Book Review: Jesus Feminist

On the fifth Thursday (or Saturday) of each month, I would like to share my thoughts about some of the books I have read recently that have impacted my life in meaningful ways. This week’s book is Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey. You can purchase it here:

http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Feminist-Invitation-Revisit-Bibles/dp/1476717257

I am a feminist. There. I said it. I don’t know why it seems so scary to people. Well…yes, I do. “Feminist” is a word that has a lot of baggage attached to it. It is time for us to reclaim what the word really means: someone who is willing to speak up for and lend their voice to the voiceless. A feminist is someone who believes women are people, too.

A Jesus feminist is someone who believes that men AND women are children of God and should be treated as such. “Feminism only means we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance—not greater than, but certainly not less than—to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women” (p. 13, 14). This is Sarah Bessey’s message in her book Jesus Feminist.

The best part of this book for me was Bessey’s attitude throughout. She is not fighting. She is not arguing. She is expressing her concern, her research, and her conclusions. She does not expect everyone to agree with her completely. But she hopes for love and respect and truly offers the same to all of her readers. Bessey is a great story teller and weaves narrative all throughout the book.

“Whenever there is injustice or oppression, anything less than God’s intended purposes from the dawn of Creation, our God has always set His people on the trajectory of redemption” (p. 26). The treatment of women worldwide is shamefully unequal and oppressive. Unfortunately, that is often the case in our western churches, as well. We need to people of redemption. We need to reclaim God’s intended purpose that men and women are both created in His image. We need to recognize the hurt and work to heal the pain while also working to ensure the same hurts never happen again.

This book is a great starting point. Bessey admits near the end that she does not have all the answers. None of us do. But as we have witnessed the events that have led to the current #yesallwomen social media movement, we are reminded of the importance of how we treat, talk about, teach, and empower our women. “God’s justice doesn’t come without His presence” (p. 180).

Her book reads like a memoir, but it is not. Her book is not a theological or academic work, yet there is much to be learned throughout the pages. This book is Sarah Bessey sharing herself, her thoughts, her views, her journey. (At least that is my perception, I do not know her.) We need more people to speak the way Bessey does. We need more Jesus feminists. We need to do more to promote proper treatment of women in our churches.

To All Victims: Please Forgive Us

To all victims: I am sorry.

I am sorry for your loss. I am sorry for the pain that has been inflicted. I am sorry that your lives have been eternally altered.

And I am sorry that we have taken the occasion of your grief to be an opportunity to share a sound bite for our pet issue.

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Last week, a highly publicized tragedy struck again. A man who was seriously disturbed wreaked havoc on a community and shattered the lives of many individuals and families. It is terrible. It is awful. It is painful.

And we should be mourning with the victims.

However: instead of mourning, scores of people are pontificating. Instead of crying, people are shouting. Instead of seeing the victims and their families, people are seeing how much hatred they can cram into 140 characters.

This most current story has many layers: mental health, misogyny, overall treatment of women, gun control, gender roles/expectations, and probably others.

But the initial moments after the news hit is not the time to bray on about those issues. In those moments, we need to grieve. In those moments, we need to be present with those who are hurting. And if physical presence is not possible, then we need to be falling on our knees in prayer on their behalf.

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We need to learn an important lesson from the friends of Job in the early chapters of that book. When we see someone in pain and desperation due to the events in their lives, we need to SHUT UP. The last thing hurting people need is more words. They need comfort. They need presence. They need love.

So often we forget that. We fail to recognize the pain and hurt because we are too busy trying to figure out how we can spin it to our benefit.

Should we be addressing these issues? Absolutely. We should be living our lives in such a way that people know what we stand for and what we believe in. We should be bold in our ideas of how people should be treated and how systems should be run.

And when we are living lives in such a way that no one has to question where we stand, we do not need to use opportunities of grief as a soapbox on which to stand.

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To victims of mass shootings, I am sorry that we have fought to maintain our right to own instruments of death instead of fighting to ensure the mental health of those who own them.

To victims of abortion, I am sorry that we argued you are a choice instead of a life.

To those who have had abortions, I am sorry that we have failed to realize both the difficulty of your decision and the enduring impact that decision has had on your lives.

To those whose family members have been executed by the death penalty, I am sorry that we have confused state-sanctioned killing with justice.

To those living in poverty, I am sorry that we have blamed you instead of recognizing the structures that have perpetuated your situation.

To women who have been treated as little more than sexualized objects, I am sorry that we continue to promote inequality by the things we watch and the items we buy.

