Posts by Annie Newman

Radically Liberal Christian. Autism/Girl/Pitbull mom. FarmHER. Incurable maker of things.

Job 15 – The Highly Literary Job

“Are you the first man ever born?
    Were you brought forth before the hills?
Do you listen in on God’s council?
    Do you have a monopoly on wisdom?
What do you know that we do not know?
    What insights do you have that we do not have? (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Welcome to Lent 2020.  If you’re new to the blog, I started reading Job last Lent, and will continue for this year and the next.  It’s one of the few readings that has been pre-planned on this blog (but, in a lack of time and foresight, not written more than 24-48 hours ahead of time).  I picked Job because it is a book about suffering and patience, a book where Job spends much of his time away from God, being tested by Satan, which seems a good topic for the time of year remembering Jesus’ 40 days in the desert.

I strongly encourage you to go back and read through the first 14 chapters of Job and the corresponding blog posts.  I just did, to refresh myself on what is happening in Job and some of the things I discussed.  I forgot that some of my favorite revelations from last year actually came through Job, such as finding another way to think about Satan, and discovering the term pluralistic ignorance while finding ways to speak out against injustice without having to actually speak.  I was also reminded that Job was a highly stylized book, and just wanted to point some of these literary elements out to you.

First, the overall structure of the book is very symmetrical.  This is easy to lose track of when you’re doing a deep reading of a book, chapter by chapter, but a brief read-through reminded me of that fact.  It starts with a prologue in the divine court, in which Job loses all he has, then there are three speech cycles between Job and his friends, all of which go Eliphaz-Job-Bildad-Job-Zophar-Job, with Zophar’s last speech being replaced by Elihu’s, and then the closing scene brings God back in, restoring Job’s fortune and mirroring the divine court from the beginning.  It also seems very much like a legal trial: God delivers the charge, then stands back and listens impartially to the arguments from both sides (Job and his friends’), allowing for Job and Elihu to make closing statements. God then delivers his verdict.

Second, we can view Job’s friends as literary agents that remind us of what exactly is going on here (Job’s faith is being tested by Satan while God observes) and to goad Job to more and more impassioned speeches. In their false comfort they allude to several things that we know as readers, but that Job does not. This chapter is a perfect example.  “Do you listen in on God’s council?” Eliphaz asks, reminding us that yes, actually, the readers did get to listen in on God’s council.  “What do you know that we do not know?” He asks a line later.  He is, of course, talking to Job, but if we could answer that question, the answer would be a lot. Earlier, Zophar says “Oh, how I wish that God would speak, that he would open his lips against you and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom.”  Well, we know that God is going to do that.  The friends also make several overt court references, reminding the reader that we are essentially witnessing a court case in action.  The word “court” is used by Zophar in 11:10 and Eliphaz in 5:4, and other court-like words (“charge,” “guilt,” “prison”) appear throughout the text.  Every time Job’s friends break that fourth wall, to borrow a term from theater, they draw our attention to the broader drama of the story.

Finally, it is important to remember that the story of Job may date back to as long ago as 2000 BC.  As it was told and re-told, and traveled between different groups, different traditions may have sprung up in its telling.  When it was codified into writing, it is possible that the compilers may have tried to stitch some of those traditions together.  I wonder about this when Elihu suddenly pops up, almost without introduction, to start speaking in chapter 32.  Was he always a fourth companion, and if so, why wasn’t he introduced at the beginning?  Was he sometimes the third companion, replacing Zophar in some of the tellings?  We’ll talk more about Elihu when we get to him, but I just point him out here to remind you of the long and complex history Job has had in its construct.

Which, I suppose inevitably, leads us to the question we all seem driven to ask about the Bible – is it true?  Did Job really exist, and did God really test him? I don’t see why he couldn’t have existed, but I think we miss the larger point.  Job, if he was a real person long, long ago, has grown into a myth larger than himself, like Johnny Appleseed or Paul Bunyan.  Job has become an allegory for our own trials in life, a way to explain the endurance of faith, the justice of God, and the evils that befall innocent people.  I’m looking forward to starting it back up again, much more so than I was when beginning it last year.  I hope you’ll join me in reading it this Lent, and discover the literary prowess, beauty, and greater truths that Job has to reveal to us.

