Something happens when you become a mama at forty one years.
When your life’s work has been focused out there, and taking the right next steps; about proving yourself in an arena where we hang our achievements on the walls and add letters to the ends of our name. When your field is built on searching, digging deep, posting findings, projecting results; when you are trained to always look for the emerging voice, to be abreast on the newest way and the ancient equivalent, it can be difficult to lose sight of here and now.
When all your energy is invested in preparing ministers you can forget to minister to yourself, to serve and honor those with whom you share a
home, to be awake in the day to day four walls of where you live. When you travel across the world to discover the wonders of by gone civilizations to study ruins and find magic in the storied stones and timeless dust you can miss the miracles in your own zip code the mercies that break fresh and new with each morning’s first light.
So when a little healer comes your way, wrapped in soft pink flesh, cradled in heaven’s scent, stars dancing in his eyes you stop-- and the rest of the planet goes silent --as you wait to learn what his tiny fingers and curled angel toes have to teach you in this world.
That is exactly how it happened for me almost a year ago now when an unexpected phone call on a Sunday afternoon changed our lives forever. We’d had life changing calls before to be sure, so many times before when the voice on the other end broke news that shattered the world; when the ground we stood on erupted and gushed forth in fire and white hot pain leaving behind only ash and embers that were all but snuffed out by the dark cold reality that is death.
But this time, it was different.
The voice on the other end heralding the news that in the space of a few seconds you have become a mother, and your husband a father, and your baby boy not twenty four hours old is waiting to greet you. You pack a bag in disbelief like so many times before only for this trip, your face hurts from smiling and instead of choosing a funeral dress, you consider curling your hair so your son meets you at your best that first shining moment.
And then they wheel the gift in, these nurses who have kept watch, held and loved this little guy so he was loved right from the start, they laugh and they cry as you take him in your arms for the first time and there is nothing but joy and new and miracle and wonder. You blink back tears because somewhere down deep, though this dream has long since been placed on a shelf in the far recesses of your heart, you always knew he would come to you this way and here you now are.
You hold him the night through because he sleeps sounder on your chest than in the hospital crib and already you fit together skin to skin, heart to heart and he is yours and you are his.And suddenly the words of your prayer rings again in your ears like a lullaby soft and true, “I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living.”
You remember the promise, reading it that night in the dark hospital room while the machines beeped and you watched her breathe in and out and knew the letting go had already begun, you turned the page of her well worn bible and read, “The Lord will again fill your mouth with joy and your lips with shouts of laughter” Job 8.21.
And on this night, in the hospital reclining on the most uncomfortable bed, holding your baby boy you know the promise has come to pass; you know as you hold your son and he breathes in life and light and love that the Lord your God has restored what the locusts have eaten and `you will ever so slightly begin to heal
And just like that, as if the stitches have been removed, the ones holding your shattered heart in one piece, reveal the fresh shiny rose colored skin of scars you now bear that sing the song of triumph and all things new. You know this child of wonder has come to invite you back into your one life, beautiful and terrifying as it is, it is yours, and this is now and you are loved and you are known and you are held.
My tanned skin is slowly fading. I chase the warm sun before it shifts from the bright light of summer to the even ‘time shades of gold and russet. The pool is closed most of the day now as kids return to school and the baby needs new shoes. Preparation for a new year is underway and I am keenly aware of the turning seasons. His tiny foot now broad muscles pressed down to hold him up as he makes his first steps in the warm solid earth of this world.
I wonder as I sit in front of the laptop watch the courser blink, if I remember how to write or teach or study anything that isn’t him with his dimpled knuckles and perfect round mouth where cheerios now fit with ease. I know the world rages, terror is amok and new political candidates have burst onto the scene. I am aware of recent abuse and violation come to light from men who stood forward under the bright lights and kept secrets all their own. I haven’t missed the atrocities alleged of women’s clinics where we hoped women were served with care or the number of deaths that continue to rise when my dark skinned brothers and sisters are engaged by those meant to keep us safe. I weep, I cringe, I hold my baby close and count his eyelashes again.
