29 September 2013

Philipp's Daughters: Emancipation

On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. (Acts 21:8-9)

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

I may be a woman,
but that does not decide my fate -
for the Spirit of God
has set me free.

No longer bound
to hearth and home,
no longer is marriage
the sole option for me,
no longer my purpose
child-bearing alone -
for the Spirit of God
has chosen me.

I will not be silenced
or voiceless anymore:
I have a message from God.
I will not be second-class,
worthless or ignored:
for I am a daughter of God.
In Him there is no woman,
in Him there is no man,
no servant or free,
no Jew or Greek,
but all one in Christ
and Christ in us.

I may be a woman
but that makes me no less
in the eyes of the Lord.
I may be a woman
but that will not keep me
from preaching His Word
of salvation for all -
for the Spirit of God
is working in me.


[January 2013]

Christianity did a lot for women's rights, actually. If you look at these girls, for instance: they were unmarried (not dependent on a husband), and they were prophetesses (they actually had something important to say and could say it). Something new in a culture where marriage was usually the only option for a woman, and where women had hardly anything to say (or they did, but no one listened)!

In the church, women actually had a chance to participate and a chance to be heard. Because God gives equally of His Spirit to men and to women, and calls both men and women to His service. Something that keeps getting lost a bit in the church (sadly) but that has kept reappearing, e.g. with nuns or women missionaries who were very involved. In fact, in the 19th Century women missionaries had a lot more freedom than the women who stayed at home - being allowed to preach, for instance, and take over leadership roles.

There are Christians who have trouble with "feminism". I think it depends how feminism is defined. I believe that what happened at Pentecost - the Spirit being given to women too and not just men - was a major step in emancipation. God empowers women for His service - not just men. We are equally important, and can be equally involved.

27 September 2013

Phoebe: Misbehaving

Romans 16:1-2

Well-behaved women
(society says)
live for their husband,
or father, or brother;
are there to make babies,
take care of the kids;
stay at home,
rule the household,
Queen of the domestic kingdom;
stick to their sphere
and not interfere
in men's business
(politics, religion)
but sit and knit
and gossip in private
and keep to womenly things.

I am not well-behaved.

I am not known as a changer of nappies
or renowned for the meals that I cook.
They do not mention me
as the wife of so-and-so,
or praise my mothering skills.
Is it stepping out of line
to speak, to share, to have a voice,
to talk of that which moves my heart
even outside of the sewing group?
Is it going beyond my role
to lead a church,
to lead over men?
Is it strange
that I serve beyond the kitchen,
that I live for God and not for man,
that I have a say
beyond female spheres?

I am not well-behaved.
Or maybe
your definition is wrong.

I may not be well-behaved
but I am a woman of God.
A woman of God
has a voice
and uses it
to shout truth from the rooftops
and speak up for the suffering.
A woman of God
is part of God's kingdom
as much as any man of God.
A woman of God
is free because
God sets her free
to do her chores in joy for Him
or do more, gratefully serving Him,
to turn her house into a church,
to mother the brothers and sisters in Christ,
to shine for God wherever she is,
to speak, to shout, to sing,
to give God everything -

The Spirit of God
makes us daughters and sons
of the Most High - a gift, not a right.
My freedom to serve
is not a right I demand
but a gift and a command
that I yearn to fulfill -
not for my sake
but for the Lord I love.

So this is all I ask:
that you don't prevent
me misbehaving
for my God.


[June 2013]

I was in a conference on women's contribution to religious movements and thinking about which lady to write about next, and then had this old well-known quote in my head: Well-behaved women never make history. So I checked my Bible ladies list for women who might qualify as "misbehaving" or, conversely, as "well-behaved". I can tell you now I found no woman on that list whom I would class among the well-behaved.

Maybe it depends on what you define as "well-behaved". I had to think of Phoebe, a deacon in the early church - mentioned in Romans 16:1-2 Greek society probably had a really strict idea of what women should be and do (stanza 1). But a lot of what the Christian message says goes beyond that. I'm not saying women should not do their home duties - I'm saying God defines "well-behaved" in a different way which goes beyond home duties, to serving Him. And that transforms the way we do our usual duties, while also bringing in new things like - for Phoebe - serving as a deacon in her church, actually taking on a special role.

