About being “suitable”

bronze-dancing-ladiesIn spite of the abundance of commentaries on Genesis 2, the creation of mankind and the revelations of male and female roles, I continue to find hidden gems and discoveries of my own that speak to my mind and my heart.  Today it comes from a reminder of the Hebrew used to express the suitability and fittingness of the lovely being we call Eve.

To Adam, she was Isha, bone of his own bone and flesh of his flesh. She was a co-heir to the dominion of the world, the only thing his God had made to whom he could conform his soul, mind and body.  To us she has become either the controversial victim of ignorance, or the willing herald of sin to the world.  Men have held up this unknown queen of creation with skepticism and scorn. Having come from a family in which there were several marriages between both my parents, I feel quite comfortable in relating the typical sermons on Eve and womanhood to the insinuations of an angry, jilted spouse.  But is that really who she was? How can we know?  A simple Google search for Adam and Eve will makes it painfully obvious what our world really thinks of Eve, a seductive smile as she joins the snake in seducing her husband to sin.  WHERE, are the paintings of her first appearance to Adam on the arm of God?

The Hebrew root that is translated suitable in most Bibles is NEGED, נגד

The noun form literally means “in front of, opposite” but in Hebrew I’ve come to learn that the essence of a word does not lie in its literal, rational translation the way English speakers tend to treat language.  Americans just want to know “what it means”, and Hebrew, being a language that is hundreds of years old and from a part of the world wholly unknown to us westerners, simply isn’t as cut and dry as we want it to be.  The meaning I’m referring to is called “aspect”, you might understand it something like “perspective” in that the words take on meaning, feeling and interpretation based upon a slew of perspectives that might come from anywhere within the context of the story, the storyteller, the characters, or simply Creation at large.  In the case of NEGED, the aspect of being in front of someone, or standing opposite to them conveys a strong sense of presence and like-ness.

She is before him, alongside him and fitting to him both literally, as she stood naked in the garden next to her Creator, and spiritually.  Spiritually she is present with him because she had been blessed with the same image and likeness of Adam, made through his rib, the protector of the lungs which hold the breath/spirit, ruach, of God.  She is like him both inside and out, thoroughly and completely.  All these things Adam recognizes when he says “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” but this is NOT why he was breathless and amazed at her presence.  She is not the “same”, that is the adjective “zahah” or another of many forms that convey the aspect of idential, same or selfsame being.  From God’s perspective she resembles him completely inside and out, and yet he could not help but add to this new life form his signature stamp of uniqueness and beauty; femininity.

You see, it is God who decides what is suitable, what is fitting, what is right.  It is from HIS perspective, I believe, that the aspect of neged takes its most poignant meaning, for He made a woman who could, in so many ways, reflect her own-male flesh unlike any other creature, and yet she amazes Adam both with her likeness, but also with her uniqueness to himself.  “You shall be called ishah for you were taken out of ish.”

It is undeniably foolish to try to argue the subservience of a woman, or the dominance of a man from this beautiful text.  To do so robs the man of his humility and replaces it with an expectation of pride. It robs the woman of her feminine essence, replacing it with destructive insinuations and she grows up to believe that being feminine itself is a sin.*  The ONLY question of authority appropriate to this passage is the power and might of God, the ONE who is able to take two and make them one.  In the attempts of the Church to come up with rules for men and women they have undermined the authority of the Trinity, and the power of one of the oldest stories in our history to convey the awesomeness and wonder of God.

Please, share this post! Lets remind people to keep the most important thing, the most important, and remember the One to whom we owe everything.  Perhaps, in doing so, we can help repair the irreparable damage done to masculinity and femininity in our world enough to love one another the way the Christ loved us.

*Greek philosophers began teaching that women were born as unformed males, years before Christ was born.  Such teaching justified generations of abortion, child abuse, girls sold into prostitution and slavery, and the overarching belief that women were incapable of thinking for themselves at all because they were underdeveloped.  While Jewish culture undeniable adopted this negative perspective of women over the years, it is NOT reflected in the Creation story of Genesis. Further study will show, remarkably, that many women in the Old Testament were valued and esteemed alongside the men of their stories, but context and human behavior following sin must always be taken into account when interpreting the histories.

Advertisements

Behind the Name

Aristotle taught that women were undeveloped males, that when a daughter was born instead of a son it was because the fetus was premature.

They therefore had less value, less purpose, and less ability to think, reason or decide anything.  In Rome, the women who rebelled against this most drastically not only threw off societal convention but were willing to mutilate themselves to appear as men, and earned the most cutting words and title from Rome’s historians and poets that I have ever read. I cannot even stand to post it here.

My question is, why do women today continue to live and act as though Aristotles horrific ideas of women are true? And why do Christians continue to perpetuate it…

Research into Aristotle and rebel women in Rome.

Christmas is Coming! Will you have a tree?

