As a child of divorce, I know first hand how difficult it can be to move forward, find your way and learn to trust again when you feel like your life blows up. Sometimes it seems more complicated by the fact that we are Christians dealing with circumstances beyond our control. The love, care and response of the church for hurting people can not be overstated. This is a powerful program we recorded recently with a couple of people struggling to find health and wholeness after divorce. To learn more about Christian's Broadcasting Hope and the Viewpoint Radio Ministry click here
Sand and palms, breeze rolls in off the sea, sun beats down and she hears the cries of her children. She settles land disputes, answers the widow’s claim and listen’s for God on the wind; Israel, Yahweh’s ever unfaithful bride and Deborah her prophet and mother. Her story a bit obscure, tucked inside the history of the shophatim eclipsed by the conquest of Joshua, the sun standing still, the bloodshed and battlecries of men; Deborah’s is a story of faithfulness, a witness to shema, to hear and obey God. We tug at the threads of the Tanak to find her and the song of her victory to know her more, this woman and warrior.
Considered some of the oldest material in the Hebrew Canon, this ancient poetry, the Song of Deborah found in Judges chapter 5, is shaped by the actions of female characters around whom the story is fashioned. Deborah, the mother of Israel who leads the armies to battle at Meggido, Jael who is blessed among women and Sisera’s mother who waits in vain for the return of her son.
For those of us currently obsessed with the Game of Thrones series--and who isn't--perhaps Deborah is an ancient Daenyerus Stormborn type, if only with more clothing and much darker hair and skin. Both are women who step into their destiny, who rule and lead and rescue those placed in their care, those who call them Mother or Mhysa. While Deborah’s beast is a mule not a dragon such as is Daenyerus, both are women driven by providence to rise.
It seems important to tell Deborah’s story maybe now more than ever after the dust has settled and many have forgotten her song. It seems important to remind ourselves of her strength and courage even now while the battle rages on about women and if they can be used by God and if the ways in which they might be used are limited because of their own Divine image bearing gender.
There are books to tell us how we should live, Christian Women’s Bible Studies fashioned around idols of perfection held up as our standard, we women who love God. But before all that, before stories were interpreted and illustrated according to the context and cultures of the modern era, there was a woman who ruled the people of God.
Deborah of course, would not have had any sort of military training, would never have run drills or have learned how to lead armies of men into the fray. It is true, God’s call met her, led her outside of the norm, counter to a proscribed female role but that’s what God’s call will do, take you outside of yourself, carry you into lands you do not know, ask you to depend on God rather than what you know or where you’ve been or how much you can do.
The Hebrew word shema is to hear and obey. Different than the English equivalent, there is no need for a second word, to hear God was to obey God. How would our lives change if upon hearing God’s call we did that crazy, unreasonable, unbelievable, illogical thing, answered the tug in our spirit that cries, “Go, Be, Do.” For Deborah it meant leaving the palm trees, exchanging her perch for a saddle and finally 40 years of peace for Israel.
Today I am praying for all my sisters, women and warriors, for clarity of call and certainty of mission even as you trod uncharted territory and leap into waters unknown. May you find comfort in Deborah’s song and know that God has always called and the faithful have always answered, that gifts usurp gender, that fear and doubt are not from God. Today as you rock babies and close deals, prepare dinner, wash laundry and convene committees sing her song and find the will to rise.
I was so honored to contribute to the anthology, "Called to Minister, Empowered to Serve" along with other female clergy and scholars whom I admire greatly. This book offers a biblical, historical, theological and ethical rationale for women in ministry in the voice of, from the perspective of and in the Spirit of women. Below you can read an excerpt from my chapter on Women in the Old Testament. "Called to Minister, Empowered to Serve" is now available in Kindle Edition at amazon.com
In the pages of the Hebrew Bible we find beautiful imagery and noble typography, contours of women who have gone before us and left their mark. In the material known to us today as the Old Testament, we read of women who were prophets, military leaders, priests, wise women and wisdom personified. However, to study the lives of these women is no easy task. The reality is, the stories, as we have them are not handed down to us from the voices of the women themselves, rather what we have is an image rich narrative developed from a covenantal history, drawn upon the map of patriarchy. The narratives then, are primarily concerned with the public lives of men who are or are in some way related to the patriarchs and are connected to the emergence of the monarchy. It must also be stated that the narratives are also recorded, copied, edited and compiled by men who live many centuries after those women and men whose stories they are trying to convey.
