Book Review: The CEB Women’s Bible

cebwomensbibleWhen the package with my review copy arrived in the mail, my first thought was, “Please, don’t let it be pink!” 

Thankfully, it was not! (And lest you think I am exaggerating, do a Google search for images of “women + Bible” and see what you find!)

As I skimmed my review copy, it was easy to see the intent of this edition of the Common English Bible: “to focus on stories of women, named and unnamed…”1 inviting the female reader to encounter the Scriptures with new insights and responsiveness to the written Word. For women in particular, it has been difficult to see ourselves in texts which appear to ignore women entirely, or relegate them to subservient roles in society. This invisibility was the cultural norm in ancient times, but causes many women today to question why the Christian faith is relevant in the modern world. Are our voices meaningful? Do our experiences and perspectives matter? Are women in general valued by God?

I was already acquainted with this version of the Bible. The Common English Bible was published with the intent was to bring the sacred text into “common” verbiage, without becoming a paraphrase. The translation guidelines were rigorous, and included men and women scholars. I use the CEB in my personal devotions and enjoy the approachable and clear rendering of the sacred text.

For this edition, the editors and commentary were all written by women. The individual books each have an introduction which provides background on the text, including a historical and cultural context. The introduction also highlights specific issues which will interest most women readers as they study the Bible.

I personally appreciated the indices which included: Named Women, Unnamed Women, Articles (indexed canonically and alphabetically), a list of discussion questions based on the Revised Common Lectionary, and (unusual in my experience) an index for the maps. These will be helpful resources for the novice or experienced Bible student.

For a recent sermon on John 9-10, I read and reflected on the passages using the CEB Women’s Bible. The reflection included in John 9 by Mandy Sayers on “Beggars” coincided with my previous personal study on the place of beggar in ancient society, and the radical, life-changing experience of encountering Christ — for the beggar, and for any of use who experiences the change that comes with following Christ.

My only quibble with this translation is that the gender of the Divine is consistently rendered as male. It remains an ongoing frustration for me, and many other women, who struggle at times to identify with The Holy when the pronouns for God are always a “he”… While I have cultivated the practice to “read over” the gendered pronouns, it remains a translation issue that has not been solved to my satisfaction.

Familiar faces and names are among the editors and contributors. I am delighted to see the variety of denominations, traditions and settings which they represent. The breadth of voices in this edition will inspire many women in their study of Scripture. I recommend it highly for your study and spiritual growth.

*********

The CEB Women’s Bible.  (c) 2016. Abingdon Press.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

1 from the Preface

RevGalBlogPals Friday Five: 5 Transformations

MaryBeth at RevGals has this week’s prompt:

 

I’m looking forward to a good summer…my husband feels well, I am taking on some new challenges, I have a new church home, and overall I feel like I am moving in some new directions. When I saw this sculpture, I felt a kinship with this woman (though I cannot to a lotus pose like that…not yet, anyway). The sculpture is called “Expansion” by Paige Bradley. You can read more about it and its creation here.

For today’s Friday Five, share five occasions or events in your life that have been turning points…when you have felt like a new thing was being born. You can refer to the birth of children, career, your kitchen garden, or whatever moves you.

1. Music: The story from my parents is that I was standing and singing along to my older sibs’ practicing before I was out of my crib. So I started piano lessons early, and sang in a choir for as long as I can remember. It’s what touches my heart and soul. While I’m not engaged in an official capacity or in any performing group right now, listening to music is a way that I center and one of the primary ways that I “sing back” to God.

2. Family Losses: I was 13 when my big brother died in an accident. In my young adult years, all four of my grandparents passed away. (It is a true blessing that I knew and spent lots of time with my grandparents in my growing up years… and why their deaths impacted me so.) Wrestling with the whys and wherefores of their declines (a range of cancer, Parkinson’s, and longevity) was the first of my questioning of God, life, death and grace. With my dad’s death in 2000 from lymphoma, and my brother-in-law’s last year from ALS, I again had to ponder (and be dissatisfied with) what I understood to be true about suffering, faith and grace (or theodicy, if you want that fancy-pants term.) It continues to be a formational part of my life.

3. Marriage: I can’t imagine life without the man I lovingly call “The Bearded Brewer.” I’ve lived with him longer than I lived with my parents. We’ve learned a lot on this road of 26+ years. That’s a grand gift of God.

progeny4. Children:  I know I brag about them endlessly. I try not to embarrass them or put them in sermons without their permission. 🙂 Our two lovelies are growing up to be the strong, caring, loving, bright women we had prayed for. I have made many mistakes along the way, but I’ve been blessed many times over by being their mom.

