Saturday, August 26, 2006

Cracking the Stained-Glass Ceiling

Whether they come from theologically liberal denominations or conservative ones, black churches or white, women in the clergy still bump against what many call the stained-glass ceiling — longstanding limits, preferences and prejudices within their denominations that keep them from leading bigger congregations and having the opportunity to shape the faith of more people.

Women pastors are complaining. According to a NY Time article, their upward rise is being impeded by a glass-stained ceiling. “When a senior pastor is consulted about whom he would like to succeed him, there aren’t any women on those lists,” the [unidentified] minister said. “The good-old-boy network starts there.”

Some key points in the article are:

1. The authority of a pastor is defined as and measured by the ability to govern.

2. Success is measured by the size of a congregation.

3. Pewsitters are still uncertain about whether women should be pastors.

What does this mean?

The authority of a pastor is defined as and measured by the ability to govern.

The ability
to do something is not the same as having the authority to do it. Women have been being ordained since the 19th Century. In 1970 this practice became vogue and wide scale. From out of this practice a theological discipline grew and received a name, Feminist Theology. And yet, not one apologia has been written for the ordination of women. Why? It can’t be done. There is no scriptural basis for it. This is not to say that women may not speak the Good News to men. It was women who first proclaimed the risen Lord to men on Easter morning. However, despite artful attempts to interpret 1Ti 2:12 to their feminist liking, Paul’s bare words based on against the practice remain. Invariably Bereans reveal themselves, and must be outfoxed by feminists.

One small but important step male pastors can take, these experts said, is to get congregations to hear women preach. . . “I speak differently than a man does,” Ms. Escobedo-Frank said. “To hear the fullness of God’s voice, you need to hear both men and women.”

Ah . . . so that’s it! Accordingly, the Scriptures are merely dead letters, sitting as printed words on a page. To come alive, they must be spoken, given living voice. Until that happens, the Bible is merely a book, just as any other piece of literature. That God presents Himself as male in the Scriptures is of no merit. What is important, they say, is that the book be re-cast so that the female voice can be listened to.

What is being promoted is the feminization of God. Feminizing Scripture means feminizing God; that is, reconstructing Scripture to reflect women’s experience in order to re-create God’s character. Different voices have the same visions, it has been said. Experience has proven otherwise with the newest incantations for the Trinity.

Success is measured by the size of a congregation.

If this were true, then Pastor Jesus then was the greatest failure of all. He lost 5,000 followers after one sermon (John 6). He was just a little too tough to swallow, and so the crowds walked out on Him.

If Jesus had said that His Body and Blood were given in gold and silver, PSPs and the latest video games, we’d have no shortage of the demand for every-Sunday Communion, and the pews would be cracking-down full every Sunday. But He didn’t, so we don’t.

Jesus comes to us impossibly. He said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (Jn 6:35) The Word of Life comes spoken by an ordinary man, and in bread, water, and wine. The crowds in His time didn’t believe Him when He spoke of it; the crowds now don’t fill the pews demanding more of it. So even though Christ gave Baptism to wash His Bride and make her His own; even though He gave His very Body and Blood to His church in order to feed and sustain her; and, even though He said that His own were to be taught to observe/guard all that He taught, still the point is missed by too many that if He’s doing the giving, coming from His Body and Blood, and He is the very Word of God from the beginning to whom all authority has been given, then it is He who is effecting all that happens by way of growth in the church. The authority for growth in the church lies in the efficacy of the word itself, and the efficacy of the word is Christ, the Word. “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).

That’s authority! And it’s the sort of authority we simply don’t understand, and often don’t take sitting down. We want to count numbers and see numbers counted. We like our stewardship programs, with their fancy slogans, goals and achieved outcomes. We like our busyness, like a bunch of swarming bees.

Now, it is a mistake to lump all things that look similar into one pile and toss a label on top of it. My students often do that with pattern blocks. Hexagons and octagons look very similar, and help us all if a septagon gets tossed into the lot! We can do that here with feminism. Much of what goes on where feminism is active – such as this attention to numbers – occurs in other places, too. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that feminism is at fault there. What it means is that feminism, because it is a religion of the Old Adam, shares symptoms with so many other “Adamist” religions. These are religions that rely more on what the Old Adam has to say of God and on what the Old Adam has to bring to God as a bargaining chip for his own redemption than on what God says of Himself or of what God says to the Old Adam in Christ. Counting numbers is one of these symptoms. What is similar is the misbegotten notion that numbers themselves are a mark of a healthy church or a good pastor at all. What is different is the female pastors’ complaint that it is a lack of promotions to congregations of size which demonstrates the prejudice against their sex. That's what makes this feminist. Oh, deary me. Kindly refer to the prior statement regarding numbers and misbegotten notions. Then go on to the next section.

