Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Strong Women

Ive been reading Eugene Peterson's memoir, The Pastor, this summer. One of the stories he tells is how his mother planted the seeds for his later decision to become a pastor. Growing up in a small town in Montana there were lots of miners and cowboys and few churches. Peterson's mother was an itinerant Pentecostal preacher. On Sundays, Peterson would accompany his mother as she led worship and preached in makeshift sanctuaries all over the countryside. Often, the meetings were in tents. Peterson describes the excitement of hearing his mother preach the gospel to the largely male audience. Then when Peterson was about ten, his mother stopped preaching. It was only later in life that she told him what happened. Some men approached her after one of the meetings and told her it was unbiblical for a woman to preach. They quoted a couple of New Testament verses to shut her up. It was much later in her life when she had discovered a better hermeneutic and she resumed her ministry.

This summer I have been doing some study in Exodus preparing for an adult Sunday School class on the Life of Moses in the fall. Exodus begins with the stories of several strong women. We are told their names while the name of the most powerful person in all of Egypt goes unmentioned. Clearly, he is not as important as the midwives who resist Pharoah's orders to kill the male babies. Their courageous resistance saves many lives. Pharoah's own daughter and her servant save the baby Moses. John Goldingay comments:"Like Genesis, the women in the Exodus story show that they are not people you can assert too much headship over."

The Bible is full of strong, and faithful women. Their stories are woven throughout the pages of the Bible. One can find verses that seem to indicate women should be silent in church, or should not teach men, or should not become pastors, or preachers. One can find just about whatever one wants when verses in the Bible are taken out of context. But a proper Biblical hermeneutic (principle of interpretation) puts these verses in context, a whole Biblical context. And when that is done, it is hard to justify telling a woman, just because she is a woman, that God did not call her to be a leader ( pastor/preacher/teacher) in his church. Or that God's word says she should shut up.

Cross Controversy

In the days after 9/11, as workers cleaned up the rubble that had been the Twin Towers, one image that we kept seeing was that of a 17 foot high cross shaped steel Ibeam. It became a symbol of hope amidst the physical and emotional devastation of those tragic days. For the past 5 years that cross has been on display outside a nearby Catholic Church. Late last month it was moved to the National Museum and Memorial Site for 9/11. Not surprisingly, it has aroused controversy. Atheist groups among others are suing to have the cross removed siting a violation of Church and State. Since the cross is not a symbol that means anything to them, they are saying their rights are infringed upon. In addition the inclusion of the cross has caused emotional harm. Their suit alleges that unbelievers have suffered "dyspepsia, depression, headaches, anxiety and mental pain and anguish" from the inclusion of a cross at this national memorial site.

What does the cross mean? That is at the heart of the controversy over the 9/11 memorial site. In the New Testament it is not a symbol of hope. There is no indication it was even a symbol of Christianity for hundreds of years. Who would wear a cross around their necks? At the time of Jesus the cross was a symbol of cruel punishment. The Resurrection was a symbol of hope. Not the cross.

In Matthew 16 when Jesus tells his disciples that there is a cross in his future and in theirs, Peter, for one, tries to talk him out of it. No one thought this was a good idea. Crosses were not good for people. They should be avoided at all costs. Which was the point Jesus was making. The cross is a sign of the cost of following Jesus.

Many major world war battlefields are dotted with small white crosses to mark the sacrifices of those who died. Like the 9/11 cross these crosses are symbolic of the hope that something good will come out of the sacrifices of these lives. In some general sense these crosses say that these people have not died in vain. We mark their deaths this way and honor their sacrifices.

The cross of Jesus marked a sacrificial death as well. Jesus died on the cross for our sins the Christian gospel states. The cross is the means of the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation. More than that, Jesus states in Matthew 16, the cross marks the shape of the ordinary, everyday life of Christians. Daily, we are to take up our cross and follow Jesus.

This was and is a hard saying. Peter certainly had a hard time with it. Later on Paul would write that the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Everyone had a hard time seeing how the cross could be good news.

Today we need to ask ourselves, what does the cross mean to us? Is it a political football? Is it a political statement that fires up emotions when questions are raised about whether it should be placed in public places or not? Is it a symbol reserved for special events or cemeteries? Or is it an everyday reality for us followers of Jesus who are trying to heed what he said, and "take up our cross and follow him."

Win Win is a Winner

Win Win just out on dvd. Good film about a low powered lawyer who can barely make ends meet. He has about two appointments a day and they are not paying much. He and his wife have two small children and she stays home to take care of them. They live in a modest home and drive an older car and dress simply. Paul Giamatti plays the lawyer/husband and he delivers his usual solid performance. Ordinary life forces many choices and some of them involve us in complicated situations. We find it hard to explain our decisions. Some times there are no good explanations. Giamatti's character and his family are trying to do the right things but even then it doesn't always work out the way they planned or hoped. There are second chances to make things right - if people are willing to grant them. Relationships are messy at times but if people care, they can be worked out. Win Win is a winner. Rated R for language with several f bombs. No nudity, sexual situations, or violence (with the exception of several violent take downs on the wrestling mat).