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.

Maybe
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?

Maybe
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.

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