The last bit was especially inspired by stuff I learnt from my research on women missionaries in China. What various advocators of women's participation in missions said was that women are just as bound by the Great Commission as men. Here's some wise words from Miss Fielde, a baptist missionary: "A true Christianity can never debar woman from showing her gratitude to her saviour by setting Him forth as the true and sufficient Helper of her sex, both for the life that now is and the life that is to come."

True, one can't just allow everything, and there are things the Bible clearly is against. But the Bible is also clearly not against serving God. Why block women from serving God? There are many examples of "misbehaving" women in the Bible whom the world would generally not deem "well-behaved" - but who are women of God, following God and serving Him. God's categories are different from the world's.

Though we should also not overdo it. The women of the NT did push limits to some extent I think, but they did not overdo - as texts like the "head covering" bit in 1 Corinthians 11 show. We don't need to shock our cultural surroundings. It does take sensitivity. But within the church, I don't think there should be a hierarchy of men or women anymore - we are one in Christ. We are to use our gifts to serve God - and gifts are not gender-based.

 Picture from catacomb of St Priscilla - some view this fresco as evidence that women could in fact take on "priestly" duties in the early church.

26 September 2013

Rahab: Red Rope

Joshua 2 | Joshua 6:15-23

I'll hang a red rope
out my window -
red like the blood
of a passover lamb.
Death will pass me by.

Though walls will shatter
and all things fall,
I will be safe,
holding on to my rope -
for all my scarlet sins
you have overlooked,
and your name's written red
upon my heart.

I'll hang a red rope
out my window
in the red sunset,
and hold on to your promise
tied tighter than blood:
Death will pass me by.


[October 2010]

When God brought the last plague upon Egypt before the Israelites were finally allowed to leave, they celebrated Passover, sacrificed a lamb and put the blood on their doorposts. Wherever the blood was on the doorposts, the angel killing the firstborn passed by - hence the name "pass-over".

The passover imagery is often used in connection to salvation. Jesus is also called the "Passover Lamb". We speak of the "blood of the Lamb" covering our sins. Rahab was not a member of the people of Israel, but because of her faith she was saved. So here I made a connection between Rahab's story, Passover, and the salvation all of us can receive too.

I wrote this in a time when I really needed to hang on to the rope: trust that Jesus' sacrifice was sufficient to cover all my sins, and believe that no matter what happens or what I do, nothing can ever separate me from God again.

22 September 2013

Mary: Beautiful Feet

Luke 10:38-42 | John 12:1-7

Sitting at your feet
- hiding mine,
my feet full of scars
from all the troubles I have faced,
from all the thorns on which I trod,
as I ran so far away,
away where I should not have gone.

Here they are now, bleeding,
muddy and dirty from all the way,
from where I walked in dark despair
away from you.

Sitting at your feet
- your beautiful feet,
your feet full of scars
                               - my scars.
Bleeding, from thorns on which you trod,
to find me, and to bring me home;
muddy and dirty from all the way
that you walked into darkness, calling my name.

No oil is precious enough for this,
no gift I give could do;
but now I'll pour out all I have,
because, for me, you did it too,
and kiss these feet that bore it all
to bring me back,
to take me home.


[November 2010]

In the story of Mary and Martha, Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet. Later, she annoints Jesus' feet. So I thought I'd focus on feet! :-)
2010 for me really was a year of learning that whatever I'd tracked along in my life, whatever dirt I'd picked up on my feet, Jesus had come looking for me. The dirt did not keep Him away - rather, He walked right into it too, to find me. Jesus knows what you have gone through, and He suffered for the sake of rescuing you. The "lost sheep" was a bit on my mind here, too.

Btw, here's a good song with a similar theme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MA_bo8DSOwg

Picture by Adolf Zimmermann.

21 September 2013

Martha: One Thing Is Needful

Luke 10:38-42

I want to make it right for you,
to give you, Lord, what you deserve.
I want to burn and die, instead
of rusting, Lord, and sitting still;
to make you happy, Christ, with me;
let mine a life of service be.

And yet I fear I'm not enough,
and worry, Lord, of failing you.
I spend myself, all just for you,
but in my heart still there's no joy.
Accusingly it's haunting me:
"let mine a life of service be".

