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Reflections

Speaking at UNLV on WIMLast night I walked 50 or so UNLV students through what the Bible teaches about women (and men!) in leadership.

It was amazing.

A couple of reflections on the experience:

First, it’s indeed a vast topic. Right off the bat, I warned the students that this was the stuff of seminary courses and that I’d be moving fast during the talk. I hit everything from Genesis to Psalms to the Gospels to about 8 texts from Paul. I was flying. Even so, the 40ish minutes that I was given morphed into–wait for it–65 minutes. I think it was the longest talk I’ve ever given!

Next, they were with me the entire time. Good eye contact, nodding heads, laughing at the right times, etc. What this tells me is that there is a thirst for teaching on this topic. Is it possible that our churches are shirking responsibility by not teaching on these things? I think so.

Third, my burden for teaching and training on these topics continues to grow. After the talk, I told one of my staff that I’d teach it again tomorrow night. To be clear, I’ll be glad for a night off tonight; still, I’m growing into a new phase of call to teach, train and lead on these things. Of course the graduate program is a part of that, as is this blog. It is a joy to sense God’s profound work in my soul.

Fourth, my convictions about the Bible’s message of gender equality continue to solidify, clarify and find a greater purchase in my understanding. I always try to preach and teach from a place of conviction, but sometimes conviction is more available than others. Last night conviction was a potent presence in my teaching. I am convinced that the Bible’s message is one of freedom for women, and that God’s desire is for men and women to together carry the good news into mission with a posture marked by equality, mutuality, interdependence and dynamic partnership.

Many have asked for my notes from last night. I think I’m going to clean them up a bit and then send them. And/or I might chop the talk up and feature it as a series of posts here on Challenging Tertullian.

For now, I’ll leave you with Paul’s words to the Galatian church in 3:26-29:

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 

And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

Praise God for the cross, which burns through the divisions of race, class and gender.

Happy Easter everyone!

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Want Some Hope Today? Here.

meLmD1sIt’s been a rough week in American Christendom.

And while the issues surrounding World Vision’s decision and subsequent reversal, and the amped-up responses to both, are outside the normal topical scope of this blog, I’ll just say that when American Christians publicly fight amongst themselves, particularly with such vitriol, we all lose. More than that, the mission loses. And that’s tragic.

Oh how I crave healthy venues that demonstrate that Christians can disagree, deliberate and debate…in love. On this week’s LGBTQ topic for sure, but also on every topic, gender equality and male privilege included.

Lord, have mercy.

So in light of the week that has been, allow me to share a story of hope. It’s the story of “The Boy Who Walked For Water.” It’s a photo essay, and, trust me, you’ll be glad you experienced it.

What could an obscure Malawian boy teach us about courage and boldness? Heck, what could such a boy teach us about gender equality?

Plenty.

To whet your appetite, here’s a screen shot:

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 2.44.07 PM

Who are Your Faith Mentors?

mx2GsCEI have been and am currently blessed to be mentored by godly, gifted and faith-filled women.

And though their stories have been shadowed or obscured in the historic ecclesiastical fog of male privilege, the truth is that there have always been women worthy of emulating in the church. Today, these are women whose stories can and should mentor us as models of faithfulness.

Last week, I came across this article, entitled “5 Women of the Early Church You Should Know.” Read it and allow your faith to be inspired by the examples of these women. Here are the first few paragraphs:

Christianity bore a unique position in Roman society by seeing women as equal to men in worth. Today, we are seeing a backlash to what many perceive to be the Christian position of patriarchy. Some have decided that because Christianity won’t get with the times, than it’s time to throw the “baby out with the bathwater”. However, there are many others, like myself, who look at Christian history and see a long tradition of women put in positions of honor equal to men. Paul himself says in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Jesus demonstrated that while men and women may have different roles in their service to God, neither one is more valuable than the other.

A prime example of this is Mary, the Mother of God, also known as the Theotokos, or God-bearer in the Eastern tradition. Mary is a model example for all Christians and if you look at her role from a historical perspective, that is absolutely shocking. Think about how it would have seemed for a patriarchal society to encounter Christianity in the early centuries and to find out that they have icons, feasts and a highly honored place for a woman in this budding religion.

I’d like to highlight five other women in early church history who are honored as saints and considered models for our own lives.

Priscilla (1st century)

Priscilla is often mentioned with her husband, Aquila in several places within the New Testament. Her role as a leader along with her husband was instrumental in building the early church. Aquila and her both were missionaries who lived and worked with Paul on his journeys. She’s also noted with her husband for instructing Apollos, an important evangelist in the Church.

