Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Editor, Researcher

What Jesus Had to Say About Families

In Biblical Women Who Didn’t Submit: Abigail, I began looking at The Quiverfull Movement and some of the beliefs that far right, fundamentalist Christian groups have about women. The Quiverfull Movement has been in the press due to Kathryn Joyce’s new Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchal Movement. Since my first post, The American Prospect and GlobalComment have either done a review or an interview with Kathryn, and Religion Dispatches has posted a searing commentary on their view of children as taking culture back for God in God’s Little Soldiers: Procreation as a Weapon.

For the past week or so I’ve been having stray thoughts about what Jesus had to say about families wandering through my head. I wonder what people like the Quiverfull movement and others that idolatrize the nuclear family do with Jesus’ view of the biological family:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:34-37).

But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50).

To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:59-60).

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26).

Jesus redefined family as those who do the will of God, even at the cost of the biological family. One’s family was no reason not to follow Jesus. If one’s family got in the way of following Jesus and doing the will of God, then the family was to be left behind. It is absolutely amazing how quickly biblical literalists say, “Oh but that’s not what Jesus really meant” when these verses come up (Everyone picks and chooses what to take literally in the Bible, whether they admit to it or not). If you think this is a radical and hard thing to swallow now, imagine what it would have been like to hear in the ancient world.

The paterfamilias was the social unit. And the paterfamilias is not the equivalent of today’s nuclear family with mommy, daddy, and kiddos. The paterfamilias was the patriarch, his wife or wives, all their children, and anyone who belonged to the household: parents, siblings, servants, and slaves. The patriarch could be your grandfather, father, uncle, or older brother, depending on who was still alive. A person did not exist outside of the paterfamilias in society in that day. You were defined by the family, and your social standing was also determined by your family and the family’s connections. When Jesus’ followers heard him say: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple,” they must have been picking themselves up off the ground. Outside of a woman leaving her family for her husband’s family, leaving the paterfamilias was absolutely unheard of. If you did, you were on your own, which meant, more than likely you would end up a social outcast. But the fact remains that Jesus said this.

He redefined family outside of biological relationships. When you became a Christian, your family became the Church. Your nuclear family came after that. Not that Jesus absolutely did away with the biological family either. His first miracle was at a wedding (probably a family wedding) at the request of his mother. He made sure his mother was taken care of before he died. But Jesus made it very clear that the most basic societal structure was not the family: it was his followers, the Church. The Church, those who obeyed the will of God, would be the basic social unit that changed the world. The Church would be the one to proclaim the gospel and show people how to live like Jesus in the world. Granted we haven’t always done a good job of it, but that is how Jesus redefined family.

If you’re a Christian, the biological family cannot be the foundation of society, and all evils do not come from the family breaking up. In fact, there have been times in Christian history where marriage and children were looked down on as second best, and both fathers and mothers abandoned their children to join monasteries for the higher good of chastity and prayer (but that’s another post).

Jesus and the New Testament writers make it clear that the family of God, the Church, is the foundation of society. It is also interesting to note that not many of the New Testament leaders are married or have children, or that children just aren’t mentioned. A good example is Priscilla and Aquila: they’re married, they make tents, they host churches in the homes, but do they have kids? We don’t know. Neither Jesus or Paul married and had children. Peter’s wife is mentioned, but did they have kids? Don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say whether Phoebe or Lydia, Timothy or Titus, were married or had children.

Yes, families are important. Yes, we should marry if we are called to do so and have children if called to do so. We should also remember there are people who aren’t called to marriage or parenthood. We just need to remember that it is not the nuclear family that changes the world. It is the Church’s testimony of Christ and living out the love of Jesus in our daily lives that brings the kingdom of God to earth. That should begin in our families, but it should not end there.

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.

(They are affliate links in this post.)

Related Posts

What Jesus Had to Say About Families

The next biblical woman to be written about (drumroll)

Is Jael. She had the most votes. Esther and Abigail tied for second, and I will be writing them about them later. A post will be appearing on Jael a little later today. (I really need to eat something.) I have done some writing on the other women you suggested. The articles are scholarly; the sermons not so much. If you have any suggestions to make the scholarly articles more readable, please let me know.

