From Christmas 2012
I scramble to find the Christmas lights in the garage that is still cluttered with boxes from our move, tripping over first one thing and stubbing my toe on another; I swear under my breath as the Silent Night plays in the other room.
For weeks I’ve been trying to beautify my home, to hang ornaments and Douglas fir swag’s, to fill the air with cinnamon and clove hoping the loveliness will cover the hurt and fear of this season.
As I make my usual preparations, I am acutely aware there are faces missing from the scene this year, loved ones who once filled the halls with laughter and warmth whose absence leaves us with an empty longing ache. There are relationships that are shattered and broken pieces of us lying on the floor, there are dreams that did not come true staring back at us from the holly covered kissing ball.
My cat, still unsettled in the new home has peed on my tree skirt twice so that I am afraid to wrap my gifts and seal them with bows for fear my loved ones will find more than what they hoped for in the box gilded with love.
‘Perfection is a myth’ I chant as I remember the words of my therapist from aeons ago. I drive to Starbucks in the drizzling rain of early December that should be fluffy white snowflakes the size of my hand and I think of her as I so often do this time of year.
If anyone had expectations of how things ‘should be,’ if ever a woman dreamed of how the miracle of Christmas might come to pass it was Mary. Had she and Joseph argued about the ill timed trip to Bethlehem, had she complained and asked him to walk faster so they might make it into the city in time to find a room? Was she driven to tears and exhaustion by the sorry excuse for lodging that was afforded them, was she angry when the uninvited guests arrived unannounced?
If any of this is true, we have no record of it; we only know these imperfect memories, this ramshackle scene, this inelegant birth was precious to her so that she thought about it often and treasured that night in her heart (Lk. 2.19).
It strikes me that her response is so different than mine. Faced with fear and uncertainty, I respond with a fierce furious need to control, dragging everyone with me, kicking and screaming doing what I can to force what ‘should be.’ Mary found the grace and sweet blessing of accepting what is.
I don’t know what things look like around your table this year, not sure if your traditions will endure or if life or hardships, natural disasters or economic woes threaten your long held ways. It is possible that your turkey will be dry and your relative will step out of line but remember this; the miracle of Christ often finds its way into the worst possible situations. The hope of Christmas is more than some preconceived notion or Norman Rockwell image, it is born in love, hewn in the rock of surrender, known in the acceptance of what is here and now.
May the peace of Mary and the wonder of her Son dwell with you this season and may you know the joy of living right where you are.
Last week I was in Baltimore for the annual, Society of Biblical Literature
and American Academy of Religion meeting. Thanks to an invitation from my new BFF Joel Watts
, I joined a small gathering of bible bloggers for an intimate conversation with N.T. Wright on his latest 1700 page tome, “Paul and the Faithfulness of God.
In the two volume work, Wright sets forth to discuss Paul in terms of God, the people of God and the future of the people of God through the Jewish theological lenses of monotheism, election and eschatology. Throughout, Wright reminds us these are the central Jewish themes Paul is rethinking through Jesus and Spirit. To understand Paul’s worldview, Wright masterfully situates Paul within the three realms of his universe, Jewish, Greek and Roman Empire.
With a twinkle in his eye, sipping hot tea as he tries to recover from a brutal travel schedule, Wright reminds us that he is offering Paul as a “refreshed” Jewish thinker who is refocusing Jewish theology around Jesus and Spirit. We lean forward, hands feverishly typing his every word into our devices, he argues Paul did this thinking in the service of his mission, to plant communities of Jesus followers in Caesar’s world who would be shaped by the gospel and carry this gospel out to the world.
Though Paul is not a systematic theologian, for Wright, he is on league with Plato and Aristotle in his ability to take abstract concepts, argue with passion and understand these concepts in ways that pertain to faith. I am struck again at this original pastor/scholar who is able to communicate high ideals in practical ways to a given context for the good of God’s church.
Wright leans back, hands folded like church and steeple and says, “Philosophy, religion and politics are all reconciled in Paul.”
My thumbs typing at a dizzying speed, I take notes on my i-phone, I do not want to miss a single syllable of this diatribe—this modern day pastor/scholar whom I have read through formative years, whose words helped me know Jesus. I am at once caught, head finds heart and my eyes flood with tears as Wright explains why he began the work with the letter to Philemon;
tells us to listen for echoes of the Exodus in the short letter regarding Onesimus, slave and convert of Christ.
