He Gives Me His Best

In the story of the prodigal son, I’ve always only identified with the disobedient son who goes off and makes all the mistakes. Somehow, I forgot how the Father responds to this son. Upon the sons repentant return, his Father gives him his best. He throws him a party. And this reveals to the returned son not only the depth of his Fathers love, but also the humility it takes to receive such a love. This is, I believe, how God is responding to my return to him. I just couldn’t see it for a while. I’m still processing through all the amazing experiences God is teaching me through but I think I’ve figured this much out:

1. The more I trust God, the more stunning and joyful my life becomes. It doesn’t mean difficult things don’t happen, but the way I feel and respond to them does. And it’s kind of the best thing ever. Instead of woe is me, I ask myself how is God using this for good?

2. God has crazier, better things in mind for me than I could ever come up with on my own. When I took this new job, so much of my vision was full of the sacrifice I was making versus the opportunities God was creating. I thought I’d lose adventure and travel. Yet somehow I’ve got the most amazing job ever which I look forward to everyday and I’ve had more new experiences in these past 8 months than I usually have in years.

3. God is revealing how this season of singleness has been the best thing He could have done for me. I’ve had time to heal from the past and build better, healthier habits. I’ve learned to put God first rather than making my partner my idol. I’ve been placed amongst men who are protectors rather than predators. I’ve learned how to trust and what I find attractive has drastically changed. I have a blast with kids and have gotten to a place where I know I want a family someday but I can also appreciate what Gods doing here, now. I feel confident that the total transformation of my life these past couple years would not have been possible if I hadn’t had the freedom to fully run after where God was taking me.

4. God’s teaching me how to do relationships, and it’s not weird. Surrendering control and being truly vulnerable is one of the most powerful things I can do. The more I let go and have God lead rather than me, the more I discover about his heart for me. A family that welcomes me to their home and their table. An adventure in Old Jerusalem. Officiating a sunset marriage at an outdoor synagogue in Israel. The blessings of a tearful old woman. The amazing testimony of a Believer facing stage 4 cancer. The company of a friend who balances depth of conversation with silliness and hearty laughter. A roommate and friend who serves as a rock and comforter in difficult times. A closeness and affection with my family (and particularly my sister) that few people possess. And through all these relationships I learn not just what God wants for me, but from me: I continue to become a better friend, sister, daughter and (someday?) wife.

5. God wants my authenticity. He designed me with purpose and delights in who I am. I’ve spent much of my lifetime trying to be what others wanted me to be rather than who God designed me to be. That’s ridiculous. Putting others first doesn’t mean I compromise on who I am; it means I give them the best of myself. Learning the difference between this has been a powerful catalyst for building healthy relationships that leave me feeling known rather than isolated.

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Reflections on “Love Does” by Bob Goff (Part One)

I’m With You

I used to want to fix people, but now I just want to be with them.

This chapter is about a super cool dude that was in Bob’s life named Randy. Although he had awesome things like a motorcycle, the most amazing aspect of his character was that he was committed to being part of Bob’s life. So when Bob decided he was going to travel across the country to pursue his dream, Randy picked up his things and went. It was only when they returned that Bob glanced around and saw partially opened wedding presents. Being freshly married didn’t stop Randy from being the person Bob needed. My favorite thing about this chapter was the response of Randy’s wife. It wasn’t anger or resentment; it was the response of a woman who had a heart for the same things her husband did, and embraced the cost that sometimes comes with it. Presence over preaching. People will eventually ask about your “why.” But they need to know who you are first.

Sniper Fire

I used to think I had to act a certain way to follow God, but now I know God doesn’t want us to be typical.

This chapter is about a guy he knew who had a sweet pellet gun, way cooler than Bob’s BB gun. One thing led to another, they began shooting at each other, and Bob got shot. It was awesome. “I liked how Doug did life. He was full of adventure and always had some wonderful mischief in mind… Doug began telling me the story of another man of adventure named Jesus, who lived a long time ago.” (12) This really spoke to me, because I sometimes feel pressure to conform to what “looks” Christian rather than the person God made me to be. Not the sinful parts of me, but the parts of me that God designed into me that don’t match the cookie cutter picture of Christ follower. “He spent time with the kinds of people most of us spend our lives avoiding. It didn’t seem to matter to Jesus who these people were because he was all about engagement. That’s one of the things I saw in Doug. I liked that Doug could be friends with Jesus and still shoot pellet guns.” (12) And this is who I have a heart for; the people the church sometimes talks about but rarely engages with in community. I need to be less worried about what Christians think of me and embrace who God made me to be.

Ryan in Love

I used to think being loved was the greatest thing to think about, but now I know love is never satisfied just thinking about it.