Articles:

Career Women of the Bible:The 12th Century B. C. E. Career Woman (Deborah)

Career Women of the Bible: Standing Between Life and Death (Zipporah and Huldah)

Career Women of the Bible: Teachers, Elder, and Co-Workers (Priscilla)

Sermons:

Everyone Has a Story (Deborah and Jael)

God Uses Harem Girls (Esther)

Woman of the Week: Sarah

Editor’s Note: Every Thursday I will be posting a “Woman of the Week.” This is a woman I will choose from the Bible, history, and even women who are living and breathing. If you have any suggestions for the future “Women of the Week,” please leave your responses in the comments.

Everybody thought Sarah was dispensable, even Sarah. We first meet Sarah when she is 65, right after God calls Abraham to leave his home in Haran and go to Canaan. We find out two things about Sarah: she is Abraham’s wife, and she is barren. We find this out right after God promises to make Abraham’s descendants a nation. But Sarah is barren. Where will these descendants come from? Abraham and Sarah pack up their household and head to Canaan. When they arrive they don’t spend too much time there. There is a famine in the land, and they move onto Egypt where there is food.

Apparently Sarah was quite the looker at 65. This is the first time that Abraham views Sarah as dispensable. Abraham is afraid that someone will kill him in order to have Sarah, so he asks Sarah to pretend to be his sister. She does, and Pharaoh adds her to his harem. Abraham is richly rewarded for giving his “sister” to Pharaoh with gold, silver, animals, and slaves. But God does not see Sarah as dispensable. God comes to Pharaoh in a dream and tells him that Sarah is Abraham’s wife and to return to her to her husband. Pharaoh does so the next day and tells Abraham to leave. They return to Canaan.

Not long after this, it is Sarah who views herself as dispensable. She tells Abraham, “God has kept me from having children. Take my slave-girl, and I will have children by her.” This was a common custom in the Sumerian (modern Iran) culture they came from. If a wife could not have a child, she could give one of her slaves to her husband to have children for her. The slave would become the husband’s concubine. Surrogate mothers are nothing new. Abraham takes Sarah’s slave, Hagar, and she conceives. But things do not go as planned. Hagar is no longer a slave, but a second wife. Sarah is old and barren. Hagar is young and pregnant. We don’t exactly what Hagar did, but in the next verse Sarah is complaining to Abraham: “When Hagar found out she was pregnant, she looked on me with contempt. God judge between us!”

Hagar does not remain Abraham’s concubine for long. He gives her back to Sarah and says, “She is your slave. Do with her what you see fit.” Jealous Sarah abuses Hagar, who runs away. Hagar meets the angel of Yahweh, who tells her to go back to her mistress. But God extends God’s covenant to Hagar and her child: she will have a son and name him Ishmael, and he too, will become a nation. Hagar says, “Have I just seen God and lived.” She is the first person to name God: The God who sees me (I will do a complete post on Hagar in the future). She returns and Ishmael is born.

Many years pass, and Ishmael is Abraham’s only son, his only heir. Three strangers come to visit Abraham and Sarah. One of the visitors turns out to be God. Abraham invites them to stay, and he and Sarah prepare a meal for them. While they are eating, God asks Abraham, “Where is Sarah?” Abraham answers that she is in her tent. In fact, Sarah is listening to their conversation just inside the tent. God tells Abraham, “At this time next year, Sarah will have a son.” Sarah does the only thing she can do: laugh. She is 89 years old. She says to herself, “After all of these years, now that I’m old and dried up, will I now have children?” God wants to know why Sarah is laughing. Sarah denies it. But God says, “Oh yes, you did laugh.” And her son’s name will always remind her of that laughter.