We must understand at the outset that the material we have existed first as oral tradition and communities were formed around story, many of these stories endured across the generations to be recorded during the compilation of the codices which are now considered canonical by persons of Jewish and Christian faith. To do these women any justice we must unearth information about their world, status, society and gender roles in ancient Israel. We are helped then to also consider archaeology and anthropological studies in concert with the Scriptures to gain a better picture of life in ancient Israel for women.
In the Hebrew Bible, we find the stories of a people and a society who traverse the land of the Ancient Near East for more than 1,200 years (Murphy, Cullen: 1993). Of the 1,426 persons named within the narrative of the Old Testament, 111 of these named persons are women. While this seems like a small number, the witness of the lives of these women is powerful and their presence in this male dominated text reveals a prominence held by certain women. Though a casual reading of the Old Testament might leave us with the impression that women were confined to the domain of the home and their sole contribution was procreation, a closer look demonstrates another dynamic altogether. Mayer Gruber points out that women served as judges (Judges 4.4-5), officiated funerals as clergy (Jer. 9.16-19; 2 Chron. 35.25), slaughtered animals in priestly and domestic rites, served as prophetesses and sages (2 Samuel 14; 20.16-22), both nursed children and read Scripture in public settings (Gruber, Mayer: 1999). Gruber has also rightly demonstrated that within the Hebrew Scriptures we have accounts of women as priestesses (Exodus 38.8; 1 Sam. 2.22), poets (Exodus 15.21; Judges 5.1-31; Proverbs 31.1-9), musicians (Ps. 68.26), “queens, midwives; wet-nurses; babysitters; business persons; scribes; cooks; bakers; producers of cosmetics (I Sam. 8.13 ) as well as innkeepers and prostitutes (Josh.2).”
While the scope of this study will not allow us to consider the 111 named women of the Hebrew Bible, we will take a representative group and trace their lives, their communal impact and their covenantal significance. We do this in effort to illuminate the reality that though the narrative of Hebrew Bible is primarily concerned with the lives of the patriarchs, there exists also a counter narrative that demonstrates the activity of God present and powerful in the lives of many women which reverberates through the nation of Israel for the good of the world. The group we will consider here is the women of the genealogy of Jesus offered in Matthew’s Gospel as each of these women emerge from the story of ancient Israel and the tradition of their contributions endure into the New Testament Canon and beyond. The narratives of these women, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba offer us traditions of women who were significant in the life of ancient Israel if also representatives of life in a given place and time who simultaneously rise from the narrative to demonstrate women as agents of God’s covenantal and universal work.
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Photo courtesy of former student Rev. Teri Ditslear
So here it is!! The much anticipated book list for my Finding Your Voice: A Course on Preaching
Offered this summer online at Anderson University, beginning May 30, 2013. This course is open to Anderson University School of Theology students and non students. For more information on how to enroll click here.
The course is dedicated to helping preaching persons develop skills in reading life and communicating grace; strengthening the spiritual muscles needed to sift through what seems mundane and profane in search of the sacred.
This is an experience in shimmering words and haunting images where we acquaint ourselves with the groaning’s of this world and the need for visions of hope and light in our darkness.
Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life (Lanham, Maryland: Cowley), 1993.
George Martin, Game of Thrones: A Song of Fire and Ice, Book 1 (New York: Bantam), 2010.
Lauren Winner, Still: Notes on a Mid Faith Crisis (New York: Harper), 2012
Will Willimon, Preaching Master Class: Lesson’s From Will Willimon’s Five Minute Preaching Class (Eugene, OR: Cascade), 2010
Texts will be augmented by numerous podcasts and primary sources from early mystics such as Hildegaard, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila and John of Chrysostom. Students will experiment with different preaching styles in order to find the one that fits and work to understand the office of preacher as midwife, enduring with others to help them birth forth new life in hearts, homes, and communities.
I grew up avoiding the holiday altogether, spending the day with my mom and sister and friends at our local theme park. We would laugh, eat five dollar snow cones and stand in line for hours to get soaked in the rapids of the Grizzly River Rampage.
My mom’s mother died suddenly at the age of 47, and for as long as I can remember the pain was too great to bear; the church service where the pink carnations were passed around in honor of Mother’s Day, the poems and the tributes left my mother’s already broken heart vanquished.
Instead of donning corsages, we engaged in pure bliss; built new traditions out of the ashes, felt the sun warm on our skin and thanked God for the gift of each other. It has now been two years now since my sweet, strong, sassy mother passed on Mother’s Day and I am reflecting on how hard it is to face this day for so many of us whose mothers are no longer in this world, for those who long to have children but cannot, who have never known a mother’s love.