Young and in love. It’s a magical time full of whimsy, hope and believing that it will all work out. Why wouldn’t it? Ryan is a young man walking by Bob’s house who eventually introduced himself and proudly announced he was, indeed, in love; and he wanted to use Bob’s house to propose. Bob writes, “I was taken aback by this love-glazed kid who would approach a complete stranger and ask to use his house to stage a great caper. But that’s the way it is when you are in love, isn’t it? All he knew was that he wanted the girl and was going to do whatever it took to get her.” (18) His ask grew to include a dinner on their deck, catered by 20 of his closest friends, dancing afterwards and ultimately, a ride on Bob’s boat. Bob, swept up in the excitement of Ryan’s love, said yes to everything he asked for and planned a surprise of his own. It went beautifully, and of course the girl said yes. “Ryan’s love was audacious. It was whimsical. It was strategic. Most of all, it was contagious. Watching Ryan lose himself in love reminded me that being ‘engaged’ isn’t just an event that happens when a guy gets on one knee…Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving.” (24) It is loving with abandon. It is fully participatory. It is a perfect example of true humility and hope. This kind of love brings us all joy and reminds us to worry less about ourselves and more about how we are loving others well. This is how I felt at Mario and Lauren’s wedding. I had the opportunity to be part of something beautiful, and everyone did something to help add to the occasion. In the end, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a more beautiful or perfect wedding than theirs and it gives me hope that someday my story might include that same kind of love and joy.

The Reach

I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.

Bob got a job and put in a lot of time to become a waiter at a super fancy restaurant where you had to wear a tux to be a server. On his very first night he described an event that had me laughing to the point of tears. In short, he was fired on the spot, not even earning enough money to pay for the tux he had put a down payment on. Failing can suck. It can be hard. But it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. “The thing I love about God is He intentionally guides us into failure. He made us be born as little kids who can’t walk or talk or even use the bathroom correctly. We have to be taught everything. All that learning takes time, and He made us so we are dependent on Him, our parents and each other.” (29) This is an expression of God’s love and patience. It is a reminder that, as much as we might like to, we can’t do it our own. And really, we don’t want to. We weren’t designed for that. “God finds us in our failures and our successes, and He says that while we used to think one way about things, now He wants us to think another way about those same things.” (30) Fortunately, I’ve failed a lot. So much. And so I’ve learned to see every failure as an opportunity to learn something new, to laugh, and to maybe not make the same mistakes again. I also know that oftentimes my failures are a result of me NOT relying on God and my community enough, that my failure is the result not of ability but of stubbornness.  #PlacesToGrow

Continue reading at Reflections on Love Does by Bob Goff Part 2

Lysa TerKeurst: Disappointment (Catalyst Notes)

Lysa TerKeurst is a best-selling author a dozen times over as well at the president of Proverbs 31 Ministries.  She started her talk asking us to raise our hands if you’ve even experienced disappointment and/or someone being disappointed in you. Of course, all hands were raised. This is a common human experience. She then stated that Satan keeps us isolated through and in our disappointment. In James 1:2 it tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” and this is because pure joy is NOT the normal way we understand trials. It just isn’t. But if we sit in our disappointment instead of understanding it through joy, we become the playground of the enemy.

She then walks though Genesis 2. That the man was told not to eat from the tree (and he didn’t write it down, so God was like, ‘Dude needs a helper,’ and women have been making lists for men ever since). As we move a little further into the story, we see the serpent speak. There’s a big difference between how the serpent communicates and God. God speaks in freedom and gives restrictions for our protection. The enemy speaks in restriction first, thinking that God is holding out. But when we read the story we see that EVERY tree in the garden was good and pleasing the the eye. It wasn’t like the tree they weren’t supposed to eat from was this massive temptation shining about everything else in the garden. The real temptation of the fruit was gaining wisdom.

So people ask, why didn’t Adam speak up as they ate the fruit? He was standing right there. We don’t really know, but it is sad that he didn’t. When they saw their nakedness and felt the weight of sin and shame for the first time, they concealed themselves. Fig leaves weren’t adequate because sin requires a blood sacrifice, and so God goes and kills the first animals and uses them to clothe man.

God was merciful in his punishment of them. He protected Adam and Eve so that their death could be a gateway to restoration. That garden was the place for which the human heart was created: to exist in perfection. Even today, we continue to expect perfection from people. Some might wonder why God didn’t strip that part out of our hearts, but it’s so necessary to our life and faith. Stripping us of hat would have taken the possibility for us to realize the perfection of God. In Revelation 21 and 22, we see restoration (and God telling him to write this revelation down), Eden restored. But sandwiched between these two gardens is another: the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus, in existence at the very beginning of it all, would have created this garden with as much intention as he created the other two. His soul was overwhelmed and he asked Peter, James and John to stay here and keep watch. Lysa says that she thinks this ask is as much about keeping watch for soldiers as it is about watching how he deals with what he’s being asked to do; he knows what is coming for them as well. Jesus teaches us how to wrestle well between feelings and faith. Jesus knew the devastation.

And when things aren’t just broken pieces you can glue back together, when all you see is dust. It can be hard not to feel discouraged or hopeless. We can’t glue back together dust. Yet we worship a God who loves working with dust. Dust is a sign that new is just on the horizon. Jesus, in his prayer, tells his father my will or thy will, and he’s showing us how we ought to respond in these times.

