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The Pharisees, Jesus, and Drawing Lines in the Sand

The Pharisees, Jesus, and Drawing Lines in the Sand

Hans Schäufelein; Christ and the Pharisees, from Das Plenarium, 1517,

 

Growing up in the church it was always pretty clear to me who the bad guys of Scripture were. I knew that the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law were not down with Jesus and tried repeatedly to fool and shame him. But Jesus was too smart for them, instead skillfully and compassionately evading their traps: refusing to condemn a woman they wanted to stone, challenging them to study what is meant by God’s declaration “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” and using a story of a beaten and bloody man cared for by the lowest of low to teach what is meant by love your neighbor. Jesus’ harshest words were always for these “whitewashed tombs” who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:4) My childhood world was pretty black and white, divided into good guys and bad guys, and when it came to Jesus and his enemies, all was crystal clear.

 

But it turns out the world isn’t so black and white, and neither is Scripture. The more I learn and lean in, the more I see nuance, both/and, now/not yet and I am not as eager to fit things into neat dichotomous categories. A few years ago when I studied the book of Matthew in Bible Study Fellowship I found myself strangely empathetic to the Pharisees. As I began to put myself in their shoes I started to see how threatening the teaching of Jesus were to their understanding of God, of their holy book Torah, of righteousness, of their fundamental understanding of who they were as God’s chosen people. Jesus was upending everything they thought they understood. Now you can argue that Jesus was simply returning to the original intention, revealing to them who God had always been, showing them how they had missed the mark over the years. But change is hard, especially when the change is predicated on the fact that you were wrong. So often when confronted with our failures and offered a right perspective, instead of accepting new information we double-down, hold tighter and dig in our heels. I am speaking from years of personal experience here; humility is not my strength.

 

I started to get where the Pharisees were coming from. For Jews of the first-century, their framework for self-understanding was found in Torah, in the sacred writings of Israel. Torah gave Jews an identity as God’s chosen people and the responsibilities that came with this election. Jews viewed Torah as the eternal word of God, unchanging and normative in all times and contexts. But since life is ever changing, Pharisaic tradition was created to help Jews “continue to live in the present world but seek to discover in Torah itself the principles that would allow them to maintain its integrity as an absolute norm, yet relate it to the real circumstances of their lives.”[1] The invention of this interpretive practice called midrash kept Torah alive, present, and authoritative.

 

Christians have continued such a practice with our sacred texts found in The Holy Bible (which includes the Jewish texts). We may not call it midrash, but the work of theologians and pastors to interpret these ancient texts in light of our lives and contexts certainly feels like this practice. For example, obviously Scripture doesn’t speak directly to my use/abuse of technology, but I can find principles for caring for others, the wise use of my time, honoring resources, etc. that help me develop a healthy ethic around this modern invention. I have noticed a trend of Evangelicals to happily camp out in the Epistles because these letters of Paul, James, and others tend to spell things out more clearly than a story from the Old Testament or life of Jesus might. And yet we still must wrestle. Was Paul’s admonition against women preaching towards a specific context, or for all time and place? Did Jesus really mean we should turn the other cheek if abused? Like the Jews with Torah, Christians believe our holy text is alive and relevant and has as much to say to us modern people as it did to early believers.

 

You may already assume where I’m headed with these thoughts, but here is where I spell them out for you. A few weeks ago a group of Evangelical leaders, with (what I’m asking God to help me see) the best of intentions, wrote out a sort of midrash on sexuality they called the Nashville Statement. This, they declared, is the proper way to view human sexuality from a scriptural viewpoint, and this, they were clear to note, is the only way for followers of Jesus to do so. A line in the sand was drawn. Insiders and outsiders were declared.

 

As I read and wept in anger and grief, not only at the tone-deaf timing of the statement, but also to the damage it would inevitably cause in the lives of sincere Christ-following LGBTQ people and their friends, family members, and allies, I couldn’t help think of Matthew 23 and the weeping Jesus did over the Pharisees. “Woe to you,” he cried again and again. “You lock people out of the kingdom of heaven.” “You tithe mint, dill, and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy.” “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” “You are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of fish.” Jesus’ harshest words were always for these religious leaders and it is no wonder why my childhood-self vilified them too.