It is not that the world has changed, the jagged edges and soft beautiful wonders are perennial, it is me, I am different. I marvel how this tiny babe has caused my eyes to open, resuscitated my weary heart grown now like so much in the Grinch’s own tale. Here I am at the dawn of all things new, the world as troubled as it was before, my losses a drop of water in the sea compared to so many in my human family and I come to where I have already been—though--changed, renewed, hurts healed over, knees bent in gratitude and bowed to love.
I say aloud and bear on my chest what I have always known but have now come to live-- love heals. These words not a bumper sticker but a victory chant, the broken alleluia of a scholar and storyteller and strip club pastor, new mama and struggling sister. It is the triumphant song of those who stumble in the footsteps of the One who at once reigns and is the slaughtered Lamb (Revelation 5).
I know now that healing is not so much cast down from a grand stage, words sang out under the lights as much as it is the small, human moments when we touch, stand in the gap, hold the sacred space, say what is true and real. I know moving forward is wrought in the fiery irons of authentic friendship with people who sit in the ash heap alongside you and hold your hand at the bottom. I know that transformation is the result of a thousand tiny seconds when love beats through the darkness like a firefly in the summer sky, helps you read your way through and follow the stars. I know God calls to us like God called to Abram and Sarai, “Go, and when you get there, I’ll tell you” (Genesis 12).
This is what I know. As the season fades and the new one dawns I wish you peace and grace, I wish you love and light and eyes to see the shining moments and shimmering skies, time to hold all you love close and the intention to do so. I wish you the blessing of knowing you are where you have been sent and the awareness that those around you are heaven's gifts poured out.
Please find a list of required books for Majeski courses fall 2015-2016. Anderson University classes begin, Monday, August, 31 and syllabi will be available on first day of class. See you soon!!
BIST 6210 History and Literature of the New Testament I*
Ehrman, Bart, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to Early Christian Writings; 5th Ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press,2011)
Reasoner, Mark, Roman Imperial Texts: A Sourcebook (New York: Fortress, 2013)
BIBL 2000 Introduction to the Bible
Frigge, Marielle, Beginning Biblical Studies (Revised edition). Winona, MN : Anselm Academic, 2013.
The Bible (I recommend NRSV but students are welcome to bring any translation preferred but must be able to access Bible for class, every class)
CMIN 2000 Introduction to Christian Ministry
Evans, Rachel Held, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015)
CMIN 3050 Corporate Ministries: Communicating the Gospel
Lischer, Richard, The Company of Preachers: Wisdom on Preaching, Augustine to the Present (New York: Eerdmans, 2002)
Taylor, Barbara Brown, The Preaching Life (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1993)
*Applies to residential and online sections of BIST6210
Once in a while, in the rarest cases your own imagination, images conceived in your own heart and mind take to life in someone else’s depiction. That’s certainly how I felt watching this week’s installment of #FindingJesus as the @cnn series presented St. Helena, mother of Constantine and we might say matron to all Christian pilgrims. Her long neck, the graceful sweep of her hands, the pained brow of a troubled but purposed life that held in place the earned crown, took to screen on Sunday’s episode. She was strong, resilient, clever and cunning and it is to Helena we owe the gift of Holy Land pilgrimage and the blessing of pressing our hands into the dust teaming with resurrection life. If we are indeed to be fascinated by early church holy women, we must include St. Helena in the conversation. If we retrace the steps of Jesus, turn over stones this Holy Week, it is to Helena we owe thanks. While her story is dated to later antiquity, her contributions to the Christian church cannot be rivaled.
According to Eutropius, Helena came from a lowly background and St. Ambrose will later explain that Helena was an innkeeper or a stable maid, perhaps much like Rahab who welcomed the Israelite spies. Though it is unknown exactly how, Helena will meet and become involved with Roman General Constantius Chlorus. While later sources consider Constantius and Helena to have been married, by the time he becomes Caesar, Constantius will divorce and/or dismiss Helena to marry another woman, though Helena has borne him a son—Constantine in or around 272. Constantius then sent Helena and Constantine to the court of Diocletian who is known for his empire wide persecution of Christians.
