stories

All of this is Yuck
you said
but Yuck to me is
biting into a bad peach
fuzzy orange skin belying
gray stinking flesh
teeth sink in and

something
is
wrong
It had been sitting on the counter for too long

So that's what you think of me
I looked like a Christian
at first
Did the Right Things
Said the Right Things
but that was the surface
that was my skin when
I had questions when
I had doubts
you were Repulsed
Rot
you thought I was Rot that
I had gone Bad

But even though
the peach had gone bad
its stone pit
its stone heart
was cold and hard
And then I think of 
you

something
is 
wrong
you had been sitting on the counter for too long

stored in a Bible-shaped
Tupperware box
orange lid cracked
but still so hard to breathe
you shouted from inside
the Bible-shaped box
that I was
Maddening
that I was
a waste of emotional energy
(and I can understand that when the simple act of breathing is a chore)
but your voice was muffled 
and I didn't understand your words
I didn't understand that

something was wrong
you had been sitting on the counter for too long

the Bible-shaped Tupperware box didn't move
and neither did you
face up in the box
staring at the underside of the
opaque orange lid
it was simply
all you saw of the Bible-shaped box

something  was
wrong you  had
been sitting  on
the counter  for
too long stored.
a  Bible-shaped
box    with     an
orange          lid.

But this is all just a 
story, of course
Gone in 24 hours
your powers like magic
but really just clicks
erase

me

I'm gone

I've gone

bad.

(3) Notes and Quotes from “The Making of Biblical Womanhood,” by Beth Allison Barr: Chapters 5-6

Listen to our podcast episode here: Red Weather Christians “S2E6: Down With the (Christian) Patriarchy!”

Chapter 5: Writing Women Out of the English Bible

… all biblical translations are written by human hands.

A conveniently forgotten truth, that translations are written by fallible humans. This truth is one to hold onto, my friends.

By fall 1997, the battle lines were drawn. Secular culture, especially the feminist movement, was changing Scripture in a dangerous way, and it was time for Christians to fight back.

The exact note I have in my book for this quote is, “Oh, GAG.” And this “battle”? Gender inclusive language in the Bible, something that from Barr’s historian point of view is more accurate than the male dominated language. Barr says the following:

Yet, as a medieval historian, I know that Christians translated Scripture in gender-inclusive ways long before the feminist movement. I’ll admit that the debate also scares me. It scares me for the same reason that it amuses me: because gender-inclusive language has a long history in the church, the debate shows how much modern evangelical Christians have forgotten church history.

This is just a funny little tidbit here. These Christians in 1997 thought the feminist movement was so dangerous, that it was such a big deal, when in reality the gender debate was nothing new. Do they even know church history? Seems not.

The Protestant Reformation changed how the Bible was used by Christians, but it didn’t introduce the Bible to Christians. English translations of biblical text existed long before the Reformation.

Just a little reminder for everyone that the Reformation wasn’t the beginning of it all. It wasn’t the beginning of Christianity, and it certainly wasn’t the beginning of the Bible. The Bible published as a single bound book happened in the 1500s, but the Bible did exist before it was a single bound book.

I was struck by how the SBC leaders harped on 1 Timothy 3:2, that overseers should be husband of one wife. They used this as ironclad proof that senior pastors had to be men. Yet Lucy Peppiatt shows us how 1 Timothy 3, the chapter so often cited by the male leaders of the conservative resurgence as articulating why only men can preach, was shaped by English-language translations to look more masculine than it actually is. We assume 1 Timothy 3:1-13 is referencing men in leadership roles (overseer/bishop and deacon). But is this because of how our English Bibles translate the text? Whereas the Greek text uses the words whoever and anyone, with the only specific reference to man appearing in verse 12 (a literal Greek translation of the phrase is “one woman man,” referencing the married state of deacons), modern English Bibles have introduced eight to ten male pronouns within the verses. None of those male pronouns in our English Bibles are in the Greek text. Peppiatt concludes that the problem with female leadership is not actually the biblical text; it is the “relentless and dominant narrative of male bias” in translations.