In a recent forum conversation for my Church History class at Gordon-Conwell (Theological Seminar), I came upon a discussion about what the correct response should be to modern day criticism of Christian symbols.  Primarily those which non-Christians rightly point out as previously belonging to pagan religions.  To respond to this I jumped backwards in history to an earlier period where art and symbols in the Christian church came under heavy attack from the religion of Islam.  Dr. Donald Fairbairn (GCTS faculty and long time missionary in the Ukraine) gave a brief history of icons during our start of the year integrative seminar on the Beauty of Holiness, wherein he briefly discussed the history of the iconoclast controversy.  The reason icons became contentious amongst Christian communities was because of the criticism of Muslims who saw, not only that Christian’s had many icons, but that they claimed to worship a trinity, 3-in-1.  To the Muslim mind there cannot be a 3-in-1, and any depictions of Christ or the saints are idols as well, and so they conclude that Christians are holding severely idolatrous beliefs.  To what end?

The criticism and judgement led to a series of councils in the Christian community where icons were discussed.  Interestingly, those bodies which condemned icons were comprised primarily of political figures, whereas those councils which continued to uphold them as beautiful pieces of art and essential components of Christian worship were comprised of the leading religious figures, (Dr. Fairbairn, Iconoclast Controversy).  In our western atmosphere of political correctness it is all to easy to respond to the criticism of our symbols by setting aside the Christmas trees, our crosses and the Ikthus.  But I don’t think that is the correct response.  One of my favorite uses of pagan symbols for the defense and promulgation of the gospel is by St. Patrick when he ministered in northern Europe.  The  winters in this region are cold and dead, and as a sign of hope that the death and illness would pass the tribal people cut down an evergreen and brought it into their homes.  St. Patrick capitalized on this action in order to demonstrate to them the redemption of God from the pain and death of sin!  Thus, the Christmas tree has become far far more in our traditions than a mere decoration.  Its presence at the celebration of the birth of Christ reminds us that death will pass and that, like the evergreens, we have eternal life in Jesus Christ.  What if we refused to give in to false ideal of political correctness and simply explained what it is that art, which is truly what we are discussing, means to us and to the world?

I’ll share this remarkable quote from Clement of Alexandria, cited by William Tennent in his book Theology in the context of World Christianity, “[Clement of Alexandria] said that the pagans were given the stars to worship so they might not fall into atheism: ‘It was the road given to them, that in worshipping the stars they might look up to God.'” (Tennent, 44).  So what if non-Christians around us criticize our symbols and icons?  Every symbol we have demonstrates the redemption of God, and the more we have from the religions of the world the greater the testimony.  We could perhaps rephrase Clement and say, “These are the objects we have set before them, and that they have welcomed into their homes, so that we might also be welcome with the story of the Savior.”

Comments on current issues

image

It’s easy. Fundamentally they believe the world is overpopulated, and just like any other animal of which there are so obviously too many, it’s perfectly reasonable and moral to support methods that benefit the population.

We can’t make an impact without demonstrating why human beings are more than mere animals and, sadly, Christianity lost ground on that eons ago when we failed to maintain a strong presence in the field of science. Now that we’re being forced to return to it we find, general, that our grounding in our own faith isn’t solid enough to deal with the sheer propensity of god-less worldviews. The solution is we must face our weaknesses and begin to learn again. People’s lives depend on it.

Perfection – at Jesus feet

image

I see these all the times and on weekends like this it’s a great time to share some thoughts.

We think that being perfect is an unattainable ideal, and when we define our perfection the way that society does it is more than true. But perfection itself, while being an ideal, is not one that I believe is unreachable or even bad!  I know you’re all shaking your heads, but stay with me.  Perfection developed out of an ideal of completeness. The Greeks thought that to be complete you had to shed your physical existence by attaining knowledge. The Egyptians thought that to be complete you had to do enough right so your ka (soul) could find heaven.  I’m a Christian, and being complete in Christ is like nothing the world has ever seen. Being perfect in Christ is not only a beautiful desire but a promise! And one that I long for. It drives me to grow, to learn about myself and who God wants me to be. It might not be popular to say but my children don’t complete me, my husband either. Only Christ can do that.

How to be perfect/complete in Christ is a long lesson and one that is ultimately finished by him, but it starts with understanding what it is that defines us. Take this illustration from Dr. Hollinger, the GCTS president, who spoke at our chapel this weekend.  Same old story we all know about  Mary and Martha, but he made a distinct point that Martha was NOT doing something bad. She was serving, like Christ serves, like we serve our children and our families day in and day out. And yet there is a strong difference between the choices of each woman that Jesus does not miss.  Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, which is a position of learning and a distinct phrase denoting discipleship. She was listening and learning, defining herself by her presence at his feet.  Jesus tells Martha that Mary’s choice is one that will last, that it will help her persevere in times if hardship and struggle and darkness. It is the better choice, because it will sustain her. Martha is defining herself by her service, and when she attempts to make Mary do the same he rebukes her. The lesson is this.