It’s important to note the radical nature of her marriage to Aquila. She was not considered his property or even mentioned secondarily by other men, but she had direct influence and access to Paul and other apostles, as friends. This already tells us a lot about the structure of Christian marriage and relationships in the 1st century.

Phoebe (1st century)

In Romans, Paul refers to Phoebe as a “presiding officer” over many. She’s also mentioned as a “deacon” (diakonos) and a “helper or protector of many” (prostatis). She’s the only woman in the New Testament that is called out specifically in this fashion. Little is known about her exact duties, but it’s clear that she was considered a leader and authority figure of some note. Some scholars even contend that she could be called the equivalent of a pastor or minister in part because of the terms Paul uses for her title.

What we do know is that Phoebe shepherded a lot of new Christians into the faith and was responsible for building the church in the region of Cenchreae and has been canonized as a saint in both the eastern and western traditions.

Want a bit more? Check out this category of posts here.

What’s Beneath the Vatican?

meRl1VuGrowing up, I was really into Biblical archaeology.

Allow me to explain.

My grandmother, a woman of great faith, subscribed to a magazine called Biblical Archaeological Review. I loved that magazine. To be sure, it was far more appealing than its neighbors on the coffee table, Good Housekeeping and National Geographic.

I think two things about B.A.R. caught my attention. First, the Indiana Jones factor. Surely the discovery of cracked potsherds in the ruins of Biblical Gilgal must imply poisoned arrows flying from the walls, treasure maps on ancient amulets and, most likely, the arc of the covenant hidden in a snake filled chamber. But more importantly, I think B.A.R. wooed me because it promised, well, truth. Or certainty. Or the affirmation of faith, both mine and my grandmother’s. In other words, find a stele inscribed with “King David” and you can bank on the resurrection.

Since those days, I’ve sort of settled in with my faith. Sure, archaeology is important, but it’s not everything. These days, my faith is built on much more than the pages of B.A.R. Still, every now and then, an archaeological discovery catches my eye. Maybe there’s something new to understand about the faith?!?

Yesterday, it was reported that some frescoes in some ancient Roman catacombs depicted women serving in the early church…as priests. Priests! Here’s what could be in those paintings:

“One in the ochre-hued Greek Chapel features a group of women celebrating a banquet, said to be the banquet of the Eucharist. Another fresco in a richly decorated burial chamber features a woman, dressed in a dalmatic — a cassock-like robe — with her hands up in the position used by priests for public worship.”

Predictably, the Vatican sees something different on the walls. Fabrizio Bisconti, the superintendent of the Vatican’s sacred archaeology commission, said such a reading of the frescoes was pure “fable, a legend…These are readings of the past that are a bit sensationalistic but aren’t trustworthy.”

Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Feel free to see them yourselves here.

Several months ago, I blogged about the church mothers (here and here). And in one piece, I quoted from a book called When Women Were Priests by Karen Jo Torjeson:

“The last thirty years of American scholarship have produced an amazing range of evidence for women’s roles as deacons, priests, presbyters, and even bishops in Christian churches from the first through the thirteenth century.”

Could it be that there is archeological evidence of this, right under the church’s feet?!?

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Lovelace3.largeYou probably missed it. No, I’m certain you missed it. We all did.

Tuesday was Ada Lovelace Day. 

Who’s Ada Lovelace, you ask? Born in 1815, the daughter of English poet Lord Byron and a mathematics-loving mother named Annabella Milbanke, Ada Lovelace was a math prodigy. According to this biography,

“Fearing that Ada would inherit her father’s volatile ‘poetic’ temperament, her mother raised her under a strict regimen of science, logic, and mathematics. Ada herself from childhood had a fascination with machines– designing fanciful boats and steam flying machines, and poring over the diagrams of the new inventions of the Industrial Revolution that filled the scientific magazines of the time.”

Over time, Ada Lovelace found her way into some pretty lofty mathematics and science circles. Ultimately, in 1842, Lovelace wrote what some consider to be the first computer program, when she published an article entitled, “Sketch of the Analytical Engine, with Notes from the Translator.” Because of this, in her time, Lovelace developed quite a reputation. Check out what one of her contemporaries had to say about her:

“Babbage described her as “that Enchantress who has thrown her magical spell around the most abstract of Sciences and has grasped it with a force which few masculine intellects could have exerted over it,” or an another occasion, as “The Enchantress of Numbers”.

“The Enchantress of Numbers.” If you ask me, that’s a pretty sweet nickname.

Every year, Ada Lovelace day celebrates women in the science, technology, math and engineering fields. It won’t surprise you to know that these sectors of culture are owned by Tertullian. After all, according to this article,

“Women software developers earn 80 percent of what men with the same jobs earn. Just 18 percent of computer science degrees are awarded to women, down from 37 percent in 1985. Fewer than 5 percent of venture-backed tech start-ups are founded by women.”