 

When Jesus walked the earth he declared that he had come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He told us that he was the embodiment of the law, the personification of it. If we wanted to know what God was up to, sure we could look to Scripture, but we should first and foremost look to Jesus. Scripture is an important, living gift. But it is not central, not a fourth member of the Trinity. To understand any of our holy texts, old and new testament alike, they must be filtered through the lens of Jesus. Scripture is not Jesus.

 

And neither is the Nashville Statement.

 

 

[1] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 50.
Eschet Chayil: resources for women preachers, why women need to see women preaching, Project Deborah, and more.

Eschet Chayil: resources for women preachers, why women need to see women preaching, Project Deborah, and more.

In Hebrew eschet chayil translates roughly as “woman of valor” and is found in the opening lines of Proverbs 31. It is a blessing that Jewish women have used to cheer one another on for hundreds of years. This blog series is about highlighting women of valor you should know, or work supporting women you should cheer on. 

 

“Living Your Resurrectional Identity” 
“How do we be truly human as men and women? We need to see each other…honor and bless each other, one is more preferred than the other, both are preferred. Both are holy. Both are the face of God. Both are necessary for the mission of God. We have to talk to each other, hear each other’s stories and experiences.” I am blessed to have taken a class from Dr. Morse, a powerful and thoughtful woman, and was deeply encouraged by her words in this talk she gave at a Missio Alliance event “Being Truly Human.”

“Maybe a Senior Pastor:” Why Seeing Women in Ministry Matters
Leanne Friesen’s story here is back up by the research: young women need to see women in ministry. It matters that you are leading, preaching, baptizing, and serving communion. It matters that young women see other women pursuing their God-given callings. It opens up their own dreams and imaginations. Keep on sisters!

Project Deborah
YES YES YES to this! The Evangelical Covenant Church is encouraging its congregations to identify and raise up women leaders within their churches. Project Deborah encourages discipling women in each congregation, demonstrating that God has called and gifted women to serve in all facets of ministry, and directing women into opportunities to lead. I love that this denomination not only ordains women, but now is working to invest in a future generation of women leaders.

Resources for Women Preachers (by Women Preachers)
Junia Project is back with an excellent post full of resources for women preachers. Blogs, books, podcasts, and sermon archives are included. Bookmark this one for sure!

Christian Feminism Weekly Podcast
Ashley Easter and Charlie Olivia are young women leading the fight towards Christian Egalitarianism, towards true freedom. Join them as they chat with other leaders and share their own stories of being women in the church.

 

Sharing a story: Meeting God on The Mountain

Sharing a story: Meeting God on The Mountain

Doing something a little different today…

Thanks for hanging out with me! I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment about what resonated with you in my story, or how you feel about me telling a story in this video format.

And for fun, here is my friend Sasha’s blog.

Pictures I promised…

At the trailhead. Someone lost a cute grey shirt.

 

A well-maintained trail.

 

Lots of stopping and resting. I’m cool with that.

 

Spotted throughout the woods.

 

This is the one I have framed on my desk now.

 

Gorgeous views at the top.

 

A panorama version.

 

Eschet Chayil: women pastors are on the rise, disarming Paul, sharing stories bravely, and more.

Eschet Chayil: women pastors are on the rise, disarming Paul, sharing stories bravely, and more.

In Hebrew eschet chayil translates roughly as “woman of valor” and is found in the opening lines of Proverbs 31. It is a blessing that Jewish women have used to cheer one another on for hundreds of years. This blog series is about highlighting women of valor you should know, or work supporting women you should cheer on. 

 

Study: Female Pastors Are on the Rise, and So Are Our Impossible Expectations For Them
Such encouraging news! The Barna Group in its annual report notes a steady trend of increasing number of female pastors. Unfortuantely, women pastors also were more likely than their male counterparts to report that “congregants’ comments on their leadership were ‘critical,’ ‘judging,’ and ‘unhelpful.'” This is certainly a part of a larger cultural trend, and one in which the author of this piece says the Church is uniquely positioned to stand in contrast to.