5. Calling: I resisted it. Denied it. Agreed with a fundamentalist church leadership who told me, after a broken engagement to a future missionary, that “women should not be in seminary unless they are married to a pastor or missionary.” So I listened to them, instead of listening to God, and dropped out of seminary. A member of that leadership later wrote me a note (perhaps out of guilt or conviction by the Holy Spirit?) and advised me to reread Gamaliel’s advice to the Sanhedrin:

“…If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. If it originates with God, you won’t be able to stop them. Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!” (Acts 5:38b-39 CEB)

Years later, when I was told by three wise Christian leaders, in three different settings, that I was not listening to God’s Call on my life, those words came back. I was fighting God. It was time to acquiesce to the Spirit. Years of listening, praying, waiting, finally attending seminary and wrestling until I knew the place God wanted me – as a chaplain. A companion in joys and sorrows. A spiritual friend. A worshipper of the unlikely ways God works. And here I am today… walking and serving and living by Grace.

A BONUS: Over the years, I’ve noticed and tried to collect photos of what life in God’s grace means. Sometimes they are pictures of struggle, sometimes of victory. The one that grabbed me as I clicked through a few photos this morning was this one:

You are faithful to me...
You are faithful to me…

 

The Fourth Sunday After Easter: Sheepishly Dependent

This week was a whirldwind of violence, accusations, accidents, fear and loss. In the midst of the confusion, I knew I needed to turn of the news, step away from my computer and do some healing work in my garden. As I trimmed, weeded and transplanted, I was serenaded by the wrens who are checking out the new bird house, and the keening of red shouldered hawk, lusting after the baby chicks next door. (Said baby chicks are against our Home-owners Association covenant, by the way… and will be relocated.)

But in the yard, as I began to tend the plants and count the budding flowers, there was a sense of peace. Yes, a strong storm could indeed topple a tree right on top of the new roses. The predicted cicadas could chomp our lilac buds right off. I could forget and leave the gate open and find deer munching on my tomatoes, or trimming off the tops of the hydrangeas and hostas. But as possible as those gardening frustrations could be, I would still be OK. My family and friends could still be safe and healthy.

As I worked and reflected on life in general, I thought about how far removed we are, as a society, from the agrarian lifestyle of the Bible. Farming, tending sheep, sowing seed — they just aren’t part of our normal routines. So taking a step back from commuting and thinking about composting has its spiritual benefits!

For this week’s readings, in particular, we need this land-based mindset. The readings from the Lectionary point us to our dependent and needy relationship with God. The Psalm reminds us to trust that The Shepherd will be with us in “the valley of the shadow of death” and that we will be well-fed.

Psalm 23

1 The Lord is my shepherd.
I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
he leads me to restful waters;
        he keeps me alive.
He guides me in proper paths
for the sake of his good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
they protect me.

You set a table for me
right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the Lord’s house
as long as I live.

Sheep are silly things. They run away from danger without looking, without a clear plan of escape. Their lives can be expressed in a panicked flight from one fear to another. They will eat things which not only make them sick, it could kill them (think broken glass!) They balk from accepting things that are good from them. And when they ARE being cared for, particularly when they must be separated from the herd, they bleat their distress. Loudly. And often.

But sheep also have some instinctual behavior which helps protect them. They want to be in flocks. They keep their young on the inside of the flock’s perimeter whenever possible. They accept the protection of other animals (including other herding animals) and seem to keep a truce with their herding dogs. And they understand, even though they are raised in a domesticated setting, that the world is a dangerous place. And if they stick together and watch out for each other, life is a little sweeter.

By design, sheep are kept in a protected environment so that they can spend their days grazing, drinking, and resting. And growing wool. By preference, or perhaps centuries of domestication, they forget that their every need is met. They will test the boundaries, the fence-lines, and the herder. When I first learned this from a shepherd, I asked, “Wait! Sheep have sin natures, too?”

We had a good laugh.

Ah, I am so much like sheep. Eating, sleeping, reacting, engaging in ways that are not the best for me. Aren’t we all?

In a week of distress, real or implied, where our assumed safety is threatened and our previously “safe pastures” are invaded, it’s easy to react in a panic. To forget that there is a Good Shepherd who hears, who sees, who cares. To remember that there are real evils in this world and that the spiritual enemies we face invade hearts and lives and actions every day.

We can’t live in fear. Or panic. Or anger. Nor can we forget that the stronghold of evil in this world will come and do battle in our comfortable lives, whenever and wherever it chooses. We have to accept that this life is occasionally difficult, frustrating, and even full of evil. The difference is that as we band together, and watch over one another, we know Who eventually wins this battle. Consider these words from Ephesians 6:

11 Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. 12 We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. 13 Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. 14 So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, 15 and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace.16 Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.

18 Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time. Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers.

As members of One Flock, as comrades in times of pleasant pastures or dangerous valleys, the Church can’t become split or disintegrated when we are under stress. It is easier to scatter than to band together, to run in our own inclinations instead of moving across obstacles together. Being One Church means that we have to fight our instincts for self-preservation and  sheepishly depend on God.

Shepherds know this. And sometimes, pigs do too.

“My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus says in John 10. “I know them and they follow me.”

The problem is, we listen to our own voices, or only each other in times of stress. We set up our own “passwords” and put contingencies on whether or not we think God really cares about us.

Two weeks ago, the Scriptures focused on the doubts and fears we all face. Last week, we heard Christ’s instructive words to Peter to tend the lambs and feed the sheep. It’s a journey we take together, with our questions, our anger, our cries for justice and for peace.

The words of Psalm 23 are so familiar that we can gloss over them. Yet they invite us to stop and lean in…

Listen. Stop and breathe in the rhythms and heart of Grace. The Shepherd’s voice speaks over the chaos, and cuts through our complacency. You will hear the tender voice of the Shepherd. Calling you. Inviting you. Reminding you that though is a valley of death, there is also goodness and mercy and a place of Eternal Safety.

Thanks be to God!

———- 0O0 ———-

In closing, listen to this arrangement of Psalm 23, created by Bobby McFerrin. The Trinity is offered in a feminine voice, and the rich chords bring a sense of safety, wholeness and love. I invite you to turn up the sound, close your eyes, and feel The Shepherd’s warmth and care — for you.

Shalom.

The Third Sunday of Easter: From Doubting to Diving In!

Last week’s Scripture focused on having faith in a sea of doubt. Thomas had tangible proof that his Lord was alive, being raised from the dead.

This week, the Third Sunday of Easter, we see Peter’s response to seeing the physical resurrection of Jesus, as our focus shifts from “doubt” to “diving in.”

John 21:1-19 (Common English Bible)

1 Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius. This is how it happened: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus ), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.”
They said, “We’ll go with you.” They set out in a boat, but throughout the night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus.

Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”

They answered him, “No.”

He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they weren’t far from shore, only about one hundred yards.

When they landed, they saw a fire there, with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught.”11 Simon Peter got up and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them. Yet the net hadn’t torn, even with so many fish. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 I assure you that when you were younger you tied your own belt and walked around wherever you wanted. When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and another will tie your belt and lead you where you don’t want to go.” 19 He said this to show the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. After saying this, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.”

Peter: Bold. Impetuous. Brash. A “step-in-it” kind of guy. But also a passionate and a completely “sold out” kind of servant for God. I LOVE Peter. Maybe because I’m a passionate, “step-in-it” kind of woman.

In today’s Gospel reading, Peter left the latest job on his resume, “Disciple of Jesus,” for a job he knew well: “Galilee fisherman.” He and some of the others were back in the rhythm of net fishermen.

Cast the nets.
Pull them in.
Dump the fish in the boat.
Repeat until boat is full…

Except there were no fish. None at all. Jesus appears on the shore and tells them to cast the net on the other side. Grudgingly, they do. But Christ’s command and their response must have triggered a memory. One from an early encounter with the Messiah:

Luke 5:4-11 (Common English Bible)

When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon,“Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.” Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”

So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!”    Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. 10 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too. Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” 11 As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Maybe it was memory of their first commitment to following Jesus, when he commanded them to lower the nets on the other side of the boat. Maybe it was sitting on the shores of Galilee, receiving bread and fish from Christ’s hands. Maybe it was the overwhelming joy, the realization that what they HOPED for in the empty tomb, the resurrection of Jesus, was true. Christ was alive. He stood on the shores, his wounded body restored to life. Peter’s joy and excitement caused him to respond with his typical passionate abandon.

It makes me think of the scene from the movie Forrest Gump, where he dives off of his boat and swims excitedly to the pier where his friend, Lt. Dan, is sitting…

I can almost hear Peter yell, “HEY!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE??” A look of incredulous joy must have crossed his face as he grabbed his tunic and dived overboard, swimming to shore. The other disciples shared in his jubilation (except that they stayed on board, and the boat didn’t crash!) 🙂

That deep-lying Hope within him, that wounded Faith came bursting out of him in an ecstatic moment. It was the Easter morning moment we celebrated a few weeks ago. That joy, based on faith and facts, is still true.