Perfection/completeness comes FIRST from being at Jesus’ feet, not doing the dishes, cooking, teaching, going to women’s Bible study or any of the many many things we do. Think of mother Theresa or Corrie Ten Boom. They faced unspeakable hardship founded not on their work but by their discipleship at the feet of Christ, in prayer and in study and listening. Their service was an outpouring of that devotion, a by product that was blessed by their good choice. I think we CAN reach toward being perfect, I think we can live a life devoted to becoming complete in Christ and have no shame in wanting or pursuing that.  For us who love God and want our children to fall love with him as well, we MUST do that. And we have to start at Jesus’ feet.

Last thought, Jesus’ feet never stayed still for long. Are we ready and willing to follow when he gets up and starts walking?

Challenging a worldview – holy poverty

Ooo. Powerful thought.

image

“A gift to the church can be seen as a form of vanity, but giving alms is pure kindness.” Chrysostom (c. 347-407).

Tithing to the Church developed largely out of need, there were so many Christians it was just easier to give to the bishop and let him decide.  The result was an oligarchical monopoly. Our tithe is to God, it was first meant to care for the priests in the desert, and the first and second century church applied that Old Testament instruction to the provisions for prophets AND teachers!

That’s right. Church tithes were meant to pay the livelihood of the teachers “for they are your priests” writes an early church father in the Didache (the first organized instructions for church government and procedure). The Didache was influenced by men and women at the start of massive growth in the church. It filled in the practical gaps of Paul’s organization based on the needs of the church in its time. I highly value it’s insight into ecclesiastical structure because it was created and used before the church gained political influence and was institutionalized.

This exhortation by Chrysostom spotlights the issue exactly, it is alms, money given to the care of the poor, the widows, the apostles, the monastic communities to aid their service, to prophets (for they are called by God and, if true, should be provided for, Didache), to teachers because of their service, to traveling apostles in need, and to and for children that can not be seen as vanity.  All of these people are in the midst of church work. They live among us, serve us or need our help, and the early church felt so strongly about giving that they wrote it into their laws that these people should be provided for WITHOUT them having to ask.

Do we value our teachers this much? Do we care for the poor? Not vicariously through a distant church program or organization but PERSONALLY in our own communities. I’ve lived a lot of my adult life poor and felt shame and criticism for it. Oh the pagans and street kids didn’t care, they were also pretty broke but they took care of each other.  In churches though, the fact that our family needed help for food or rent was almost a sin. We aren’t told that blatantly but it is felt and observed in people’s attitudes, families like ours who need help are thought less of, not given respect and not listened to on matters of church community. Why are we poor? Well that doesn’t seem to matter, it’s our fault ultimately right?

What a different perspective we have built in recent years from that of the first Christians. Those who had money gave freely and felt burdened if there was anyone in their influence who was suffering or in need if they could help. Those who were poor, servants and others were made to be the equals of the wealthy givers. Slaves were freed and nobles, men and women, sold their fine clothes and learned to bake and weave. They lived alongside their former servants in a blessed community of Christianity.

Now I do not mean to say that the early church ways of life will satisfy all our present, practical issues. We live in a different empire, people are far more solitary here by virtue of cultural anonymity. Our drive to be unique and individual is strong.  But if these qualities were applied to the unity that the Jews and first Gentile Christians understood intuitively, what tremendous growth and revival we might see!  “Go and sell all your treasures and give to the poor,” Jesus said. For those who love the Lord and already have very little, you are ahead of the game. Use that reality to learn what the amma (mother) Syncletica taught about the holy poverty that comes from love.  If no one ever gives to you too help you you can be at least be confident that you have given to God all you have.

“Beloved let us love one another…” serve the Lord in the capacity in which he has brought. Be content. Give. Give. Give. Thank you to those who have given to us. Let’s change the way our churches see poverty.

There is no gender in martyrdom

I’m reading the account of the Martyrs of Lyons, almost in tears, and this is what strikes me. The world does not truly see a difference between men and women when it is bent on destruction, nor do the powers behind such acts. The women of this persecution were given no less torture and no less cruelty because of their gender, neither were their husbands tortured on their behalf.  Even those with unborn children were beaten and tortured. Galatians becomes truly visible in these accounts, for those who confess Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free.

Women will face no less persecution, criticism or contempt for their faith than a man. They will even have to face death while still carrying their children inside them. What greater torture can there be? Why then don’t we consider the spiritual training of all genders as equal value and equal responsibility before God. Why do we not raise up a woman’s spirit with the same expectation of strength, endurance and authority of God within them than we do a mans? Why are a women’s natural virtues still archaicly placed beneath those of men in our churches. We are belittled for them in humor, as though they are an inescapable sin we must just accept.  Why does the calling to take up the cross of Christ suddenly become inappropriate and criticized by the church when a woman takes it up?

It must be a powerful church in which both men and women lead, teach and pray, for when two with the holy spirit become one, either in the Spirit or in the flesh, the power of the Spirit of God in that Body must be mighty. If I were Satan I would place my utmost efforts into rendering the church ineffective from within by introducing such thoughts and interpretations so as to cause it to tie down it’s own right hand, the Helper.

image