Scripture- Egalitarian from the start

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I grew up in a tradition where the idea of women in ministry is still an issue. My husband grew up in a tradition where women have been in ministry for as long as the denomination has existed. When we got together, I let him know I was called to ministry. Not to be the wife of a minister but for me to be in ministry. I took great pains to spell this out for him. I told him of my calling, my experience, my training, and I had scripture to back it all up. After my soliloquy, he smiled and said “OK”. My adrenaline was going, I was ready for a fight. I was ready to verbally assault him with my passion and wit and all I got was “OK”! For him, this conversation is passé. His life story it includes not only his mother as a pastor, but a grandmother and great grandmother, not to mention countless aunties. The conversation is so passé, it bores him. Not because he isn’t supportive of women, but precisely because he knows women should be in leadership in the church, have been in leadership in the church, and, at the end of the day, it was God’s idea from the start.

And so we start at the beginning. This will be difficult for some to hear but Genesis 1 is not the beginning I mean. It is not the earliest text we have. Genesis is the first in the story as put together in the cannon but Judges 5 is arguably the oldest text in scripture. It is in this, the oldest of text that we find our earliest models of leadership. (Judges 4 was actually written after 5 and it appears to offer a retelling of the poem filled out with prose.) And so we begin in one of the oldest stories we have with a story where a woman and a man are in leadership, partnership. It is this egalitarian model that leads the people to victory. It is a model where it is Deborah and Barak are serving together. Each in a distinct role. Each leading from position of strength that impact men and women.

This passage has much to teach beyond the obvious. With it being the earliest text, Deborah was among the earliest leaders. There is no quibbling in the text as to her role. There is no debate if she can emotionally handle this or if she should have authority over the men around her. It is a fact, not a point of argument. She is a judge. She is in authority. For those who would claim that this situation was somehow a less than ideal situation or that a woman should not have been in leadership at this moment of crisis, please note that the text offers no criticism of Deborah or of the reality of a woman in a leadership role.

Here is what I love about this passage. She speaks truly and clearly without emasculating or devaluing Barak. She is so secure in who she is that she doesn’t need to belittle him as he asks for help. I have heard sermons depicting Barak as weak, as an embarrassment to men everywhere for asking the help of a woman. That is not in the text. In fact, Barak clearly respects and values Deborah. He is not threatened by her nor does he infantalize her. The mutual respect is stunning. They are aware of the task at hand, they are aware of how it may be viewed by others and still, they do what is right.

Deborah goes on in Judges 5 with a poetic telling of the defeat of Sisera. She names and credits Jael for the tactical move, the hands on interaction which led to victory. In all too many instances, a woman can rise to positions of leadership only to make it even more difficult for other women around her. Deborah does not do this. Her model of leadership shows not only respect for men but for other capable women around her. She is secure in herself and does not feel threatened when another capable woman is present.

So why do we care if this is one of the earliest accounts in scripture? It is significant that Deborah appears in a leadership role in the Bible’s oldest passage because it demonstrates that those advocating for an egalitarian position are not merely bending to their surrounding culture. They have not caved to the pressure of society. The idea of women in leadership was established in the Bible’s oldest text. It was there from the beginning.

To focus on Deborah as an exemplar of women in leadership is to acknowledge that there was a time when women and men worked together in leadership long before the monarchy was established. It is a Biblical model of who and what we are to be that comes from who and what we have always been. Christians today are not jumping on the latest cultural bandwagon trying to keep up with an increasingly egalitarian culture. Christians are in fact actually reading their Bibles. And it matters.

The latest Kickstarter Bible

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I am in favor of (just about) anything that gets people reading the actual Bible. I use several interpretations in working with children, teens, special needs friends and even adults. Think The Message, The Beginners Bibleor my current favorite The Jesus Storybook Bible

So I am both excited by and a little nervous about a Kickstarter project called bibliotheca.

The blog at Sonoran Theological offers some insight from a biblical scholar with a Phd in Bible. It’s not a slam on the project, rather great food for thought.