I am no expert in grief, hold no degrees in loss and love but have lived it enough to want to share what I know. For my part, holding her hand while she drew her final breaths, being fully present with my Mother in her final moments as she had been with me in my first kicks and cries felt like a passage, entre into the wide circle of life, a birthing into full womanhood and the great privilege of my forty years. So as I look to this day, it only seems right to celebrate the gift of her, the goodness of her wisdom and to honor her legacy of love.
Here are some helps I’ve learned along the path that might help you through:
1. Sew love: If there are others around you for whom this day is difficult for a myriad of reasons, invite them to join you for brunch. Eat, laugh and lift glasses, thank God for the goodness of family born in Christ Jesus and the bonds of brokenness that unite.
2. Celebrate feminine voice: Go hear a good woman preacher. Immerse yourself in images and the prophetic, poetry and prose of women who inspire, challenge and encourage you. Relish the gift of being born a woman, graced with the office of bringing forth, nurturing, embracing and releasing life.
3. Give thanks: Send notes, facebook posts, surprise text messages to all those girlfriends who run themselves ragged between board meetings and ball parks, who rock high heels and burp cloths; squeeze their babies, affirm their world changing call and work.
4. Plant goodness: Find the perfect rose or peony and set it in the dirt, press it down and drench it with water in memory or honor or in hope of what might come. Send bouquets to women who have stood in the gap, who have mothered you, loved and seen you through.
The end is near. These are the days of the last class, the last exam, the last of the cookies and cake; thanks be to God. Time now to pack your belongings and set out into the world armed with your call, equipped with education. These are the days when we dust off the cap and gown and wrap arms around you and wipe away the tears.
This is where we speak a word of gratitude to you, whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for all the joy, hope and healthy tension you have brought into our lives; we embrace you and wish you well though we’d like to hold on for just a little while. We teach because we love to learn and you have taught us well. Your convictions buzzing around your head that you dared to speak, forbidden questions you found the courage to ask that caused us all to stretch and shake and know God; for this we give thanks.
We honor you with tassels and golden cords; drape you in the scarlet of theology as if to wrap you in the full armor of God though we send you out not to do battle but to sew goodness and light. We pray that by our stamp and seal you will remember your hermeneutic is love that your priority is not fortune’s folly but those who are broken and bruised, crushed under the feet of this world who await the kerygma you sing with your life, and they will know you by your love.
May the Holy Scriptures be your guide, not your idol nor your weapon but a testimony to the love that never fails, never ceases, endures beyond the grave. In the pages, worn and studied may you be reminded that you are never alone in your fear, in your doubt, in your struggle. May you be what Cain could not, the keeper of your brother and sister, the one who heeds the call of the prophets to remember the poor and will follow Christ to serve the least of these.
As you exegete Scripture, remember also to exegete life, find time to reflect, to center, to pray; may you hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church. Look hard for grace and redemption where they can be found and call them out. Laugh loud, work hard and forgive yourself when you make mistakes. Remember the Shabbat, find a way to keep it, you need space for rest and trust in your life.
As you go, remember this is your home, that in this place you found your way and that in these hallowed halls walk people who believe in you.
The Last Judgement, John Martin 1853
As the spring semester comes to a close in central Indiana the pear trees are in full bloom, the daffodils wake to push up through the cold, wet earth and stretch their sunny mops towards the glory of Heaven. Meanwhile our Introduction to the New Testament course is reading through the Apocalypse of John.
This is a survey course so, sadly, we will take only two weeks to read and review some of the most enigmatic material in the New Testament. As I prepare my students to read the material, I offer some helpful tips in approaching the text and thought I’d share them with you!!
1. “Revelation” is an English translation derived from the Greek Apocalypse of John. It is singular, not “Revelations;" you’re welcome :)
2. The Apocalypse of John is highly symbolic literature and the symbols are multi-valiant, have many layers and usually point to elements in the natural at the time of the writing, harken back to the Hebrew bible and have a cosmic sensibility as well.
3. When reading the Apocalypse, it is most helpful to read from beginning to end so that you get a sense of flow and connection in the text. You will note recapitulation throughout and utter destruction achieved over and over again. How to understand the restatement of the punishment of the wicked and the devastation of creation is an interpretive move.