Kate Wallace Nunneley on The Paulcast
Hear from The Junia Project co-founder Kate Wallace on her work with the Junia Project, Paul’s view of women in ministry, and why she supports women in church leadership.

Women in Church History: Footnoted and Forgotten?
Speaking of The Junia Project, this blog is full of great stuff that you should totally check out. For Women’s History Month they are highlighting the incredible deapth of women in our church history. Check it out.

Shame On/Shame Off – An Abortion Story
Be inspired by the bravery of Jada Schiessl in sharing her own story of living with the shame of a decision made at 16-years-old, and challenged in her call to the Church to do better when it comes to serving scared pregnant women.

How Learning About Feminine Metaphors for God Undermines Rape Culture
Susan Harrison reflects on the opportunity to expand our language for God to include the maternal, and what the unexpected outcomes might be.

The Future Is Female

The Future Is Female

Peasant Women In A Church by Kazimir Malevich, 1912

 

Have you heard about the women leading the resistance movement these past few months?

The women who organized the largest protest march in history?

The woman who refused to argue Trump’s travel ban in court and was fired for it? Or the woman who issued the stay from the bench?

The woman who persisted when she was told to stop speaking?

The women who broke from their party for the sake of our nation’s children?

Or the women sitting on airport floors trying to help those who were detained. Some say the gender disparity there was likely 70% female.

 

A quick google search will yield woman, after woman, after woman, leading and loving peacefully and powerfully. They are getting stuff done. They are speaking truth to power. They are working their tails off. They are healers and prophets, judges and lawyers, mothers and activists, artists, scholars, preachers, teachers. They are inspiring.

 

CHURCH, WAKE UP!

 

Can you imagine what could happen to our gospel witness if we unleashed the women in our churches? Can you imagine how many would find the hope and healing of Christ if we valued feminine leadership styles? Can you imagine the transformation in our communities if we supported the creativity and innovation of the women in our congregations?

 

Trust me, Church, women would lead the revolution and the revival you all are hoping and praying for. Throw open the doors, unbind the chains, and let us get to work.

 

Woman, you are loved and gifted and called

Woman, you are loved and gifted and called

It happens without fail. Every.Single.Time. When casual conversation with old friends or new acquaintances turns to the fact that I am going to seminary, the next question out of the other person’s mouth is always what are you wanting to do with your degree? As in, what are your post-graduation plans? Why are you spending all this money? What is the job you are hoping to go after?

And every time I smile, slightly shrug my shoulders, and admit I don’t really know. I tell them that going to seminary was the fulfillment of a dream, the opportunity of a lifetime, and the next step on my adventure of being obedient to God’s call in my life.

That was my answer.

This is the face of the girl who received her seminary acceptance letter.

 

But now, five and a half semesters into this journey I’m starting to get an inkling of what might be post-seminary for me. I don’t know how it will bring the income I will need in order to pay back all these student loans, but I do know that my personality, experiences, knowledge and interests are starting to coalesce in ways that are thoroughly exhilarating and not entirely unexpected. God has been paving a path for me for a long time and I can’t wait to see what is around the next corner.

About a year ago God showed up to answer my desperate desire to know who my people are. I’ll come back here soon and share that story, but in the meantime I know with certainty that my call is to serve women, particularly by empowering women to serve in bold and brave ways. So last semester I chose a research project that had me sitting in story after story of women longing to use their gifts to serve and love and teach and maybe even pastor. And in story after story these women were told that the roles in which they could use their gifts were limited, ordained by God and obvious because of Scripture. And my heart broke time and time again.

I wept for the woman who had introduced a dying man to Jesus and was forbidden to offer him the sacrament of communion when he asked for it.

I wept for the woman who had 18-year-old boys turn their backs to her each time she came to teach at her Evangelical University’s chapel.

I wept for the women who admit to feeling limited, discounted, and redirected when they expressed a sense of calling. I wept for the women who persisted, yet were regularly confronted with fatigue, despair, cynicism, and emotional distress that many times reached the level of clinical depression.

