Lent, Luther, and a Whole Lot of Confusion

ashwednesdayI was a freshman in college.  And, in order to attempt making small talk, I’d just asked a Protestant student from one of my English classes—whose favorite topic was talking about his church—if he was doing anything for Ash Wednesday.  He stared at me as if I’d just asked him what he was doing for Chocolate Moon Day.

“It’s the first day of the season of Lent,” I said, trying to jog his memory.

“What’s Lent?” He blinked at me looking confused.  Guess there was nothing to jog.

“Well, it’s when some church-going folks set aside special time for God.  Sort of like Advent during the holidays—when people read a section of the Bible and light a candle.  Lent is a reflective, thoughtful time, so some people will sometimes fast or give something up in order to focus.”

Looking skeptical, he asked what kind of church I went to.  At the time I was identifying as a displaced Presbyterian and I was somewhat irregularly crashing at a local Lutheran church while I figured things out.

“Lutheran?”  He questioned.  The word sounded foreign to him as the syllables left his mouth.  “Is it a Protestant church?”

“Of course, Lutherans are Protestants!  Martin Luther is who the Lutherans are named after.”  A surprised but not snarky reply.

He just blinked at me.

“Martin Luther … as in the Reformation?”

“Martin Luther, huh?  Are you sure you’re not a Catholic?”  He looked at me suspiciously.

“Well, I’m not really a Lutheran …. but, yes, I’m sure Lutherans aren’t Catholics.  Lutherans broke off from the Catholic Church during the Reformation.”

More confused blinking.

“Really, they’re not Catholics, Lutherans were the very first Protestants.”

“Well, I’ve never heard of them before.”  He said still looked highly skeptical, but commented how it was “interesting” and that he’d never heard any of the stuff about Lent or Luther before.  He self-identified as being Protestant and he’d never heard of the Reformation or Martin Luther?  I invited him to attend the Ash Wednesday service with me, but he was playing Frisbee with his church youth group and that took precedence.

I thought my classmate and I had finally made some headway, but the next time I ran into him at school he asked: “So, Kelsey, how’s Lent going?  Hey, what religion did you say you were again?”

Sigh.

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The Cow that Ate Baby Jesus

Copyright 2011 Kelsey Hough.  All rights reserved.

j0227579Paper snowflakes and candy canes hung from the ceiling, the windows were now the stage for two-dimensional holiday scenes, and a small, wooden nativity sat in a corner. It was just about as festive and tacky as a four-year-old Sunday school classroom can be in the middle of December … and the kids loved it.

The majority of my small class played with the wooden nativity scene as they acted out the Christmas story with some minor artistic licensing unless, of course, there was a Lego© family and a T-Rex present at Jesus’ birth.

“Teacher, do cows eat this stuff?” asked Nate, a cute little boy who was playing with a black and white dairy cow, holding up a few pieces of hay in his chubby hand. I answered in the affirmative, so the plastic cow continued munching away on the hay in the feeding trough where the little wooden baby Jesus was sleeping.

As Nate looked down at the toy bovine towering over the manger, panic suddenly shot through his whole body like a bold of electricity. He dropped the dairy cow as if he was holding a smoking gun. “Uh, Teacher?” he asked in a shaky voice. “Was .. uh … baby Jesus eaten by a … uh … cow?”

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What a Dying Man Taught Me

community“I traded lots of dreams for a bigger paycheck,” Mitch Albom confesses in his book Tuesdays with Morrie, “and I never even realized I was doing it” (Albom 33). 

Like many young Americans Mitch had dreamed of freedom, adventure, traveling, but had slowly traded each and every one of them in the pursuit of success as our culture defines it—more zeros on a paycheck, a house big enough to drive your neighbors mad, and an important and respected position within his line of work.  How horrible it must be to realize years later that your life isn’t what you’d wanted because you cashed in your dreams.

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Eve to the Rescue: Why “Helper” Doesn’t Mean Subordinate

Copyright 2011 Kelsey Hough.  All rights reserved. superhero_birthdaytheme

“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. Genesis 2:18 (NIV)”

The reference to Eve in Genesis as a “helper” is one of those tricky Bible verses—confusing and often misunderstood. And, sadly, it’s even been used to justify women being treated as personal servants or doormats.

Biblical scholar and professor, Gilbert Bilezikian, says in his Book Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says About a Women’s Place in Church and Family that “In the past, uninformed teachers of the Bible seized on the word helper to draw inference of authority/subjection distinctions between men and women.  According to them, helper meant that man was boss and woman his domestic.”

Helper Doesn’t Mean Servant:

Thankfully, though, professor Bilezikian says that careful study of the word helper has “dispelled such misconceptions” because “this Hebrew word for ‘helper’ is not used in the Bible with reference to a subordinate person such as a servant or an underling” (Bilezikian 22). Instead of showing weakness, the word “helper” in this context actually highlights strength.

This Hebrew word for “helper” in the Bible “is generally attributed to God himself when he engages in activities of relief or rescue among his people.  Consequently, the world helper may not be used to draw inferences about subordinate female roles. If anything, the word points to the inadequacy and the helplessness of the man when he was bereft of the woman in Eden” (Bilezikian 22).  Isn’t that interesting?  It’s the same word used to describe God and no one would make the assumption that God was subordinated by his people because he helps them.  The fact God helps illustrates his strength and compassion.

Eve to the Rescue:

By himself Adam wasn’t able to fully reflect God because he was lacking in community. God intended to create people … not just one … for relationships/community. As a result, the fact that Adam was alone was even deemed “not good.”  So God provided Adam “with a ‘rescuer’ to become with him the community that God had intended to create all along” (Bilezikian 22).  Eve wasn’t a second thought, creating community was the plan all along.