4. The Apocalypse of John is supposed to scare you to death if you are among the wealthiest 8% of human beings on the planet. Privileged Western Christians should find it very hard to empathize with the martyrs of the earliest centuries. If you have food, a home, insurance, means to justice within your legal system you are not in the same position as the martyrs. Those of us with power in this world are more closely aligned with Rome.
5. Apocalyptic literature is a genre that emerges in the 2nd century BCE and together with Wisdom literature will be the dominant themes understood and embraced by the New Testament authors. Apocalyptic literature reflects a way of reading life in the ancient world, from a position of powerlessness the followers of Jesus seek justice and meaning and hope in the world to come, the great and final triumph of good over evil.
6. The Apocalypse of John is not a formula or a code to break, it is literature written in the late first century depicting a vision into another realm; it is not future or past it is--John is seeing into the heavenly realm just as Ezekiel and Isaiah had before him. John writes, “And I saw…”
7. The anti Christ is not mentioned in Revelation, rather is found in I and II John. While we want to avoid over domesticating this text, John names some of his monsters, thus the 666 is a Hebrew number structure that corresponds to the alphabet and spells Nero.
8. The date of writing of the Apocalypse is debated but most scholars place it in the late first century 90-100 A.D., thus during the reign of Emperor Domitian who was widely acclaimed as the Second Nero.
9. The major movements in the text are determined by the visions as described by John using the literary device εν πνευματι. We are told that John is on the island of Patmos in the Spirit on the Lord’s day (1.9,10); he is invited to come up to the throne room in Heaven where he reports he is in the Spirit (4.1,2); he is carried away in the Spirit into the wilderness (17.3) and finally, is carried away in the Spirit to a great mountain (21.10).
10. In many ways, this text, though polyvalent and multilayered, prophetic and apocalyptic contains a consistent motif that maintains throughout Scripture; the justice of God is displayed and judgment is accompanied by salvation.
Church of God Clergy Women Delegates, Estes Park, CO 2013
This past weekend hundreds of Wesleyan Holiness women clergy gathered in Estes Park, CO for the bi-annual “Come to the Water” conference.
On behalf of Church of God Ministries, Dr. Ronald Duncan shared current statistics regarding women clergy in a forum for denominational leaders.
The following information is taken from his report.
1347 women clergy, active and inactive in the Church of God
284 are licensed or commissioned but not ordained
215 are senior pastors (of total 2145 Church of God congregations which is about 10%)
594 women clergy serve as associate pastors
265 women clergy who are retired or currently not serving in a ministerial capacity
77 women clergy serve in higher education, as chaplains, etc.
75 women clergy are currently seeking positions through Church of God Ministries
2 of 7 persons on General Director’s Executive Team are women
Current Ministries Council Chair and Vice Chair are women
These statistics demonstrate a 31% increase of women clergy in positions since 2010
Center Rev. Ada Cooper, Hermitage Church of God, Hermitage, TN
In response to Patheos.com “Why I am a…” in 200 words or less:
I am Church of God, Anderson, IN because I was raised up in love. I have been reared in the tradition that also loved and fostered my parents and grandparents. I was born into a local church where a founding pastor of the 1930’s had been a woman, raised up under a sense of welcome and inclusion, taught the distinctions of our Wesleyan-Holiness heritage.
I was reared in a church where I was invited to sing a special at six years old, where I watched women kneel and wash the feet of other women, spread the feast for a pie social and gather for Tuesday morning prayer.
As an adult I pursued ordination in this tradition and have attained graduate degrees at our School of Theology where I now also teach and I am committed to the fierce, radical passion for justice and evangelism that animated the earliest days of our Movement. I am the Spirit daughter of Lena Schoffner, pioneer Church of God preacher who demanded the rope separating races be torn down, I am an heir to the Movement who would welcome Every One to the table of love.
It's not too late! If you are a clergy woman or a woman preparing for ministry, join us for Rise Up, the tenth annual Wesleyan Holiness Clergy Woman Conference. This was the single most encouraging event of my formation as a woman called to ministry and academy. Here you will worship with other women on a similar path, you will be challenged and equipped for ministerial life. The conference is conceived around workshops that are both academic and practical along with up close and personal time for networking with other women in your tradition and field. Break out sessions include: Narrative Preaching, Balance in Ministry, Responding to the LBGT community, Interfaith Dialogue, Prostitution and Sex Trafficking, Exploring Publishing, and a new Social Justice track added this year. If you need to be refreshed, inspired, encouraged, empowered, if you need to laugh and cry and worship with other women in your vocation; this is the place for you!! Join us in Estes Park next week!!