The garden, designed by God, sits at the Mount of Olives where Jesus ascends to the heaves and where the bible also says Jesus will stand when he returns. It’s an important place, so it makes sense to ask what we can learn from it. One thing we know for sure about the garden was that it was full of olive trees. What do we know about olive trees?

  1. In order for the olive tree to produce fruit, it must have harsh winds of east and refreshing winds of west
  2. Fruit is not usable straight from the tree; we have to go through a process of removing hardness and bitterness (like that in our hearts
  3. What is most valuable is what comes from being pressed and crushed; an oil that can be used for light

Our God has taught us quite a bit about how to deal with struggle and disappointment, as well as which voice we should listen to and how to recognize God’s voice.

 

Discovering the Feminine in the Triune God

Martin Luther once asked, “Of what help is it to you that God is God, if he is not God to you?” (Migliore 232) At the heart of this and most other theological questions sits these two: ‘Who am I to God?’ and ‘Who is God to me?’ Many of us are compelled by these thoughts to seek within and outside of ourselves for answers that provide clarity and vision for our life and future. In Genesis 1:27 (NAB) it says, “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” (Bible 19) Both sexes were created by God in God’s image and yet the female is rarely represented in the triune God when we look within the walls of the church. Mary Daly once said, “if God is male, then the male is God,” (Johnson 99) and while our behavior as an overall faith community reflects this, we need to ask ourselves if this is truth. Women of faith are asked to find themselves in the Bible through the women in it’s narrative, yet men are not only dominantly represented within the stories recorded in the Bible, they see themselves reflected in the very persons of our Triune God. This pneumalogical paper will explore how history shaped our understanding of who the holy Spirit is, identify several key characteristics for who the Bible says the holy Spirit is and reveal how women who were systemically excluded from representation within the Godhead can come to recognize themselves within the holy Spirit.

The importance of the Holy Spirit cannot be overstated. Jesus himself emphasized the tremendous value that such a Helper would have to humanity in John 14:26 (NAB): “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name-he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (Bible 1610) Although Jesus asserted the value of the Holy Spirit, it’s uncontrollable nature made it a challenge to the hierarchy the church eventually formed itself into: often the Spirit was treated more as a problem to solve or a question to answer than an opportunity for deeper relationship with God. In fact, the holy Spirit wasn’t always understood as a person. “It was the Cappadocian Fathers in the fifth century who fortified the notion of the Holy Spirit as a person. Basil the Great became known as the ‘theologian of the Holy Spirit,’ thanks mostly to a desire to establish the tri-unity of God against attempts at tritheism…” (Clouzet 15) There ought to be a point of clarification around the term person, particularly as we consider the individualistic lens through which Western civilization operates. The personhood of the Spirit does not negate the truth of God as one. “…both mimetic theory and modern psychology teach us is that the “person” is not autonomous — we are in fact interdividuals rather than individuals… non-consciously interconnected far more than we consciously realize. And so, if we are going to even attempt to label the Trinity as three “persons,” we need to acknowledge that the person is a person only because s/he is in relationship with an ‘other.’” (Distefano) Thus, as the Church sought to understand the Godhead, or the triune God, it necessitates that it is not as individual persons but as persons in relation to one another.

This is, in part, the very thing which challenged the inclusion of the person of the Holy Spirit into the Godhead. One major contention was the origin of the Spirit. In fact, the controversy over its origin lead to a division in the Church that is considered by many to be the greatest disagreement in the Church’s history: “…the Eastern Church discovered the now famous filioque clause in 1014. To the Nicene Creed had been added the word filioque-Latin for ‘and the Son’-now stating that the Holy Spirit proceeded ‘from the Father and the Son.’…leading to the permanent rift between the Eastern and Western Church: the Great Schism of 1054.” (Clouzet 16)

While the holy Spirit was eventually understood by many, through doctrine, as both a person and component of the triune God, the very nature of the Spirit ran against the grain of the rising influence of rationalism. Industrialization further hindered our ability to embrace the unknown that is the Spirit. The world was usually understood to be more like a machine than a wonder, ruled entirely by laws and able to be understood through cause and effect. This left little room for the Spirit to operate in through the 18th and 19th century. “Protestant scholasticism with its ‘rechte Lehre’ (correct doctrine), produced ‘a more mechanical view of the role of Scriptures,’ and ‘as a result the witness of the Spirit tended to be bypassed.’ The Word alone, without the Spirit, was regarded as the basis for authority.” (Clouzet 16-17) Those who did focus on the doctrine of the Spirit tended to focus on the work rather than the nature of the holy Spirit’s person.