Surviving Diocletian’s court, Constantine distinguished himself as a general and in 306 following the death of his father, Constantine was hailed Augustus and Caesar. It was in 312 that Constantine saw the vision of the Chi Rho and had had his soldiers paint it on their shields. As Constantine rose to power he became more involved with the Christian church, though he also maintained allegiance to pagan gods and practices as evidenced by coinage and other architecture.
According to tradition, soon after convening the Council of Nicea in 325, a period of family strife for Constantine when rumors of his eldest son Crispus’ affair with Constantine’s second wife Fausta as well as Crispus’ plans to usurp his father surface. Constantine has Crispus killed and later learns that the rumor has been Fausta’s creation to further her own son’s interests. Constantine then has his wife killed in a most unpleasant way. It is shortly after all this treachery in 326 that Empress Helena, by now named Augusta sets out to re-trace the steps of Jesus and discover the true cross.
It is Helena’s journey to the Holy Lands which leads to the re-discovery of many important sites for Christianity, previously taken over by Hadrian and others to build pagan temples and shrines. Helena orders the excavations of one of these sites on the prompting of a dream, believing it to be the site of the true cross. Legend is that upon finding crosses underneath the shrine, Helena takes pieces of the three to a dying woman. Upon placing the cross of Christ on the woman, she is healed. Helena then has the cross split into pieces of wood and disbursed through the empire to encourage the faithful. Helena will also have churches built in Bethlehem and on the Mount of Olives to venerate the life of Christ.
This Holy Week as we read the stories of the Gospels, enact the sacred rituals and remember the life of this Jesus who walked the streets of Galilee and ultimately went up to Jerusalem and Golgotha, let us give thanks also for the woman who first helped us mark these steps so we might follow Jesus in his.
Judas- traitor or friend of God; this is the question raised as we consider the codex discovered in the 1970’s found later to be “The Gospel of Judas” deemed heresy by the Bishop of Lyon in AD 180. The Gospel of Judas is the subject of this week’s installment of the CNN series Finding Jesus.
If you follow this blog you know I am fiercely passionate about the academy equipping the church. That is to say, I understand a good bit of my work to focus on building a bridge between scholarship and pastoral ministry rather than maintaining our long formed silos fashioned by history, schisms and creeds. I advocate for the formation of persons who are educated and informed about matters of faith, church history, theology and scripture.
Part of the process, then, is confronting topics once discussed only in scholarly circles such as The Other Gospels. While the canon of the New Testament, formally named as only 27 books by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria in his Festal Letter of 367 AD, we now know there were many, many other writings. We call these works, the New Testament Apocrypha and among these letters are works that are also called Gospels. These other Gospels include, but are not limited to, Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Phillip and Gospel of Judas which we are delving into here.
Judas is a codex of fragments that have been reconstructed and debated for years since the first translation published in 2006. In the Gospel of Judas, the author presents Judas’ first person account of life with Jesus. In the pieces of recovered text, Jesus is found imparting to Judas secret knowledge through visions and Judas is ultimately entrusted with the difficult task of turning Jesus over to the Sanhedrin so that the will of God can be accomplished. Here Judas does the hard thing for the good of the world.
Further, the followers of Jesus, namely the disciples, are depicted here as utterly clueless and in a nightmare scene, their futures are revealed as blood soaked debauchery and doom. Since Judas is dated to the second century it is interesting that what is offered is a picture of people sworn to the cause of Jesus who are doing anything but living according to his teachings. Essentially, those who Jesus places in leadership think they are doing the right thing but they are not. Given the context of the second generation of the church, in Finding Jesus, Nicola Denzey Lewis suggests Judas is, “a political smear campaign against the people running the early church.”
Scholars debate the translation of Jesus depiction of Judas in the text, while some have translated the greek diamon as “spirit” April DeConick and others read it as “demon” so that Jesus refers to Judas as the “thirteenth demon” so that the text does not vindicate Judas.