I wept for the women who endured what in the secular world would be called sexism, where legal recourses are available for those who experience it, but in the church is often accepted and promoted as God-ordained.

And I wept for the all-to-familiar question should I stay or should I go? For many of us living with misogyny and oppressive institutional structures is torture, but the thought of leaving the home and community and family that is our Church of origin is equally terrifying.

These were dark days for me and I do not use the word wept metaphorically to describe my reaction to my research. On many occasions I put my books down or set aside the article and cried out to God. This was too much. This culture too impenetrable. The wounds too deep. The theology too entrenched. What in the world could little ‘ole me do? How could one lone woman fight against evangelical culture and Biblical interpretation, especially when women who have tried have been so thoroughly trounced?

Some of the amazing men and women I am journeying alongside in this seminary adventure. Cohort ’15 forever!

 

But the other thing my research taught me was this: woman after woman pursuing a ministry call persisted because she had support. Because her calling was affirmed instead of questioned. Because she had mentors and role models. Because she had a woman in her life serving in ways that gave her imagination to dream she could do the same.

And it turns our I’m not really alone. The voices for women’s equality in the Church are out there. And they are growing. They are getting louder. The faithful witness of men and women who believe in a blessed alliance are doing the hard work and are changing hearts and minds. So I’m going to add my voice, and I’m going to return to this topic in this little space on the internet with more frequency.

 

In case you need this today:

You are not alone.

You are called by God who created you and knows your every part.

You are loved by Christ who gave up his life to show us what real love looks like.

You are gifted by Holy Spirit who is at work in this crazy world of ours, drawing us to the heart of God.

Persist dear sisters.

I am on your side and in your corner. You are not alone.

A Family Conversation Guide on Protest

A Family Conversation Guide on Protest

First off, a disclaimer: I am no expert. There are men and women who have been working and protesting and community organizing for many years and I am most certainly a newbie. So the thoughts and questions and conversations here are not polished and not really written from much experience. Rather, they are a humble offering to you as a result of searching for the words and stories to help educate my own two budding activists. In addition, these are words offered from a Christian faith and worldview that to our family is the foundation for all we do.

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When plans for a women’s march in my local city were announced shortly after the 2016 Presidential Election, I knew I had to be there. Feeling naïve and frustrated and powerless and frankly scared, putting my feet and my voice to work seemed at least some small action I could take to voice my feelings. I wanted to bring my daughters with me, and my husband also asked if he could come and support the cause.

As we are now a week away from the event, I decided it was time to have some of the why conversations with my daughters. And also to prepare them for what they might see and experience along the march route. I went searching online for some resources, and came up pretty empty-handed. (If you have resources that I didn’t find, PLEASE leave them in a comment and I’ll include them in a list at the bottom of this post.)

As a family, our Christian faith deeply influences our choices. And it is from this perspective that I want to enter into a protest march as well. So here are a few conversation starters I put together to share as a family as we prepare to march. You do not have to be Christian to use this material. In addition, these are humbly offered as starters, if your children are anything like mine their questions and insights will lead the conversation to beautiful, challenging, and humbling places and may even offer you more opportunities to learn together.

A few notes before you dive in:

  • These conversation guides are written for my family, of which I have myself and my husband (both cisgender) and two school-aged daughters. Feel free to adjust the conversations and the questions for your family dynamic, these are simply a starting place. For example, if you have older children you could talk about sex trafficking or female genintal mutilation. You could also share this resource with your older children and encourage them to pick one and lead a family conversation.
  • These conversation guides are written specifically for the women’s march taking place January 21, 2017. But of course they can be adapted for any protest your family may be involved in.
  • You do not actually have to be taking your children to march with you to have a conversation with them. Actually, you should have a conversation with them if you are going, they need to know why this is important to you. And if you are unable to attend at all, these are still great conversations to have because this protest is a news-worthy event.

 

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Conversation #1: Justice for Women

Ask: In what ways are girls/women treated unfairly around the world? (Some suggestions: education, child brides, human trafficking.)

Ask: In what ways are girls/women treated unfairly here in America?