But we see that Abraham hasn’t quite wrapped his head around Sarah having a son (most likely neither has Sarah). They journey to Gerar where Abimlech is king. I don’t know what kind of knock-out Sarah was, but at 89 years old, Abraham was still afraid of having someone kill him and take her. They once again do the brother/sister routine. They both once again view Sarah as dispensable to God’s covenant, and the future that God has promised them. Abimelech takes Sarah as his wife, but God does not let it get far. On their wedding night God afflicts Abimelech, his household, and his land with some kind of disease where they cannot bear children. God comes to Abimelech and tells him that Sarah is Abraham’s wife and to return her to him. Abimelech obeys and gives Sarah back to Abraham the next morning. He wants to know why they have deceived him. Abraham said that he only told a half-lie. Yes, Sarah is his wife, but she is also his half-sister. They have different mothers, but the same father. Abraham and Sarah may view Sarah as dispensable and replaceable, but God does not. God does not allow Abraham to replace Sarah, and God does not allow Sarah to replace herself with Hagar. His covenant with Abraham is for both Abraham and Sarah: their son will be the heir of the covenant.

In the next chapter Sarah conceives and gives birth to Isaac, to laughter (Isaac’s name means to laugh). Sarah is 90 years old and now her laughter is laughter of joy. She rejoices at Isaac’s circumcision and says, “Who ever thought that Sarah would nurse a baby? And yet I have given Abraham a son in our old age.” In God’s plan Sarah was indispensable and irreplaceable. The covenant God made with Abraham was not just with Abraham. God made the covenant with both Abraham and Sarah. And when the two tried to replace Sarah with Hagar, God in God’s mercy and grace extended that covenant to Hagar and Ishmael.

One of the last glimpses we see of Sarah is not a pleasant one. Her jealousy once again rises when she sees Isaac and Ishmael playing together. Her son will not share his inheritance with that slave woman’s son. She tells Abraham, “Send that slave woman and her son away. He will not inherit with my son. Isaac will be your only heir.” Abraham is troubled, but God tells him to listen to Sarah. The next morning Abraham gives meager supplies to Hagar and Ishmael and sends them off. At the end of their food and water, Hagar despairs and knows they will die. But once again God comes to her, shows her a spring, and reassures her that Ishmael too will grow into a numerous people.

The next time we hear of Sarah, she has died. Abraham buys a cave at Machpelah to bury her. Not only was Sarah buried in the cave, but so was Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah. These are Sarah’s descendants who will be the beginning of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah that would give birth to a numerous people and to an entire nation. Through Sarah’s self-doubt, barrenness, jealousy, and thinking she could be replaced, God stays with her. God does not allow God’s plans and purposes for her life to be thwarted. Abraham and Sarah may have thought Sarah was dispensable, but God never did.

You can find out more about Sarah in Genesis 12–22.

Confirmation and Vigils

I was confirmed at Grace Episcopal Church this morning. I am now an Episcopalian. Throughout the course of the day God has provided confirmation that this is what she wanted through my own heart and the people around me. I just finished praying Vigils from the Benedictine Daily Prayer: A Short Breviary
. It’s as if God has me one final gift before bed. This passage from Wisdom was one of this week’s readings:

For who will say, ‘What have you done?’
or will resist your judgement?
Who will accuse you for the destruction of nations that you made?
Or who will come before you to plead as an advocate for the unrighteous?
13For neither is there any god besides you, whose care is for all people,*
to whom you should prove that you have not judged unjustly;
14nor can any king or monarch confront you about those whom you have punished.
15You are righteous and you rule all things righteously,
deeming it alien to your power
to condemn anyone who does not deserve to be punished.
16For your strength is the source of righteousness,
and your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all.
17For you show your strength when people doubt the completeness of your power,
and you rebuke any insolence among those who know it.*
18Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness,
and with great forbearance you govern us;
for you have power to act whenever you choose.

19Through such works you have taught your people
that the righteous must be kind,
and you have filled your children with good hope,
because you give repentance for sins. (Wisdom 12:12-19)

Reader: O God, you are righteous and you rule all things righteously. Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us.

Response: Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, whose judgments are true and just. Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us.