Needless to say, this text and others offer us a window into history, a portrait of the early church, and invaluable information as to the tensions and issues inherent in the fledgling movement who had moved towards institutionalization. It is important to remember that Athanasius’ letter did not cause communities to abandon their deeply loved texts and these texts, outside of Athanasius named letters continued to inform church belief and practice.
“Mephibosheth, rise” I said the words like so many times before, moved as I am by this story of David the king and Jonathan’s son. Told the story to a room full of 45 18-25 year old college students who are taking the obligatory bible course for their undergraduate degree, and it caught me again. The gospel lived out in David’s bloodsoaked throne room, in the aftermath of his defeat of Saul’s sons and the near obliteration of Saul's line to protect the new king from another political uprising. Except this one, Jonathan’s son, lame in both feet who had lived his life in secrecy since the night his nurse dropped him while trying to smuggle him out of the palace as word got back that Saul and Jonathan had been killed.
In the ancient world, Mephibosheth was a throw away—as were most with physical infirmities—he wasn’t able to work, to fight, to lead or to hold public office so he was utterly dependent upon the kindness of whomever would take him in. The night they brought him before David he must have thought he’d be killed too and wondered why the king had bothered to bring him in. He asked David, “What do you need with a dead dog like me,” here belying his own lowly status in the kingdom until the king rewrites his story and changes his life forever (2 Samuel 9).
David restored all that Mephibosheth has lost, all that belonged to the house of Saul now transferred to his grandson and the king himself welcomed Mephibosheth to his own table, brought him into the royal family and gave him status as son of the king. Mephibosheth was, at once, given provision and protection in the house of David; his brokenness covered by the benevolence of the king.
I taught that story in class on Wednesday and hung out in strip clubs on Thursday and couldn’t help connect the two experience. I was realize this full awake to the fact this is what the gospel compels us to do, open wide our arms to those who are thought ‘least’ among us, embrace those who are powerless, share with them the feast of abundance found only in the kingdom, enacted by those of us who have also been covered by the king. I was aware how over and over in Scripture the busted up, broken bum is the one for whom the royal robe and fatted calf wait. I couldn’t help but be aware that’s how I felt in the arms of my friends in the clubs. I was awash with emotion as I was welcomed, given a seat of honor and afforded the precious gifts of time and story, of friendship and trust. I was once more, undone by the power of love and reminded again how much we all need it.
For more information on our ministry visit us strippedlove.org
I believed every- single- word. I lay in my bunk at camp in the hot, heavy, humid midsummer of Tennessee, fans whirring in the cabins ages old with dust, names of campers before me scratched into the walls for posterity. While other girls slept and dreamed about boys, I held my flashlight to the text and memorized the words of the Bible to win the contest, acquire the points, to be the best of the Christians that week.
Did I like boys—sure, in fact it was at youth camp that I had my first kiss, first heartbreak, attended my first “couple’s event” where I sat looking longingly at the other girls paired off with pimply boys all shorter than us. All of it, at camp out in those woods down by the river. But what I really loved, what I really wanted, as far back as I can remember, was knowledge.
Even as a hormone raging adolescent I was heady with the idea that I could know more than the other campers, that I could recall information like some sort of super power that I could apply a given scripture as an answer to anyone’s question at any given time. I believed my mastery of Scripture in the King’s English made me a star in the eyes of God, gave me status as good, worthy, and even, better than. But I was young, mind and body not yet fully formed, faith un-tested, and “if/then” systems I’d come to believe from the holy writ still strong in me like so much Geometry.
It was before all of the losses before life had taken enormous chunks out of my armor, before the formulae I had constructed had fallen apart and failed to bear me up in the hospital emergency rooms, before the phone call in the night destroyed everything bright and beautiful, before cold February snow beside the grave, the grave, the grave. That was before the God I had constructed-- the one I could lead around with a rope, the one who would go where I led and do my bidding according to my Christmas list prayers-- failed me, left me cold and broken and hopelessly lost.
It was before I learned this text was wild and free, mysterious and charged with the super natural, before I knew the people who wrote it were just like you and me. This was long before I knew there would be things I could not know and trees in the garden of which I could not eat and a path, a call into the darkness from which I wanted to run. It was before I knew the leading of the Spirit or the power of Jesus present in suffering—back when I thought this old book was meant for me to study and conquer and apply like so many handbook instructions.