In those moments of reunion on the shores of Galilee, Christ moved Peter from feelings to faith. From commitments of love to commanded action: “Feed my lambs… Care for my sheep… Feed my sheep.”

A Christ follower’s life is not just feelings. Worship services that only feed our emotions don’t cultivate anything that lasts beyond the glow of Sunday mornings. But intellectual hobnobbing is no more sustainable. Nor does it meet the places of day-to-day struggles in our earthly lives.

The challenge is to keep that “overboard” moment of joy nestled deep in our hearts as we make a slow, steady, daily progress in caring for those God has given us as our “lamps and sheep.”

Thanks be to God.

P.S. Whenever I think of God as my Shepherd, I think of this Bach aria, “Sheep May Safely Graze.” Be at peace. We are cared for beyond all earthly caretakers’ watch.

Photo-a-Day: Live

Live
Live

John 12: 23b-25 (CEB)

““The time has come for the Human One to be glorified. I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever.”

Countdown to the Launchpad (Year C: The Presentation of Christ)

7 Mighty gates: lift up your heads!
Ancient doors: rise up high!
So the glorious king can enter!
8 Who is this glorious king?
The Lord—strong and powerful!
The Lord—powerful in battle!
9 Mighty gates: lift up your heads!
Ancient doors: rise up high!
So the glorious king can enter!
10 Who is this glorious king?
The Lord of heavenly forces—
he is the glorious king!

Psalm 24:7-10, CEB (Common English Bible)

A young couple walks from their hometown to the Temple. They bring their son and offer the only sacrifice they could afford, two small pigeons. In obedience to their God, they dedicate him, name him, and prepare to leave. And then, the anonymous couple is suddenly surprised by an outpouring of devotion and praise.

Simeon and Anna, devout, patient, faithful followers of God, have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Perhaps they were reminded of the Psalm of David that proclaimed the entrance of the King of kings. Perhaps there was a tremor in the bedrock, and they felt it, deep in their souls.

WHO IS THIS GLORIOUS KING?

Their hearts responded in praise to God. In joy. In celebration.

Only Simeon’s words are reported in Luke’s gospel:

29 “Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
30 because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and a glory for your people Israel.”

33 His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”

But Anna’s actions were recorded, even though her words were not:

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. 37 She was now an 84-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

A celebration. A blessing. A promise of heartache. Not exactly what every new parents wants to hear when they bring their baby to be dedicated. You want congratulations. Maybe a few meals delivered to your home or help with household tasks. But to be told that because of your child, you will experience heartache?

Can I get a “NO, THANKS!”

As a parent, there have been some wonderful days, and some very discouraging ones. Not because of our progeny doing “something”, mind you, but because of my own human error and pride getting in the way. As our daughters approach independence, there is a sense of a backwards glance or two. And there is also a desire to see them fly into the world and take it by storm, with their bright potential and dreams.

In every baby baptism or dedication, there is a sense of this promise – that God has already guided, already led the parents together. And that God will bring each child to their place in this world. It is idealistic to the extreme. It is the face and source of Hope as we gather families and babies and proclaim the words of Promise:

“You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism

and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”

Beyond our wildest dreams, God takes the future and releases it through the lives of the Children of the Church. Their questions. Their stories. Their gifts. Their passions. We hold them as babies, cherish them as toddlers, teach them as children, and gradually release them into adulthood. Always knowing that the God of all, the One to whom they were dedicated, baptized and confirmed, will always be with them.

This year, The Johnnie graduates from college. Reedy Girl graduates from high school (college yet TBD.) Life’s pretty full, exciting, and full of forms like FAFSAs, CSS and SATs. Schedules, questions, interviews, jobs, so many plans… so many dreams. Life may not turn out to be with the dreams we dreamed. It may not be according to their best-laid plans, either. But it will be in accordance with the power of Christ, living, breathing, working through them.

Thus the Kingdom of God advances.

Chaplain Lessons: We Wear the Mask

From our window, we watched people walking about in the warm night air. Warm, for a January evening. People in shirt sleeves. People eating dinner at an outdoor cafe. Surges of pedestrians walking from the Metro escalator, across the street and off to their destinations. Cars and buses. Ambulances and police cars, their urgent, strident sirens cutting through the noise.

It was time to let things take their natural course. The patient and family were at peace.

The night wore on. There were stories. Hymns. Prayers. Remembrance. Celebration. Tears. The journey from this life to the next came slowly, peacefully, gently.

One of the family members shared the patient’s favorite poem. Again, I am a student of my patients and their families…

We Wear The Mask
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

From Poetry Foundation