Book Week: The CEB Women’s Bible

ceb-womensI’ve never owned a “Women’s Bible.”

It’s a residual objection to the gender-targeting Bibles that I saw on bookstore & church shelves when I was a teen: pink floral ridiculousness for girls, blue camo covers for boys. As if I would find the Bible more relevant and engaging because its bookmarks had little beads and butterfly gems on their ribbony ends. It felt gimmicky and binary.

So when Abingdon Press asked for reviewers of The CEB Women’s Bible (Common English Bible 2016), I was intrigued by the opportunity to find out what a Bible published for women is all about. After all, my relationship to pink has changed with age…although I still back away slowly from floral patterns.

The short answer: decor aside, it’s your basic study Bible.

More specifically: this one is a good study Bible.

Regardless of its mechanisms for appealing to women, what I appreciate about The CEB Women’s Bible are the well-executed practicalities that enhance any Bible’s readability:

  • pages that dare to be heavier than the pale film on which so many Bibles are printed;
  • book introductions that are clearly & concisely written with helpful overviews of historic context;
  • indexes that are abundantly useful for both praying & preaching: quick topical references, outlines for the liturgical year, reading schedules, and (let the heavens sing alleluia!) a list of named & unnamed women in the Bible;
  • synopses of sections and highlighted themes throughout the volume that not only orient the reader to content but also support the reader’s reflection on personal, social & theological implications.

I remain unconvinced that certain font types and splashes of maroon (matured from teenage pink) hold any particular appeal to women, as though we all have the same experience of womanhood regardless of race, sexuality, gender identity, reproduction experience, and social location. It’s noteworthy that The CEB Women’s Bible makes an effort to tread carefully & to recognize the diversity of women’s experiences. Historic cultural norms of male/female roles are explicitly named, for example, so that readers can consider and test whether those norms still hold value for the modern day. And I’m relieved to read a Bible that is honest about the violence against women and girls throughout scripture.

Still there are places and passages where I would’ve preferred that the commentators not to tiptoe at all but boldly claim women’s empowerment and directly challenge patriarchal assumptions not only in their historic context but also in the 21st century Church. There are also missed opportunities when the commentary not merely tiptoes but leaps entirely over passages that are problematic in our modern context — including those verses that condemn non-heterosexual intimacy, with only one article in the whole volume written in direct affirmation of an inclusive love ethic. Clearly as a Church we are still contending with gender norms, and The CEB Women’s Bible reflects that struggle.

Publishing a Bible for women still puzzles me.

But publishing a Bible by women editors, a Bible about women’s experiences of God & of their faith communities, a Bible with women’s commentary on the many & varied dynamics of gender throughout scripture — that’s a Bible I can recommend as the Church continues to perceive, unpack and dismantle the patriarchal worldview that shapes our reading of scripture and our theological understandings. Beyond its maroon text boxes and bubbly fonts, The CEB Women’s Bible strives to be a text that asks good questions, encourages thoughtful study & discussion, and highlights the social complexities that are not separate from our faithful living.

I received a free copy of The CEB Women’s Bible
from the publisher with the request to write a review.

3 of 3: Rachel

If love favored her,
life betrayed her.
Hardly a fair trade
and if she had been given
a choice
who’s to say
she wouldn’t have preferred
life?
What do we remember:
we remember her weeping,
not her loving,
not her living;
we remember
the wail of her death.
Tell me:
if it were you,
which would you choose —
love without life
or
life without love?
. . .
Me too.

.

The beauty and truth of story is found in its ability to speak in new ways, no matter how familiar the words. Scripture is full of such stories for me, familiar tales that offer new truths & always-needed truths over and again. This piece is the third of three short reflections listening for truth in the stories of Jacob and his wives Leah & Rachel.

2 of 3: Leah

Do not look in her eyes
where dreams have died. Instead
by her hips be gladly distracted;
watch her hands — busy tending life.