“Whoever” and “anyone,” you say? Interesting. Those original pronouns sure do seem gender neutral. I wonder why they were changed? A head-scratcher, for sure. Here’s just 1 Timothy 3:4-7 (NIV) with all the male pronouns in bold:

He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

Please don’t ever think that pronouns are insignificant.

From this perspective, gender-inclusive language isn’t distorting Scripture. Gender-inclusive language is restoring Scripture from the influence of certain English Bible translations.

Well, what a refreshing shift in perspective. And from a historian, no less.

The English Bible makes it clear that Genesis 2:22-24 sanctifies marriage. Yet neither the word marriage nor the word wife appear in the Hebrew text.

Genesis 2:22-24 (KJV), often under the heading “Institution of Marriage”: “And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”

Funny side-note: Several years ago, I and my husband were actually a part of a Bible study called “Leave and Cleave.” It was … not our favorite.

Chapter 6: Sanctifying Subordination

Medieval women moved closest to equality with men when they were furthest from the married state.

Well that’s just not Christian. Come on now. Moving along…

After the Reformation, the spiritual economy flipped, so wives received the highest honors, followed by widows. This time, virgins — now demeaned as spinsters instead of celebrated as saints — brought up the rear.

This is sounding more Christian. Phew!

To be a Christian woman was to be under the authority of men.

This is definitely the Christianity I know. Huzzah!

During the nineteenth century, a similar fixation with female purity emerged — stemming from a new ideology about women, work, and family life — which historians call the cult of domesticity.

OK, back to reality. I don’t want to be part of a cult. Do you?

Purity culture thus shamed women in the nineteenth century as it continues to shame women today.

(Because that’s what Jesus came to do: shame women. Among other things, of course.) Barr goes on in this section to chronicle many of the times that people broke the “rules” and Jesus responded with love. So if a girl let her bra strap show at Bible camp, Jesus wouldn’t condemn her.

Once again, the world in which we live oppresses women, fighting to control their bodies from their “natural” fallenness. … Once again, the God we serve has always done the opposite. Jesus has always set women free.

And to this I say as genuinely as it gets, “Thank you, Jesus.”

Perhaps the most famous early proponent of complementarity was the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In his famous text Emile, he expounded his philosophy of education for women, arguing that “the search for abstract and speculative truths, for principles and axioms in science, for all that tends to wide generalization, is beyond a woman’s grasp; their studies should be thoroughly practical.”

“Quit being so selfish, Jean,” and give the women some credit. And speaking of practical, Jean, I’d like to see where we’d be today if it weren’t for women.

What evangelicals have failed to realize, explains Randall Balmer, is that the “traditional concept of femininity” that we believe to be from the Bible is nothing more than “a nineteenth-century construct.”

Christians, oh CHRISTIANS, did you hear that? Certainly we can believe that we are above adhering to a nineteenth-century human-made construct, right? Right. Good. Moving on.

History matters, and for modern evangelical women, nineteenth-century history has mattered far more than it ever should have.

Yep.

See you next time for chapters 7-8.

Church in the Time of COVID

The evangelical church fears that recognizing women’s leadership will mean bowing to cultural peer pressure. But what if the church is bowing to cultural peer pressure by denying women’s leadership?

Beth Allison Barr, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth

And in other words: what if we’ve gotten it wrong? Barr acknowledges that in her work as a historian and as a teacher, asking the question, “What if I’m wrong?” has enabled her to be a better listener and to keep her humble.

If only we all could ask that question.

And while this particular book is about how we got it wrong in terms of women submitting to men, I can’t help but relate it to so many things I grew up believing about what it means to be a Christian. It is humbling. It is enabling me to be a better listener to people of other faiths and to people who are, simply put, different than I. And while I am moving in this direction, I feel an undercurrent of hostility towards me from The Church. No, not anything direct. Not any particular person. But hostility nonetheless. I sometimes think that if The Church knew what I really believed, they wouldn’t think I was a true Christian.

But I am not renouncing my faith. I hold firm to identifying myself as a Christian, but man it’s been a rough year to be a Christian. I have been embarrassed and ashamed of so many things The Christians have been up to. And when I get embarrassed and ashamed of a group of people I somewhat associate myself with, I start asking them questions.