Ask: Have you ever felt treated unfairly because you are a girl? or Have you ever treated someone unfairly because she is a girl? or Have you ever witnessed a girl being treated unfairly because she is a girl?

Ask: What does the phrase you throw like a girl mean? Is it meant to be a compliment? Have you heard any other phrases that insult girls like that?

Ask: How do you think God feels about people being treated unfairly?

Study a Bible Passages: How Jesus treated Women (chose one or more)

Ask: Why is it important that boys and girls, men and women, everyone, is treated fairly?

Discuss: One of the reasons for marching is that when a large group of people get together, the leaders in charge learn what is really important to the people they serve. To us, it is important that women are treated fairly. That women are treated with justice here and throughout the world.

Ask: What specific message would you share with important leaders about how or why girls should be treated equally?

Make: Create posters together with the important messages your children want to share.

Or here are some suggestions for posters/signs with Bible verses about justice:

  • “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like an never-failing stream.” Amos 5:24
  • “Hold fast to love and justice.” Hosea 12:6 (partial verse)
  • “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” Proverbs 31:8
  • “Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly” from Micah 6:8
  • “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.” Proverbs 22:8
  • “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
  • “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9 (As quoted by Hilary Clinton in her speech following the election results.)
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Conversation #2: Signs and Symbols

Activity: Google search “Women’s March Poster Ideas.” Look at the images together. (You may want to pre-search and be prepared for what you’ll find. There are images of women’s bodies, including breasts and reproductive organs. There are posters with the word “pussy.” There are other terms they may not be familiar with. As your children will likely see posters of all types at the march, having conversations ahead of time will prepare you all.)

Ask: What images/messages appeal to you? What images/messages are confusing?

Discuss: You are in charge here with what you want to share with your children about the messages being promoted.

Note: There are likely march partners with views not shared by your family. How do your values influence how you should treat people with differing views? Can you still march together? Can you find common ground?

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Conversation #3: Protest as Disruption

Ask: What do you know about the protests of the civil rights movement? What activities did they engage in? (Suggestions: marches, sit-ins, rallies, boycotts, etc. Overall, they were peaceful activities.) What do you know about the leaders of the civil rights movement?

Watch: this great video from Kid President about Martin Luther King, Jr. Also, I haven’t watched it but heard from a great source that this full length movie, The Watsons Go To Birmingham, is a great primer on the civil rights movement as well. If you have older children, Selma is an excellent movie to watch together.

Discuss: Martin Luther King Jr. is a famous leader of the civil rights movement. But he was also a Reverend, or a Pastor. Reverend King’s faith influenced everything he did, including the work he did to fight for civil rights. He had faith and prayed and preached about God’s love for everyone. His belief in non-violence to promote change was based in his Christian belief that we are to love our enemies and forgive those who hurt us.

Ask: How should our faith influence us to work for change when we see things that are wrong?

Ask: Will it be easy to fight for change? (This would be a great time to remind your kids that they will likely face some challenges on march day, that they will be tired and hungry and that their feet will hurt. Ask them what they should do when they get tired and want to give up.)

Discuss: Fighting for change is hard work and takes a lot of time. And you may have people who disagree with you. Powerful people didn’t want the change that civil rights leaders were fighting for, and powerful people never like change because that means they will have to lose some of their power.

Ask: What does the phrase “speaking truth to power” mean to you? How does that describe protesting?

Discuss: Protest is about interruption. Sometimes it makes people uncomfortable or angry because it interrupts their comfortable lives. Remember, we are gathering with a large group of people who have permission to shut down areas of a city and walk on the road. This will interrupt people who had plans to drive on that road! But God is no stranger to interruption: that’s what God did with Jesus. Jesus came to our earth to interrupt our comfortable lives and teach us how to love and serve him and one another.

Ask: How would you respond if someone argued with you that you shouldn’t be protesting?

Pray. Spend some time this week praying as a family. And pray as you head out for the protest. And then when you get home.

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My prayer for you is that this sparks within you a hunger to learn and to grow and to engage in healthy dialogue around issues that matter to you and your family. May you have courage to invite your children into the journey with you.

 

Resources: