August 4, 2016

Yesterday, Today, and Forever

A few years ago, 'A Knight's Tale' re-introduced the world to Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the great English writers of his day - in the 1400s. He invented words such as 'femininity' and 'womanhood' in his works such as 'The Canterbury Tales.' By the time he invented such words, the concept of 'manhood' had been in existence for only two hundred years. Women tended to live as either unmarried maidens, wives, or widows. Between 1200 and 1400, the Black Death swept through Europe - wiping out either one third or two thirds of its population. It happened in several waves - taking out a few hundred million people. That's a lot of men and women, fathers and mothers, workers and home-makers who were killed; creating two problems - lots of job vacancies and incomplete families. So women entered the workforce, primarily as textile workers and farmers. It took until the 1700s for the population to return to pre-plague levels. At any rate, for the first time we had a word for the collective experience of women.

So the word/concept of "womanhood" and "femininity" dates back to the 1400s. At that point in history, only Rome had been a democracy and it wasn't an egalitarian one. For the span of known history for almost the entire world, one word could describe the nature of the relationship between men and women: patriarchy. Exceptions were few and far in-between, and generally remembered as myths - such as that of the Amazons. Women were a second-class citizen, who didn't have nearly as many or the same rights as men; and most rights they did have were to a lesser degree than men. Most laws were written with men in mind; "If a man ..." "he may ..." Women could expect some legal protection if they went through their husbands and their husbands were so inclined. One book I read explained it like this: "Women were fenced in, or bordered. Men were the fences / borders that kept the women safe." Women who were single and without the protection of their fathers were like cities without walls - vulnerable and easy targets. As such, they were frequently exploited - usually by men.

Now Biblical Womanhood is a big teaching; but the Bible dates back to 1300 B.C. to 100 A.D. - it was written in a patriarchy that didn't have a concept of womanhood other than that women are to be wives and mothers. We can see from the stories of Leah and Rachel that the number of children women had affected their status. We can see from the stories of Rebekah and Jezebel that they had to manipulate people in order to achieve their goals. We can see from the stories of Sarah that she had little choice but to obey her husband even when it put her life at risk. We can see from the stories of Hagar, Bilhah, and Zilhah that being a second-class woman, a slave woman, meant that you were even more-so disadvantaged. By the time of the New Testament, women were only slightly better off - Lydia had her own business empire and household. But when Sapphira obeyed Ananias and followed his lead, they both were killed by the Holy Spirit. So it was a no-win situation for her. But it also limits God to specific time-frame, as if it were the Golden Age that we've slowly spiraled away from. If only we could return to the second-class status of women and the institution of slavery in a biblical, God-honoring way, then we will have been like the Ninehvites and repented from the error of our democratic, egalitarian ways.

But what if 'womanhood' isn't the same yesterday, today, and forever? What if it was meant to change and be shaped by various cultures over hundreds of years - what if 'womanhood' tomorrow could include all sorts of things that just wasn't possible yesterday? What if 'womanhood' is more than being a wife and a mother? That would be something, wouldn't it? In the last few decades, women have won rights that Biblical women could only have dreamed of - the protection of the law and not having to go through their fathers/husbands, ability to work outside of the home in a safe environment, becoming more equal with men every day. But there are still some places where change has been slow in coming; Christian circles are a strong-hold for some of them.

"Patriarchy is Biblical ..." They teach. And so is genocide and slavery. "God is sovereign, he has his reasons for ordering men in positions of authority and women to submit to them." God is a perfect creator, if he made some flaw in women that they can't preach or teach men without causing deception or being deceived then that mean's the problem's not in the product but in the manufacturer. Does this really mean that "as it was in the Bible ... so it is to be until the end of time"? No one - would want to live in that sort of world. For one, 2/3 of the world population was enslaved to another. There were different degrees of rights and protection and status for different classes of people. Old, wealthy, men, who were full citizens and were patrons would have as much power as was possible to make decisions and get things done. Young, poor, women who were partial citizens and clients had pretty much no say at all in anything. Humans have never existed in a pattern of authority/submission and not abused their power over others. People still do this day - it's only our rights that holds them accountable. Such rights didn't exist in the Bible.