So I studied the words, read them in their original language, eyed yellowed, fragile fragment’s through looking glass and wept before scrolls preserved under the light. And I bowed, humbled and low in reverence for what is long old and true, for what is better and beyond me.
“I believe I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living” my spirit cried, those verses thrumming in my heart, maybe they were only words once, only content before but they were deep in me and came back in the midnight hour while I heard the drip of the machines, the beep and hum of the oxygen and my lips quivered like Hannah’s in the tabernacle. I cried out not in faith but in desperation, and then I knew. The words did not need me, it was I who needed them—her-- Hokmah, Sophia, the wisdom of God the feminine pre existent wisdom of God who came to this world in the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus who had sweat blood at his own hour of need, who had cried and languished and begged God to remove the cup that sat before him and bid him drink, Jesus who walked on for love.
Now I repent, I confess, I proclaim, I testify. I will not try to tame it, I will not try to possess it, I will not worship the words, but the one who gave them to me through the fallen, blood soaked hands of the busted up humans whose stories are woven together across the centuries by the Spirit’s own power to remind me that I am not alone and I am in and through and at the end of it all called to love.
I am a Christian and I read it. I am a Bible professor, I am a minister to women in sex trade, I am a wife, a mother, an aunt, a friend and a feminist and that's exactly why I read Fifty Shades of Grey.
I read it for much the same reason I read the Davinci Code, because I am always curious about pieces of art and literature that are deemed "off limits" by the church. As a result of any given smear campaign or all-out assault of a novel from well-intentioned sisters and brothers in the faith; I am convinced I must read the book to form my own opinion as I am sure many, who are speaking out against it, have not.
In the case of the Davinci Code, I wanted to learn exactly what historical claims and MSS evidence was so air tight that it had alluded biblical scholars and been revealed to novelist Dan Brown to the point of threatening our faith. Regarding Fifty, I wanted to know why Christian women were purchasing this book in secret while pastors and church leaders were warning us from it for fear it would erode our marriages and feed our porn addicted proclivities-since we are aware that statistics for divorce and porn addiction are the same inside the church as outside.
My marriage some 15 years intact, and since I don’t struggle with addiction to pornography-- rather a whole host of other sins like worry, overeating and an unhealthy lust for perfection-- I thought it was something I could read and present an informed position not based in fear or rage.
So I read it. Afterwards I felt much like I did after reading the Twilight novels, (another cultural marvel born out of young adult fiction) wondering why in the world this literature was some sort of phenomena.
First of all, I am generally turned off by any and all 30 year old billionaires since I have been in school since Moses and Miriam walked the earth and have been working hard towards tenure, writing and researching my fingers to the bone all the while carrying a full load of classes. I hate to even think about some fantasy world where some young punk who didn't earn it owns his own plane and corporate firm.
The dialogue between Mr. Grey and Ms. Steele was as cheeky (forgive the pun) and cliched as Saturday morning "Saved by the Bell" in the eighties. Though one might accept their sexual appeal towards each other, I was left unconvinced of their love since none of the fires of life had tested it yet. In EL James' defense, this book was meant to be fan fiction as a take-off of Edward and Bella, the same couple who left me asking, "Are you serious??" throughout the Twilight novels. Edward's cool gallantry and Bella's emotionless response to his already dead folk affection was—to turn a phrase-- a waste of vampire blood.
I am vehemently against the forced submission, oppression and abuse of women in any form. I also must caution here and inform readers that there are S&M rings that exist in which women are trapped, coerced and forced to remain and perform. This is a form of trafficking and is the plight of our times.
Though I didn't find this to be the case with characters in Fifty, I read Ana to be consenting albeit foolish and Christian to be wounded and damaged beyond repair such that his only connection with women must be through a mutually agreed upon arrangement providing for his own dominance. It seemed to me that sex was what bound them to one another and they had trouble relating through much else.
