The War Outside Our Doors & Walking Through Conquered Halls…

I couldn’t sleep. Tossing and turning was all I did after my afternoon on an Elijah Rising van tour of Houston.  Where do I begin?Elijah Rising

In 2011, Elijah Rising (a ministry committed to ending human trafficking) began offering van tours throughout the city in order to promote awareness of the impact and prominence of sex trafficking in the city of Houston.

“Part of our mandate is to drive the reality of modern day slavery into the consciousness of our society. To do this we offer approximately 2 hour tours of high probability trafficking areas. These tours are essentially a rolling Human Trafficking 101 class with visuals.”

Human trafficking is a 32 billion dollar per year industry with over 27 million people currently living as slaves.*  Eighty-percent of human trafficking is commercial sex trade.  Out of the 27 million victims, eighty-percent are women and of these eighty, fifty-percent are minors.  Houston is at the top of the list of offenders.

I was aware of these statistics before I went on the van tour and I will admit that, at first, the numbers are just numbers; there are no faces, just statistics.  But within minutes of taking your seat in that van it all changes.

The van tour takes you through three areas around Houston that are heavily populated with brothels disguised as massage parlors, spas, adult studios, strip clubs, and cantinas.  The first real shock is the proximity of these places to other businesses, restaurants, and neighborhoods.  One of the highly populated areas of the cantina-style brothels was just across the freeway from where I once lived.  I couldn’t believe it.  You start the recognize the tell-tale signs of a brothel: dark or boarded windows; high walls and gated parking lots; a series of houses or buildings connected together; some really weird statues.

Once you see the buildings, you begin to hear the stories.  The stories help to put faces to the numbers and that’s when the sick and the dread and the anger and the sorrow start to set in.  This is a reality.  Right outside my door.

And you weep.

You weep because it all seems impossible.  You weep because you wonder “Why?” and “How?”  You weep because you wonder why you sat by idly for so

Elijah Rising is ending human trafficking in our city by equipping a generation of justic warriors for prayer, awareness and intervention in the spirit of Isaiah 1:17 which says ‘Learn to do good, seek justice, rebuke the oppressor, plead the cause of the widow, defend the orphan.’

But there is hope.  I soon learned that Elijah rising has started leasing a building that was formerly a brothel.  We had a chance to walk through the building where they are currently remodeling; the building will serve as one of its offices.  This was by far the worst and best part of the tour.  Being inside that building and walking past shower after shower, room after room, made imagining the women and children trapped in this life of slavery far too easy.  There was a real sense of sadness and darkness that remained in those rooms.

But hope was breaking through.  With each pound of the sledgehammer you could feel the walls of injustice slowly crumbling down.  Many of us cried as we walked those halls.

The Elijah Rising team has been praying over those rooms, the evidence of their faith in a God who saves written on the walls in crayola markers.

This place is a victory.  God is pushing back the darkness.  Jesus’ kingdom is coming.  The Spirit is moving…

And you realize that there is a battle happening right outside your doors. 

If you live in Houston or will be visiting anytime in the future, I suggest you do three things:

  1. Go on an Elijah Rising van tour. It will change you.
  2. Pray. Pray for the end of human trafficking in our city, and across the globe.
  3. Attend the Justice Summit this September 19th-21st here in Houston.


*These are the statistics I was presented with during the van tour.


LXX Susanna, Part 3: One Story, Two Heroes…

One last snippet from my Susanna paper to share which highlights the different endings of the two traditions:

As the story reaches its end, Daniel successfully reveals the truth about what transpired between Susanna and the two elders.  And as Daniel proclaims the punishment that awaits the elders, the assembly lauds the triumphant hero.  But who is the hero in this story?  The OG ending focuses on Daniel and the wisdom of youths.  Daniel’s referring expression is changed in verse 60 to τῷ νεωτέρῳ, the young man, highlighting the fact that he is young in contrast to the elders who are presumably older.  It is Daniel who is the hero in the OG version.  Susanna θ’, on the other hand, ends with a different hero in mind.

Verse 60 reads:

καὶ ἀνεβόησε πᾶσα ἡ συναγωγὴ φωνῇ μεγάλῃ καὶ εὐλόγησαν τῷ θεῷ 
τῷ σῴζοντι τοὺς ἐλπίζοντας ἐπʼ αὐτόν.