Regardless, there has been what some might term a revival. “Nowadays, it will not do to speak about the Holy Spirit as the theos agraptos- the God about whom no one writes-as did Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century.” (Clouzet 11) As this revival has occurred though, many tend to focus on what the holy Spirit can do for us rather than who the holy Spirit is to us. The danger of this approach is perceiving the Spirit less as a person who is the triune God and a bearer of wisdom and truth and more as a genie who grants wishes if we ask the right way. Furthermore, “…the doctrine of the Spirit became the concern of individual and corporate praxis, or experience, rather than dogma, or theology.” (Clouzet 17)

Although the nature of the Spirit may seem elusive in the Bible due to the biblical focus on its works, that does not mean we are incapable of discerning its nature through what is given to us. It is as Paul writes in Romans 14:4 (NAB) “For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” (Bible 1709) We can be assured of three things regarding the Spirit: first, that it is understood to be part of the Godhead. A few examples of how we know this include 2 Corinthians 13:13 (NAB) which frames them together: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you.” (Bible 1765) I Peter 1:2 (NAB) also blesses through the triune God, “…in the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctification by the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ: may grace and peace be yours in abundance.” (Bible 1903)

Second, that the holy Spirit is equal to the Father and the Son, not a lesser component. Jesus makes this known at the Last Supper, recorded in John 14:15-17 (NAB): “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept…But you will know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.” (Bible 1610) Jesus referred to parakletos, (often translated as the Advocate or the Helper) as another parakletos. This means that Jesus, already acting as an advocate for us, would ask the Father to send another like him to us in his absence. He promises not to leave them as orphans. “Just a few minutes earlier Christ had referred to Himself and His Father as equals (vv. 9,10). If the Comforter is equal-or parallel-to the Son, and the Son is equal-or one-with the Father, the Comforter, or Holy Spirit, is equal with the Father.” (Clouzet 20)

Lastly, we know that the holy Spirit is in possession of attributes unique to God. I Corinthians 2:10-11 (NAB) speaks to the intimate relationship and knowledge shared between the Father and the Spirit: “…this God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God. Among human beings, who knows what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person that is within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God.” (Bible 1721) The Spirit is not merely a messenger sent by God but one that scrutinizes the depths of God and all God’s creation.

What, though, do we know about God when it comes to gender? It is a popular framing, particularly within modern churches built on the foundations of an androcentric patriarchy spanning back millennia, to understand the relationship of the Godhead as primarily that of the Father, the Son and the Spirit (the Spirit being an it or a he). God as a Father serves as the primary means of understanding Elohim or Adonai (or any of the other various other names for God) in churches, most notably because Jesus referred to Elohim as a Father so often (hardly a surprise if one is trying to establish one’s divine origin). The ascribing of exclusive gender to Elohim based upon the words used by Christ rather than the entirety of the Bible is outside the scope of this paper but worth noting, as it indicates a bias towards the masculine. Additionally, I recognize that Jesus was certainly born a man. However, the assertion of the Spirit as a neutral person (it) or a male (he) is highly questionable.

This masculine assumption does not accurately depict the historical language of the books in the Bible and therefore creates the opportunity for a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s nature: it associates power with an entirely masculine God rather than a Godhead whose power manifests in both the feminine and the masculine. This is a problem not only because it is inaccurate, but it leads to a flawed living-out of the gospel. Rosemary Radford Ruether once wrote, “Whatever denies, diminishes or distorts the full humanity of women is appraised as non-redemptive;…what does promote the full humanity of women is of the Holy, it does reflect true relation to the divine, the authentic message of redemption and the mission of redemptive community.” (Johnson 94) Feminist theology isn’t about displacing or minimizing the value of men or the role they play; men are also created in the image of God and the masculine images used to depict the Godhead are accurate and invaluable for providing insight into the character of God. However, equally important is restoring women to the role that that Elohim, Jesus and the holy Spirit called women into. It works to reveal the places where we lack alignment as a Christ-center community with the will of God. “Sallie McFague summarizes the feminist critique of patriarchy and its legitimating theology by contending that the heart of our most pressing issues today is the misuse of power…exploitation of the natural environment, or of political, economic, racial, cultural, and gender oppressions…the fundamental problem is ‘the question of power; who wields it and what sort it is… Is power always domination?’” (Migliore 68)

This leaves many wondering if the feminine can be found within the Godhead. In most modern translations, the holy Spirit is predominantly referenced in either masculine or neutral terms. But why? When we look back into the grammar of the early languages used, we can see an implied relationship between the rise of the church patriarchy and the disappearance of the feminine holy Spirit. “Although the New Testament was written in Greek, Christianity was born in a Semitic milieu and Jesus himself will have spoken Aramaic (of which Syriac is a dialect).” (Brock) This means that the New Testament was not written in the spoken language of Christ but translated from Aramaic (also the language common to many of the early communities) to Greek. “…when these communities spoke of the Holy Spirit they naturally used the standard Aramaic word for ‘spirit’, ruha (also ‘wind’ as pneuma), which, like Hebrew ruah, is grammatically feminine.” (Brock)

A pronoun in the Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac languages are necessarily either feminine or masculine, and thus, up until around 400 AD, it was always treated as feminine grammatically. However, in Greek translations a word like pneuma becomes, through its translation, neuter (still not masculine). “From the early fifth century onwards…in defiance of the grammatical rules of the language, they treated the word ruha as masculine whenever it referred to the Holy Spirit.” (Brock) This mattered, because early on it was understood that something truly revolutionary was being taught by God: “an ancient, unassailable truth with new clarity: God loves women and passionately desires their flourishing. When violence is done to women, to their bodies or their spirits, it is an insult to the divine glory.” (Johnson 96) Yet this idea was subversive to all dominant cultures at the time. Some hypothesize that shift from feminine to masculine is the influence of the Greek language but others, particularly considering the Greek translation is still not masculine, hypothesize that it is the disapproval of the Spirit as feminine that causes the shift.  By the 6th century, that practice becomes normalized although occasional outliers can be found in poems or liturgical texts.