Mr. Greene shows examples of how he will update the language from the ASV, published in 1900 (New Testament, 1901 for the Old Testament). The implication is that it is primarily the language of the ASV that requires updating. Yet, his first point in the rationale for choosing the ASV over the KJV is that the ASV is several hundred years newer, and “much had been discovered about the languages & cultures in that span of time.” (This quote was taken from the Kickstarter page.) Please note, then, that there have been 114 years of scholarship since the publication of the ASV. And, I would argue, that we have learned much much more about the languages and literature of the ancient Near East, its culture, religions, and institutions during these past 100-plus years than we learned in the 300 years between the KJV and the ASV.

So what do you think?

Dreaming of a spiral bound Bible

Every year at this time I look forward to looking through all of the new catalogs for publishing houses to see what new works are coming out. Every year I celebrate and cheer at so many great writings. Every year I also wince a little and get frustrated that there are still many resources or books I wish were being written. This year is no exception. Zondervan’s Playful Puppies Bible tops my list. On Amazon, it reads that it is a deluxe edition and leather bound! Are you freakin’ kidding me?! I have nothing against puppies, I have a dog I quite like. There’s a larger story at play here.

For a little more than a decade now, I unintentionally began a tradition. At Fall conferences I talk with acquisitions editors of publishing houses about Bibles. In particular, a Bible which is accessible for friends with disabilities. I am thankful for the advent of e-readers and know the game is changing but there is still something about holding your own Bible and being able to know the rhythm of its pages. To know where you have made notes and written dates and experiences.

I dream of a Bible which is, most importantly, spiral bound. For many of my friends this one feature would be the difference between being able to open and read their own Bible and having to rely on someone else because the Bible could lie flat on their lap. I dream of a Bible which has wide margins on the left and right for friends who are unable to write notes in tiny print. I dream of a translation that is accessible to a wide variety of reading levels and with a font size that allows friends with poor vision to see the words. Finally, I dream of the entire Bible being made this way, not just a book or two. I am aware of the challenges, of the possibility that it might require two volumes or some other modification. I also know I have 400-page books that are printed on lightweight paper in order to reduce the book’s weight.

In this time when we have Bibles geared to girls, boys, teens, teens who like skating, business people, stay at home moms, alcoholics, workaholics, archeology and ecology, surely the marketing for a Bible which is accessible would not be that difficult. Even more, I see Bibles encased in metal with a magnet enclosure, whose binding is hot pink crocodile print with inserts of stories for girls and Bibles worked up as magazines or graphic novels. A spiral bound Bible suddenly seems like a walk in the park!

I have talked with Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, IVP, Chalice Press, Oxford, Wm. B. Eerdmans, Group, Blackwell, Jossey Bass and countless others at AAR/SBL, Youth Specialties and any other conference where I have been able to meet with someone. I know they don’t all specialize in Bibles but I thought such a project might interest them enough to pursue it. Some of these publishers however do have entire divisions devoted to Bible acquisitions. I have written and called. What I have been told is that there is no market for such a Bible. That the disability community is too small to warrant the cost and effort that it would take to create such a book. This despite the fact that disability cuts across gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status and geography.

Am I really to believe that the community of those who love puppies is larger than the community of those in this country and around the world who live every day with a disability? According the US Census, in 2010 there were 54 million Americans with disabilities. According to the Humane Society, there are 78 million owned dogs in the US, and nearly 40% of homes own at least own dog. With a US population hovering around 310 million, some rough estimates would place that at 120 million dog owners. Surely, not every dog owner or person with a disability would want a specially made Bible. Then again, both communities dwarf the estimated number of skateboarders worldwide (18.5 million in 2002), at least according to that venerable font of all knowledge, Wikipedia.

Am I really to believe that those in the publishing houses are prohibited from seeing the marketing possibilities? While I began this idea with teens with disabilities in mind, I can only imagine the brilliance of a publishing house in design to allow this to be marketed to older children and adolescents who like to doodle, heck, to adults who like to doodle or take notes. For those taking Bible classes to make notes or cross references in the margins for study. For our senior saints who would also benefit from a Bible that does not close in their lap and allows aging hands to handle it with ease for turning pages and making notes.

Refusing to design a Bible for those with disabilities is shocking to me in this day. ADA was passed over two decades ago and it is the church which is still trailing instead of leading the world. Theologically, this is shameful. Morally, it is embarrassing. My hope is that some Bible acquisitions editor reads this post and one day writes to thank me for sending a softball his or her way. If you know of such a person, feel free to forward this post!