Pewsitters are still uncertain about whether women should be pastors, i.e., given authority.

At a large church where she was an associate pastor, a colleague told her that when she was in the pulpit, he could not focus on what she was saying because she is a woman. A man in the congregation covered his eyes whenever she preached.

He can see the logical fallacy, why does he still listen to it? Because, God bless the man, he is still so hungry for the word of God that he would even follow Balaam’s ass to the barnyard hoping to still hear it, that's why! What a dear soul he is.

People in the pews often do not accept women in the pulpit, clergy members said. “It’s still difficult for many in this culture to see women as figures of religious authority,” said the Rev. Cynthia M. Campbell, president of McCormick Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian seminary in Chicago.

If the order of creation has been overcome (as the argument based on Gal 3:28-29 goes), then there are now no boundaries between any relationship on earth. Indeed this is now the argument many Feminist Theologians and liberal philosophers (such as Peter Singer) promote - an d it is the logical conclusion of it. Androcentrism says that man is the crown of creation, even over lesser beings such as animals and even plants. (Pity, that!) Some Feminist Theologians will argue that androcentrism should be abolished. Peter Singer argues that human life is no more sacred than that of a chicken’s at the same stage of gestation, so if abortion is immoral, so is killing chickens even for food. Based on this absurdity I place this proposition before the readers: If Christ’s authority establishing the Office of the Holy Ministry is not what is necessary for consideration in who is to be ordained into that Office, then even a well-trained monkey would suffice for the job.

Many Protestant clergy, it must be remembered, are assigned to their congregations. So when a pastor is repeatedly placed as an assistant in small, struggling churches rather than “promoted” to large, growing congregations, she might question if she is incompetent. This is how Ms. Puckett of Atlanta has viewed her career and cycle of assignments. For the moment we can leave off the theological questions whether she is right in her assessment. The theology of women’s ordination is, after all, a functional view of the Office. Therefore, when Puckett lists competency as a qualification for the job she seeks, and yet she is a woman, she is correct. She is as competent for the job she seeks as anyone, even a well-trained monkey.

After all, parishioners can go home and read the Bible for that little slice of “me-n-Jesus,” and absolution – as is all too often found – can continue to be received silently in the mind of the beholder. So all we need is someone who can dole out little bits of the “Jesus presence” at the comers to the rail, and he’d best be someone who is mum to what they believe, and blind to what they do. A well-trained monkey would certainly do just fine. The worship committee can handle the services, the finance committee the dough, etc. Enough fun.

Or was Jesus just funnin’ when He said to keep to everything He taught and that His disciples were those who remained in His word?

Now that ought to be a cure for getting over one's self. If even a monkey could do the job, then what's to complain about when the promotion doesn't come through?

So if there must be something going on here that is qualitatively different between animals and humans and if that difference was established at creation, then the same differences and distinctions established at creation by the God who ordered what He created still apply. That difference is vocation. And vocation is incarnate. By that I mean that living human beings are not physically and spiritually dysfunctional sexual beings who are born physically with the general condition of humanity but then have to be taught spiritually to be either male or female. Sexual distinction is creation by design. The gift of sexuality is given at conception. Gift given, gift received. So when these women complain about the numbers their own sex really is smacking them in their faces. And because the gift given was not received as gift, but as a burden to be borne, sexuality has become an issue of authority, and the Office itself is wrapped up in the politics of sexual agenda and fair marketing. That’s authority wrapped in the Law.

“It’s a combination of age-old customs and democratic myopia: that in the marketplace of ideas and values, men matter most and that by definition, women have to take a back seat,” said Dr. Alton B. Pollard III, director of black church studies and associate professor of religion and culture at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

Authority wrapped in Jesus is Gospel. It is water that is a Baptism because Jesus says so, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It saves now (1Pe 3:21). It is scraps of bread and wine too tiny to satisfy hunger and thirst, yet enough for eternity. “Take eat, this is My Body… My Blood…” It is the gates of heaven flung open, against which the tides of hell cannot prevail. “I, by virtue of my Office as a called and ordained servant of the Word, forgive you your sins…”

No numbers can measure this authority. We confess in the Third Article of the Creed that it is the Holy Ghost who calls, gathers, and enlightens the church to Christ through His chosen means. That still brings us all right smack dab back to doing it all His way, doesn’t it? Not Law at all. Just Gospel on top of Gospel no matter how you stack it.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Horses and Myths

“No! It got burned out in a fire.”