In 1 Corinthians 6 - Paul says that: "... you yourselves cheat and do wrong, even against your own brothers!" Twice in Thessalonians, Paul warns the believers not to wrong one another or take revenge (which he says he had previously warned them about.) In Ephesians 4, he tells them that those who steal must stop stealing. In Titus 2 Paul instructs slaves not to steal from their masters. In order to have things as they were in the Bible, not only must we destroy the rights and freedoms generations of our ancestors fought and died in wars to gain; making them null and void - their deaths for nothing. But hey, being biblical is more important, right?

July 8, 2016

Our Old Hat Society

So I'm just listening to a sermon about Head Coverings where the pastor pointed out up until the 1960s, women regularly wore hats to church. He mentioned that we get the tradition of asking men to remove their hats when they're indoors from the head covering passage. There's just one problem - the evidence for that isn't particularly plentiful.

Imagine you're a time-traveler who has just arrived at this very day, this very hour, this very minute only in the 1950s. You're literally out of place - someone who stands out - just because of what you're wearing and what you're not wearing. Imagine that all the men are dressed like Frank Sinatra - suits, ties, hats. And the women are dressed like Jackie Kennedy - dresses, gloves, and hats. Everybody wears more formal clothes. And since it's a crowded street and you bump into a young couple and knock them over. The young man's hat goes flying, but the young woman's hat is secured to her head thanks to her hatpin - so it stays fashionably in place. Is she going to say: "Thank God that my symbol of submission to my husband's authority over me didn't fall off my head! It would have been disgraceful!"? What about the man? Would he say: "I can't believe that you knocked my symbol of submission to Christ's authority over me off of my head, I know it's disgraceful to be covering my head, but how it be shameful to show that Christ is the authority over me?" Don't worry, they didn't see hats that way back then and the fact that we think that's what they mean now just shows us how easily it is to misappropriate a confusing passage.

I think the flaw is reading the idea that ever since the year 55 a.d. people have been wearing hats per the instruction of the head covering passage. There are plenty of reason to wears hats and religion isn't necessarily always the first or most important one. After all, religions the world over have rules about hats and other things, it's what they do. Hats were functional back in the day. It helped to keep it's wearers warm in cooler weather, which was good because they didn't have Air Conditioning and Heating systems like we do today. They also protected their wearer's hair from pollution, dust, and other debris that could accumulate throughout the day in a dirty city. Hats were also something of a status symbol, a rich man had a rich man's hat, a poor man had a poor man's hat. Hats were also fashionable. Sometimes fashions go the way of the cone-shaped hat, but some tend to stick around for longer.

I remember asking my grandmother what she remembered from her youth about wearing hats, everybody used to, she told me. It was just the fashion of the time. But fashions change. When the fashion of wearing hats went out, not even the religious crowd would be seen wearing their hats. So the religious reason that we teach - the symbol of the authority of one person over another - was meaningless and/or long forgotten by then. So it seems the religious reason has  been rediscovered - but I can't help but wonder if we're reading the authority of one person over another into the passage as it were. How is it that we can plainly see that hats are a symbol of submission to authority when the last generation to wear them obviously didn't and let the tradition die in the first place?

June 13, 2016

Interpreting 1 Corinthians 11's First Half

When I first learned about Christian Headcovering - I had a few simple questions:
Who does it apply to?
What are they asked to do?
Why are they asked to do it?
When are they asked to do it?
Where are they asked to do it?
And;
How are they asked to do it?

So I thought I'd do a little homework and answer those questions:

Who ...

Depending on your Bible translation, it either applies to men and women, husbands and wives, men and their wives, women and their husbands or men in general or women in general. (1 Corinthians 11:3, 10, 14-15) It can be expanded so that it applies to single daughters and widows as well, if your theological framework permits it. It's also worth nothing that the 'who' the letter is written to are the men and women of the Corinthian church in Roman-controlled Greece in roughly 55 A.D.

What ...