And I am sorry that we wait until tragedy strikes before saying anything. I am sorry that we look past those who are hurting and start screaming at each other. I am sorry that we have used you to promote our agendas.

May we all learn when it is best to bite our tongues, say nothing, and sit in silence and weep.

My Name Is Paul And I Am An Alcoholic, Step 5

One Thursday each month I will share a post on one of the 12 Steps. This month is Step 5. Recovery is an area of life that 12 Step groups have done amazing work with, yet many churches (and other community groups) struggle with what to do. My hope is that this series will help those who are not in recovery learn more about their friends and family members who are in recovery. I welcome any feedback, questions, and concerns you may have!

“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Step 5

“If we skip this vital step, we may not overcome drinking. Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives. Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier methods. Almost invariably they got drunk. Having persevered with the rest of the program, they wondered why they fell. We think the reason is that they never completed their housecleaning…. (T)hey had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 72,73).

Step 4 is difficult for several reasons. Step 5 takes it one step further. After spending the time on reflection, introspection, and writing the fearless moral inventory, the recovering alcoholic now has to tell it all to somebody.

The step says we will admit to God, ourselves, and another human being. In Steps 1, 2, and 3, the alcoholic works on developing a relationship with God—a power that is greater than we are. For many people, admitting to God is a struggle. However, God is not physically visible. That often makes admitting it to Him a little bit easier. Many people believe that God knows our thoughts, so as we write out our inventory we are already admitting these things to God. I do not intend to gloss over the importance of admitting our wrongs to God, but I do intend to acknowledge that the nature of our relationship with God is such that we can often admit our deepest wrongs to Him without the fear that accompanies a face to face relationship.

Also, admitting it to ourselves is what we have been doing through the fourth step. We have been thinking and writing. We have been working with our sponsors. We have been digging deeper than we ever have before. Putting the pen to paper is the act of admitting our wrongs to ourselves. It is difficult. Yet by the time we are on Step 5 we have done most of the admitting to ourselves.

The real difficult part of Step 5 is admitting to another human being. It is one thing to be open and vulnerable enough to write these things down on paper. It is entirely another to be open and vulnerable enough to tell somebody else.

Yet Bill W. and the original group of recovering alcoholics that wrote the Big Book pulled no punches: if you do not admit it to someone else you are likely to drink again.

This was my experience. My journey in sobriety began in January 2004. I started working the steps. I started attending meetings. I started sharing with my sponsor. But there was one thing I was ashamed to admit. Which looking back on it is kind of strange, because I had revealed so much; I don’t know why I thought this one particular thing would be worse than all the rest. So I hid it. I was not completely open and honest. And I relapsed. And did not come out of the relapse to begin working on my sobriety until July 2005.

Complete honesty is absolutely vital to the alcoholic’s recovery process. Without it, there will be no sobriety. If the recovering alcoholic cannot be honest, they cannot be sober. The two go hand in hand. Step 5 solidifies that relationship.

In Step 5, the alcoholic will find somebody to share his or her inventory with. More often than not, the sponsor is that other person. This is beneficial because of the sponsor/sponsee relationship. Others use a religious leader. For example, Catholics in recovery will often use the confessional as the place they do their fifth step. Again, for those practicing Christianity through the Catholic Church, this is a good and healthy way to combine spirituality with sobriety. I have heard stories of people telling complete strangers (the person sitting next to them on the plane, the hitchhiker they picked up, etc.). I do not find using a stranger to be as beneficial, but many alcoholics have done that with success.

In the sharing of the inventory, honesty must be present and ego must be absent; humility must be present and fear must be absent.

Every recovery program spends a great deal of time on Steps 4 and 5. But what can the church do to help people in recovery through this part of the process?*

First, we must learn to do confession better. The church does not do confession well. Too often, confession is one person standing in front of a group of people and admitting to something. The reactions range from gasps of shock to pious hugs and statements of “there, there.” When confession is done in a closet there is no relationship, no accountability. We must learn what it means to confess to one another. We must be kind and gentle while also spurring one another on to making better choices. We must be honest with one another. We must be open. It must not be a scary thing to approach a Christian brother or sister in order to share a struggle. So much of our struggle with sin comes from the fact that we believe we have to hide it. We must stop hiding.