Romans 16 – Women in the Bible: Phoebe

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. (Read the rest of the chapter, here!)

The importance of the messenger

Paul greets a number of women in this chapter in addition to presenting Phoebe, the messenger delivering his letter.  In fact, Paul is reported (and reports himself) working closely with many women in the early church.  Phoebe caught my attention because, having read about how these letters were distributed and presented, I knew Paul must have held her in very high esteem for such an important task.

You see, these letters were not merely handed over by an impartial messenger.  The messengers, including Phoebe, read the letter to its recipients, and expounded upon it aloud, answering questions from the recipients and clarifying Paul’s words when needed.  The reading was often dramatic.  I think it was N.T. Wright who theorized Paul and his messengers standing in view of a crucified body for dramatic effect when talking about Jesus’ crucifixion.  If not that extreme, they certainly were impassioned public speakers who would have to know scripture inside and out – perhaps almost as well as Paul did – in order to fully deliver the message of the letter.  I’ve also seen it said that the spoken word was, in fact, the primary message.  The letter was a secondary or supporting document.  So whoever is doing the speaking has a very important role.

Phoebe’s background

So who was Phoebe?  The only concrete thing we know about her is that she comes from Cenchreae.  Cenchreae was a small but prosperous port town not far from the larger Corinth.  It had a deep, protected harbor that made it important for trade.  It was thought to have been inhabited since prehistoric times, and is still inhabited today.  If lifestyle magazines had existed in ancient Rome, Cenchreae might have been included in a list “Top ten small towns in the Empire” for it’s array of temples, historic attractions, strong economy, and proximity to Corinth.

We can assume that Phoebe was wealthy, and probably single (widowed or never married is harder to guess).  The Greek word, sometimes translated “servant” or “helper” can also be translated as “benefactor” or “protector,” which the NIV translation above uses. She was in a role similar to Lydia, the wealthy female dye merchant of Thyatira we meet in Acts, then.  Given her freedom to move about society, I think she was also Roman, or at least part of a very Roman-ized social class, as many contemporary cultures, particularly Greek and Jewish, were a little more restrictive for women.

The Roman Empire was not a bad place for a woman of means.  Rich Roman women could often keep their finances, particularly their inheritance, out of their husband’s hands.  A Roman woman who had borne a certain number of children could also legally request that her finances be her own affair (in payment for producing so many little Roman citizens).  Aside from politics, Roman women were visible and active participants in society: attending functions with their husbands, hosting mixed company in their own homes, donating to social, theological, and civic groups. As we’ve seen in the example of Lydia, they could even run their own business ventures.

A woman with a ready heart

The picture we develop of Phoebe is this: a wealthy, independent woman with a bright, creative mind (I doubt Paul would have entrusted her with this important letter otherwise) who is not afraid of adventure (traveling to Rome was no small undertaking).  Most importantly, she is a shining example of an open heart.  I don’t know what may have troubled Phoebe in her lifetime – because we all have troubles.  But overall, it sounds like she was doing just fine before finding Jesus.  She had enough money. She lived in a lovely little town.  She probably had friends and family – community – before joining the early church.  Honestly, she could have picked anything to attach herself or put effort (and money) into.  But Jesus’ message of love and reconciliation with the one true God was the one that caught her attention, the one she wanted to help bring to the world.

Perhaps she saw the plight of women with less means than her, and saw Jesus as a way to uplift them.  Or, perhaps it was the other way around, and Jesus opened her eyes to the plight of her sisters.  It’s just a suggestion, but speaking more broadly, I think concern for others led her to a love for Jesus, or, through the love she developed for Jesus a concern for others developed, also. Either way, caring and love went (and continue to go) hand in hand.  Phoebe, in short, is a woman who used what privilege she had – status and money to be sure, but also time and intellect – in service to  this fledgling movement of Jesus-followers.  Remember what I said last post, about how it’s the responsibility of the strong to bring justice and love to the weak?  Phoebe did that when she became a benefactress, helper, servant, or whatever other translation you want to use.

