Friday Five for Lent

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The RevGals Friday Five is, not surprisingly, focused on Lent:

1.) Are you giving up, or taking on? Some combination thereof?

I’m taking on . . . accompanying a college student through an eight-week version of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and trying to do the daily prayer and reflection alongside her.  I also pulled out my journal from my own year-long experience of the Spiritual Exercises in 2005-06, because I wanted to see what I had to say then.  I am somewhat surprised, although it all rings true.

2.) Fasting? What does that look like for you?

Fasting has never been a meaningful practice for me.  I suppose the whys and wherefores of that might be worth considering.

3.) In what way is study helpful to you this season? Are you reading, studying, journaling…?

Since I find myself without a call, I have plenty of time for reading.  This week, I am finishing up Frederick Buechner’s Telling Secrets and David Lose’s Preaching at the Crossroads, and skimming Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.

4.) Purple. Do you find that your wardrobe is drawn to participate in the season?

Nope.  Now that I think of it, there is very littler purple in my wardrobe, although I have some great purple earrings.  And, as I look down, I see that I am wearing a fuzzy purple sweater, because I am staying inside today and it happened to be lying on a chair instead of in the laundry.  Maybe it’s an unconscious thing.

5.) How are you finding ways to take “time apart” in order to avoid getting worn thin?

I don’t have to worry much about wearing thin these days.  A year ago, I was brand new to my congregation, looking at an extra service and sermon every week, and in the process of getting really, really sick, which I ignored and thereby prolonged.  Today, I am declaring a snow day and working (or not) at whatever pace I choose on whatever projects appeal to me.

The CEB Women’s Bible ~ Review

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As a stay-at-home mom in my mid-30s, I was an eager participant in Disciple, a year-long United Methodist study which required a sojourn through most of the Bible.  Our daytime class was all women, and we spent nearly as much time getting to know one another as we did the Bible.

I had studied the Bible from a critical point of view during my high school years in a religious school but, truth to tell,  I knew very little of its narratives.  King David was a vague personage to me, and I responded to his story with appalled astonishment.  “Why is this rapist and murderer held up as a hero?” I asked.  The older women in the class gasped.  “I bet that if Bathsheba were the narrator, we’d have a completely different take on this story.”   (I had no idea that Bathsheba was often viewed as a licentious temptress.  As far as I could tell, she was minding her own business when she was dragged into history by a self-absorbed, lust-driven, power-hungry, arrogant king, a man who believed himself entitled to take whatever he wanted.)

The volume we needed arrived through my mail slot last week:  The CEB Women’s Bible.  It’s beautifully produced, with silk-smooth pages strong enough to bear markers and inked notes, and print large enough for me to read.  As the promotional material will tell you, it includes introductions to each of the books, reflections for nearly every chapter, strategically placed sidebar articles on women-focused issues, and portraits of over 100 Biblical women.  The indices list all the women of the Bible, named and unnamed, and the articles by topic and book.  They are followed by a series of discussion questions, organized by lectionary year and liturgical season, and several proposed reading plans.  The volume begins with some basic information, including a useful set of definitions, and concludes with a set of colorful maps.   The Common English Bible translation is both scholarly and accessible, and the team which put this version together includes scholars, pastors and writers from  variety of Christian traditions.  Women scholars, pastors, and writers.

So much for the basics, and back to Bathsheba.  What if this Bible has been available to my class thirty years ago? For starters, we would have found a sympathetic sidebar portrait of Bathsheba, one which encourages us to look to her as a model for courageous resistance.  The index leads to two sidebar articles on rape, which would have perhaps emboldened some of the women in our group to grapple more critically with the realities of the lives of both Biblical and contemporary women.

Next stop: The woman at the well, my personal role model for ministry, the woman whose story drew me to seminary in my mid-50s.  She, too, rates a sidebar profile and, since her story fills most of John 4, she is also the focus of the chapter’s introductory reflection.  These reflections and mini-biographies bring the women of the Bible to life.  I often teach an Introduction to Religion class at a nearby college, and it occurs to me that the presentations strewn throughout this Bible would be as useful to my students there as they will be to the women in the churches I serve.

Perhaps you would like to know something about the unnamed women of the Bible? You might be aware that the Bible is filled with women whose names have been left out of history and literature, but have no idea how to find them.  I tried a little exercise.  I went to the index of unnamed women, chose one from II Samuel referred to as the “Wise woman from Abel,” and then turned to her page to discover a profile, which tells us that she was not only wise; she was bold and decisive as well.  Not being all that familiar with the story in which she appears, I took a look at the previous page, where an introduction to II Samuel 20 provides (a violent and bloody) context.  I can see a terrific Bible series flowing from a series of similar mini-studies.