“Nuh-uh! A horse knocked it out.”

Jacob rolled his eyes in amusement and looked at me. We both had to stifle our laughter. The Troublemint Twins were trying their best to explain to the newest students that their teacher was not all “there.” I was busy pretending to mind my own business while listening to this myth in the making.

“She really does have a false eye, and I’ve seen it. She took it out one day and I nearly fainted. Don’t ever scratch your face with a pencil,” cautioned Byrne.

David and Erika glanced over at me. Did they dare believe the stories they were hearing? I wasn’t giving any clues, and Jacob wasn’t much help. He was taking his clues from me.

I lost my right eye to cancer, or rather to the effects of the radiation treatment. This fact is a fascination of no end of delight to the students because their parents rarely know this. I don't announce the fact to the kids. I let them in on it by little quips and fits.

When I miss-mark a paper I have a ready excuse: It takes me twice as long to see half as much and make twice as many mistakes. So what do you expect?

If they come up to me on the right side, I warn them that’s my dodging side. They soon figure out what I mean.

To date not one student has taken advantage of my good graces because of my generous blind spot. They are too kind to me in the first place, and I can sense their presence too well for that in the second place.

As for the stories, well, they are discombobulated. The burn occurred during while we were burning debris from Katrina last August. As for the horse…

One of my required credit hours was a phys ed. course. Now, I wasn’t about to have things come a-flying at me with my depth perception, so tennis was out. Besides, I’d already been through one ACL repair, and I wasn’t going to do another. The other options were just as lovely, except for one in particular, horseback riding in an indoor arena. It was English saddle, and I reckoned, “What could happen?” I mean, easy lopin’, right?


I got paired with this horse named Dakota. No lie, this horse was one-eyed. That’s right, this one-eyed lady got sat on top of a one-eyed horse. Now what sense does THAT make? It might have made some if it was opposite eyes, but it wasn’t. We were both blind on the same sides, going around this arena.

Things went well for a few weeks. Then one night Dakota went a bit out of direction. That would have been OK had he gone into the ring, but he didn’t. He went into the wall. The wall was on our blind side, of course. Neither of us saw it coming. Which is why he went there in the first place, and why I got dislocated from his back in the second place.

I got back on.

Thankfully it was the last class.

I made an A+ on the course.

Blocking Stumbles

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas
Oil on canvas, 107 x 146 cm
Sanssouci, Potsdam

An inopportune glance at a watch during busy traffic meant that my husband and I were out shopping for a new car for me. I was at a dead stop. The driver behind me looked at his watch, and then didn’t have enough time to stop. That mistake “totaled” my car. At least no one was injured. My granddaughter was jostled a bit and shook up, but otherwise just fine.

After the salesman and I climbed into the car and I drove off he began the chit-chat. He asked where I worked and I told him I taught at the Lutheran school not far from the dealership. John and I had gone car shopping straight from my day at school. I still had on my deaconess garb, so I supposed he was curious about the insignia on my shoulder and pin on my shirt. He said, “Oh! I should have known you were Lutheran from the cross you wear.” Funny, that was the first time I ever heard of anyone identifying “Lutheran” from a style of cross… I let him continue…

“My brother’s favorite person in the whole world is Martin Luther. He’d be a Lutheran, too, except for one thing. He can’t get past that Communion thing. He just can’t do it.”

“Yeah,” I said. “When Jesus says what He says, it’s hard to take Him at His word, isn’t it?”

He got to the business of selling me the car after that.

The “Communion Thing” – that’s the crux of the whole matter, isn’t it? Just as all roads once led to Rome in the known civilized world, all heresies lead to what is believed, taught, and confessed about Christ, especially of His incarnation. And in that is the Communion Thing.

That is because typically we want to run with things according to our sinful inclinations. We either divide the Spirit from God’s word, or Christ from the elements He has chosen to unite Himself with. Then we still want to say, “Yippee! I’m full of the Spirit! I have Jesus.” Luther called such nonsensical people those who had “bees buzzing in their heads.” They were full of ideas, but of the wrong sort because they come from within themselves, not from God.

Luther compared Arius, who denied Christ’s divinity, to Satan when writing his lectures on Genesis. He also connected Arius’ error to the Lord’s Supper.

All the fanatical spirits follow this procedure of Satan. Thus Arius raises the question: “Do you believe that Christ is God, inasmuch as He clearly states (John 14:28): The Father is greater than I’?” Likewise the Sacramentarians: “Do you believe that the bread is the body of Christ, and the wine the blood of Christ? Surely Christ did not even think of such silly ideas!” When men give room to these thoughts, they gradually depart from the Word and fall into error. (Luther, M. 1999, c1958. Vol. 1: Luther's works, vol. 1 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 1-5 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works. Concordia Publishing House: Saint Louis)

As Luther clearly saw, theological error eventually relate to the Incarnation. So they are also an error in Trinitarian theology.