It turns out, this is not what my fantasies are made of. Instead, my heart beats for the man who has stood steadfastly beside me through all the twists and turns of life, through all the loss and grief of the past decade and a half, who has helped to steady me on the rocky path of broken dreams and shattered relationships of best laid plans that fell utterly apart. I am not “drunk in love” with a man in a mask, rather a man with a heart revealed through time and tragedy and the occasional burned sweet potato fries.
I wonder if this is the antidote then to all our fear of a movie set to air on the day of St. Valentine, that we quiet our hearts and ease our troubled minds by looking to what we have and who we are, by trusting in the person we chose to do life with and knowing in his arms we are safe and good. Maybe instead of picketing a movie premier or forbidding parishioners to view it, we should take care to make sure the wounded people in our lives know they are loved.
Maybe this cultural phenomena shows us again how important it is that we begin to have real and needed discussions about sex, sexual ethics and relationships in the church, about roles and respect for the presence of the divine in us all. Maybe we see here the critical work before us and we press in to flesh out a theology of women that doesn’t render us silent and less than rather empowered and free. Maybe we should be informed rather than afraid, more Jesus-y and a lot less preach-y and more warm and welcoming to people in pain so they are invited out of the shades and shadows of grey.
She was always there in her red velvet robe, coffee brewing, steam swirling red fine point pen in hand, my mother bent over the scriptures which lay open on our kitchen table in the blue pink pre morning dawn.
In the field beside our home, the farmer would get the cows up while my mother would scour the worn well paper thin pages of her bible for words of hope and peace. I grew up in a home where the bible was revered and read but not always understood. My earliest memories are my mother imparting the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Miriam and Moses, Jesus and Mary to me so that these narratives imprinted themselves upon my heart until I deep loved and knew them as well as my own.
Though we read the bible faithfully, tried to own the stories, tried to live according to God’s plan our humanness often broke in and we were rude and short tempered, we were disrespectful and lazy, there were lies and adultery, compassion and jealousy, there was competition and betrayal-- we were nothing like the heroes whose stories we regaled—or so we thought.
As I grew and studied the stories of my childhood, the felt board characters and bedtime tales became my life’s work, my academic and spiritual focus and I learned we were perhaps a lot more like the folks in the ancient text than I had previously thought. It turns out we had skipped lots of the most important parts in Sunday School, hadn’t heard a lot of sermons about the failures, the imperfections, the neuroses.
We never spoke of Abraham trading his wife for favor with the king, not once but twice while he ever remaining the “friend of God.” We said nothing of God’s own attempt to kill Moses on the way down to Egypt after sending him. I missed the story where Lot’s daughters got him drunk so that they could seduce him or of Tamar’s desperation and her scheme to become pregnant so that she dressed like a prostitute to have sex with her father in law which resulted in the blessing of twins. I’m certain I didn’t really know what transpired between Ruth and Boaz or how or why Jesus said, “if you don’t hate your family you cannot be my disciple.”
It seems like today in a world torn by war and violence, where discrimination runs rampant in and outside of the church, where children are killed in the streets and marriages are torn asunder where we fight obesity and starvation on the across the same globe, it might be important to be honest about what the bible does and does not say. To confess what is true, that in some cases we have decided certain parts don’t apply any more but other parts do. We’ve made peace with eating shellfish but battles still rage over the definitions of marriage and the status of women in ministry.
It feels like holding space for a real conversation about the tattered pages of scripture, the stories of our fore parents who tell us how they understood themselves and how they knew God is a sacred undertaking. It seems true that a discussion about how texts have been interpreted across the ages and in different cultures and communities might help us find our way.
Perhaps a confession that the Bible is an artifact of the divine human relationship, illumined by Spirit work and fraught with human struggle is a refreshing and needed proclamation. Maybe though we agree everything necessary for salvation is right there, sewn into the pages, so is a lot of confusion as well as help for our broken, bruised, needy selves if we will trust the work of the Spirit in community to walk with us. Join me on the blog to get honest, gritty and real about what the text says, what it doesn't say and what it meant to the community out of which it was formed and how it has been used across the centuries—here we will be honest about the Bible.