God is my sovereign. God leads me where she wants me to go. It is not the journey I thought it would be. I thought I would remain in the Church of the Nazarene as a pastor for many more years. But that did not happen. God showed me another way in her gracious sovereignty. I am now a member of a new church–a totally new tradition. For the first time in my life I am not in an evangelical church. And I’m fine with that. I feel great freedom in shedding that heavy weight. For evangelical in this day is not the evangelical it once was. When it was more concerned with lifting up the poor and lowly, building schools, created homes for unwed mothers, teaching people trades. Evangelicalism gave up the acts of Christ for a privatized faith of right and wrong, us vs. them. But right belief and right doctrine does not always lead to right action. I am in a church that has the right action, and that action comes from the right belief: that we are called to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus said on these two things the entire law hangs. Love God. Love ourselves. Love others. This is the greatest commandment. I am looking forward to being a part of the ministries to homeless we are doing as well as the new ministries to all the college students in the area. I feel like I have entered broader territory, and I have more room to find out who God is and who I am and what that means to the community I am a part of. I am looking forward to seeing where this new path will lead me.

“Stepping out in confirmation”
by Shawna R. B. Atteberry

A new step
A new direction
Letting go of the past
On a new path
Stepping into a broader space
With less fences
Less walls
Less rules
It feels good
To be trusted
To discern the Spirit
Instead of being
Told what to do.

(c)2008 Shawna R. B. Atteberry

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You can work: As long as it's volunteer work

I’m very disturbed by some of the things I’ve been reading lately. It’s nothing that is in the news. I’m researching the opposing side for my book proposal, the complementarian side (I am not putting in links because I refuse to refer traffic to their sites. If you Google “complementarian,” you will find plenty of sites). This is a group who thinks that men and women were created equal as humans but that they have different roles due to their genders. They believe that woman was created to be a helper to her husband and must always submit to a man’s authority. They believe men were created to be leaders, protectors, and guardians. Women are to be helpers, nurturers, and mothers. A women’s place should be in the home, and she shouldn’t aspire to work outside of the home to keep herself free for ministry. When she doesn’t work then after she takes care of the kids and the house, her free time will be left for building God’s kingdom. Some of the voluntary suggestions for “ministry” are:

  • prison chaplain
  • ministries to the handicapped
  • ministries to the sick, including nursing and hospice work
  • being a teacher, including K-12 teacher

These are all full-time jobs, which take education and training to perform. Now they also suggest the truly voluntary ministries of music in the church, Sunday School teacher, PTA, and volunteering for organizations that work with the poor, abused, and addicitons. But several of these “voluntary” ministries are full-time positions and careers. So it’s okay for a woman to technically work full-time as long as she doesn’t get paid?

In her book Equal to Serve: Women and Men Working Together Revealing the Gospel, Gretchen Gaebelein Hull points out that once something that women did becomes something men do, then it’s worth charging for. How much did midwives make? Really? When men took over medicine then money came into play. Things that women do are normally seen as less valuable economically than what men do. Women having been cooking and feeding their families for years. But a small percentage of women are chefs who bring down big money.

When you consider the careers that women had in the Bible, I do not understand this “you can work as long as you volunteer” mentality. Deborah was a prophet and judge. The Proverbs 31 woman made and sold textiles and materials plus bought and sold land. She was a merchant. In the New Testament Lydia was also a merchant, and Priscilla worked with her husband Aquila to make tents. None of them volunteered their services. They worked, made money, and helped support their families economically.

I think Christians need to reclaim the word “vocation.” At one time Christians believed that you brought God with you on any job you had, whether you were a priest or a blacksmith. You did your work as unto God because God governed all of life. You built God’s kingdom in whatever career you had. It did not have to be a church position. We need to reclaim vocation, especially women. God calls women, as well as men, to work in the secular world in business, schools, government, and a myriad of other careers. We are called to bring God with us, and build God’s kingdom where we’re at. Just as the women in the Bible worked outside of the home, so can women today.