Second, be available but do not be pushy. If you are in relationship with people who are in recovery, they may come to you and ask you to do a fifth step with them. If they ask, I hope you feel you are in a position where you can say yes. It is an honor to be asked. All you need to do is listen and pray. Pray at the start for safety and honesty, listen to the inventory, and then pray for healing. But in being available, do not ask people to do their fifth step with you. Be available if asked, but do not go around asking those in recovery if they are ready yet. They are working a process. Their sponsor will prod them as needed. They just need welcome and encouragement from you.

Third, have someone you help you bear the burden. This does not mean go and tell somebody everything you just heard. You MUST keep anything told to you in a fifth step private and confidential. It is not your story to tell. However, you will hear some heavy stuff. I have heard stories of sexual abuse, both from victims and victimizers. I have heard stories of physical pain received or inflicted. I have heard stories of murder. These are difficult stories to hear. But I have a sponsor. I have spiritual guides and leaders. I am able to go to them and tell them how I have been affected (without sharing names or specifics). If you are going to listen to someone’s fifth step, have someone you can go to who can help you deal with your own emotions that will come up. You do not need to give the details. You just need to say, “I heard some stuff and I really don’t know what to do with it.” Find a spiritual guide, a Shepherd, a minister, someone that will pray with as you deal with that emotion.

The fourth and fifth steps are a scary part of the journey for the recovering alcoholic. They may need your presence. More than anything, let them know they are loved.

*If you are a mandated reporter (and if you are you would know it), you may not feel comfortable listening to a fifth step. If that is the case, say so up front. Do not feel obligated to listen. Likewise, you may just not feel adequately equipped to listen to someone’s fifth step. It is better in that case to say no and help the person find someone who can. Do not put yourself in a position you do not feel you can handle. If you want to learn more about what it means to listen to someone’s fifth step, talk with those people in your congregation who have long-term sobriety. Or talk with your ministers. It is likely they have done this before.

The Worst Five Chapters in the Bible–Who Will Lead God’s People, Part III

Over the last three weeks, I taught a series of lessons on the Book of Judges. It is a terrible book. But here is my last my lesson. If you are interested, here are the first two:

https://asecondtime.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/who-will-lead-gods-people-part-i-deborah/

https://asecondtime.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/who-will-lead-gods-people-part-ii-gideon/

“During that period, there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what seemed right to them” (Judges 21:25, The Voice).

Do you have a period in your family history that you would rather remain hidden? Is there a period in your personal history that you would rather remain hidden?

Whether we like it or not, those dark periods of our stories also help define who we are. When Rheannon was born, we had a slight scare. As it turned out, nothing was wrong and she was completely healthy. But she spent five days in the NICU. She had tubes and wires and all sorts of beeping things attached to her.

I only remember taking one picture: Xavier, 2 years old at the time, kissing his sister. But even that picture was taken after many of the wires had been disconnected. At the time, we didn’t want to remember anything from that week.

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Looking back on it, though, that was one of the most love and encouragement-filled weeks of our lives. We were bombarded with visits, calls, gifts, prayers, and other expressions of love. We learned to have empathy for parents in a way we never had before.

Sometimes, it is the dark chapters of our lives that teach us lessons that will last a lifetime.

Which brings us to Judges. This is one of the most vile collections of stories about evil and the failings of humanity.

However, in the midst of the garbage, there are some good lessons:

Deborah teaches us that even the less privileged are important in the sight of God.

Gideon teaches us that He can work, even in the midst of our fear.

Ehud teaches us the value of being left-handed (look it up!).

Samson teaches us that it is good to grow one’s facial hair out during the hockey playoffs.

The book of Judges teaches us that God is still present, God is still moving in the lives of His people; yet it also teaches that when the people do not turn to God as their king stuff falls apart.

In Judges 17, we are introduced to a couple of stories that justify the Bible being a banned book in many school libraries.

The first story is about a guy named Micah and a Levite—a priest.

Micah is one of those heartwarming characters. He stole 1100 pieces of silver from his mom and after hearing curse the person who did it decided to return it. And then Micah’s mom has a great idea: they use the silver to make an idol.

After the idol is made and a shrine is built in Micah’s house, a traveling Levite comes to town. Micah sees a great opportunity: he has a shrine and an idol, now all he needs is a priest. So he hires the Levite to be his personal priest as he continues worshipping his idol. Because, “In those days of the judges, there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what seemed right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, The Voice).

But that’s not where the story ends. People from the tribe of Dan decide they need a new home. So they are traveling throughout the land and they come through Micah’s town. They ask Micah’s priest if they will be successful. The Levite says, “Sure!” So the Danites go and without mercy attack and kill a people who were “quiet and without suspicion” (Judges, 18:27, The Voice). After all, “During this period, Israel had no king” (Judges 18:1, The Voice).

