One of the beautiful things about Catholic theology is that it sees story as one of its main interpretive filters. Protestantism, on the other hand, focuses much more on historical context and the text itself.
To modern ears, the Protestant ways sounds great, but there’s one big problem: this is not how most of the biblical writers, Jesus, the apostles, the early church, nor most of church history have ever treated the Bible. They were and have been much “freer” with the text (yes, often to a fault). Catholicism’s rootedness in ancient ways of reading invites them into new dimensions and interpretations.
Take Mary, for example. Catholics see her foretold in the Old Testament just as much as Jesus is. They see her in prophecies and allegorically represented in other women. They see parallels between her and the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, and the Temple, saying they all carried the Holy of Holies within them, and were revered for it.
There are three biblical offices of authority among God’s people: Prophet, Priest, and King. Christians see Jesus as the fulfillment and highest expression of each of these, but in the Advent event, you can see Mary serving these functions as well. So today, as a Protestant, I want to sit with this and revel in some beauty and divine mystery.
Yesterday marked the beginning of Advent 2019, a period of time which the Christian Church has historically set aside to meditate on Jesus’ coming into the world at Christmas. It’s usually a time of reflection, meditation, and preparation, leading up to the full-on celebration that is Christmas.
To help focus us in this time, people at my church designed a prayerbook built around the women named in the genealogies of Jesus in the gospels: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.
You can find downloadable and and web versions of the prayerbook here. Or, if a direct link is easier: PDF / EPUB / MOBI (Kindle) / Web.
Different people put together the daily prayer liturgies, reflections, art, poetry, and seasonal meditations, so there’s variety and depth for those that appreciate and connect with such things. Though it is a product of a particular church congregation, it is put together in such away that anyone, anywhere could engage with it and benefit from it. So download and share it widely and sit with it deeply. We all hope it will be a useful way to stop, reflect, and connect during this season.
I know it’s a little long for a quote, but I promise, it’s very worth your time:
Within Christianity, the masculine image of God is often defined in these terms of control, power and dominion. Much of the Christian faith, though, requires that men recognize their limitations and depend on God. We accept salvation through his son and sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a faith where the last shall be first (Mk 10:31), marked by a life of service to others….
Consider the definition offered by John Piper: “At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships” ([Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood] Piper and Grudem, 2006, p. 35). It is a definition that emphasizes leading, providing for and protecting women. But it offers no insight on how men relate to one another. Depending on your reading of this definition, it either smacks of male chauvinism or places greater value on women’s needs. No doubt well intentioned, it offers little guidance for men who are already confused, wounded and lost about their masculinity….
From Lynn Japinga’s excellent Feminism & Christianity: An Essential Guide (p.93):
Artist Edwina Sandys created a sculpture of a female form, arms outstretched as if hanging from a cross. The sculpture, entitled Christa, has created controversy wherever she is displayed. Critics say the statue defies the historical fact that Jesus was a man. Some viewers feel that the symbol of the cross is degraded or even blasphemed by a Christ in female form. Others are disturbed by the sexual overtones of the naked woman. Some people are troubled by yet another violent image of female suffering. A few people see in the sculpture the message that the death of Jesus symbolizes the pain of all human suffering.
The response to [this image] reveals various theological assumptions. Some people dismiss…the sculpture because they are literally false. Jesus was a man. End of discussion. Other people consider these images offensive and uncomfortable. It insults Jesus, and them as well, to think of him as a woman. These imaginative reconstructions of important events in the life of Jesus pose an important theological question: What difference does it make that Jesus was male?
Have at it. What do YOU think about this piece? What’s your first gut reaction? Why? What difference does it make that Jesus was male?
I thought it would make more headlines this week in the U.S, but it didn’t, so I thought I’d put it here. Two days ago, the Church of England voted overwhelmingly to allow for female bishops in their ranks. They had for twenty years now allowed for female priests but–as is the odd logic that accompanies church hierarchies such as this–they thought it a step too far to allow women to be bishops. I don’t know. But either way, let us rejoice their is one more place in the world where women can fully and freely exercise the gifts God has given them.
Click here for more posts in my occasional series on Women in the Church.
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
What a powerful testimony. She was only married for seven years before her husband died. She had been a widower for 84 years. What pain and loneliness she must have felt. And yet, how did she spend it? Serving God’s people as a prophet, being especially in tune with those “looking for Israel’s redemption” and then proclaiming Jesus to them. Even before the Cross and Resurrection, Jesus was the answer for the longing of God’s people for redemption.
Also, Luke said he went through all of the accounts and picked and chose what would get “in” and what wouldn’t. Of all the little anecdotes he chooses to keep in and keep out, he chooses this. What a powerful woman she must have been for her to have been seered into the collective consciousness of God’s people retelling this story.
See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.
“It might be argued that there is not one explicit reference in the New Testament to a child being baptized. Have we any warrant then for doing it? If we require explicit texts for our practice, then there would be no warrant for women to come to the Lord’s Table. There is no single explicit reference to that in the New Testament. Our warrant is not in isolated texts or precedents, but in the Gospel itself. Christ died for men and women, adults and infants, and we acknowledge that in faith in baptism…”
— from James B. Torrance’s beautiful book Worship, Communion, and the Triune God of Grace
So when the king’s order and his edict were proclaimed, and when many young women were gathered in the citadel of Susa in custody of Hegai, Esther also was taken into the king’s palace and put in custody of Hegai, who had charge of the women. The girl pleased him and won his favor, and he quickly provided her with her cosmetic treatments and her portion of food, and with seven chosen maids from the king’s palace, and advanced her and her maids to the best place in the harem.