Simply put, we need more Ada Lovelace Days.

For this year’s celebration, Brown University hosted a wiki editing session, where “volunteers could gather to create and expand upon entries about women in science and technology.” Talk about setting the record straight! The story is here.

Recently, my daughter Lucy and I were talking about what she wants to be when she grows up. She blew my mind when she described a job where she could design buildings that were beautiful and safe for people to live and work in. Yep, my 9 year old is trying to decide between being an architect or an engineer.

Either way, I think Ada would approve.

A Reflection on Hebrews 11

ncdV0z0The “Hall of Faith” passage in the book of Hebrews is a wonderful text. Pillars of faith to be emulated. Leaders who sought God in the midst of difficult circumstances. Flawed individuals who proved to be faithful in spite of their brokenness.

Basically, Hebrews 11 is the Bible’s Mount Rushmore.

Ah, Mount Rushmore. It’s a stunning sight. Four of the nation’s greatest leaders chiseled in stone for all to see and be inspired.

This week, I had some time to reflect on the passage in Hebrews 11, and it was a beautiful sight to see women listed among the Old Testament’s faithful. As I’ve blogged about before, considering the extreme marginalization that women in Bible times endured, the mention of even a few women in Hebrews 11 is noteworthy.

Of course I have read Hebrews 11 before, many times. But if you had asked me to recall the names on the list, I would really only have been able to produce names like Noah, Abraham, Moses and David. Like I said, Mount Rushmore.

So, to set the record straight, let me introduce you to the women of Hebrews 11 (sounds like a Jeopardy category, right?!?). There are three of them.

First, there’s Sarah, a woman who ultimately demonstrated a steadfast faith in God’s miraculous promise to deliver an heir from her barren womb. And of course her faith was rewarded, as eventually Sarah become the mother of many nations.

The next woman in the narrative is Moses’ unnamed mother, who together with Moses’ father, gets praised for being unafraid to disobey the king’s command. By being faithful in not killing their son, they partner with God in raising up a leader for the Israelite people, one who will go on to lead them out of bondage to the promised land.

Finally, we have Rahab, the prostitute. Yep, a prostitute makes the Hebrews 11 list of people whose faith we should emulate. Specifically, Rahab gets praised for giving a friendly welcome to the Jericho spies. As a result of her faith, she, along with the spies, survived the city’s demise.

I love how the passage ends, actually with the first verses of Hebrews 12:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Friends, when the chips are down, and when sin threatens to hold us back, the writer of Hebrews instructs us–commands us–to run toward Jesus. But the beautiful news of this text is that we needn’t run in a vacuum. Because there is this cloud of witnesses spurring us on, spiritual mentors that God has given us, models of faithful living to cling to when our faith runs out, a Mount Rushmore of faith to look to and be strengthened.

And unlike the American Mount Rushmore, the Bible’s version includes sisters as well as brothers. 

Suffering “Suffragettes”

nooI63eWay back when I started Challenging Tertullian, I talked about the systemic nature of male privilege. In this post, I wrote:

“First, male privilege is a systemic thing. By their nature, systems are hard to see. They’re subtle. They sort of lurk in the culture, influencing from behind the curtain.”

Truth be known, for some people in this country and certainly around the world, male privilege is anything but lurking. In fact, for many women, it’s overt and right in their face. When I talk about male privilege being systematized, I’m talking about little things that add up to establish a systematic bias. Sadly, too often bigger things (such as violence against women) remind us that this malady can be anything but subtle.

On top of that, historically speaking, male privilege has at points enjoyed a higher profile in the culture. Recently, I came across this site, which consists of a collection of anti-women’s suffrage signs and posters. What’s “women’s suffrage” you ask?

Women’s suffrage simply refers to the right of woman to vote and to run for office. In this country, we have only had universal suffrage since 1920, a change that came as the culmination of a long and pain-filled battle on the part of “suffragettes.” Notable American suffragettes included Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Julia Ward Howe.

The life of a suffragette was anything but easy. Internal strife threatened the advancement of the suffrage movement. Funding was scarce. And finding new recruits was a constant concern.

On top of that, there was Tertullian.

Just take a look at two posters from the day, and imagine life as a suffragette.

suffragette2usesuffragette8

Horrifying, right?

Today, we can be thankful that, by and large, male privilege today is something less than what these sexist signs and posters demonstrate. In that sense, our culture has indeed evolved. And yet as we’ve been seeing here on the blog, we still have a long way to go.