Interrupting Power

“When King Ahasuerus was merry with wine, he commanded Queen Vashti to appear before him, in order to show the peoples and the officials her beauty—for she was fair to behold. But Queen Vashti refused.” – Esther 1:10-12

During the 180 days of King Ahasuerus’ big bash, Queen Vashti was throwing her own party. While he wined and dined the officials, ministers, governors, generals, and nobles of the Persian Empire—from India to Ethiopia—Queen Vashti hosted a banquet for their wives, mistresses, baronesses, countesses, and noble women.

For 180 days, the international assembly of women ate and drank, rested and played, and politicked. In the midst of it all, Queen Vashti was the gracious diplomat … until the king interrupted with a command: “Stop what you’re doing, and come look pretty for these drunk men.”

An interruption of her work.

A reduction of her diplomatic authority.

A power play against her bodily autonomy.

This is what power is. This is what power does. It interrupts and asserts its own agenda. “Come entertain us. Come work to make our lives easier. Stay quiet so we won’t feel challenged. Comply with our expectations so we can show you off.”

Queen Vashti assessed the king’s interruption, his power, and used her own: “No.”

It was an interruption like a scream made public 35 years after it was stifled.

Power is interruption: Violence interrupting life. Protest interrupting injustice. Silence interrupting healing. Hashtags interrupting lies. We all interrupt and are interrupted, with assorted and rarely pure agendas, although not with equal systemic power and impact.

But one Power interrupts us all. The holy and eternal Interrupter persists in disruption: asserting breath in the midst of chaos, interjecting promise in the midst of floods, providing welcome in the midst of hostility, interrupting injustice for the cause of life.

God grant me the wisdom to recognize my power and to interrupt for the sake of your reign.

written for the Stillspeaking Daily Devotional

 

Book Giveaway: Bible Sisters

Looking for a new daily devotional?

Seeking an introduction to lesser-known women of the Bible?

Hoping to resource a Bible study group in your church?

bible-sistersThe newly-released Bible Sisters: A Year of Devotions with the Women of the Bible by Gennifer Benjamin Brooks (Abingdon Press 2017) might be an excellent book for you, and I invite you to enter this week’s book giveaway to win your own free copy. Simply drop me an email with the subject “Bible Sisters” before 5:00pm eastern on Sunday, May 21, at which time all submitted names will be placed in a hat for a random drawing to win Bible Sisters.

I received Bible Sisters from its publisher for the purpose of reviewing and giving away the book, so let me turn to the review itself:

It’s important for our bookshelves to make substantial room for and give voice to women of the Bible, and I celebrate Bible Sisters for adding its attention to their stories — especially to the less familiar & unnamed women of scripture. Hopefully Bible Sisters will inspire you to dig deeper into your Bible and to research other retellings & histories & commentaries on these women, not only for your encouragement in faith but for your understanding of ancient & present-day experiences of women.

Gennifer Benjamin Brooks gives a fresh hearing to some scripture passages that have historically been injurious to women: Bathsheba is not blamed for her own rape, for example, nor is the violence against her romanticized. First Corinthians 14’s admonition that women should be quiet in church is rightly called out for its inspiration of sexist doctrines against women’s leadership, and Brooks shifts the question instead to ask what value silence in worship might have for all of us. And I’m glad for the attention given to Anna the Prophet, the Daughters of Zelophehad, Hannah, and so many others.

If some of the devotions are fresh & refreshing, however, others make me wince. The entries about Lot’s Daughters show no effort to question the mischaracterization of homosexuality as Sodom & Gomorrah’s sin (rather than the sin of violence against strangers and the poor). The moralistic assessment of single motherhood as the result of women settling for “a secondary role” in their relationships with men (based on the story of Esau’s son Eliphaz’s second wife Timna, who receives two nearly identical entries in what must surely be an editorial oversight) is a tired stereotype, speaking as a single parent. And Brooks’ overarching theological bent in favor of personal responsibility can seem to overlook injustice and abuse beyond individual control.

As a whole, the more I read Bible Sisters, the more I remember why I dislike 365-day devotionals: For the sake of printing a book of manageable size and marketable content, inevitably each day’s scripture reading cannot be fully examined for its rich complexities … each day’s reflection must likewise simplify & generalize its perspective on modern life for the sake of a daily nugget for readers … and each day’s prayer is compelled to function as a tidy “The End” bow on it all. Inevitably I find 365-day devotionals unsatisfying, and I regret that Bible Sisters doesn’t break this mold.

Still I affirm that Bible Sisters: A Year of Devotions with the Women of the Bible can be a useful starting place, and its well-organized indices are a great resource:

  • for preachers brainstorming a summer sermon series on women of the Bible: skim the index of names and start with the women you know least;
  • for small groups seeking a new approach to Bible study: have group members take turns presenting the full Bible story and corresponding devotional about biblical women they don’t know well;
  • for personal encouragement, especially if you’re struggling to claim confidence in & hold fast to your identity in Christ or if you’re striving to clarify God’s call within you in contrast to life’s chaos & complications — themes that are strong throughout Bible Sisters.

Women of the Bible are pillars of our faith stories and essential to our understanding of the salvation narrative. If you’ve not yet found an accessible book for diving into their stories, let Bible Sisters get you started — even better, enter for a chance to win a free copy! Send me an email with the subject line “Bible Sisters” before Sunday, May 21 at 5:00pm eastern.

(None of the email addresses received as a result of folks entering the book giveaway will be shared, and you won’t receive unsolicited emails from me after the giveaway has ended.)

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.