Related Posts:

Why Career Women of the Bible?
Does It Really Mean “Helpmate”?
The 12th Century B. C. E. Career Woman
Made in the Image of God: Female

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April 13: Faith and Food

Faith and Food
Acts 2:42-47

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 college, 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 the family that adopted me at church. Eating by myself bothered me more than living by myself. In the movie Under the Tuscan Sun her 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.

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All Souls Day: Remembering and Imagining

Today is All Soul’s Day. I prefer Day of the Dead for one simple reason. In Mexico and Central America people take food to the graves of their loved ones and eat with them. They remember them and look forward to the time they will be reunited.

One of my little sisters, Tanya Anne Bound, died when she was nine months from a brain tumor. When I lived in Oklahoma, I always visited her grave and caught her up on everything. Now I spend this day thinking of her. She in now 35. On November 28, she will be 36. She literally grew up in the presence of Jesus. I wonder what that was like. I can’t wait to ask her. I can’t wait to see her. I was 2 when she died, and I don’t remember her. I long to have memories of my little sister. I wonder what she looks like. Did her eyes stay blue? Or did they turn like mine and Trina’s did. Trina has green eyes, and I have hazel (a blue/green mix). I wonder if she looks more like Mom or Dad. If she has curly hair like Dad or straight like Mom. Did she get the Bound height (my Dad is 6’2″ and Trina 5’9″) or Mom’s family shortness (Mom is 5’2″ and I’m 5’3″)? What does her smile look like. What does her laugh sound like? Is she an arrogant loud mouth like the rest of our Irish-Italian family, or did she have a chance, since she didn’t have to grow up with us? One day I will find out. Trina was born after Tanya died. The three of us have never been together, but one day we will be together for eternity. I spend this day celebrating that.

Tomorrow is my niece’s birthday. How appropriate that Tonya should be born, not only in November–her namesake’s birth month–but also the day after All Soul’s Day/Day of the Dead to remind us that life does not end here.

Eternal Lord God, you hold all souls in life: Give to your whole Church in paradise and on earth your light and your peace. Amen.

Who do you remember today?

Career Women of the Bible: Introduction

Editor’s note: This post was updated on 9/30/2010.

One of the largest Southern Baptist seminaries, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), in Louisville, Kentucky began a new core of programs for women in 2007, which included:

Seminary Wives Institute is an innovative program designed to prepare the wives of seminary students for their role in their husbands’ ministries.

Women’s Ministry Institute offers women the opportunity to improve their skills and ministry through a variety of classes geared toward women’s ministries in the local church.

Classes included housekeeping, budgeting, being your husband’s best friend, keeping an organized house, and sewing. There were Bible classes, but the descriptions sounded like the women taking these classes had never been to Sunday School. There were “leadership” classes, but the brochure and class descriptions made it clear that this was leadership for womens and children’s ministry. The counseling classes made it clear that women were to counsel only other women according to the Titus 2 model. In 2007, when this post was first written, my favorite class module was this one:

Redeeming the Time looks at setting goals and priorities but also tackles practical issues including day planners; handling paper, avoiding clutter; home management; housekeeping and kitchen organization. This course is aimed to challenge those who are already skilled in areas of organization as well as to motivate those who have room for vast improvement.

Rev. Anges Diffee pastored one of the largest Nazarene churches in the 1940s, Little Rock First Church of the Nazarene.In their 2010 class schedule, I noticed SBTS no longer offers this module, and for good reason. Most seminary students are at least 22, and I was 28 when I started seminary. I have friends who started seminary in their 30s and 40s. I’m thinking most seminary wives, along with most seminary husbands, have an idea of how to use a day planner and set goals. In 2007 SBTS module also made it clear that a woman’s role is to keep house, period. There was a core of courses on homemaking (link no longer available). Classes include homemaking, sewing, taking care of children, and cooking. Basically SBST’s courses of study for women are degrees in home economics. The classes they now offer in their certificates for Seminary Wives and Women’s Ministry still make it clear that women that a women’s place is in the home and leading only women and children at church, but they have dropped the home economics classes in their 2010-11 offerings.

