In Which I Am an Unabashed Jesus Feminist

I love writing. And I love reading. But more than anything I love reading great writing. And Sarah Bessey is a flat-out GREAT writer.

I’d been following her blog for a couple years now and have always appreciated how she manages to simultaneously speak with such passion and grace. She has a way of teaching through storytelling that makes you forget how much you’re learning and simply enjoy the lesson. [As you read her blog, you’ll notice the “In Which” in this post’s title is entirely unoriginal to me.]

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women (Howard Books, released on November 5, 2013) is her latest project and it is a wonderful contribution to the conversations surrounding faith, gender, church, and the Bible.

She starts [as the title probably implies] with Jesus. She weaves her own narrative of growing up in an incredibly faithful, yet by most standards “ordinary” family. One of the first lines to make me laugh out loud was when she described her dad. She says,

My dad is a true Canadian kid, deeply distrustful of religion, Toronto, politicians, and the Establishment.

She goes on to talk about life growing up in the church as one where women were constantly confined to certain parameters based on the fact that they were a woman, rather than where their gifts may lie. In many, though certainly not all, churches women are consistently put into boxes within the church. They’re told they can be involved in children’s ministry, hospitality ministry, the women’s Bible study ministry, the quilting and sewing ministry, the keep the coffee warm ministry, and on and on it goes. Regardless of their strengths and passions, women are confined to certain boxes, and those boxes limit their participation in the broader Church. And Bessey’s point is this: the Kingdom of God is missing out on some seriously talented and passionate people because of it!

A favorite part of mine [perhaps because of my love of lists-as-evidence] is in Chapter Six when she goes through the narrative of Scripture through the history of the church describing the incredibly significant roles women have played in the history of our faith. Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Jael, Ruth, Rahab, Esther, Hannah, Tamar were a few of the significant women of the Hebrew Bible. Moving through to the New Testament women like Priscilla, Lydia, Mary, Martha, the Samaritan woman, Mary Magdalene, Euodia, and Junia. She then considers women of modern church history like Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, and Harriet Tubman.

When we think about the impact that women have had throughout the history of the faith, it should be overwhelming evidence against trying to strictly define what women can or cannot do in the life of the body of Christ.

But so often it isn’t. And that’s where the feminist part of this book comes in.

I have to admit that I was ready and waiting for the unabashed feminism to come in with a hyper-aggressive, demanding approach. But:

1) That’s not Sarah Bessey’s style.

And

2) As Sarah points out, that’s not the way of the Jesus Feminist.

The wonder of this book is in its subtlety. I was barely aware that I was becoming a Jesus Feminist until I closed the book and I could feel the tension in my muscles when I considered the injustice of the Church telling women what they can or cannot do because of their womanhood.

It doesn’t necessarily matter where you fall on political lines or religious affiliations, this is an important book for everyone to read. The writing is both poetic and challenging, but espouses a kind of humility that is incredibly rare.

It’s available on Amazon or at your local bookstore. Even though I was given an advanced ebook copy, I still ordered my own copy. You should too. Buy it. Read it. Buy it for your friends to read. Buy it for your pastor to read. Then talk about it. These are the conversations that are worth having.

Cheers,
Eric

I received an advance copy of Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey from NetGalley in return for my review. There was nothing that stipulated that it had to be positive, only honest. No other compensation was provided.

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A Sermon on Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean.15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

During my time in seminary, out in Berkeley, some of my favorite and most memorable nights were when a bunch of us would bring what food we had out to the courtyard. We’d fire up the grill, pour a glass of wine, and spend time talking, laughing, and dreaming about the future.

Every once in a while, during one of these nights, I’d find myself pulling back from the group a little bit and becoming aware of something bigger going on. I was able to see the blessing of friendship and community in a very real and present kind of way. I was filled with a sense of gratitude each time I found this happening. And then one of us would just come out and say it: “Isn’t it just great when we get together like this?” In the naming of that blessing, we give thanks.

We have these experiences often, don’t we? We have experiences that are enhanced by simply naming the blessing of that time. It could be sitting by the river and reading a book on a nice, fall afternoon. It could be gathering for dinner with friends and family who you haven’t seen in far too long. Or it could even be taking a step back from homecoming festivities to notice the blessing of friendship and community.

There’s a blessing in simply doing these actions, but it takes on a bit of a different character when we can name that blessing and be present with it in that time and space. This is what our Gospel story is getting at today.

Jesus is traveling through an in-between land. He’s not quite in Galilee, but not in Samaria either. He’s walking the land in between. And it’s worth noting that these two regions do not like each other. Galileans saw Samaritans as unclean heathens who were not worthy of being seen and respected.

Jesus enters a village and ten lepers approach him, but they keep their distance. They call out and plead with him to have mercy on them. Jesus sees them and gives them a command. He tells them to go show themselves to their priests. We then hear that as they went on their way, they were made clean. Turns out the priest didn’t have any special remedy or anything like that. Rather that it was in the obedience and turning in a new direction, that they were made clean.

