What’s the deal with towers and why is this a sweet nothing? We see the advantage of a tower throughout the Old Testament canon. As Carol Meyers explains, “Whether as an isolated structure in the field (Isa 5:2; Mic 4:9; Gen 35:21) or as the stronghold of a city (Judg 9:46–49; Neh 3:1; 12:39), a tower represents strength and protection.” Meyers notes how we don’t ever read about an actual tower of David, the military commander extraordinaire, so this is more of an abstraction.  It would be the tower of towers. In this verse, this sweet nothing whispered to the bride before lovemaking on her wedding night associates her neck with top-notch military language: tower, David, a thousand shields, warriors.
This isn’t a book review. Reviewing someone’s memoir doesn’t seem quite right. They just shared their life with you. It’s a brave act. I think it has been Beth Moore’s superpower in her ministry. She is beloved because of how she gives herself to others. And she is a great storyteller. This time, Beth (it seems more appropriate to use her first name given the nature of her communication) tells some of the secrets of her knotted-up life.
In reflecting on the conversation she had with her husband, Keith, about what to share of his own story intermingled with hers, she says,
Vulnerability, in and of itself, is sacred because it mirrors, if even in a glass darkly, the image of Christ.
That’s a powerful word. And sharing our stories with the secrets we are still trying to dig out of our own guts is incredibly vulnerable and powerful. I think about how this act images Christ in a way that teaches us to be human.
Frederick Buechner, in his memoir, says, “I am my secrets. And you are your secrets. Our secrets are human secrets, and our trusting each other enough to share them with each other has much to do with the secret of what it is to be human.”
They are often knotted up inside of us and we need the help of others to untangle them, gaze, hold, and make sense of them. Do they define us? Why are they there? All the while, we are trying to answer the questions, Am I known, am I loved, am I okay?
Sometimes Christians have a hard time talking about our grief. We think we need to be happy all the time. Like our witness to Christ depends on it. Seeing the news from the Southern Baptist Convention yesterday, even though it’s no surprise, still made me sad. And mad. It’s just one snap shot of the condition of the church. And I think we need to grieve that. Maybe right now that is what we need to do as a church. Lament to God. I have been journaling to God some since the new year and this is a short meditation on the personal grief I’ve been carrying in my experiences with church the last few years. And practicing gratitude for it. Grief does something for us and we can embrace that.
I am going to try and practice gratefulness for grief. It’s been over three years of carrying a grief. Much joy and newness has been given in it. Because there was much death. Today, I am grateful for that agony that refused to let me stay numb. The agony that woke me up to then die to faux blessings in my life. To false belonging. To success. And to even being the one to give my kids the “right” path to the faith.
I heard someone say this the other day, attributing it to Dan Allender and Tremper Longman. It really stuck to me. We like to think in terms of discipline when we consider the cost of growth, and that is certainly part of it. We can feel good about the cost of discipline as we understand its investment. But what if we have to go backwards some to go forward? What if part of the cost of growth is unlearning?
I’m learning to be grateful for unlearning. What misery it would be if we had to retain what we learn as certainty for our lifetimes! Unlearning is a part of learning. And this gives us freedom and humility, then, to explore who you are, Lord, and your world with your people.
Isn’t repentance also a form of unlearning? Dallas Willard paraphrases Jesus’ words in Matthew 4:17 like this: “‘Rethink your life in light of the fact that the kingdom of heaven is now open to all.’” Because repentance is just that. It is a rethinking, seeing what’s real, turning towards it, shedding the counterfeit, and walking through the door. There’s an unlearning involved.
What a love/hate relationship we have with time! The memories that haunt us, that we cannot get back. The things we wish we could change, the words we wish we said or hadn’t said. The opportunities that we missed out of fear and numbness. The ignorance in us.
But also those moments we wish we could live in again, store them up in a bottle and put it on the fireplace mantle. If only we could pop the cork and enter back into the laughter, the gaze, the touch, the playfulness of a moment. Or if I could just have a day, 24 hours, when my kids were little with chocolate on their faces and mischief in their eyes. Or smell their little baby heads and feel the dimples in their knuckles.