And one last point about this story. The Danites hire the Levite away from Micah, because if God’s priests are defined by anything it’s by the highest bidder, right?

Then we come to the really bad story. This one is introduced in Judges 19:1: “During this period, when there was no king in Israel….”

A Levite has a mistress. The mistress cheats on him and runs back to her home. The Levite pursues her and convinces her to come back home with him. On their way back home, they reach the city of the Jebustites. This city will eventually become Jerusalem, but at this time it is a city of foreigners. The Levite says it is not safe to stay in a foreign city so they travel on to Gibeah, a city of the tribe of Benjamin.

So they should be safe, right?

The first sign of trouble is when they arrive in the city square and no one invites them home. This is a sin. The people of Israel were supposed to inviting and hospitable. But the people of this city were not. Finally, an old man who was not even a Benjamite sees them and invites them to his house.

And then the story completely falls apart.

The men of the city pound on the door and demand the old man send out the Levite so they can rape him. This isn’t a story about homosexuality, either. It is a story about dominance and hedonism. The old man and the Levite cry out against the call for the Levite to be sent outside, but they send out the Levite’s mistress. Who is raped. And beaten. And left for dead.

The Levite takes her home. He cuts her body into 12 pieces and sends a piece to each tribe. The tribes are infuriated and all decide to wage war against Benjamin. After the war, Benjamin is almost completely wiped out. One tribe of Israel is almost erased from existence. Even worse is the plan that is hatched to make sure the 600 men from Benjamin don’t die out as a tribe. The final chapter of Judges tells of more slaughter and kidnapping in order to find 600 wives so that the tribe of Benjamin can continue. Because, “During that period, there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what seemed right to them” (Judges 21:25, The Voice).

Remember how I said I don’t like the book of Judges?

In the most troubling aspect of this story, God tells the Israelites three times to go in battle against the tribe of Benjamin. The first two times, they are defeated. The third time, they wipe out all but 600 men from Benjamin. Why is God talking at all in this story? Why is He sending some of His people against others of His people? Why does He seem to be participating in the slaughter of more than 65,000 Israelites?

Before I try to answer that question, notice one more thing.

When the Israelites entered the Promised Land back in the beginning of Judges, they were told to drive everyone out. They were told to make sure their worship was of Yahweh alone.

But they didn’t obey completely. They don’t drive everyone out, they end up worshipping idols. They did not do everything exactly like they were supposed to and they paid the price. They ended up looking like everyone else in the world around them.

And I say like I have in the last two weeks: this is a lesson we need to hear today. If we look like the rest of the world around us, why should we be surprised when everything falls apart?

I don’t say that to make you think that if you speed or watch R-rated movies you are going to Hell. But what are some ways we have allowed evil to exist in our lives? What are some ways we have been pulled away from the holiness of God because of the impurities we have allowed to become a part of who we are?

The poor being neglected.

The lonely being ignored.

Listening to jokes that demean, dehumanize without saying anything.

Witnessing bullying and saying, “boys will be boys.”

Thinking that abortion and the death penalty are a political debate and not a discussion about life.

Seeing racism in social structures and just accepting it.

Seeing women devalued in social structures and just accepting it.

Allowing our children to think sports and other extra-curricular activities are more important than fellowship with Christian family.

Equating political affiliation or patriotic pride with spirituality.

When we allow our identities to be formed more by the world around us than the Spirit within us we cannot be upset when our outcomes leave us empty and hurting.

Which brings me back to the question I asked a moment ago: why is God even present in this story? Why does it appear that He is sanctioning so much of this activity? Is God really that cruel of a puppet-master, just watching his creation try and destroy one another?

There is a lot I don’t have the answers for. I don’t know why the Old Testament is so violent. I don’t know why there are so many stories that are so far out of touch with how the world is today. I don’t know why God comes across as angry and vengeful.

But I do know this: throughout the history of His people, God is always present.

There is one more judge talked about in the Bible. His name is Samuel. During Samuel’s time as judge, the people ask for a king. Samuel is discouraged. But God tells Him, “It is not a rejection of you—it is a rejection of My rule over them” (I Samuel 8:7, The Voice).

The story of Judges is that dark story in the family history. It is the time we all wish we could forget. It’s the story we want to remain hidden. It’s the episode we want no pictures of. We don’t want to remember it.