As it happens, I am investigating the CEB Women’s Bible at the same time that I am reading She: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Ministry by Karoline Lewis. She includes an insightful passage on discerning how we read and interpret the Bible as a key to our authority and effectiveness in ministry.    What a delight to be carrying on an inner conversation with both books simultaneously! As someone who has long been aware of the missing Biblical language and narratives (and names!) where women’s voices and lives are concerned, but without the tools to address many of those limitations, I am grateful for the comprehensive and thoughtful approach provided by the CEB Women’s Bible.

I’ve been invited to speak next month to the women’s circle of the church which I serve, and I’m planning to take that opportunity to introduce this Bible to the participants.    I highly recommend this volume for your library.

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I received a hardcover review copy of The CEB Women’s Bible from the publisher, and was not compensated for this review.

 

 

Ruined (Book Review)

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[Trigger: Rape. ]

Ruth Everhart, a Presbyterian pastor for the past 25 years, has written a brave and important book, skillfully addressing a topic often spoken of only in hushed tones and behind closed doors.  On an ordinary Sunday evening transformed into a night of terror, she and her college housemates were brutally attacked and raped by two armed intruders, an event she describes in terrifying and compelling detail in the opening chapters of her memoir.

The consequences of the attack were no less brutal, in emotional and mental terms.  The police and prosecutors did their job, resulting in a lengthy sentence for at least one of the men, but the criminal justice process is a lengthy one, filled with postponements and compromises. The college and others charged with the care of the women responded with astonishing incompetence. Family and friends had no idea what to do or say.

It is in writing about the spiritual consequences of her rape, however, that Ruth’s writing particularly shines.  Ruth was a deeply religious young woman, raised and attending college in a Christian tradition in which concepts such as predestination, God’s will, God’s foreknowledge, God’s plan, God’s sovereignty, and God’s ordination of specific and limited roles for women were hammered relentlessly home.  She was bewildered, angered, and devastated, not only by the rape itself — by the invasion of her body and by the violence and the humiliation forced upon her —but by what those things might mean in the context of the religious tradition she held dear.  Could a rape at gunpoint have been God’s will for her life? Her questions, and her attempts to make sense of what happened and to forge a new spiritual path, will no doubt be meaningful to the many people of faith who have been taught not to question God’s ways.  She emerges as a powerful role model in the Biblical tradition of seeking answers from God when the events of life threaten to engulf us in confusion, sorrow, fear, and rage.

A disturbing element of the book which I hope that Ruth addresses someday has to do with its racial overtones.  Ruth and her housemates are all white; the perpetrators of the crimes against them are African Americans.  I can imagine – and I cannot at all claim knowledge here, but I can imagine – African American women heartbroken as they read the many physical descriptions of the men – both because it is black men who are responsible for such vile acts of depravity, and because of the reminder of how others look at their sons, men with the same physical attributes.  Ruth herself, dealing with after-effects which today might well be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress symptoms, is surprised and shocked by some of her own reactions. (I should add that, having once practiced law in the area of domestic violence, and as the mother of a son who is a criminal defense attorney, I have been party to many discussions about violent crime, and about race and the justice system – and that that topic is not the focus of this book.  But it lurks between the pages.)

I hope that Ruined is much read and discussed, in general and in particular in our churches. In a world and in an institution in which women are often marginalized; in which our concerns are often dismissed and our bodies are frequently the objects of commentary, derision, and unwanted attention; and in which the word “rape” is quickly silenced — this book needs to be a subject of conversation.  We all have much to learn from Ruth Everhart about how to care for those in our midst for whom rape has become a reality.

And I hope that Ruth writes a sequel. I am longing to read the story of her journey into a tradition in which she was welcomed into ordained ministry, and grew into the voice which makes this book possible.

Thank you, Ruth, for the care and courage with which you have begun the conversation.

 

My Name is Lucy Barton (Book Review)

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“I will write and people will not feel so alone!” So proclaims elementary school-aged Lucy Barton, the protagonist of Elizabeth Strout’s new (2016) novel.  And isn’t that, in the end, why most of us write?

Shaped around a five -day visit from her mother when Lucy, herself a young mother, is hospitalized for nine weeks, the sparse prose and short timespan illuminate the entire and bewildering life of one girl, one family, one marriage, one woman.  Lurking in the shadows are horrors of innocence mistreated and love twisted by the ravages of life, but Lucy triumphs in a huge, albeit modestly trumpeted, way.

The themes of human existence are universal; the details of any one life are peculiar.  Lucy’s include a snake, a brother who sleeps with the pigs, a physician who responds gently and from behind a barricade of boundaries to her loneliness (do we sense Biblical themes here?), and a mother who can mother only in the same way that she sleeps, in brief snatches of time, her own life fenced by fear and reserve.

If you loved Olive Kitteridge, if you know anything about the sadness of children, if you wonder how writers become writers, then you will want to immerse yourself completely in this novel.

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