Slavery was a complicated and delicate social relationship in the ancient world, as was marriage, the role of women, the chasm of Jew and Gentile. As I read through this work, words dance off the page as Wright gives us Paul, arms stretched out in cross formation to master and slave and call them to be reconciled.
Not only here but to the women of Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche
, to Jews and Gentiles
, this is the heart of Paul’s gospel; be reconciled in Christ Jesus.
I am reminded again why scholarship matters, why I have spent my life pouring over ancient manuscripts and why I am always captivated at the discovery of some stele or antiquated fragment. I remember why I have decided to occupy my days with Paul and Jesus and the women who served with them; it is-- all of it-- for the good of the church and the ministry of reconciliation
Sometimes you just need to say “thanks.” Every now and again it is good and right to tip your hat or bow your head in gratitude to the one who stood up, spoke out and held steady. There are times when what is honorable is to acknowledge the valor of one who did what you could not; to recognize the gift of God that is a courageous heart
I have been following Rachel Held Evans
for about a year, not in a psycho stalker sort of way, rather as a distant admirer with my own set of reservations. I read her blog, bought her book on Biblical Womanhood and shared it with women in my church. I wonder where she studied and the origin of her passion for gender equality in the church and am dumbfounded by the precision and frequency of her posts.
I often take note of criticism cast her way, of jabs taken at her online persona, words wielded like swords that would reduce me to whimper and whine. I am humbled as she fights on. This past week Held Evans took on Catalyst’s online NINES Conference who offered 110 speakers in their line-up only four of whom were women. Held Evans objected via twitter to Nines organizer Todd Rhoades writing, “this is not what the church looks like.”
I read the twitter log back and forth a few days later and was once again, disappointed in church leaders who consistently make the error in lack of diversity and gender inclusion in events such as these and was disheartened by the venom cast Held Evans way by Christian men and conference organizers.
I thought about all the times I’ve returned home from attending some Christian conference, frustrated at the lack of female preaching presence, of all the countless instances when the male pronoun is the only one used or assumed when speaking of clergy, of every time I’ve avoided an event because of the numerous faces on the brochure, none of them looked like me. As a woman, a pastor and scholar I know this pain-this white hot anger-first hand but I have never, not once, publicly, forthrightly challenged a convener, denominational leader or conference organizer on these points. Instead, I go home, I wrap my frustration in a smile; practice my disappointment in detachment, return to my research, study harder, write better, preach more daringly, believing excellence is the path to overcome the obstacles before me.
Due to Held Evans persistence, the twitter battle led to some helpful dialogue about inclusion and we hope for good things to come. This post is not so much about my frustration or the short sided work of conveners of conferences such as The NINES as it is, a humble and heartfelt thanks to the woman who always raises the flag, who is ever taking the heat for the good of the church
. This is a moment from one woman to another, to issue praise and thanksgiving for prophetic and provocative imagination, for dreaming the dream that we can be better than we are, that even on this side we can reflect the image of God in whose likeness we are, all of us, made.
To Rachel Held Evans, fierce heart, irreverent grace filled, blogging phenom, I raise my glass and say “thank you, I am with you and for you”
I have a confession to make; I need to come clean. I am worn out and ragged and weary, I am my disintegrated self, my shadow side has come full front and has all but taken over. My allergies are on overdrive and my chocolate consumption has surpassed the normal and legal limits.
I feel competitive, like if I don’t post enough blogs, present enough papers, complete the never ending re-writes for the book contract I’ll be nothing, no one, lost.
I am red and raw from new opportunities that are both thrilling and terrifying because the truth is I don’t have what it takes to pull it off. I am sore and scathing at the same time because I am a forty year old woman who is still considered an emerging leader.
I watch my body morph with age, succumb to hormonal changes and surrender clothes that will never fit again to the consignment store and try to love the new soft curves I see in the mirror.
I lose my keys, every day, in the designer handbag that may as well be a hazmat container. I spend countless minutes each time I need to open a door scraping through tissues and gum and receipts and bottles of herbs to find the keys that I said I’d place in the same pocket next time so this would never happen again.