And all the assembly cried out with a loud voice and they blessed God, who saves those who hope in him.

One again we are provided with additional information that constrains the way we as readers view God, this time from the narrator’s perspective.  The focus is now on God who save those who hope in him.  For the author/translator of Susanna θ’, God is the hero of the story.  It is God who knows what is hidden; it is God who sends a wise judge to reveal the wickedness of the unrighteous judges; it is God who saves those who hope in him.

Finally, compare the epilogues of each version:

62a Because of this, young men are beloved by Jacob because of their sincerity.  62b And as for us, let us watch out for young able sons.  For young men will live piously, and a spirit of knowledge and understanding will be in them forever and ever. (OG)

63 Chelkios and his wife praised God for their daughter, along with Joakim her husband and all her relatives, because no shameful deed was found in her.  
64 And Daniel became great among the people from that day onward. (θ’)

Each discourse ends with a different focus: the Theodotion text focuses on the vindication of Susanna, which not only meant that she was spared from shame but the whole family was spared from shame.  Susanna’s parents are reactivated along with Joakim and the rest of the family, by means of anchoring expressions to link them to Susanna.  The Old Greek, on the other hand, ends with a focus on the blessing of wise young men.  The OG ending seems much more characteristic of a fable, relaying the moral of the story: the world needs more young men like Daniel.


LXX Susanna, Part 2: Susanna’s Voice And The God Who Knows…

Continuing on with a look at characterization and participant reference in Susanna, here’s another excerpt from my paper (apologies for the lack-luster intro):

In the additional introduction of Susanna θ’, God is initially introduced as κύριος whom Susanna feared.  As noted above, Susanna’s parents instructed her according to the law of Moses which would clarify κύριος as the God of Israel.  If we assume a Hebrew Vorlage*, perhaps we can read κύριος in place of the divine name, as is common throughout the Septuagint, and thus κύριος is likely the preferred referential device for God.

Overspecification** is used in referring to God twice and both occurrences function as thematic highlighting devices and constrain the reader to view God in a particular way.  This first instance of overspecification occurs in a prayer spoke by Susanna which is placed a different points in the discourse in each text.  In the OG text the prayer is placed after the elders place their hands upon her head but prior to their testimony about her sexual encounter with the young man.  In the Theodotion text the prayer is placed after the testimony of the elders as Susanna cries out in a loud voice.  In the OG text Susanna instead prays to herself.

Verses 42 through 44 of Susanna θ’ read:

42 ἀνεβόησε δὲ φωνῇ μεγάλῃ Σουσάννα καὶ εἶπεν Ὁ θεὸς ὁ αἰώνιος ὁ τῶν κρυπτῶν γνώστης ὁ εἰδὼς τὰ πάντα πρὶν γενέσεως αὐτῶν, 43 σὺ ἐπίστασαι ὅτι ψευδῆ μου κατεμαρτύρησαν· καὶ ἰδοὺ ἀποθνῄσκω μὴ ποιήσασα μηδὲν ὧν οὗτοι ἐπονηρεύσαντο κατʼ ἐμοῦ.  44 Καὶ εἰσήκουσε κύριος τῆς φωνῆς αὐτῆς.

42 But Susanna cried out with a loud voice and said, “O eternal God, who knows that which is hidden*** and who is aware of all things before they come to be; 43 you know that they have testified falsely against me.  See I am about to die though I have done none of these things which these men maliciously intended to do against me.”  44 And the Lord heeded her cry.

The fact that Susanna cried out with a loud voice (ἀνεβόησε δὲ φωνῇ μεγάλῃ) in the Theodotion text instead of praying to herself highlights her more active role in the story.  She does not remain silent, but rather declares her innocence and demonstrates her righteousness by trusting in the Lord.  Through the mouth of Susanna, the reader is given more information than necessary about God.  This information is not necessary to identify which god she is referring to as we already know that Susanna worships the God of Israel and thus this functions to highlight the theme of hidden things being revealed.