A major indicator that these changes were made based on the issues around gender roles is found in the Peshitta, a revision of the Syriac New Testament made in the early fifth century. “Rather surprisingly there are only two places in the Gospels where the revisers who produced the Peshitta chose to alter the feminine of the Old Syriac to the masculine; it so happens that both are passages where the Holy Spirit ‘teaches’ (Luke 12.12 and John 14.26).” (Brock) The fact that the feminine was maintained in other parts of the text speaks to their belief that the gender of the holy Spirit was originally only an issue in spaces when the holy Spirit served in a role that was culturally only acceptable for men; She could no longer be a she.

This same shift is visible in the treatment of Logos and mellta and compels us to push beyond the assumption that the gender change was only due to the role the holy Spirit was serving. If the femininity of the holy Spirit were not an issue for the Church what reason would it have had to alter the texts that serve as the foundation and support for their faith? The collective community would be unlikely to systemically shift the holy Spirit from feminine to masculine unless the femininity was considered a problem and/or the shift to masculinity was an opportunity.

“In Syriac Logos, ‘Word’, is translated by another feminine noun, mellta. Accordingly in the Prologue of the Gospel of John the Old Syriac treats Mellta, the Logos, as feminine, and this usage is reflected, not only in the fourth-century writer Ephrem (which is to be expected); but also very occasionally in texts of the fifth, or even later centuries, even though in the Peshitta revision the gender had already been altered to masculine.” (Brock)

When we contrast this change to words we find in verses like Galatians 3:28 (NAB), where an equal, mutual love is held up as the goal, we can see an incongruity begin to reveal itself. The early Church was a body of people who were all one in Christ Jesus, who saw themselves equal in their relationship to the Godhead.   “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Bible 1776) Yet this aspired-to state has a relatively short-lived existence over the lifetime of the Church. “…despite the irreplaceable participation of women in the founding and spreading of the church, women were marginalized once the community became somewhat established…Banned from the pulpit and altar, their wisdom has not been permitted to interpret the word of the gospel nor their spirituality to lead the church assembled in prayer.” (Johnson 91-92)

Rather than maintaining the roles originally given to them, a shift began in the male body of the church on their view of woman. Thinkers of the time began to focus on the female body as a gateway to the enemy rather than a person made in the image of God. Instead of operating as ‘one in Christ,’ women were reframed as temptresses of men and came to represent the reason that men fell from favor with God. “In the third century Tertullian viewed women as a second Eve…and because of their sin the Son of God had to die. Augustine, while affirming that woman is equal to men in her spiritual capacity, taught that in view of her body and social role, ‘she is not the image of God,’ but can be considered so only when taken together with man who is her head.” (Johnson 92) While Augustine could see the image of God in man alone, the feminine was only redeemable through her relationship with the masculine. Thus, man was independent while woman became interdependent: her access to the divine could only be found through the opposite sex, thereby becoming the secondary, less desirable gender not only in church but in society; ironically, this suppression of women was propelled by the very faith that once lifted women beyond the stature of chattel to equal standing with men in relationship with Christ.

To understand the true obstacles faced by Jesus in transforming the world, consider the account in Luke 13:12-16 (NAB) of Jesus healing a woman on the Sabbath: note the response that religious men in power have for a woman crippled for 18 years and the way that Christ responds not only to her, but to that man:

When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said, “Woman, you are set free of your infirmity.” He laid his hands on her, and she at once stood up straight and glorified God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant that Jesus had cured on the sabbath, said to the crowd in reply, “There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the sabbath day.” The Lord said to him in reply, “Hypocrites! Does not each one of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger and lead it out for watering? This daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years now, ought she not to have been set free on the sabbath day from this bondage?”

The man in power showed no compassion for the woman, nor did he celebrate the miracle that was her healing. Instead, he focused on the violation of the Law. Jesus points out the man’s hypocrisy and elevates the status of the woman. Unlike the religious man who saw her as a broken Law, Jesus described her as a daughter of Abraham: Jesus’ treatment of her wasn’t because of her actions as an individual but rather because of her general identity as a woman of God’s chosen people. Indeed, the men Jesus addressed had greater compassion for a thirsty ox or ass than they did for a woman crippled for nearly two decades. Jesus asks, “…ought she not to have been set free on the Sabbath day from this bondage?” Jesus takes issue with her bondage and desires freedom, something that honors God more than honoring the Sabbath. There is a tremendous lack of alignment in values between the men and Jesus, particularly regarding the value of women.