I have an unpaid speeding ticket on my refrigerator and if I don’t pay it, some piss ant county in a not to be named Midwest state will have my license suspended. I think, maybe that’s a good thing because then I could just sit here all winter by the fire with my cat on my lap and watch the seasons change outside my window.
Naturally, I blame Irenaeus and Augustine and all those fire brand holiness preachers who emphasized original sin and depravity because somehow from that I bought the lie God’s favor had to be earned.
I am afraid. I am scared that I am not now and never will be enough; paralyzed by my own fear that if I don’t produce, create, launch, cultivate, stratedgize, organize…
So I get my hair blown out, buy a new red lipstick, Chanel no. 99, and sit across the table at lunch with a friend who refreshes my spirit reminds me that I’m okay.
I study Scripture, I read the ancient text and I am aware that I come from a long line of busted up, broken folk, that my fore mothers are not likely heroines but over comers of great odds.
I visit strip clubs because the women there remind me that life is hard but God is near. In their embrace I am loved not because of the degrees that hang on my wall but because I have come to sit with them in the darkness. We share bread and drink and our lives and I remember why I was created, I remember it is all about showing up and stumbling through together, I remember it is all about love.
Praying for you all out there who might be feeling this way too; buy yourself some red lipstick and remember you are loved, you are not alone, you are enough.
As an associate professor of bible, I split my time between seminary and strip club because it is my fierce conviction that as the text impacts our lives, we should live accordingly.
That is to say, I take seriously Jesus’ charge to be light and salt, I am compelled by his model of shared life and supper with outcasts; I am transfixed by the stories of whores who are also heroines in the plan of God.
If you look close enough, you start to discern certain patterns hidden up under the sacred text, all those stories concerning men, handed down by men, interpreted by men across the ages. If you press in, like the woman with the issue of blood and bend over to see what Jesus is doing in the dust, like the woman caught in adultery, you will begin to see a counter-narrative emerge; hope scribbled right into these manuscripts, texts read from the bottom up. When you catch it, you will realize with Hagaar that God sees you and you will laugh out loud like Sarah at the hope of a baby in her barren womb. God has always been on our side.
So much like the strippers who are my friends, we tend to read the women of Scripture from the top down and thereby miss the wonder of God’s work before us. It is no accident that all the women named in the genealogy of Jesus are so called scandalous
. Like so many women who we read about in the canon, these women were oppressed by a system that left them few choices save to trade their bodies to survive.
Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute to lure her father in law to her bed so that she might have a child; Rahab, the harlot, welcomes the Hebrew spies and deceives her own king. At the impetus of her mother in law, Ruth dares to sneak to the threshing floor amidst a gang of drunken men to sleep next to Boaz so that he might take her for a wife; Bathsheba answers the king’s summons and becomes his concubine and the mother of his child. Mary is a pregnant, unwed teen who births forth the son of God. I often wonder if we knew deep the stories of women who went before us, would we be fortified. If we’d heard the stories scraped from the pages of the text, if they’d been relayed to us from the bottom up, from the point of view of woman, slave, victim of sexual abuse, warrior, sage, patrona, would we have received them differently, would we have been encouraged, would we have felt less alone, would we have a sense of our own worth and purpose in God’s plan? It doesn’t take long before you begin connecting the dots between the women of Scripture and sex workers, soccer moms and female seminarians, you begin to find much and more we have in common as women.
These commonalities stretch across the ages, reach across religious tradition and geography and socio economic standing. Some of these commonalities, unfortunately, render us paralyzed, unaware of our own divine, feminine power.
We are, all of us, afraid. Whether you take your clothes off for money or are scrambling to pack the perfect snack for the team or are working on the final draft of a manuscript for the last two years; we are convinced we are not enough.
Women who lead conferences, convene boards, sell their bodies for a living are terrified that someone will find out what we believe is true, we are worthless and wayward, overweight and over obsessed, too thin or too loud, not educated enough, not experienced enough, not credible enough, not smart enough, not beautiful enough, not …enough.
Most of us, it seems are starved and searching for stories of hope, stories of survival, stories of women who made it through the struggle, who found a way through the pain, to see and know God as manifest in feminine form, to be able to find ourselves in the miracles of Jesus and borne up on Spirit wings.
To this I say, receive the Good News of Christ who rescues, redeems, restores; the Lord your God is on your side.Travel with Kimberly to Greece/Turkey to study women of the New Testament up close and personal May 2014. For more information click here.
This is a post from January 2011 following a trip to Syria and Lebanon with CBH Viewpoint
It happens to me every time I leave the country. I leave with a sense of trepidation and concern, unsure about what I will experience, frustrated because I'm never sure what to pack or if I should have said "yes" to the travel or not. I brace myself for the uncomfortably of inconvenience and the unknown of not having what you need or want in a given moment and as always, these are hard but good experiences for the control freak. So after some days of recuperation and adaptation, I begin to wake up, my senses are heightened and I am more aware of my surroundings than ever, and inevitably, I begin to see God and I fall in love.
Today was that kind of day; I saw God in everyone and in every thing, today stones became sacred, laughter like incense and food a sacrament, all of it a reflection of the divine.I'm not sure when it began, but the love affair with this place and it's people, with God in it all has been wonderful and surreal for me today.
Maybe it began in the early morning sunlight on the steps of St. Christophos in SedNayay, Syria where our team gathered together to pray. You could hear the longing in the voices that sang God's praises and spoke out praise.
Perhaps it began as we made our ascent up into the mountains where the air is crisp and the sky is clear and visited an ancient church, Our Lady of SedNaya. We gathered there with believers and listened to the cantors and marveled at the turiffers and acolytes, we stood in reverence as we observed Holy Mass and the congregants celebrated Eucharist. The church itself was a sight to behold, built in the 5th century by Justinian to venerate an icon believed to have been drawn by the hand of Luke the evangelist and author of the Gospel.
Maybe I began to see it all in the face of the monk I met on the top of that same mountain after we pressed higher towards the peak stopping at the ancient monastery of the Sepharim. Padre Michael only spoke Arabic and Koine Greek because he too has devoted his life to studying the word in its original languages. And so, there we were he and I, talking about the ekklesia and the adelphoi, and so on. As we explored we discovered caves and Padre Michael explained that these caves were protection for persecuted Christians who had fled from Jerusalem on their way to Antioch and later housed monks who had set out to live the disciplined life.
I know that I must have seen it in the eyes of Madre Pelaggio, the nun who welcomed us at the church of St. Thekla. She told us the miraculous stories of this woman apostle who had traveled with Paul and had later ministered to the Gentiles there in what used to be Seleukia. Mother Pelaggio and the sisters invited us into their quarters and served us coffee and cookies and asked us to sign their registry.
I have seen it for a week now in the face of my sugary sweet roommate, Jennifer Helvering who crinkles up her nose and dives into every food to which she is introduced proclaiming it delicious, amazing and "out of control." It is the way she challenges me to leave my comfort zone and do things like down a steaming cup of Turkish coffee in one sip like it were a jello shooter at a New Year's Eve bash.
I was aware of it tonight for sure as we gathered with the Church of God in Damascus, holding hands and praying in Jesus' name, singing and laughing and of course, eating together and finding we are much more alike than different. I see God alive and at work in the life of Viviane, a young college graduate who translated for me tonight and told me, "I love Jesus, I want to give him everything." In a war torn country in a small church of 25 believers we prayed together for revival and look to God for the miracle of sustaining and growing their number and trusting that this church will be a part of changing the world.
And so now it is time to count my blessings and sleep, aware and awake though I am to God at work in this place and in me, thankful for my friends along this journey, those with me here and those with me in spirit.
God be praised.
Before you delete me from your facebook feed; know that I’m not suggesting that we become patrons who broker in the buying and selling of the dignity of women, rather that we should become friends with people in the broken places of the world.
It occurred to me after several years of post-doctoral education, a myriad of multi colored, matted degrees framed on my wall, after producing dozens of syllabi and grading an untold number of theses and exegetical projects, it became clear that something was missing. I needed to get outside the ivy colored walls and I needed to do this on a regular and ritual basis.
For me it began with preaching on rotation at the local jail, singing and sharing sacred texts with women weeping in their orange jumpsuits, photos of their children hanging round their necks the night before Christmas. Today I lead a group of women who serve and share light and love with dancers in local strip clubs.