Due to the strength of this word, Bilezikian says that “To wrench the word helper from this precise context, where it has the strength of rescuer, and to invest it with connotations of domesticity or female subservience violates the intent of the biblical text” (Bilezikian 22).

It’s funny how “rescuer” sounds more like a firefighter, brave soldier, or a superhero.  But the word “helper,” even though it could mean rescuing someone, tends to be associated with things like personal assistant or maid.  Perhaps in order to more effectively communicate the original intent of the passage, it’d be better if the word was translated “rescuer” or I’ve heard others suggest “lifesaver.”


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Book Review: Dating Jesus

campbell-datingjesus_new_02A couple of pages into Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl and I was already in love with Susan Campbell’s witty, raw, and often wry writing voice.  The style of this book really intrigues me—creative nonfiction, a bit of research thrown in for good measure, and it’s written in present tense. 

The book chronicles Campbell’s spiritual and ideological journey.  She was raised in a fundamentalist Christian church and saw sexism in both her church and community at large, which profoundly impacted her as a girl.  “I love Jesus,” Campbell writes, “but if all believers are urged to stay on the straight and narrow, there seems to be an especially narrow road built for women” (Campbell 64).

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Misquoted Verses: The Bible Doesn’t Say That

eve_appleIf it sounds proverbial or has a “thee” or “thou” thrown in to somewhat resemble King James English, people will often mistake the quote for being directly from the bible.  But some of the most popular “verses” to quote appear nowhere in the text and were actually coined  by people like Benjamin Franklin and William Shakespeare.   

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The Stained-Glass Ceiling

Copyright 2011 Kelsey Hough.  All rights reserved.

006-big-stained-glassI grew up in a quiet little working-class neighborhood in suburbia where the houses, just like the people, where predominately white.  While growing up my family attended church every Sunday where I became socialized to the idea that gender roles were part of the glue that held society together.  Men built houses, women kept house.

As my height and curiosity grew, well-meaning women from my church warned me of becoming “too smart” or “too educated” because it could seriously reduce my potential for landing a guy—words like “Bachelor of Arts” or “systematic theology” or “I read for fun” were surefire ways I was informed to send any man packing.  As a result, a lot of gals I knew from church, unless they were trying to get their MRS, didn’t go to college or wouldn’t finish their degrees.  Smart men made good husbands, smart women became old maids.

When I showed an academic interest in theology, and began reading what one woman referred to as “pastor books,” I was encouraged by church-going men and women alike to pursue my academic and spiritual curiosity, to live up to my full potential, by becoming … drumroll please …  a church secretary.  Men were orators and leaders, women answered the phone.

Not Exactly “Leave it to Beaver”:

It wasn’t the 1950’s, but feeling trapped under the stained-glass ceiling of my local church’s ideology, it may as well have been.  Predominantly out of fear of being labeled with the “f-word” (feminist) or the “b-word” (backslidden), I didn’t publically admit to the frustration I sometimes felt regarding things like gendered career and educational expectations.  But the aggravation and pain were there, nevertheless. 

Much like the actual 1950’s for many housewives, my own life didn’t always mirror the harmony and simplicity of “Leave it to Beaver.”  In high school my dad was diagnosed with a fatal degenerative brain disorder.  His brain was dying.  Slowly but surely the kind and involved dad I had known was fading from view; he was dying slowly, one piece at a time.  And it wasn’t long before an irrational, angry, and violent stranger had completely engulfed him.  My loving daddy was gone.

Like many housewives in the 1950’s facing verbal or physical abuse from their husbands, instead of finding support and protection, my mom was told to “submit” and “be a better wife.”  It was literally a dangerous situation, we were emotionally and physically unsafe, but church folks we knew told us it was “God’s will” for us to stay exactly where we were.  Sadly, way too many church goers assumed the reason my dad was distant and verbally abusive was either my mom’s fault for not being a “good wife” or my fault for being a lousy daughter.  We were the victims in the situation; my mom had lost her husband and I’d lost my dad, and we’d all lost the safe home we’d once had.  Despite being the victims, due to our gender alone, we were too often the ones who were blamed for my dad’s behavior.

Finding Freedom:

Thankfully, though, my mom had the courage and strength to go completely against what hegemony (the dominant ideology) was insisting was the morally correct way to handle the situation, by getting us out.  I believe with all my heart that my mom did the right thing.  She protected her kids and herself, but afterwards she still had church people telling her she’d gone “against God’s will” because she hadn’t just summited to the abuse.  When it came to dealing with a woman’s husband or father, they believed the God-honoring solution was to roll with the punches … literally.  But my mom had the guts to get us out.  And she was criticized for it.     

I once read a comment by a woman reflecting on her life during the 1950’s, she recalled feeling hopeless and trapped, but how in the mists of it she was saved by feminism—the idea the women should have equal rights and opportunities, and should never ever have to submit to abuse.  I didn’t grow up in the 1950’s, but I feel like I was also saved by the same feminist ideals that resulted in laws relating to domestic abuse being changed in the 1950’s in order to protect women.  I was saved from an unsafe and stressful environment, and mentally and emotionally saved from being “only a girl.”

This emotional and ideological salvation has provided me with the freedom to pursue my spiritual journey without anyone even mentioning the word “secretary.”  The freedom to become educated without the fear of scaring off all the men (if they can’t handle a smart woman, I’m not interested in them anyway).  And the freedom to be strong and, above all, safe.


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