Listen, if being a churchy-church person isn’t for you, that’s fine. I think donating money to a worthwhile church and volunteering for church-based events that you believe in is great, but we can see Phoebe’s service to the young church as an example of service in the broader sense of the word.  I think God sees and approves of any work being done to fight inequality and hate, whether it is led by a church group or not.  The important thing is that Phoebe had an open heart, was willing to listen to this strange new message of Jesus dying and being resurrected, and hear God at work in it.  She let that message of love and reconciliation guide her to service and to action.  God bless Pheobe, and may she be an example to the rest of us.

If you are enjoying what you read please follow the blog for more!  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  And don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter, too!

Romans 15 – The Responsibility of the Strong

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” (Read the rest of the chapter, here!)

Major takeaways from Romans

This is the second-to-last chapter in Romans, with the last one being mostly greetings and salutations.  It seems fitting to try and tie it all together, so I went back and read Romans again as well as what I had written about in previous chapters.  I write slow, so I’ve been at Romans for a month and a half, which means a lot happened between then and now.  And I made some truly eye-opening discoveries along the way.  Perhaps most paradigm shifting, for me, was discovering the difference in translation between “Faith of Jesus Christ” instead of “Faith in Jesus Christ,” which opens the door to universal reconciliation as well as putting a whole new, joyous meaning on Jesus’ death and resurrection.  (You can read about it in my post on Romans 03,  You Are Holy.)

But as a mother and a farmer,  I am forced into practicality above all else, and my instinct is to leave Romans with actionable points for myself and for you, dear reader.  As such, I would say my biggest actionable takeaway from Romans is this: it is the responsibility of the strong to enact justice and peace for the weak.  Paul talks about this mostly in terms of Jewish and Gentile groups, because that was the major distinguishing factor of this new Jesus-following movement he was fostering at the time.  But it can apply today to so many dichotomies of power: white and black, male and female, corporate and ecological even.

What positions of power do you hold?  You may be surprised.  You can use these positions to amplify your message.  (Not sure what positions of power you hold? This post is a great reminder of ways you are influential in both personal and public life.)  And what message, exactly, should we be amplifying? Inclusion, stewardship, and of course, love.  This will take many forms, but all of them require at least a modicum of effort.

#wetsuwetenstrong

It can start small.  In fact, I urge you to start small.  My specific challenge for you today is to donate $1 (or more if you can!) to the Wet’suwet’en.  The Wet’suwet’en are an indigenous peoples standing up to the Canadian goverment and mining/pipeline corporations that want to invade their unceded land.  They have managed to seriously disrupt trade in Canada (NOT because they are anarchists, but in a desperate effort to protect their home), yet it is getting very little media attention outside of Canada.  Twitter or Instagram, honestly, is the best place to get some information upon it.  The hashtags #wetsuwetenstrong or #shutcanadadown will get you on the right track.  I support them because they are doing important ecological work, and it’s also high time that governments stop bulldozing the wishes of the people over the wishes of big business.

The time for waiting is over.

Next week is the start of Lent with Ash Wednesday.  It is a time of self-reflection, restraint, and waiting.  But too many people have been forced to wait for too long.  Forced to wait for recognition, for justice, for basic human needs and quality of life.  We have no more time to wait on climate change.  And make no mistake, the evils in the world (whatever you perceive them to be) will not wait for us to catch up or catch our breath.  As this change in the season-both liturgical and seasonal-happens around us, I urge you to be active.  Look around you with open eyes at what needs to be changed, and what your role (however small) could be in implementing that change.  Over the next month or two, I’ll be reading about community activism and organizing, and sharing what I learn with you.  I hope that we can all learn something, but we don’t need to wait until then to start doing something now.  It is our responsibility. Let’s get out there.

If you are enjoying what you read please follow the blog for more!  Click the folder icon in the upper left corner of the menu, and you can follow via WordPress or email.  And don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter, too!