And there’s the moments of trauma we wish we could erase. But they return and intrude, unwelcomed, into our present, saying this is who you are.
Moses’ Wife, the Queen of Sheba, and the Black Bride
Let’s trace the black and beautiful bride through Scripture and behold her beauty, starting with that strange story in Numbers 12. There are all kinds of interpretations on this. Origen’s is most compelling to me, as he ties it into his homily on the Song of Songs 1:5:
‘I am dark and beautiful, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Cedar, as the curtains of Solomon.’
In his book Reading While Black, Esau McCaulley opens his chapter on the Bible and black identity with this verse from the Song, as he goes on to demonstrate how black identity in Scripture, along with multiple ethnicities, show forth God’s promise to Abraham and his original purposes of cultural diversity as a manifestation of his glory. He surveys black identity in Scripture as fulfillment of this promise, tracing through Ephraim & Manasseh (Gen. 48:3-5), the multiethnic group who left Egypt during the exodus (Exod. 12:38), and the conversion of Africans such as Simon of Cyrene and his family (Matt. 27:32), and the Ethiopian eunuch ((Acts 8:26-40). And he concludes,
“When the black Christian enters the community of faith, she is not entering a strange land. She is finding her way home.”
That reminded me of Origen’s homily. He comments on the daughters of Jerusalem bringing this charge to the Bride, calling her black, an outsider, “one who has not been enlightened by the patriarch’s teaching.” He speaks for her:
“Because of my dark colouring you may compare me to the tents of Cedar and the curtains of Solomon; but even Cedar was descended from Ismael, being born his second son, and Ismael was not without a share in the divine blessing. You liken me even to the curtains of Solomon, which are none other than the curtains of the tabernacle of God—indeed I am surprised, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you should want to reproach me with the blackness of my hue. Have you not come to forget what is written in your Law, as to what Mary [Mariam] suffered who spoke against Moses because he had taken a black Ethiopian to wife? How is it that you do not recognize the true fulfillment of that type in me? I am that Ethiopian.“
In expositing Numbers 12, Origen points out the interpretive difficulty of Miriam and Aaron’s complaint. The text says that they spoke against Moses over the Cushite woman he married, but what they said was “Does the Lord speak only through Moses? Does he not speak also through us?” (Num. 12:2). What does this have to do with Moses’ Cushite wife? Origen thinks it has to do with what their positions represented typologically.
The past couple of years directed my thinking and longings to what kind of friend I want to be. Or maybe it’s more like what kind of person I want to be. They are hand-in-hand concepts. This is what I am thinking about going into the new year. There is such beauty and power in friendship. I want to be the kind of friend who helps see what’s real in both the beauty and agony of life, the kind of friend who shows up, who stays in the room, who sits and walks with, who loves enough to help imagine together the joy that is growing in the act of opening the door.
Opening the door to what? What does that mean? It means sitting with what’s real—both the joy and the agony of that realness mingle together there—listening, looking, and seeing what we so often miss. The invitation of beauty. The path of goodness that reveals truth. Practicing eternity. Seeing Christ in one another. It’s where faith walks. I want to be the kind of friend whose faith is genuine enough to believe on behalf of those I love. And I want to love more.
That’s a thing, you know. Like I said, friendship is powerful stuff.
Christmas is a good time to talk about why we don’t call God, “Mother.” We know that God is a Spirit, not male or female. And yet we use Father/Son language, “him” language. Even though we see some maternal language associated with God, we privilege the paternal language. Sadly, and even dangerously, many in the church have used this language to privilege males over females, developing with it destructive views of masculinity and femininity.
All language that we use about God is anagogical. In Women and the Gender of God, Dr. Amy Peeler has a chapter “God Is Not Masculine,” where she discusses the destructive views of a so-called masculine God and why we call God Father and not Mother. She makes the case that it is the incarnation that gives us the explanation. She says that we always have to start with Jesus to talk about God rightly. And the Christmas story gives us the answer:
Jesus has a mother.