It seems imperative for those of us who have given ourselves over to the pursuit of God through academic preparation, for those who have committed to honor God with our minds believing study is the highest form of worship; it seems necessary that we take our theological constructs out into the world where they can be challenged, tried and made known.
We, who write theology and pen insights for biblical commentary, those of us who read the ancient languages and preach and exposit texts must also be found where real life happens, in the dark hovels of strip clubs and in the game rooms of the community centers, under the bridges in the tent cities. We must be found among real people, the ones who feel forgotten, unloved and condemned by this God we study, pursue and proclaim.
Every once in a while we should come to class smelling like stale beer and cheap perfume, giving away our sanitized selves to really be with people not so that we help them transform into upstanding suburbanites who tithe but because Jesus said he was in them, because part of what we need to know we can only learn from the least of these.
We need to get out and walk among the desperate, the lonely, the addicted and infirm, we need to explore whether what we’ve learned really holds up under the devastation of poverty and loss and crystal meth.
This is, after all what Jesus did, the incarnate One walked and talked and dined with the harlots, the sick and the poor. It is good for us then, for those of us who have decided to follow him into years of graduate education and sleepless nights with our coffee soaked souls and ever mounting debt into the meager salaries of a life spent in vocational ministry, for us to be found doing what Jesus did so we strip away what is excess, all that is not needful and we find what is true, what is lasting, what remains, so that we remember why we starting studying in the first place.
Want to know how it all began...click here
to listen to this talk I gave at Indiana Wesleyan a few years ago during Summit Week. (To skip intro begin at 6.10)
The Butterflies of Hope Outreach is a ministry of shared life, love and light in Jesus name. Through the cooperation of Madison Park Church
, and the prayerful support of several women and men in our community, we are enabled to share our lives together with women who work in local strip clubs in our town.If you are in the Anderson/Indianapolis area and are interested in being a part of this incredible ministry, please email me. A community-wide interest meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, August, 28 at 5.30p.m. at Madison Park Church
.If you would like to invite me to come share about our ministry with your church, women's group or university please contact me via the contact form provided on this blog.
Read Kathy Keller's Review on Gospel Coalition here
Hi Kathy, Thanks for your review here. I recently led a book club group around Rachel's book. Both of her goals were accomplished in our case; we talked seriously about the ways in which we choose passages to be literal or not and we had open and honest discussion about biblical interpretation.
As a Professor of Biblical Studies, some parts were difficult for me as well. Not only are norms of historical critical exegesis left out, but also basic hermeneutical principles. However, I would like to suggest that a major piece missing is an understanding of reception history.
As you note, there are ways to interpret scripture that are long standing in academic circles, however, it is important to acknowledge that across the centuries people have not always followed these rules and have historically ripped passages from ancient, sacred texts and built oppressive theology upon them.
Additionally, we should be clear that the NT does not offer a monolithic agreement with the changes to OT practices introduced by Jesus and Paul, i.e., Peter and John continue to go to Temple after the crucifixion and resurrection (Acts 4,5), Jesus never says circumcision should be ceased, this is introduced by Paul and will be the major stumbling block of his ministry. The notion that Jesus' life and teaching, crucifixion and resurrection meant the end to varied interpretation and heated debate and schism over this is not faithful to the text. One need only to read the Pastorals and the Johannine letters to read into the troubles of subsequent generations of the church.
Of course, I wish all books about the bible were written by scholars, folks who had devoted life and training to such but that is my bias. Rachel gave the women in my group a jumping off point and our Spirit filled discussions carried us through.
Introduction to History and Literature of New Testament I
This course will examine the Hellenistic-Roman and Jewish world into which Jesus was born and the New Testament emerged. The student will be introduced to the debate over the topic of the historical Jesus and will craft a portrait of Jesus within the context of first century Judaism for examination. The classroom experience will include discussions on methodology and exegesis as we move towards a study of the synoptic gospels and John. This course will challenge students to read Scripture through the lens of the historical, theological and literary contextual nuances of the first century as well as help them to see the true socio-political motivations behind the crucifixion and to be able to mine the text for the central message of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
Fall 2013- Residential Syllabus
Fall 2013-Online Syllabus
*Students should note that some details are subject to change however, and are marked as such, however, book and reading assignments are set