Diving into biblical accounts like these and recognizing what they reveal about the society in which Jesus walked, demonstrates how necessary discernment is in recognizing what is of man and what is of God. This discernment given to us by the holy Spirit, who not only scrutinizes everything but also reveals truth to us, can lead us down a path of deep relationship and greater reconciliation between each other and God. This is critical; in fact, the Kingdom of God is not even available to us if the Spirit isn’t with us. It says in John 2:5-8 (NAB)

Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Bible 1588)

This kind of relationship with the holy Spirit can sound weird, but the ramifications are profound. Cath Livesey is a leader within what she calls a prophetic church, which means (in its simplest terms) that they listen to God for each other. Prophecy in this context is understood as something given by the Holy Spirit that points towards Christ. While most churches like hers understand the holy Spirit as a he or an it, the notable difference of a church operating in relationship with the Spirit is a shift of power. The Church is not threatened by their inability to control the Spirit but celebrate operating in its fullness; the gender of the follower being moved by the Spirit is of no consequence. “…prophecy is about hearing God for other people. When we look at the Bible we see that prophecy involves the process by which the thoughts and intentions of God are communicated to his people via a human vessel. It origins are… divine revelation.” (Livesey 35) They see the power given by the Spirit as the primary means by which they can bring freedom and transformation to the church and the community, not as means for domination. This is certainly progress, but it still does not take us to a place where the feminine is inherently recognized in the Godhead. Do communities like this demonstrate that the gender of God doesn’t matter if you operate in the Spirit?

“While language reflects our world, it also shapes the way we construct our experience of the world. As hallowed by tradition and currently used, all-male images of God are hierarchal images rooted in the unequal relation between women and men, and they function to maintain this arrangement…Instead of evoking the reality of God, they block it.” (Johnson 96) We still aren’t knowing God as fully as we could because we limit how God can be understood. And while language and power are neither good nor evil the way those two things are applied and used by humans can be alter our trajectory greatly. When we look at how power is used by what is a vastly androcentric world, we discover a systemic marginalization of women:

While women make up one-half of the world’s population, they work three-fourths of the world’s work hours, receive one tenth of the world’s salary, own one one-hundredth of the planet’s land, and constitute two-thirds of the worlds illiterate adults. Together with their dependent children, they comprise 75 percent of the worlds starving people and 80 percent of homeless refugees… they are also raped, prostituted, trafficked, and murdered by men to a degree that is not mutual. (Johnson 91)

This same imbalance of power exists within many religious organizations. Within the Catholic Church, only men can serve as priests, and only men have authority over many of the rites Catholics understand as being critical to their entry into the kingdom of God.  “Exercising public authority in the church, men assume the right to speak of God; their own privileged position then served as the chief model for the divine. As a result, verbal depictions of God in liturgy, preaching, and catechesis, along with visual representations in art, have forged a strong link in the popular mind between divinity and maleness.” (Johnson 98) Human history teaches us that when one group holds all the power, it effectively subjugates or oppresses those that are not of that group (examples include apartheid, ethnic minorities in Europe during WWII, the current crisis in Syria, etc.). While some might consider such comparisons to be dramatic, the point is to emphasize the disparity of power and the inevitable lack of freedom it creates. In effect, the patriarchy becomes a barrier to people better knowing God.

In summary, what the current Church perspective creates is a decision point for women. The first option is to receive relationship with God only through male bodies; that they are her intercessor, her priest, her path to Elohim, Jesus and the holy Spirit. The second is that, “As Carol Christ astutely observed, a woman may see herself as created in the image of God only by abstracting herself from her concrete bodiliness. But she can never experience that which is freely available to every man and boy in her culture of having her full sexual identity affirmed as being in the image and likeness of God.” (Johnson 99) The risk of these two options is that our community continues moving forward with God as a male icon, resulting in a failure to reconcile relationships between women and God, women and men, and God and men. The Church also continues to limit the triune God: “…it reduces the living God to an idol. Exclusively male language leads us to forget the incomprehensibility of holy mystery and instead reduces the living God to the fantasy of an infinitely ruling man.” (Johnson 98) By embracing the holy Spirit in her feminine identity as she was spoken of by Jesus, by remembering that she is equal to the persons who form the Godhead and by walking in the truth that not only does she possesses the attributes of God but that women are made in her image, we gain a richer and deeper answer for the questions we seek as individuals as well as a fulfillment to our calling as the Church. For the Church, “…to call for justice in the world the church must itself first be just. If church structure is in service of mission, then without just internal structures the church’s mission in the world will not be credible.” (Hines 167) Ultimately the femininity of the Spirit expands who God is to us, who we are to God and who we are to one another, thereby transforming the Church.

Works Cited

Bible. Saint Mary’s Press College Study Bible. Winona, MN: Christian Brothers Publications, 2006. Book.

Brock, Sebastian. “The Holy Spirit as Feminine in Early Syriac Literature.” Ed. Soskice, Janet Martin. After Eve. Collins Marshall Pickering, 1990. http://www.womenpriests.org/theology/brock.asp. Electronic.