I’ve always had a problem with getting shut down when I question things, whether it be as a member of a Bible study or as a teacher in a meeting. Have you experienced this? It’s frustrating. I like to discuss, challenge, and disagree with popular opinion. But when my questions or comments are seen as undermining The Faith or threatening the powers that be, they don’t go over well.

I remember being stuck in yet another English department meeting, slogging through the meeting to-do list. One item was to go through these gosh-awful, beastly, 3-ring binders and talk about how what we’re doing in the classroom is meeting blah blah blah particular standards. Listen: Standards are good. They can keep people accountable. But when you teach at a small school where department and division heads actually do visit your classroom and students do fill out teacher evaluation forms and in general The People do know what you’re doing in the classroom, taking 15 minutes for each teacher in the meeting to turn pages in a binder and describe what, in my opinion, was a very contrived, rule-following-robots type of classroom was a colossal waste of time. The first teacher finished her Goldilocks just-right curriculum, then the second, and then I couldn’t take it any more. I spoke up.

And that has always been my problem.

But its being my problem is The Problem. Why can’t I politely make a comment that perhaps this isn’t the most productive use of our time? Why is questioning the meeting to-do list met with such hostility?

Because it was. My department chair was MAD.

During a Bible study at The Church on a Wednesday night a couple years ago, I challenged the pastor’s take on a passage in Hosea. After I asked some “why” questions, the pastor said that Max Lucado says that it’s OK to ask “what, God,” but it’s not OK to ask “why, God.” I tried to look this quote up, to no avail. So I’m not sure if it’s even accurate, but there it was, stated to me from the pulpit. I shouldn’t ask why. Another elder spoke up to say that I was just struggling with my faith right now.

Well, what? (I can ask that, right?)

So when it comes to our being in a pandemic and things getting political about *all the things* and The Church having to vote on a president based on a single issue (why?), I can’t help but ask if we’ve gotten it wrong about some things.

When Steve and I went to church on Sunday, hardly a soul wore a mask. In our neon green ones, we felt like swamp monsters. None of the kids or kids’ leaders (that we saw) wore masks. We (naively? stupidly?) assumed that the adults working closely with the kids had been vaccinated.

When we got a text on Tuesday that someone who had worked with our kids that Sunday was unvaccinated and had tested positive, our first thought was “Wow, that was reckless.” But we thought we’d be fine. We had gone a year and a half without getting COVID, and Steve and I were just a few weeks out from being fully vaccinated (we got our first shot literally the first day we got to the States, which happened to be the day before church).

SPOILER ALERT: We all got COVID.

And I’m writing this in my COVID fog because I want to capture how my brain is working right now. I hope my writing is bearable. I hope I’m getting my points across. But I’m hazy, I’ll tell ya.

I’m disappointed in The Church. I’m disappointed that we can’t ask why. That doing something to protect others is seen as a political statement that comes with its own judgments.

And I have my personal regrets as well. When we got to church and saw the dearth of masks, why didn’t we hightail it outta there? I don’t know. But that’s our fault. We take full ownership of that.

Coming full circle, I think it’s time for The Christians to start taking a little look inward, asking some “why” questions, and definitely asking if maybe they’ve gotten it wrong on some things. As I am a Christian, I will be doing this as well. To take it one step further, I think it’s what God would want us to do. On the podcast The Faith Angle, Kirsten Powers and Jonathan Merritt talk about how doubting things about God and the Bible and religion means that your faith is alive. What an interesting perspective.

So maybe you fear wearing a mask or getting a vaccine will communicate to people that you are a Biden-idolizing, abortion-loving liberal.* But what if wearing a mask or getting a vaccine is how you can show Jesus’ love — by communicating that even though you might not want to do this, you’re doing it on the off chance that it might help others.

Because my understanding of Christianity is that it’s about others.

*To those people who choose not to get vaccinated and live a stay-relatively-at-home-or-around-a-few-designated-people kind of life, I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to the people who are living life in a pandemic as “life as normal,” or treating life in a pandemic as some political thing, or treating life in a pandemic as a way the secular world is trying to undermine God.

And another note: if anyone from this particular church reads this, please contact me directly and let’s chat. I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I felt I should be candid in relaying my experience.