Where dreams have died, instead
she has planted dogged resolve.
Watch her hands — busy tending life
in love’s fruitless soil, barren of hope.

She has planted dogged resolve
by her hips. Be gladly distracted
in love’s fruitless soil. Barren of hope,
do not look in her eyes.

.

a pantoum

The beauty and truth of story is found in its ability to speak in new ways, no matter how familiar the words. Scripture is full of such stories for me, familiar tales that offer new truths & always-needed truths over and again. This piece is the second of three short reflections listening for truth in the stories of Jacob and his wives Leah & Rachel.

1 of 3: Jacob

The kingdom of heaven is like a man whose hip is thrown out of joint so that he has to stop running.

It’s hard to say when exactly Jacob began running.

It seemed in his own mind that he had always been ducking & dodging, always evading anyone who got too close, always running to find a piece of life that he could call his own.

Maybe it began at the very moment of his birth, when brother Esau was held up proudly as Isaac’s firstborn son while Jacob was pried from his twin’s heel. Isaac could have celebrated the gift of two sons in one birth — a double blessing from God — instead Isaac chose only one son. Maybe that’s why Jacob learned the dash & dance of guardedness. Maybe that’s how he came to value self-reliance above all else.

And so Jacob was restrained around his mother, but accepted her favoritism and influence toward his self-sufficiency.

Ducked & dodged his brother, but accepted his birthright in exchange for soup.

Ran from his father, but first accepted his blessing while wrapped in goat’s skin.

Avoided trust with Laban, but accepted the opportunity to build his wealth.

Guarded too with God, but accepted God’s presence for the journey in the hopes that one day he might even stand on his own without God.

But then God threw his hip out of joint, saying, “No more will you duck & dodge. No more will you evade and run. No more will you trust only in yourself for survival and success.

“It’s time to face your brother.

“Time to face your father, your mother.

“Time to face your uncle and your wives and your children.

“It’s time to face me.

You will no longer run; now you will learn the slow pace of covenant. You will no longer hide and strive for your own good; now you will limp in community for the good of others. You will no longer be called ‘one who struggles‘; now you will be called ‘God struggles.’

“And Jacob? I have struggled long enough with you. No more running. Now we walk together.”

The kingdom of heaven is like a man whose hip is thrown out of joint so that he has to stop running.

.

The beauty and truth of story is found in its ability to speak in new ways, no matter how familiar the words. Scripture is full of such stories for me, familiar tales that offer new truths & always-needed truths over and again. This piece is the first in a series of three short reflections listening for truth in the stories of Jacob and his wives Leah & Rachel.

In the Spirit of Jonah

Do you see me GOD?!

Do you see how grumpy I am?!

You should stop what you’re doing and look at me.

I’m pissed off and cursing and
kicking the dirt.

Do you know why?!

Look at me, GOD. Listen to me.
Right.
Now.
Listen to me.

Do you know why I’m grumpy?!

Because the sun comes up in the morning,
just as it always does
faithfully
day in and day out,
but GOD I want to sleep.

I’m grumpy because the sun sets at night,
just as it always does
faithfully
day in and day out,
but GOD I still have work to do.

And I’m mad because I don’t like to cook
but there’s an abundance of food
in the pantry
so I don’t have an excuse
to go out to eat.

Plus I’m out of sorts and irritated
because the bush that protects me from the sun
— the work that protects my daily living —
withered and refused to thrive
for my sake alone,
and I should be enough reason
for that friggin bush to keep living, GOD!

And darn it, you’re always
overflowing with love, GOD,
just like you always do
faithfully
day in and day out.

Stop trying to make me smile
or enjoy this beautiful day!

I am just
trying
to be
grumpy
so leave me alone already, GOD.

P.S. Jonah, you rock. Keep sittin’ on that hill and waitin’ for Ninevah to spontaneously combust. I’m with you in spirit, dude.