says and that’s what Priscilla and Aquila lived out. I’m pretty happy with the arrangement myself.

Related Posts:

Does It Really Mean “Helpmate”?
Career Women of the Bible: Teachers, Elders and Co-workers

(On Twitter I’m @shawnaatteberry.)

Proverbs 31: A "Capable" Wife, Huh?

Yesterday in Sermon Meanderings: The Proverbs 31 Woman, I told you that I discovered something about this woman earlier this week, I had never known. While doing research for my sermon this Sunday, I was looking at The New Interpreter’s Bible, and I discovered that there is a ton of military imagery in the poem! I’m not talking about a reference or two here. I mean there is military imagery used throughout this poem to describe this woman. I grew up hearing that this woman was two things: obedient and submissive (two traits that are not even in these verses). But all of the military images through this passage shows that she was a strong and decisive woman.

The first military image is the the first word used to describe her, “capable”: “A capable wife, who can find?” The Hebrew word, hayil, is used to describe men as “strong,” “mighty,” and “with competence and vigor,” especially in warfare. At it’s very root it means power; a power that is able to acquire strength through gaining money and/or raising an army. Right off the bat, we are told this is a strong woman who knows how to get things done.

The second military image is found in verse 11: “[her husband] will lack no gain.” The literal meaning of gain is spoils from war or booty. In the NIB, Raymond C. Van Leeuwen notes that using this word in this passage is strange: it “suggests the woman is like a warrior bringing home booty from her victories.” She goes out and fights for what her family needs. She makes sure her family has everything they need to survive.

The next martial image is in verse 16: “She considers a field and buys it.” The word “buy” may not be such a good translation of the Hebrew word. Literally, she “takes” the field, and this word is normally used of an army taking a city or a region. The verb 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 is rocky, and all of the rocks have to be removed, then the land terraced, and the rocks built into a wall, so that the vineyard doesn’t wash down the hillside at the first good rain. It also had to be terraced to make sure that enough water stayed on the land so the vines could grow. Like a general she surveys her battlefield and plans her attack. Anyone who has ever gardened knows this is not an over-exaggeration.

In the very next verse our Valiant Woman “girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong” or in the good old King James Version, she “girded up her loins” (one of my all time favorite KJVisms). Men normally gird up their loins in the Bible for a heroic deed, normally a deed that involves fighting. Having a strong arm is another Biblical metaphor for being battle ready. Van Leeuwen has this to say: “‘She puts her hands to’ is an idiom that has military connotations of mastery, thus reinforcing the heroic character of the woman’s activities.”

The end of the poem comes back to where we began with the word hayil. Here it describes the woman’s actions when her husband compares her to other women: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Here hayil is translated as “done excellently.” The Valiant Woman has done deeds of strength and power that again refer to warfare and gaining wealth. “Surpass them all” is another “idiom that often refers to military activity.”

Van Leeuwen concludes that this a heroic hymn that cast this woman in her daily life as a warrior who fights and brings the best to her family. He wraps up the Reflections part of this passage with this observation:

The use of masculine images in praise of a woman (vv. 17, 25) must be considered in the light of the poem’s masculine audience. If ancient Israel admired the man of war (even Yahweh in Exodus 15:1-3) who defended God’s people from their enemies, and if Israelite males, like men throughout history, were sinfully prone to demean women as the “the weaker sex,” the praise of woman here is designed to alter errant male perceptions of women. The heroic terms of strength usually applied to men are here given to a woman so her splendor and wisdom may be seen by all.

Again we see in looking at the women of the Bible that gender roles just were not that set in stone as some people want them to be. Very masculine imagery is used to describe the woman’s life as a wife and a mother. And being a wife and mother is not contained to the home. The woman goes out and gets a plot of land in shape to plant a vineyard. She plants the vineyard with “the fruit of her own hand,” her own money. She also goes out and sells what she and her serving girls make to the local merchants, bringing in income for the family. She is a wife, mother, entrepeneur and business woman. And all of these roles are described with masculine and military imagery. I guess it just goes to show what I’ve been saying for the last few years: feminine and masculine gender roles are just not set in stone for all time in the Bible. We cannot go back to “biblical” manhood and womanhood because there is no such thing.

Related Post
Sermon Meanderings: The Proverbs 31 Woman

Sermon: Dame Wisdom in Action
Poem: In the Beginning Was

This post is based on “Proverbs” by Raymond C. Leeuwen in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 5, pp. 260-4.

There are no affliate links in this post.

Biblical Women Who Didn't Submit: Sarah

Bedouin Meets Europe by Piotr Pastusiak.

Bedouin Meets Europe by Piotr Pastusiak.

It was in this way long ago that the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves by accepting the authority of their husbands. Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham and called him lord. You have become her daughters as long as you do what is good and never let fears alarm you (1 Peter 3:4-5).

I have one question about these verses: Who is this Sarah Peter is speaking of? Because this is not the Sarah I have encountered in the Old Testament. Here are some viginettes of the Sarah we find in Genesis:

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the LORD has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife.

He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her (Genesis 16:1-6).

But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring” (Genesis 21:9-13).