Clouzet, Ron E. M. “The Personhood of the Holy Spirit and Why It Matters.” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society (2006): 11-32. Electronic.

Distefano, Matthew. “The Holy Spirit is not a Male, Conservative Evangelical.” 25 April 2016. Patheos. Blog. 25 April 2017.

Hines, Mary E. “Community for Liberation.” LaCugna, Catherine Mowry. Freeing Theology: The Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective. United States of America: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1993. 161-184. Book.

Johnson, Elizabeth A. Quest for a Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God. United States of America: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2014. Book.

Livesey, Cath. My Sheep Have Ears: Exploring Prophecy with Discipleship and Mission. United Kingdom: 3DM Publishing, 2015. Book.

Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014. Print.

 

A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Two)

First, if you haven’t read Part 1, I suggest you read that first. Chapter 2 is titled, “Commitment is Overrated,” which at first felt like a huge red flag.  How could commitment be overrated? Isn’t commitment a big part of what makes things work? “In the realm of relationships, unlike any other arena of life, we operate from the premise that a promise replaces the need for preparation. That a couple can promise, vow, or commit themselves into a successful future.” (p. 36) This sounds like a pretty ludicrous idea when it’s framed this way by society does this and we have that expectation all the time. It’s like in the episode of Friends when Joey finds out about his father’s infidelity and is fearful that he’ll struggle with fidelity when he’s married.  Chandler reassures him that when he finds the right woman, that won’t be an issue.  But do we really believe that? How often do we see this scenario playing out well? Like Andy Stanley says, “Coaches know that you don’t promise to win games; you prepare to win… Very few people prepare. Most people are content to commit.” (36) He points out that this belief makes people accountable without making them capable, and the end result is misery.

Proverbs 14:15 “The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps.” In the context of this book, it’s understanding the value of prudence: that what we choose to do today will impact our tomorrow. You can see the trajectory of many things if you learn to start looking at what has happened in the past. It’s not saying that people don’t change but it is acknowledging that change is a process, and it is recognizable. “Discount the promises but pay attention to the dots, the patterns. Again, the paths people choose trump the commitments they make…The past is a better indicator than a promise.” (40) This might SOUND unforgiving or lacking in grace but it isn’t. It doesn’t DENY that people can change (some of us call that repentance), but what it says it that you know what people are about when you look at what they do.

Consider this when you date someone who has a questionable record relationally, financially, morally, etc. but are promising that things are going to be different in the future. For yourself, recall the biggest, most positive change that you’ve made in your life. Really think about what it took to make that change and identify what the greatest contributor to that positive change was. “…in the end, wasn’t it your decision to act, to engage, to move forward, to move out, that brought about the change you celebrate? …You shook something off. You moved on with your life. You chose a way forward. Others may have cheered you on. But the change came about because of something you did for you.” (42) Now think about your greatest regret that YOU had influence over (not something that happened to you, something that was the result of a decision or decisions that you made). What was the biggest contributor to that regret? “Chances are someone else was involved. Perhaps a group of people. People you liked. People you trusted… You believed that moving in his or her direction would make your life better, richer. But in the end, it wasn’t so.” (41) What does this tell us?

We change when we make the choice to, and if you’re dating someone who leans on others instead of being self-driven, as hard as it might be, that’s where you need to give them the time and space to change. “…no one depends his or her way to change. Change requires fierce in-dependence that should eventually lead to inter-dependence with other healthy people.” (43) If they aren’t there, they won’t get there by you or anyone else being a crutch. Those are people who are not being prudent, who are behaving (according to Proverbs 14:15) as if they are simple. They aren’t thinking about their steps. Maybe you’re one of these people. Life seems to “happen” to you a lot, you don’t necessarily consider the consequences, your yes isn’t your yes. “Commit now to preparing to keep your commitments later. That’s the goal, what you should focus on. If you do, when you say ‘I do,’ you’ll be prepared to follow-through.” (46)

Chapter 3, titled “Becoming the Right Person,” is summed up in this: “Become the right person. Becoming the right person is how you prepare to commit. Becoming the right person dramatically increases your odds of sustained relational success when you finally meet the right person.” (47) My brain didn’t explode the first time I read this a while back, but it may as well have with how eye-opening it was for me. We’ve already established that the right person doesn’t make everything great and that committing without preparing is pretty much guaranteed failure. This calls for some serious introspection, some honest evaluation, to make you ask yourself if you would be attractive to the type of person you’re trying to attract.

“If you are as intentional about becoming the right person as you are about meeting the right person, you will position yourself to bypass a boatload of unnecessary pain, regret and wasted time.” (47-48) This makes complete sense, doesn’t it? But we never really think about it. It’s not the plot of most romantic comedies, because the idea doesn’t come off as funny or particularly romantic on paper. But to me, I find the idea that a man began preparing for marriage before he even met me deeply attractive, and I think that kind of guy might want the same thing from me.