For an example Christ’s own incarnation can serve no better. Mary conceived through her ear; that is, by way of the spoken word as the Holy Spirit overshadowed her. Yet Christ’s incarnation was not merely spiritual. He was no ghostly spirit, but is God become human. That means Christ’s incarnation in Mary involved an actual human zygote that attached Himself to her uterine wall, growing into a human baby with flesh and blood organs that fed off her body until such time that He was born. The Holy Spirit and created physical matter united together in Mary’s body at the incarnation of Jesus. Wherever the Holy Spirit is with the Son, there the Father is, also.

Therefore, it is a mistake thinking that one can have the Holy Spirit without also having Jesus In fact, those who speak much of the Holy Spirit have far too little of Christ, for it is the business of the Spirit to reveal and deliver Christ. It’s really quite simple: God’s word delivers the Holy Spirit, and it is the Holy Spirit who delivers Christ, the Word of God, through earthly elements He has chosen – Word and Sacrament. Wherever the Holy Spirit delivers Christ, there also is the Father.

The Communion Thing is a stumbling block – but no more so than the Baptism Thing or the Absolution Thing when you get right down to it. We want our Jesus, but not when He is in our faces, up close and personal – such as clothed in the likes of a pastor. We want Him on our own terms. We want to determine how He comes to us. Sappy songs are much nicer. “On the wings of a snow white dove…” But for certain when Jesus says, “This is My body… This is My blood…” we don’t want any of that business. He just can’t be serious. So we’d just rather call Him a liar on that account, and take Him out of where He said He’d be, put Him just about anywhere He never promised to be, and call that “Christian.” Yup, fer sure. “And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.” Coffee never tasted so good than in a cup with an ICHTHUS on it.

I spend a lot of time looking at Feminist Theology. It too denies the incarnation, for it is an error about Christ in the first place. That’s because feminism itself is a variation on a theme begun by our First Parents. It seeks after the things of God apart from His word, and delights in what it finds. When that happens, what is received is He-who-is-not-god. Luther writes of it this way in the Smalcald Articles:

All this is the old devil and the old serpent who made enthusiasts of Adam and Eve. He led them from the external Word of God to spiritualizing and to their own imaginations, and he did this through other external words. (SA: 3, VIII, 7)
Feminist Theology “does” spiritualizing with great flair and dexterity. It is here where not only the Scriptures are mere metaphors, but so also is created physical matter. Accordingly words do not mean things, God did not mean what He says, and physical matter is malleable – especially and most importantly human flesh. All life is as plastic, a chimera of whatever ideology is in the imagination of the beholder.

How far apart is this really from those who call Christ a liar when He speaks as He does concerning bread and wine, His Body and His Blood? That Baptism now saves, and it is for all nations? That sin is forgiven by the words of Absolution spoken from the lips of the pastor? That He, Christ, is the only source of salvation?

Not so far, really. Still the same old Stumbling Block.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Student Gifts

My students gave me a present yesterday.

The previous evening the two older boys were playing ping pong. We have a table set up in an extra classroom. The ball they were using rolled under some stored folding chairs. While trying to scurry it out with their paddles they discovered my gift, a desiccated chameleon.

I told them, “Thank you,” and put it in a small plastic zippy bag. The first rule of successful teaching is knowing how to not flinch- EVER.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Quiz Time!

Cool quiz from Uneasy Priest...

You scored as Luther. You are Martin Luther. You'll stick with the words of Scripture, and defend this with earthy expressions. You believe in an orthodox Christology. You believe that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, but aren't too sure about where he goes after the meal, and so you don't accept reservation of the Blessed Sacrament or Eucharistic devotions.











Eucharistic theology
created with

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Byrning Away Summer

They’re back… a summer older, a bit taller, and they even missed me. They walked into the classroom together, as if they’d planned their entrance with a phone call the previous night. The Troublemint Twins grinned and said in unison, “Hey, Deaconess! Didja miss us? Are you glad to see us?”

In fact, I hadn’t. Yes, I was.

School started midweek this year. I planned to use that time to ease the class into the schedule and out of their summer lollygags. Three days seemed reasonable to remind students of proper manners in hallways and outside other classroom doors.