This theme is one of the most prominent themes through the story of Susanna: the elders are hidden in the garden during Susanna’s bath (only in Susanna θ’), the elders lust for Susanna is initially hidden from one another, and Susanna is uncovered before the crowd and thus what was once hidden is exposed.  From Susanna’s perspective, the Lord she fears is God who knows all that is hidden, i.e. the truth about what happened in her husband’s garden.  This information also serves to foreshadow what is to come, namely the revealing of the truth which the elders have kept hidden.  And so the Lord sends forth the wise young man Daniel to uncover that which is hidden.  Daniel is the final participant to be introduced into the narrative, initially introduced as a young boy whose holy spirit (τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον) is stirred up by God.

*Side note: I’ve not done extensive research on this particular topic and opinions are mixed as to whether Susanna was originally written in Hebrew or Greek.

**Overspecification: The description of individuals or ideas that is more specific than required to identify the intended referent. – Steve Runge

***The phrase “that which is hidden” is not present in the OG text.

LXX Susanna, Part 1: Getting To Know All About You…

Last fall my Greek professor courageously led our class through the topic and texts of the Septuagint.  For my term paper I decided to write on the two texts of Susanna, an apocryphal addition to the book of Daniel.  The text has survived in two different textual traditions, the Old Greek (OG) version and the Theodotion (θ’) version.  I was initially inspired by Kristin de Troyer’s article in A Feminist Companion to Reading the Bible: Approaches, Methods, and Strategies titled Septuagint and Gender Studies: The Very Beginning of a Promising Liaison in which she looks at some of the differences between the Esther texts (in the ways they portray the characters) while asking gender-specific questions.  I decided to look at the story of Susanna since it was a text that was essentially new to me, it has a female protagonist, and it is a text with two distinct traditions.  Here’s a quick summary from my paper for those of you who are new to Susanna’s story:

   While there are substantial differences between Susanna OG and Susanna θ’, the basic premise of the story remains the same.  There is a man, Joakim, living in Babylon with his wife, Susanna.  Susanna is very beautiful and enjoys taking long walks in her husband’s garden.  The story’s antagonists are two elders, who are also judges, meant to govern the people.  They quickly prove to be lawless men as they become enthralled with the beautiful Susanna with the hopes of gratifying their mutual lust.  The two elders approach Susanna, but she refuses them.  The elders then bring her to court with accusations of adultery with a fictional young man; the crowd believes the elders and Susanna is condemned to death.  So Susanna prays to God and he intervenes.  Now enters our hero: the young man, Daniel.  Daniel accuses the people of an unfair trial and declares that he will interrogate the two elders individually.  Daniel’s wisdom is demonstrated in his ability to establish the two elders as liars by their own admission and the story ends with Susanna’s life being spared and the two elders being utterly destroyed.

Susanna and the Two Elders

Susanna and the Two Elders

For my paper, I set out to apply a discourse-functional approach to participant reference (see Steve Runge’s Discourse Grammar of the New Testament and dissertation) in the double-text of Susanna.  As noted above, there are some interesting differences between the two texts, especially in how Susanna is portrayed.

Here’s another excerpt from my paper on the characterization of Susanna:

The way in which a participant is initially (re-)introduced to a discourse serves as our mental representation of that participant until we are constrained to see her or him in a different way.  Some of the major participants are not named but rather are identified by an epithet or anchoring expression, while there are two minor participants that are named but remain flat characters throughout the narrative.  In Susanna θ’, the protagonist Susanna is initially introduced as Joakim’s wife.  She is referred to by name, her default and unmarked referring expression, nine times throughout the narrative.  The Septuagint’s introduction of Susanna is considerably shorter.  Some scholars argue that the first five verses have been lost, while others read “περὶ ὧν ἐλάλησεν ὁ δεσπότης” (Concerning that which the Lord said…) as an acceptable introductory statement or heading.

The text as we have it provides us with less information about Joakim as he is mentioned merely in passing and almost always in relation to Susanna; she is his wife and he is her husband (v7).  Although more information is given concerning Joakim in Susanna θ’ (he is wealthy and well-liked by the people), he functions as a plot device in both texts and thus we understand him to be a minor character.  Both texts introduce a garden that belongs to Joakim and when the elders would watch Susanna, she would be walking ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς αὐτῆς, in the garden of her husband (v7).  Thus the author/translator signals to  the reader to keep in mind Susanna and Joakim’s relationship as husband and wife as the reader learns of the two elders lust for this married woman.  The reader soon learns that the elders attempt to force themselves on Susanna within her husband’s own domain (v19).