She “pleased him.” You know what that means, right?
Here and throughout the book are instances where Esther shows herself time and time again to not be faithful to her people or her God in any way. She is selfish, power-hungry, narcissistic, unmerciful, and only helps her people once she is scared she will get killed with the rest of them. She’s kind of a terrible human being. No wonder this book wasn’t accepted as canonical by huge communities of Jews.
See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.
Today’s post falls into both our new section of the site called Marginalia and our on-going series on Women in the Church.
For this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will rebel against the king’s officials, and there will be no end of contempt and wrath! If it pleases the king, let a royal order go out from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be altered, that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus; and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she. So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, vast as it is, all women will give honor to their husbands, high and low alike.”
This advice pleased the king and the officials, and the king did as Memucan proposed; he sent letters to all the royal provinces, to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language, declaring that every man should be master in his own house.
I can imagine a conservative evangelical looking at this and saying to themselves, “Now, the king’s court is recognizing a natural order in the way God has made a marital relationship to work, even though they go about reinforcing this biblically-supported picture in the wrong way–through force and not love”. I hope that’s a fair representation.
But either way, (1) they would not want us to pull from this text any lessons about how male headship itself is wrong, just how it’s done badly here, and (2) they would still think the concern of these males is justified (and perhaps even right), as we’ve seen similar dynamics play out in our culture in the aftermath of feminism.
Note: this weekend, I wrote a post collecting all of my responses to people’s Protestant concerns with praying (or “talking”) to saints. Before you express your disagreement to this present post, I’d ask you at least read some of that.
Well, my previous post on praying to saints caused a lot of conversation on my social media. Slightly more than half of people disagreed with it (strongly), and the rest seemed to appreciate it. So before I begin today, I want to make something clear: this blog’s purpose is not to start flame wars or disagreements among friends. I genuinely want to be helpful to people–even when that means challenging and stretching them, and even when they strongly disagree with me. One need not be convinced of a position to be helped by reading about it.
With that being said, let me tell you my experience of finding a saint to pray (or “talk”) to, and then let me tell you a little bit about her.
Throughout history, there have been saints to whom God has given unique grace in certain areas of life. When the Church knew of and could recognize such saints, it declared them “patron saints” of those things they seemed to have special, almost unparalleled grace for.
In times of need in a specific aspect of life, much of the Church throughout history has felt comfortable praying to those earlier saints that seemed especially graced for those kinds of situations.
So…here’s my funny story.
This is a post in our on-going series on Women in the Church.
The past week of my life was filled pretty heavily with church stuff. First, my church hosted our denominational meeting for those churches in our church family that are in cities. They talked about new developments in my seminary program, gave updates on the health of current church plants, adopted the 2014 budget, and ordained and commissioned new pastors to serve in churches across the country. It was a day and half filled with theology jokes, family talks, overdue introductions, and post-meeting sessions of cocktails and cigars on the front steps of the church.
Second, as I mentioned last week, my church spent yesterday celebrating it’s maturation from a “church plant” (a church that still relies on other churches for most of its support and leadership) to a full-blown self-sustaining, self-leading church. My parents came in town, the music was loud, the sermon was great, and we had a large block party after the service with a moon bounce, chili cook-off, and homebrew contest (the bourbon barrel stout won, by the way. It was called “The Nord’s Wrath”).
It was great, and it will be a block of days I will not soon forget.
In my research for this on-going series on Women and the Church, I ran across this picture above. And for this Friday, I wanted to throw it out there to get people’s reactions.
If you agree with the overall point, do you appreciate the representation? Do you think this is a helpful representation? How would you present your perspective differently, in visual form?
If you don’t agree with it, what would you say to the designers of this picture? How would you counter this use of this verse? What bothers you the most about the picture? Is there any core of truth to this picture?
In my last post in our series on Women and the Church, I mentioned a young girl named Perpetua, who was martyred in Carthage in about 202 or 203 CE. Her prison diary, written in the days leading to her public and violent death, is still the earliest known piece of Christian writing we have by a female. She was 22-years old when she died.
And so, as we head into Palm Sunday weekend, I thought I’d share this work of hers with you. It is a stunning, beautiful, and passionate work.
The bulk of her diary consists of her father trying to convince her to abandon Christianity, as well as her visions and dreams she has to encourage the other prisoners around her. As she is sent off to die, she entrusts the diary to an unnamed individual who picks up the story from there and describes her dramatic death. This individual also added a brief introductory paragraph.
I hope and pray that the example and visions of Perpetua will speak deeply to us, in the midst of our own pain, weakness, and sorrow.
This is a post in an on-going series on Women in the Church.
The past couple of days, we’ve been talking about the historical development of this whole “Women in Church Leadership” idea. in the first post, we talked about why this is so important, and in the second post, we discussed where this change in ideas concerning ordained female leadership happened. Today, let’s talk Reformation and concluding thoughts.
On this blog, I currently have two running series I’m doing: “Reflections on Repentance” and “Women & the Church“. For these series, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research on those topics.
For the Women in Ministry series, I’ve been researching what, for me, is the biggest thing that gives me pause in my own egalitarian view in support of female pastors: the complete dearth of women leaders throughout the history of the whole Christian church. With a couple thousand years now of godly men (and women) looking at the same Scriptures I am, why have the vast majority of them come to the same view limiting women’s role?
Well, that’s another post for another time, but rest assured, as I’ve been researching this, I feel I’ve satisfied my concerns in this area. But that’s not what this (mostly tongue-in-cheek) post is about.
For my research for the repentance series, I keep ending up at the Reformation and its leaders. This got me thinking, and doing some math…