But in the midst of the evil, in the midst of the despair, there is a message of hope. The book of Judges tells us the story of how the people moved from entering the Promised Land following Yahweh to turning to an earthly king. It is a story of a people turning their backs on God. Repeatedly.

But it is also a story of God acting. God raising up deliverers. God anointing a king. God providing for His people. God being angry yet still being present.

It’s not pretty. It’s not always easily understood.

But it is life. And even when we mess up at life, God is still active.

Can The Privileged Take The Lord’s Supper?

The first Passover was celebrated by a group of slaves. The Israelites had been oppressed by the Egyptians for a long time. God raised Moses up to deliver the people out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land. On the last night spent in Egypt, the Israelites ate the Passover meal. They remembered what God had already done for them and prepared for what God was still going to do.

The first Lord’s Supper was celebrated by a group of homeless wanderers. Just before His death, Jesus and his closest followers gathered in a room to commemorate the Passover meal. During that meal, Jesus declared that He was the new bread and the new wine. He was the new covenant. Just as the Passover was the meal celebrated before freedom from Egypt, this Lord’s Supper was the meal celebrated before freedom from sin and death.

The book of Acts tells us of a church that met and shared all things together. Those who were “haves” sold what they owned and shared the proceeds with those who were “have-nots.” There was no in need because everyone openly practiced generosity. The early Christians met every day and always took the Lord’s Supper to remember in part the Passover but much more so to remember the sacrifice of Jesus.

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By the time we get to I Corinthians, people have messed it up. The Christians who were meeting in homes in Corinth completely forgot what the Lord’s Supper was about. Those who were the “haves” really made sure the “have-nots” knew it. Those who had reveled in having even more. They discounted the have-nots. In fact, even though they were taking the bread and drinking the wine, Paul tells them, “What you are doing is not the Lord’s Supper at all.” In fact, he even says that their meetings are doing more harm than good (I Corinthians 11:17-33).

On Sunday mornings when I take the Lord’s Supper, I take a piece of cracker that I pretend is bread and drink a sip of grape juice. I take both things out of a shiny silver tray. I receive the tray from the person on one side of me and pass it to the person on the other side of me in total silence. There is little awareness or acknowledgment of other people. It is introspective and isolated.

Which leads me to my question: can the privileged truly participate in the Lord’s Supper?

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To me, it seems the Israelites and Jesus understood something the Corinthian church and I often fail to realize:

When you are in the position of having little, it is often easier to receive that which is truly needed.

I am not in need. Although I am not wealthy by my culture’s standards of wealth, I am in the top 10% of worldwide wealth. I am never far removed from the resources I need to survive and thrive. I never have to wonder how I am going to make it through the day. I never question if my basic needs are going to be met. I do not need much.

And I wonder how much that affects my ability to truly participate in the Lord’s Supper.

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The Lord’s Supper and Passover were both borne out of a time of extreme desperation and total reliance on the movement of God.

When all of my needs are met, do I ever practice true reliance on God?

Has there ever been a time in my life when I have truly felt desperation?

When I do perceive a need in my life, is my first thought to go to God or to go to a bank? or a store? or a government office? or another rich(er) friend?

Throughout my entire life, I have never truly been in material need. And if I am honest, I have allowed that fact to affect how I approach spiritual needs: I can find my own ways to take care of them.

In practice, if not in thought, my privilege dictates I do not need anything.

I am much more like the Egyptians than the Israelites; much more like the haves in Corinth than the have-nots.

So can I truly understand and participate in the Lord’s Supper?

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One Saturday each month, we have a praise and worship night at Freedom Fellowship. We take communion differently than on Sunday mornings. Three people stand at the front: one holds a loaf of bread, one holds a cup filled with grape juice, and one is the hugger. Everyone assembled walks to the front, rips off a piece of bread, dips it in the juice, and then gets a hug (usually from my daughter). People walk around the worship hall and hug one another and offer words of encouragement.

Those gathered are from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. There are rich people and poor people. There are those who are cleaned up and dressed well and those who have not showered in days. It is the first time in my life I have shared communion with people who are truly in need.

And I have learned something about the Lord’s Supper. I have learned that everything I have available at my fingertips has distracted me from participating in receiving the greatest gift ever offered.

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Can the privileged take the Lord’s Supper? Yes. God’s grace offered through Jesus is available to all.

Can the privileged truly participate in the Lord’s Supper? That depends. Am I willing to acknowledge that all I have and all the opportunities available to me are irrelevant when it comes to what I need from God?