Martha, Martha, you are careful
and troubled about many things:
But one thing is needful.
Mary has chosen that good part.

Oh Lord - What do you want of me?
Is serving you not what you wished?
Should I not your commandments keep
instead of lazing at your feet?
Is not your first desire of me
that mine a life of service be?

But no - just one thing do I need:
the faith that sits down at your feet,
to be with you, so quietly,
accept the grace you give to me;
for not my works bring joy to you
but that you've found me - the lost sheep;
and I'm not saved by what I do,
but all because you first loved me.

So let my service for you be
like flowers blossoming in spring:
not toil or worry, but the fruit
that fellowship with you does bring.


[October 2010]

I get the impression that we often get into the story already seeing Martha negatively. While actually I think she's a good and eager woman who straight away wants to invite Jesus to her house, and serve Him in the way she can do it best! Isn't that what many of us want to do? I mean, "let mine a life of service be" is something one hears and reads all over, something I'd expect to find in an old hymn. Burning and rusting - that bit I took from a quote by G.L. Mackay (missionary to Taiwan): "It is better to burn out than rust out." Many good Christians have been like Martha: wanting to serve the Lord. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

On the last day before my father left me in Switzerland, he told me something really valuabe. And that is, that before Jesus sent out His disciples, He called them to be with Him. Mary is doing just that: being close to the Lord. If we jump straight-out into serving and sweating and burning (like Martha), that is just going to turn into works-righteousness or stress. While if we just sit at Jesus' feet like Mary did, that will grow into service too - service not out of fear or out of trying to be good enough for God, but out of love for Him and accepting His grace. YES, we should serve the Lord eagerly. But not out of fear - for He has given us a spirit of love.

I just love that picture, don't you??

20 September 2013

Mrs Solomon

Mrs Solomon.
Which one?
Number one, number two, number ten?
I think it was forty-something,
At some point,
before he lost count
And said, Who cares?

Some nights
All alone in my room
Among all his gifts
I throw them at the wall,
One by one. Crash.
What am I to you?
Just another number?
A trophy? A prize
To add to your collection?

But those nights
When he calls me to him
And remembers my name
I forgive him;
And when he says
That I'm the only one
I swallow all his lies
Sweeter than honey
Wishing they were true.


[2008 or 2009]

This actually is my very very first "women of the Bible poem", although back then I didn't know I'd ever challenge myself to write poetry for all of them. This was a piece of English homework back in IB days, where we were asked to write a poem in the style of Carol Ann Duffy. From the start, it was "Mrs Solomon" in my head, but because I didn't want to give my non-Christian classmates any more reason for rejecting the Bible (Solomon being generally respected by most Christians - except my mother haha - despite his "women problem") I changed the title. I have changed it back though (to be honest partly because at some point I felt "I've written one about one of Solomon's wives already, let's be lazy").

I do suspect Carol Ann Duffy's poetry has influenced my poetry a bit, especially the idea of writing about the women behind famous men, even though I only ever read her poetry in school.

Hagar: The God Who Sees Me

Genesis 16:1-16 

are the God who sees me -
a maid, used to being ignored,
till I get in trouble
like now.

I wanted to be seen
and now they have to look,
look at my pregnant belly
and notice me at last.
But they pushed me from their eyes
to a place far out of sight,
so I can just disappear
and be nothing.

But you
are the God who sees me -
my pride, my faults,
the trouble I've caused,
the trouble I deserve.

have come to look for me -
to you, I'm not invisible.
And though you see each part of me,
even those I've tried to hide,
you shower me with promises,
dry my eyes,
help me up,
and gently show me to the path
I was too proud to take.

are the God who sees me
but loves me nonetheless.


[September 2010]

I don't suppose Abraham was mean to his servants or anything, and who knows, maybe Hagar wasn't so invisible. But it's easy to feel that way and often people do, and then do something silly to become visible. Hagar didn't do anything silly; she just unexpectedly got more attention and started unnecessarily lavishing in it. Which got her to lose it all. In the end, it's God who gives the appreciation we need, and it's in God we can find it, and not in attention-seeking.

I find it interesting that God hardly reproaches her - He just tells her to go back and basically "sin no more" (what Jesus said to various people He helped!!), plus He gives her promises! God's grace, once again. His love endures forever~

Picture by James Tissot.