Additional information about Susanna is provided with her introduction to the story, namely, that she is a very beautiful woman (καλή σφόδρα) (v2).  As we noted earlier, it is atypical that a biblical character receive such a detailed physical description.  The fact that Susanna is very beautiful is important to the plot of the story and this important information is reiterated later on in verse 31 as Susanna’s speedy trial is about to begin.  In her introduction, Susanna is also referred to as one who feared the Lord (φοβουμένη τὸν κύριον) (v2) as her parents instructed her according to the law of Moses (κατὰ τὸν νόμον Μωυσῆ) (v3).  This information is not necessary to identify Susanna from other possible referents, rather it is additional information that tells us something more about Susanna.  This piece of information is important to the development of the plot as Susanna’s character serves as a foil to the lawless elders who are eventually prosecuted and punished κατὰ τὸν νόμον Μωυσῆ (v62).

I will follow up with two more posts with additional excerpts from my paper. I am always look for feedback and I am thankful for opportunities to learn so please feel free to comment, correct, etc.  Many thanks to Steve who was a big help to me via Twitter during my paper-writing frenzy.

Strangers To The Desire For Domination…

Desert Mothers

“The same Amma [Theodora] said that a teacher ought to be a stranger to the desire for domination, vainglory, and pride.  A teacher should not be fooled by flattery, nor be blinded by gifts, conquered by the stomach, nor dominated by anger.  A teacher should be patient, gentle and humble as far as possible; successfully tested and without partisanship, full of concern, and a lover of souls.”

– Theodora 5, in Laura Swan, The Forgotten Desert Mothers

Is Gender A Part of Being Created Imago Dei?

As I was preparing to present an argument for Egalitarianism at my church’s Elephant in the Room series (last night’s topic was gender roles in the Church and home), I came across this quote from N.T. Wright’s paper Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis from CBE’s conference in 2004:

Many people have said, and I have often enough said it myself, that the creation of man and woman in their two genders is a vital part of what it means that humans are created in God’s image. I now regard that as a mistake. After all, not only the animal kingdom, as noted in Genesis itself, but also the plant kingdom, as noted by the reference to seed, have their male and female. The two-gender factor is not at all specific to human beings, but runs right through a fair amount of the rest of creation. This doesn’t mean it’s unimportant, indeed it means if anything it’s all the more important; being male and being female, and working out what that means, is something most of creation is called to do and be, and unless we are to collapse into a kind of gnosticism, where the way things are in creation is regarded as secondary and shabby over against what we are now to do with it, we have to recognise, respect and respond to this call of God to live in the world he has made and as the people he has made us. It’s just that we can’t use the argument that being male-plus-female is somehow what being God’s imagebearers actually means.

Now, I had read this paper before but somehow I missed this point.  It really stuck out to me when reading over it again this past weekend.  So, what do you think?  Does Genesis 1:28 demonstrate that male and female are part of what it means to be created in the image of God?  Or is Wright right (ha!) in his observation that (from this passage at least) one cannot argue that maleness and femaleness are specifically unique for God’s imagebearers?

Further along in his paper, Wright states:

When humans are renewed in the Messiah and raised from the dead, they will be set in authority over the angels (6.3). In worship, the church anticipates how things are going to be in that new day. When a woman is praying or prophesying (perhaps in the language of angels, as in 13.1), she needs to be truly what she is, since it is to male and female alike, in their mutual interdependence as God’s image-bearing creatures, that the world, including the angels, is to be subject. God’s creation needs humans to be fully, gloriously and truly human, which means fully and truly male and female. This, and of course much else besides, is to be glimpsed in worship.

