Friday, May 16, 2014

Review of Bold Girls Speak

Book Review: Bold Girls Speak

BoldGirlsSpeak_FrontCover_detBold Girls Speak by Mary Stromer Hanson
Reviewed by Ruth Burton
This book is a wonderful collection of stories written for a young audience about girls in the Bible who dared to either speak up or work in difficult situations. The author has added beautiful fictional details to the stories so that the reader can imagine what life was like for these girls. She really gives the reader a sense of what the context was for these often-told stories. It’s clear that she did a lot of research on the culture of the time.
I especially liked the background on Rhoda, the servant girl who answered the door when Peter was knocking to be let in. I got a richer understanding of what it could have been like for a young Gentile girl who was a recent convert to Christianity and living in the new Christian community. I imagined with the author how life was difficult for the community as they were trying to assimilate the new Gentile believers into their community despite profound differences in culture. This is very interesting as we look at church today and how people struggle to adjust to differences in our own culture.
The book highlights ten different stories, each with the Scripture references to go with it. There are also additional features such as questions and points of reference at the end of each chapter. These alone could encourage many lively and thoughtful discussions for a Sunday school class or home school.
The stories would be best read by the younger child with the questions guided by an adult. There are also many helps at the end of the book such as lesson plan ideas, a matching quiz, and a stage play. My own girls would have loved acting out the play!
Adults will learn, as I did, many interesting facts about the times and places of these Bible stories. This book has the potential to encourage young girls to see great role models in these often-overlooked girls. If God put them in the Bible, then it must be important for us to study!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Happy Mother's Day, or Not!

Happy Mother's Day, or Not!

I've known a few Mother's Days. Nothing like finally getting to church on Mother's Day after being up since 4:30 AM to nurse the baby, change the toddler, get him dressed, change the baby, feed the toddler. Figure out something to put into the oven for after church, and yes, my husband was helping too.

Then in church the sermon starts with, "Motherhood is woman's highest calling."
"Bah Humbug" was my response in those days, while a wiggly toddler refused to sit still on my lap. From that point on, I tuned out. Verbal bouquets just didn't cut it.

Don't tell me this is the be all and end all of my life.My value is not summed up in reproductive capability. I did not turn in my brains in exchange for the baby. I never felt more invisible in that traditional church than during those years with my kids crawling on and off my lap. No one seemed to remember I had a life and interests before kids, and that I would pick up where I left off again in what seemed then to be the far future.

Watch out for those churches that insist that motherhood is the only true biblical role for women. The same churches will also put you safely into the children's ministry where you won't threaten the "men's work." Your voice is not welcomed. Your advice is not sought. What place do the women without children have in the church if motherhood is the epitome of womanhood? Are they forever excluded from "true womanhood?"

Why is the wisdom learned during those child-rearing years not used to inform the decision-making process? So much about living- both joys and sorrows- are learned in motherhood. If motherhood is truly valued, then the wisdom acquired should be welcome at the board tables and from the pulpit. These stories are at least as valuable as sermon illustrations from sports and war.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Mary's Sword on Mother's Day

Mary’s Sword on Mother’s Day

The Bible is rather short on blissful scenes of motherhood. The birth of a child to Boaz and Ruth is perhaps one of the rare examples. Rachel’s birth of Joseph was a short interval of motherly bliss, but then she died in childbirth delivering Benjamin. Hannah gave up her young son to the priesthood after which she saw him only once a year. Is Job’s wife an example of happy motherhood? Remember she had ten children, lost them all, and then had ten more! She would be the mother of the millennium.

The Psalms and Proverbs devote a few lines to blessed motherhood, but no names are mentioned. Deborah was known as a Mother in Israel with no details. Was she an only wife? How many children did she have? Were they grown when she was a judge or did they run around the palm tree as she judged? The named mothers in the Old Testament are mostly barren women rejoicing in a pregnancy against all odds.

In the New Testament, her community rejoices with Elizabeth upon the birth of John the Baptist. One can only hope she was no longer living when her son was beheaded by Herod. Mary, the mother of Jesus, received Simeon’s warning eight days after his birth that a sword would pierce her heart. Indeed, she did live to see the day her son was crucified. A mother’s heart is a pierced heart.

After that, motherhood is not particularly extolled, or according to Jesus, even desirable. In the OT motherhood is a mixed blessing at best. In Luke, Jesus does not put mothers on a pedestal: “As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’ He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it’ (11:27-28).” No longer is a woman's worth totally dependent on reproduction.

On approaching the cross, he becomes even more severe: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ (23:28-29).” These are not likely to be sermon texts on Mother’s Day! 

We in middle-class America must be aware that motherhood remains an unbelievable hardship for most women. I only mention briefly the horrors we know from the news. Women give birth as a result of rape, they are forced into pregnancy at too young an age, deliveries occur with no medical help, abortions and infanticide is forced upon them, and finally many of their babies die of starvation and illness. 

My proposal for mother’s day is that we put aside some of the flowers and follow whatever call and resources we have to educate, heal, and empower women in our neighborhood and in the continent far away. We need to do what we can to encourage them to rise above the oppression that the bullies in government, religion, and society place upon them. 

In addition to modestly acknowledging our mothers, or allowing our families to spoil us a little on this day, we must put effort into encouraging ALL women in practicing ALL their gifts. Some experience motherhood, but many do not. Motherhood may take over a part of our life, but it is not our whole life. Reproduction is not our total identity, fertility may a blessing, but we are blessed in many ways.

I have found that the churches that liberally throw verbal bouquets on Mother’s Day are also the ones that are not interested in women’s voices the remainder of the year. If Motherhood is the so-called greatest call for women, then we are reduced to biology. Motherhood is a call not more or no less than any other call for women.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Walking and Talking on the Way to Emmaus

Walking and Talking on the Way to Emmaus

One of the scenes in the Gospels where I would most like to be a participant is Luke 24:13-33. Two people are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a seven-mile journey. One can tell by their postures and the pace of their steps, that they are deep in sorrow, nevertheless they were in deep discussion about the recent events of the crucifixion. 

One person is named Cleopas, the other is unnamed. The grammar gives no indication of a masculine or feminine companion. In John 19:21 the wife of Cleopas  was one of the women standing at the foot of the cross, and her name was Mary. This pair could easily be Cleopas and his wife. A stranger came up behind them who inquired about their conversation. How could anyone have missed news of a crucifixion, darkness at mid-day, voices from heaven, and an earthquake? They patiently recounted all the recent events.

Then he called them “Foolish!” (Luke 24:25). This is how he thanked them for the update! Not only did this stranger eavesdrop on their conversation; he did not respond with appreciation for answers to the question he himself asked. At that point, I think I would have suddenly pretended to forget something and turn down another road to lose the obnoxious stranger. The text says: “Their eyes were closed and they did not recognize Jesus” 24:16. Why did Jesus cause himself to not be recognized, and why did he pretend to not know of the events of which he was the centerpiece? That I do not know. 

Somehow Cleopas and his companion (wife) persisted with the stranger and continued listening. Jesus, still disguised to them, explained everything concerning himself beginning with Moses. How would you like to hear several hours of explanation from the mouth of Jesus himself? We wonder why Cleopas and wife did not immediately write everything down. 

Maybe they did, or at least told the information to the writers of the Gospels. Matthew is especially filled with Old Testament prophecies starting with Matthew 1:22: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet.” Where did Matthew, or the Gospel’s writer get this information? Cleopas and his companion may be a good start. And if his companion was his wife, who was also at the foot of the cross, a large contribution of the Christology of the Gospels was due to a woman.