Then we hear that one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned around to give thanks. There’s something about seeing and recognizing something in the present moment, and being able to give thanks that increases our awareness of God. Jesus sees these lepers and sends them on their way to healing. The Samaritan leper sees that he has been healed and his only response is to return to Jesus and give thanks.

After the cured leper gives thanks, Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well.”

The words of Jesus healed the man of his leprosy. The man’s thankful response made him well. There’s a substantial difference between treating an illness and treating a person — between being made clean and being made well.

I’m reminded of the Robin Williams film Patch Adams. In this movie, Williams plays Patch, a rather unorthodox medical student. He sees offering medical care as not only treating diseases, but also treating people. He doesn’t focus so hard on treating the illness that he loses sight on also treating the person.

He doesn’t want to help people just survive. He wants to help them live. He focuses on wholeness. He uses laughter as a treatment. There are some incredible scenes where he goes into the children’s hospital wearing his white coat and red clown nose.

He does this because he knows that there is more to making someone well than just curing their illness.

At the end of the movie, he’s brought before a board of physicians to defend himself against a malpractice suit. He gives an impassioned speech which crescendoes with the line, “You treat a disease, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. You treat a person, I guarantee you, you win!”

There’s a difference between being made clean and being made whole.

Having eyes to see that difference, and to see those in need around us, is something so important. So often we can get caught in the rat race of what we’re supposed to do that we sometimes don’t see things that are right in front of us. We spend so much time trying to be the smartest, or the most athletic, or the best parent, friend, or volunteer that we can sometimes be blind to the people in our community who might be crying out for mercy.

There’s an ancient rabbi who says that when Moses passes by the burning bush, the bush has always been burning.

This time, Moses finally stopped long enough to realize it.

We pass burning bushes and people crying for mercy everyday — all through the day. But we move so fast and we can be so pre-occupied that we just miss it.

Where are the burning bushes that you encounter in your everyday life?

Who are the people from the fringes of your life who are crying out to you for mercy?

What would it look like to spend this next week intentionally doing what we can to see those around us?

This past Wednesday, when we did the healing service, there were a number of us who were struck at how sacred and holy it is to come forward and say, “I don’t have it all together. I’m broken. And I need to be healed.”

In that moment of humility, we are seen and we are loved by a God who is so much greater than our faults and our shortcomings. We are called forward to be healed and made whole by a God who constantly brings life out of death. And then we are sent out as messengers of this good news to bring mercy and wholeness to the world.

Amen.

New Beginnings & A New Name: Jesus Goes Pop

So things will be moving in a [slightly] different direction around here. I have been feeling like this is getting pretty random lately and so I am making an effort to focus this in a little bit more on the things I’m passionate about, namely the intersection of where faith meets the media we consume — the music, movies, books, and television that we listen to, watch, and read.

I’m still going to post frequently and keep up with the awesome content, but it’s just going to be more intentional and focused about what I’m posting on here.

Here’s what I have on the docket to post in the next week or two:

“The Odd Gospel of Timothy Green”

“The Avett Brothers & The Carpenter”

“The Ethics of Breaking Bad” (this one could be a whole website in and of itself)

“Away from the World: A Theological Review of Dave Matthews Band’s New Album”

Unholy Night: A Book Review”

I’m excited for this new direction and think it’ll be a great thing.

I hope you’ll join me.

Cheers,
Eric

God Bless America?

Yesterday morning, the Supreme Court ruled on the Affordable Care Act (labeled Obamacare by its detractors). By the end of yesterday, everyone was claiming victory, either present or future. Every senator, representative, pundit, blogger will make their requisite statements. Idiots will wave behind the reporters just to tell their friends who don’t watch MSNBC that they were on MSNBC.

Here’s the thing…

I’m happy that, as a result of the court’s ruling, more people will have access to healthcare and be able to be covered. But how much freaking longer can we exist like this? Mitt Romney lauded this kind of program as a “responsibility” when he was governor. Now he’s running for president and has completely 180’d from that position simply because his opponent is pushing for it.

The Republicans were longtime champions of this bill until the Democrats were for it too. Then they couldn’t be against it fast enough. What the hell is that? That’s not the point of governing a nation.

We simply have to stop disagreeing with each other just for the sake of disagreeing with each other.

We need to find a way to come together with a responsible way for giving people the care they need. If you have a better alternative, I’m all ears. But we simply can’t keep going like this. Next Wednesday is the 4th of July and with it will come chants of “God Bless America.” But what kind of America are we asking God to bless? We’re in bad shape. These arguments that we make have direct correlations to faith.

Josh Smith over at Everyday Revolutionary sums it up well.

What would Jesus do? Most likely, he would stop whining about paying taxes and pursue the cause which seeks to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people, regardless of power, politics, and money. So you may argue the finer details of this debate—it is, after all, a much more complicated discussion than what time and space have permitted me to write about here—but in the end, for the Christian, it ultimately falls to the simple decision of whether or not we are loving our neighbors with our actions. If your argument is more about splitting hairs than about showing love, you are wrong. Wrong.

It doesn’t make sense to keep fighting. Let’s find a way forward that helps everyone get their basic needs covered, and then we can go from there. Until then, it’s just pointless to keep fighting.

Cheers,
Eric

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