This is something I am still working through as I attempt to solidify my understanding of gender roles.  While I agree that men and women are different, and that being female is different from being male, I also recognize that some women are different from other women, and some men are different from other men.  This is in large part because of my own personal experience.  Surprise, surprise, I do not always easily identify with what is typically characterized as ‘Biblical womanhood’.  Nothing aggravates me more than being told that men want most to be respected and honored while women want most to be loved and cherished.  I, along with Aretha Franklin, heartily disagree.  And isn’t Don Draper’s big life question “Am I loved?”  It’s frustrating to be told women are more emotional (with the implication that this is a weakness) and social than men while men are more goal-oriented.  Have you ever met a female introvert? We aren’t really that social. I also know lots of women that are goal-oriented and very good at achieving said goals. Sorry to burst your stereo-typical gender bubble!

I think qualities like bravery and the desire to protect are not masculine traits, nor is nurturing a feminine trait.  They are human traits that humans naturally have to a varying degree, both male and female, and that all Spirit-filled people should work to develop in themselves as the Spirit works in them.

What do you think?

Here’s a video with highlights from Wright’s lecture:

Feminism Isn’t A Bad Word…

As a part of Rachel Held Evans’ A Week of Mutuality, blogger Julie Clawson over at One Hand Clapping has been writing on her journey to Discovering Christian Feminism, a worth-wile read for all I think.

Today Clawson focuses on why the label “feminism” need not be a bad word:

“Patriarchy continues to encourage fear of feminism by spreading the lie that it is about dominance and not equality.”

Clawson has provided an informative and eye-opening look at the rich history of feminism.  Whatever your position on feminism, I heartily encourage you to read through her series of posts to help inform your understanding of what feminism is/can be/should be, and perhaps you might even change the way you think about some things.  I know I did!

Let’s not be afraid of the word “feminism,” rather let’s talk about what it really means.  In an earlier post where I officially out myself as a feminist (as if it were a surprise), I linked to a pretty clear-cut and basic definition of the word feminism.  Here it is again from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary: feminism – the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.

Please! Someone!! Tell me how that contradictions our Christian story?

I appreciate Clawson’s comments on our tendency as Christian’s to want to shy away from this label:

“Wanting to release women from oppression, to allow her to be who God made her to be does not mean that others must be hurt in the process. These are fears and misunderstanding that are sadly encouraged in our culture, ensuring that feminism remains generally reviled. But as a Christ-follower who cares about truth (not to mention justice), I believe it is necessary to oppose these lies and dismantle misunderstandings with the light of reality. That’s why I no longer fear being called names like feminazi, I would just rather help others see that the message of freedom feminism offers is the exact opposite of Nazi Totalitarianism…

Some Christians believe that the negative connotations surrounding feminism are reason enough to shun the label… There are some labels I want to claim even if they have negative connotations for some. Like the label “Christian,” for instance.

This is just a glimpse at some of Clawson’s thoughtful remarks.  Hop over to her blog. Read. Learn. Discuss. Let me know what you think.

I’ve Got Your Back, Deborah…

I’m a fan of Deborah. The prophetess and judge appears in one of my favorite passages of Scripture, Judges 5, The Song of Deborah. This passage was the focus of my second Hebrew reading class many years ago. It’s a fun chunk of text because it is really, really old.

You see, Deborah has gotten a bad rap over the years, one that, as far as her story in the OT is concerned, is unwarranted.

How often have you heard someone say that Deborah was used as a means of judgment, because God only puts women in leadership in order to judge a nation? Maybe Deborah was usurping authority? She certainly must have had some character flaws. I’ve heard this said on one of the largest news networks on television. And it irks me.

Deborah is often disregarded despite her presence and position in Scripture demanding at least some consideration as to what it means for women in the church. She doesn’t fit the framework of complementarianism and so she is considered an anomaly, or a judgment sentence, or whatever, because she’s a woman. Because she’s in the Old Testament. Because 1 Timothy 2:12 trumps Judges 4 and 5. Because every piece has to fit together. Because, because, because.

Read the text of Judges 4 and 5.
There is nothing there to condemn her.
And if the Scriptures don’t condemn her, then I certainly won’t.

What Judges 5 does says is that Deborah’s leadership resulted in forty years of peace (verse 31).

I Tried To Be A Good Complementarian…

A few years ago, my husband and I went to visit a seminary to get some information on their graduate programs.  We spoke with a woman who worked in the front office and informed her we were interested in getting our master’s degrees.  We had pulled some pamphlets and were discussing some of our interests.