Now Sarah also did obey Abraham when he wanted her to say she was his sister, so Abraham would not be killed by Pharaoh or Abimelech. Sarah obeyed and in both cases was taken into both rulers’ harems. But we don’t see Sarah submitting in all ways to Abraham as complementarians would have wives to submit blindly to their husbands today. It was her idea to give Hagar to Abraham as his concubine, so they could have children.  When Hagar started looking at Sarah with contempt, it was Sarah who blamed Abraham, who returned Hagar to being Sarah’s slave instead of his concubine.

It was Sarah who told Abraham that Ishmael would not inherit with her son, Isaac, and to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Godde sides with Sarah on this and tells Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Godde will honor the covenant to both women: their sons shall become nations, but Sophia-Yahweh’s covenant would go through Isaac.

1 Peter would have us believe that Sarah was always submissive. But she wasn’t. Genesis gives a very different picture of this brave, strong woman who left all she knew to follow Sophia-Yahweh and find the land Godde had promised to her and Abraham’s descendants. She told Abraham what she thought, and she made decisions that affected God’s covenant for millenia to come. Sarah was not always a nice person, and she was definitely wrong in the ways she dealt with familial problems, but she was not a submissive wallflower who blindly followed her husband.

Related Posts

Biblical Women Who Didn’t Submit: Abigail
Woman of the Week: Sarah

Me, Working at Home, and the Bible

Girls in Cairo weaving

Girls in Cairo weaving

Since I struck out for the freelance life almost three years ago, I’ve wondered if I’m actually working. I work from home, I stay in my PJs to all hours of the afternoon, and I don’t make a lot of money. When people ask me what I do, and I say, “I’m a writer,” I wonder if that’s a “real job.” After all you actually have to take showers and work a specific amount of hours to have a “real job” right? Not to mention you get a regular pay check at a “real job.”

I’ve also been at odds with myself over housework. Because I’m the one who’s home a lot, I do most of the housework. It’s nice to break up sitting around on the computer with doing a load of laundry or picking stuff up. And who hasn’t put off writing a blog post to clean out the fridge? (OK, My Hubby wishes I did this.) I used to find all sorts of house stuff to do when I was in school too. It’s amazing what needs to be cleaned right now when you need to parse Greek verbs or write a soul-bearing blog post.

Then something happened last year. Something devastating: I actually wanted to to do housework, and figure out how to be a decent homekeeper. This feminist-who-did-not-want-to-be-an-absolute-clean-freak-like-her-mother freaked out. You can reading about my freaking out here.

And through all of this it never hit me what a total hypocrite I was. You see I’m writing this book called Career Women of the Bible. In the Bible most of the work was done at home, and women did a substantial amount of the work for the family to survive including house repairs, all the food preparation, making sure the children didn’t wander off into wadis or be trampled by sheep or goats, and they spun thread and wove all the textiles the family and the household needed. In fact women’s work–textiles–drove the ancient economy. Women wove and their men traveled and sold the textiles. They sent back the money from the textiles to their wives, and the wives spent it how they saw fit.*

So here I am being this big advocate that yes women worked and had actual careers in the Bible, and most of that work was done at home. In fact, most men worked from home because work and home hadn’t been divided by the Industrial Revolution yet. Even if you lived in a town or city, your shop or business was run out of your home. Home, work, and family were interwoven.

I realized what a disconnect I was having a couple of weeks ago when I read What Does “Workers at Home” Really Mean? I was cheering what Sandra was saying when it hit me. I was not practicing what I preach. All the women in the Bible I applaud, preach about, teach about, and storytell about worked from their homes. Their weaving drove ancient economy, and they were in charge of the family’s largest resource: food. The women apportioned the food and made it last from one harvest to the next.

The matriarchs were in charge of small moving businesses, and their weaving probably helped the family buy the thing they needed while roaming around Canaan and Egypt. Not to mention their weaving literally sheltered the family: they wove the goat’s hair in thread and wove the panels for the tent. (Women’s work was also setting up the tents and tearing them down.) Rahab was a prostitute yes, but she also ran an inn (most likely in her own home), and there is flax on her roof for weaving. The Proverbs 31 woman has girls who weave for her, and she sells the textiles. She also buys and sells property. Priscilla and Aquila made tents, and Lydia did travel for her business: she was a merchant of the purple cloth that only royalty could buy.

In addition, the early church met in people’s homes. We know Priscilla and Aquila had churches meet in at least in three of their homes spread over Asia and in Rome. The first church in Europe met in Lydia’s home. Homes were the hubs of hospitality and grace. Homes are where the first Christians heard of God’s love and grace, ate together, and celebrated the Eucharist together.

And I didn’t think “real work” could happen in my home. I was wondering if I was really working and could honestly say I work just because I don’t go to an office and keep certain hours. I am a working woman in my home just like all the women of the Bible. Like them I am also a homekeeper. I am in charge of one of the things that cost us the most money: food. I shop and provide our meals. I love it. I love to cook, and I love to feed people. Nothing shows love like cooking. I also want my home to be a place to live in, be comfortable in, have people over, and not look like a couple of tornadoes go through it a week. So I pick up, do laundry, sweep, and mop, so that I don’t have to do a manic clean-out just to have somone over for dinner. For some reason I think Sarah, Deborah, Martha, and Priscilla would approve.

*For an extensive record of women and the textile industry read Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times. In fact, this is must read to really understand how intertwined the home and business were in the ancient world. “Cloth for the Caravans” is the chapter that deals with women weavers sending their wares out on caravans for trading. The letters between the husbands and wives they recovered are great!

(There are affliate links in this post.)