Still, the Troublemint Twins wouldn’t have it. Nope, Byrne decided “cold turkey” was the only way to go, and Jeremiah agreed. The bathroom is close to the K-4/5 classroom. Noise in line from my class means a disruption to that classroom. On the first day of school, yesterday, the entire class needed a gentle reminder that while in line they should remain silent. Well, that didn’t work for the Twins, so they had to be removed from the area. That means they were sent back to the classroom for a few minutes so they could settle down a bit. The first time happened at snack time, just before recess. The process repeated itself just before lunch, which means the boys were both late for lunch.

When I went back to the classroom to get the pair I said, “Now gentlemen, we don’t want to do this again tomorrow, do we? You’re Second Graders this year…”

Byrne cut me off. He was going to do the talking. He reckoned he knew my mind better than I knew it myself.

“Yup. And if we do it tomorrow we’ll get sentences.”

“Yeah,” said Jeremiah with a knowing look.

Hmmm… I thought. This ought to be interesting. Works for me.

Mind you now, there are two new ones to my crew, and Sean and Jacob both have returned. Sean’s taking full advantage of three days of grace breaking into the school routine, but he’ll stop talking when reminded. David is in Third Grade, very quiet and watchful. When he grins I know he’s really pleased with something. It’s coming more often than not. Erika, also Third Grade, bubbles over with enthusiasm and wonders “how anyone puts up with so many boys.” I look at her and say, “You do it, too, don’t you?” These three days are a learning curve for her, too. Jacob, the oldest of the bunch, doesn’t need three days to break in. He knows the ropes and shows them by example.

Snack time rolled around today and the Twins just couldn’t help being themselves. That was all fine and dandy until I was again giving the crew their gentle reminder. Right on cue, Byrne leaned over to Jeremiah as I was speaking and began talking.

I looked at him, he looked at me, and I pointed toward our classroom. He walked the long walk back.

I will listen while my teacher is speaking. Seven times.

“I promised,” he said later through sobs. “I promised my dad I wouldn’t get into trouble.”

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” I replied. He looked at me in surprise.

He had meant his promise to his father. He had wanted to keep it. I asked Byrne to tell me what Commandments were involved in what he had done: First and Fourth. I asked him how he thought he could honor a promise to his father when he couldn’t keep the First Commandment. Then it clicked. “Oh, yeah. I don’t love God. So sometimes I can’t obey my father. I couldn’t keep my promise, even if I want to. But I want to anyway. And I still want to try.” Who says Second Graders can’t “do” logic?

“Byrne,” I said, “who takes all the sin you have away from you? What happens to it?”

This Byrne knows, and confesses. “Jesus takes my sin to the cross. He died for my sin, and it is gone. He forgives me.”

“That’s right. And because he forgives you, I am able to say the same to you. I’m sure your dad will, too.”

Don’t we just want so very much to be good, to love Our Father with all our minds, hearts, and souls? Sometimes, though, we are so quick on the lip making promises that we haven’t finished listening to what our Father has even spoken to us. Our minds and bodies are so busy with what we are going to say or do in return it as if we are on constant “send” mode when we really ought to be set to “receive” mode.

Worse yet, as did the Twins, sometimes we even set our own punishment before we even listen to hear that God has wrapped us in his grace through his Son. Such is the case when folks say- whether in desperation or through ignorance- “I know I’ll probably go to hell for this…” It is as though they are choosing their own destination for whatever they have done despite Christ’s forgiveness spoken from the cross, and delivered to them in his Baptism, his Holy Supper and his Absolution.

Dr. Kenneth Korby wrote of it this way: “The life of prayer is the first act of faith, responding to what is heard. Having listened to the word, faith now joins the conversation with God. He who has spoken to us now listens to us. Give attention to the life of prayer.” Baptism: Ordination Into the Royal Priesthood of Believers, April 1988

Korby also spoke of the life of the baptized having the same character. That is, of listening to God’s word first before one has anything to do or say in reply. “The faithful servant wants to know the voice and the words of the speaker.” As is often the case, the best response to what has been heard will simply be “Amen!” What better can be said to a Savior who says, “I love you,” “I forgive you,” or “Believe?”

How has a summer matured Byrne? I told him that he had set the limits of his own discipline, not I. Had he kept silent and listened while his teacher was speaking as he ought to have done, he would not have endured the punishment of his own choosing. It was a big lesson to learn early in the year.

That reminds me of another Korbyism: “The only way anyone gets into hell is by stepping over the dead body of Jesus.”

A whole lot of evil was mete in Christ’s flesh at the hands of his Father for the sake of mankind’s good. Byrne is beginning to get a tiny glimmer of that truth.

Summer was kind to the boy. Dealing with Byrne is always God’s kindness to me. Yeah, I was glad to see them both.