I tell her I am interested in any degree that has an emphasis in the Greek and Hebrew languages.  I ask if the school offers reading courses in Greek and Hebrew.

“Oh, well, those classes are hard,” she says.

Yeah, Greek and Hebrew are hard.  I already knew this because I had received my bachelor’s degree in Biblical Languages three years prior to this conversation.  And I had done really well.

I wasn’t the only one taken aback by her response.  My husband, too, is certain that if he had asked about Greek and Hebrew classes he would not have gotten the same response…. because he’s a man, and I’m a woman.

This moment will stick with me forever–a moment when a judgment was made about my abilities and intellectual aptitude and academic pursuits based on the fact that I am a woman.  Even worse, the assumption was made by a fellow female.

I have since started (and nearly completed) my Master of Arts in Biblical Languages degree at the university where I originally got my bachelor’s.

I am a student at Houston  Baptist University and I am incredibly proud to be a Husky.  I have been taught, discipled, and encouraged by some of the most amazing men, both egalitarians and complementarians.  I have met and studied along side some of the most amazing women and men, both egalitarians and complementarians.  I have never once felt like I didn’t belong when I was among them.  I have found the world of academia to be a safer (and less exhausting) place for women like me.

But I have been studying Greek and Hebrew for almost eight years now, and I have faced some internal struggles and some outward opposition.

Right about the time I started Greek and Hebrew, I joined a wonderful church that held to a complementarian position and so I had to grapple with what I was going to be able to do with my degree.  I have always been a feminist, came to faith in the Methodist tradition, preached my first sermon at sixteen, and knew early on I was headed for full-time ministry. 

My gifts and calling were never in question until I had to face complementarianism head-on.  I loved that church, and the one that followed, and having always held a high view of Scripture, I desperately wanted to obey, to be in the right.  And so, I struggled during my college years, up until fairly recently, with who I was supposed to be in light of this view.  I spent hours with professors, pouring over the texts, begging for their help in understanding.  I dialogued with pastors and pushed back as much as I could.**  I prayed that God would change my heart, my mind, and take away these desires that were “unfit” for my gender.  I tried to be a good complementarian.  I promise you, I tried.

But I am left with questions.  There are holes and gaps and often “well, in this case it’s acceptable” arguments.  I am left wanting.

And worst of all, complementarianism has left me feeling like God made me wrong.  Surely I should have been born a man.

Because I, too, know what it feels like to have fire shut up in your bones!  I, too, feel that unquenchable desire to stand before the Body you love and hold up the precious jewel of Scripture and share the beauty that God has shown you through hours of study, prayer, and doing the difficult dance of interpretation.

Why let me get this far, Lord?  Why have me learn Greek and Hebrew at all?

But Jesus doesn’t make me feel like a mistake.  When I read the Scriptures, I don’t feel like a mistake.  I search the texts and I realize there are difficult passages and questions that are raised.  But I’m convinced that the Spirit gifts all the members of the Body, regardless of gender, race, or position. 

I just don’t look like the “biblical woman” that complementarianism says I should be.  And honestly, I don’t want to model myself after her.  I want to conform to the image of Christ.  I want to be like the Proverbs 31 woman insomuch as she is like Christ.  I want to be like Ruth insomuch as she is like Christ.  I want to be like Sarah insomuch as she is like Christ.

And I hear the voices of my sisters… Phoebe… Junia… Priscilla… Thecla… Amma Theodora… Dr. Karen Jobes… Rev. Dr. Katie Hayes… Rev. Dell Tamblyn… saying, “Look and see how God is using me for his kingdom.”

I’m going to be a professor. I’ll teach men and women Greek, Hebrew, and Theology, and hopefully how to read their Bibles better than they did before.  And maybe some day I’ll be a pastor.

Either way, I’ll be preaching and teaching about this Jesus who I so want to be like.  In the classroom.  Behind the pulpit.  On my couch.  In Africa.  Whoever wants to listen, I’m excited about what I’ve got to share.

**I dearly love my complementarian brothers and sisters.  I have great respect for them and I am thankful that they dare not go against their consciences and their understanding of Scripture.  Nor do I dare go against my own conscience and convictions, and I hope that is apparent in what I have written.  I want to follow Jesus and I am doing that the best I know how.