This is why I am writing Career Women of the Bible. There is a disturbing trend in evangelicalism that takes the 1950s Leave It to Beaver family and elevates it to the biblical model of family. The “biblical” model of being a woman means staying at home, raising children, and taking care of the household. But does the Bible really say that?

This book began as my thesis in seminary. During my time at Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS), I would be asked in churches if I was going to seminary to be a pastor’s wife. I wasn’t. I was called to be a pastor. This question asked in church foyers, potlucks, and Sunday School classes struck me as odd. It seemed odd because The Church of the Nazarene has been ordaining women for over 100 years. The first women in my denomination was ordained in 1903. In the 1930s 30% of Nazarene ordained elders were women. The largest Nazarene church, First Church of the Nazarene, in Little Rock, Arkansas was pastored by a woman in the 40s–Agnes Diffee. Little Rock First ran 3,000 then. Agnes also became the first female radio evangelist in the United States.

This question also made me a little angry. Why would anyone think I was pursuing a Masters degree to find a husband? With what it cost? And the time? It was insulting to me. It wasn’t until after I had graduated that I found out that in the 1970s NTS had a course for guess who? Yes–for pastors’ wives. In a denomination that had been ordaining women since the turn of the twentieth century, they had a pastor’s wives (not spouses) course.

“Are you going to seminary to be a pastor’s wife?” This question sparked my thesis: a Theology of Single Women in Ministry. I wanted to show that God called women in their own right to be prophets, judges, and leaders. Even women like Deborah and Huldah were not leaders because of their husbands. They were leaders because God called them and they obeyed. I have since thought more and more about women in the Bible–and not just the ones called to leadership positions. Even those who appear to be the typical mother and housewife on the surface belie these apparent roles. Women such as the matriarchs–Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah–helped define the covenant with God and literally birthed God’s chosen people. The Proverbs 31 woman, who is usually prooftexted into the domestic diva of her day, did not just keep an orderly house and raise kids. She was also a business woman: she spun and wove cloth and sold it. She also had her own property, which she bought and sold. Taking a closer look at the women in the Bible shows there is much more complexity to who they were and their roles than what a cursory glance gives.

But one thing I do not want to do is gloss over or demean the women who have chosen to stay home and raise their children. I believe being a mother is a full-time job and then some. That is why I have made sure to include mothers in this book. In the Bible mothers make covenant decisions regarding their children. Women’s decisions regarding their children have led to mighty movements of God’s Spirit. Think of Rebekah making sure Jacob receives Isaac’s blessing as God had told her years before. Think of Hannah giving Samuel into God’s service, and the revival that came to Israel due to Samuel’s leadership. Women’s fingerprints, mothers’ fingerprints, are all over the purposes and plans of God for God’s chosen people: both Israel and the Church.

I think by taking a closer look at the women in the Bible, we will see that they wore as many hats as women do today: wives, mothers, students, prophets, judges, evangelists, pastors, and apostles. There were also business women: Lydia and the Proverbs 31 woman; harvesters like Ruth, and a queen who saved her people, Esther. Women in the Bible lived many different roles as women today.

I hope this book will help you see that God has not limited what women can do. In fact, the biblical witness is just the opposite: we see God calling women to build God’s kingdom in both the sacred and secular realms as well as the home.

Pictures:

Rev. Agnes Diffee (1889–1970) who pastored Little Rock First Church of the Nazarene in the 1940s.

Rev. Santos Elizondo (1867–1941) who preached and led 100s to Christ in El Paso and Juarez. She was in charge of Nazarene work in Juarez for 35 years.

Rev. Emma Irck (1888–1984) pastored the largest Nazarene church in Houston, Texas. She was also a renowned evangelist who traveled thousands of miles to hold revivals.

Pictures and descriptions are from the Weselyan Holiness Women Clergy website. For more information on these women and other women leaders influential in the holiness movement visit WHWC Picture Gallery.

(Hat tip to Feminary and Church Gal for bringing this up on both of their blogs, and a very big thank you for giving me the thing I needed to spark off the introduction for this book.)

Related Links:
Updated: Potential “Career Women of the Bible” Outline
Viewpoint of a Female Minister