God, like a father does, stood distinct from creation and did not carry it within the divine being.
That which God did not do to creation, however, God allowed creation to do to him. God was carried in the womb. God was birthed, and God suckled at the breast.
This Christmas has me reflecting on Levitical purity laws. I’ve never heard a sermon on Leviticus 12 or Leviticus 15. Maybe you have. There is a lot to work through there. Just looking at chapter 12, we have the uncomfortableness of the language, the meaning behind the number of days a woman who gave birth is “unclean,” why it’s so different if she has a son or a daughter, and this matter of women being kept from the sanctuary or even touching holy things for so long. A pastor would certainly have to address the question of gender disparity here. This can’t be random; it has to have meaning. And it does. It tells a story.
In The Sexual Reformation, I touch on this, building on Richard Whitekettle’s development of a womb/wellspring homology, showing that a woman’s body, in its structure and function, corresponds to the order of Levitical sacred space. Our bodies speak, and what a story they tell! And this is why we see all those weird purity laws associated with a woman’s menstruation and postpartum discharge in Leviticus (12; 15:19–33)—her womb represents fullness of life, the inner sanctum of the divine realm. When it overflows as unbounded water, it is uninhabitable for life and a threat to sanctum, rendering her ceremonially impure for the set times (a pattern of familiar numbers) of seven or forty days.
In this homology, we see another literary pattern from Scripture of “creation–uncreation–re-creation” where unbounded water is confined, both with creation in Genesis 1 and the flood account in the second half of Genesis 7 and beginning of Genesis 8. I love how all these stories come together and the pictures God uses to delight and surprise us! You can read more about that in The Sexual Reformation. For this post, I want to follow it to Dr. Amy Peeler’s latest book, Women and the Gender of God. Let’s get back to Christmas, and more specifically, the incarnation, as it tells us something about the woman’s body, sanctuary, and access to holy things.
In her chapter on “Holiness and the Female Body,” Peeler highlights the fact that even Mary, the mother of God, is not exempt from obedience to the Levitical purity laws, as we see in Luke 2:22-24. We see that Mary observes this law, refraining from sacred space for the appointed number of days after the birth of Jesus.
Chris Davis wrote a moving and humble piece for Christianity Today, A Southern Baptist Pastor’s Plea: Please Listen. It’s a reflection after the whole Johnny Hunt debacle. You know, the latest “Christian” catastrophe where the once president of the largest American Protestant denomination is proclaimed ‘restored to the ministry’ by four rando ministers, six months after he was credibly accused of disgusting sexual assault. Davis laments the condition of the Southern Baptist Convention, complementarianism , and even his own failures in listening to women, not valuing their voices, and side-arming them from any contribution outside of the domestic sphere. He sees this video presentation of “pastors” explaining this restoration to church leadership not as a one off to critique, or even as an example of what’s wrong with those “out there,” but as a mirror. He sees himself and the ministerial decisions he’s made in their explanation, himpathy, and defense of this man:
“It is a mirror that shows us what happens when our convictions about complementarity rot into misogyny.”
That is a loaded sentence.
It’s a brave post and plea. Complementarians don’t even listen to women, much less seek them for any positions of leadership. It is basic misogyny. Rot. Male superiority. And it harmonizes with racism. Of course it does, the common denominator is becoming quite an embarrassing elephant of disillusionment.
But here’s the problem. Davis’s plea is vulnerable and sincere. I don’t want to question that. Yet there’s still something he doesn’t see. He is still disillusioned in his very plea. Complementarians just can’t listen. It’s taken me many years and a lot of personal cost to accept this. They can’t. Because they foreground the (white) male voice. This is their posture. Ostensibly, they are there to listen. Appointed listeners. More importantly, appointed men with the “right” information we need to live the Christian life. We clamor for an ear, trying to ascend to the worthiness to be heard. To be a part. But it is all backwards. Why are we the ones needing to develop the grip strength to ascend, throwing off what weighs us down, dying deaths of reputation, security, social ties, dignity, and psychological safety to try and be justified by The Great Oz? Don’t you see what’s off here?