We have to ask the hard questions: “Are you the person the person you’re looking for is looking for? If not…are you willing to begin the process of becoming the person the person you’re looking for is looking for? If you made a list of what you are looking for in someone (which isn’t a bad idea), would that person be looking for someone like you? If the other person’s list matched your list, how would you measure up?” (50) I suggest you read through that paragraph a couple times. Maybe take a break and make a list of what you are looking for and what you bring to the table (both good and bad). Be really honest. This isn’t about shame, guilt or tearing you down. It’s about honest evaluation and being Proverbs prudent: where are you, where do you want to go, what steps are needed to get there? And do we see a hypocrisy in wanting in others what you refuse to develop in yourself? “Bottom line: it’s not enough to look; you must become. You must become intentional about becoming the person the person you’re looking for is looking for.” (51)

You might be feeling like nobody does this, or almost nobody. So why should you? But that reasoning doesn’t really take us anywhere, and the argument made in our becoming is a worthwhile one.  What do we lose in this preparation other than becoming the person we want to be? Plus, as Andy Stanley writes, “If you commit to prepare before your promise, it will dramatically increase your chances of crossing paths with someone who is preparing as well. Why? Because preparing for anything sensitizes you to people who share your passion and direction.” (51) It makes it more likely for you both to not only recognize one another, but to engage with each other over a shared passion.

Think about when you get a new (or new to you) car. You begin to notice the number of times you see someone else with your car on the highway or in a parking lot. Or what about you find a TV show that you then binge-watch on Netflix; don’t you become more aware of the number of fans and references made to that show? “Don’t ever forget: We see what we’re looking for. We see whom we’re looking for as well.” (52) In the book he uses the example of Jenny and Shane meeting through online dating.  Shane, because of his age and success, was a bit of a commodity online. He attracted a lot of women, but they weren’t the kind of women he was looking for. He updated his profile to be more reflective of his morals and values which caught Jenny’s attention but wasn’t enough to hook her. It wasn’t until he spelled out these things in his profile (which he thought would seal his online-dating fate) that Jenny decided to take a chance on him. “Funny thing about Jenny and Shane, they really don’t have much in common on paper. Their common ground, as is so often the case with successful relationships, was more directional than recreational… Their common direction quickly blossomed into mutual affection.” (54-55)

So if you’re spending a lot of time looking, but not a lot of time finding, it’s certainly worthwhile to investigate why. In the story of Denise (not shared here), it was that she wasn’t the person the guy she wanted would want when she shifted from her faith to a life of partying and hooking up. In the story of Shane, it was a matter of clarifying what mattered to him and what direction he was heading. “Someone who is merely looking for the right person usually winds up with someone merely looking for the right person. But people committed to becoming the right people are usually attracted to and notice individuals who are the same.” (55) This leaves us with asking ourselves where we want to end up (and with whom), and determine what steps it will take to arrive there.

Want more? Continue to A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Three)

Stuck on a Verse

This verse keeps coming back to me today. In the verses before this one, he had dug a couple wells and lost them to others each time, yet he persists (out of necessity, I suppose). But when things finally work out, he doesn’t attribute success to HIS hardwork, persistence, or his willingness to keep going against all odds. He glorifies God. He recognizes God in the blessing. “At last the Lord God has created enough space for us to prosper in this land.” I often think that if God gave us Christ, and we are supposed to be like-Christ (hence Christians, or ‘little christs’), then doesn’t that mean that we ought to emulate all the characteristics that God does? I’m certainly not talking about judgement, or things God says are only for God to do, but I think we can learn much about what God hopes for in us.  I certainty admire the posture demonstrated by Isaac, but what is being revealed to us about who God is?

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God is Countercultural

These topics are hotly debated, but perhaps it is because they should be. I’m a millenial who grew up with mass shootings, I’ve lived as a Christian and non-Christian, and I do own a gun. But as a Christian, I have to consider what I am defending and protecting with my words online and in conversations. First, because God asks things of us as a follower and second, because we have the ability to bring people closer or further to God through our actions.

Sandy Hook. Orlando. Are we more apt to defend the rights of our guns or to demand some change? To say the status quo is no longer good enough? God, Jesus, calls us to the widow, the immigrant and the orphan, to mourn with those who mourn. Yet I see many who claim they are Christians first jumping to protect our rights instead of our people, and in the mean time we are creating more people who are mourning.

I love our rights. As a history major, I understand the danger of giving up rights out of fear or the desire for protection or security. I’m not saying the answer is simple or easy but we must look at our choices and as Christians, we should be caring for the victims more than our weapons. That doesn’t mean I’m saying hand them all over and melt them down; but we believe in improvement in our personal, spiritual and business life. It would be startling to think that some improvements can’t be made.

This, surprisingly or not, ties in to things like the death penalty. I don’t support the death penalty in cases where someone can be safely kept. This wasn’t always the case but my time with some Catholic nuns has shown me that everyone should be afforded every opportunity to repent and change their path; are we not all guilty in some way and worthy of being prisoners (if not of worldly law then certainly of God’s)?

I think if we examine other controversial issues like immigration, abortion, etc. we can start to see that leading with love and empathy might be the better foundation to build upon.