There are a few possible 'whats' that the verse is asking for - first and foremost, that women wear a head covering and that men refrain from wearing a head covering. Secondly, that women wear long hairstyles and that men wear short hairstyles.

Why ...

The man is the image and glory of God, whereas the woman is the glory of man. (Vs. 7)
While Paul fails to mention that women are also the image of God, the distinction here is in what it means to be the 'glory' of God and the 'glory' of man. The phrase 'glory of God' appears in the translation I'm using fourteen times whereas "glory of man" appears just once. There's not a lot of context clues about what Paul means here by glory. I always thought how strange it must be that God's glory can be threatened or overshadowed by man's glory and her long flowing tresses that it was ordered that women ought to cover their heads. Is the purpose to just cover the top of their heads? Then wouldn't the rest of their hair still be showing? Or is the point to hide all of her long hair? Maybe the rest of the verses will shed some light on this.
For man did not come from woman, but woman from man;  neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. (Vs. 8-9)
Technically, Paul's right. In Genesis 2, the first woman came from the first man, the first woman was created for the first man. But that's not what happened in Genesis 1 - where both man and woman were created at the same time, it doesn't state that woman came from man or that woman was made from man - in fact, it states that both man and woman were made in the image of God. If we're going to read this and say: "Well, all men are like Adam and all women are like Eve, then all men are supposed to be farmers and all women are supposed to be helpers, all women are easily deceived and all men choose to be disobedient." That's gender stereotyping - in any other book, we'd think about any number of men and women we know who don't fit the bill and realize that the stereotype is wrong. When it comes to the Bible, we think of how many men and women we know who don't fit the qualifications and decide that man or that woman is wrong for being so unbiblical.
It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. (Vs 10)
Depending on your Bible translation, this verse might look really different, it might include the words "sign of" or "symbol of", it might mention that the authority is that of the woman's husband over his wife or the authority is her own, the word 'authority' might be 'power', it's a verse that might use 'wife' instead of 'woman' or even 'messenger' instead of 'angel'. Some even come outright and say that women should wear veils.
Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.  For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. (Vs 11-12)
To me, the logic doesn't follow. (1.) God made man first, God made woman from man. God made woman for the man. (2) The man is the glory of God, the woman is the glory of man. (3) That's why a woman ought to cover her head as a sign of the authority that the man has over her. (4) But men and women aren't independent, all men are born of women, and everything comes from God. It just sounds as if odd for Paul to build on two thoughts, only to contradict it or weaken it somehow. If (3) is interpreted as 'That's why a woman ought to wear a crown as a symbol of her own authority' then (4) would make more sense, reminding them that even though women have their own authority, they aren't independent from men any more than men are from women, seeing as how all men now come from / are born from women - but everything ultimately comes from God - men and women, image and glory. The thing is - the whole section doesn't make that much sense. If I were to ask "Why must I wear a mortarboard?" I could easily be reminded: "It's the traditional hat worn by students at their graduation ceremony." If I were to ask "Why must I wear a hard hat?" It's easy to note: "It's to protect your head from injury at a construction site as well as the law." But when it comes to wearing a head covering - these verses don't really say as much: "Why must I wear a head covering?" God made man first, and then woman." "God made woman from man." "God made woman to help man." "Man is the glory of God, woman is the glory of man." "It's a sign or symbol of authority, because of the angels." "but women and men aren't independent." "Everything comes from God." The thing is - while a sign or symbol is the closest to an answer - it's also the strangest. Christianity isn't a religion of symbolism. Particularly my branch of Christianity. We don't celebrate Lent, we don't do anything for Pentecost, we limit candles to the Advent Wreath, don't have images or other artwork. It seems odd to latch onto this one symbol when we've done away with pretty much all other ones. Of course, the words 'sign or symbol' aren't in the original Greek - the closest translation is "that's why the woman ought to have power on her head, because of the angels". Which seems to be an odd way to say that women must wear head coverings in submission to their husbands having authority over them. The emphasis is that women wear a head covering, there is not as much discussion on reasons why men ought not wear head coverings. The thing is - the Bible is androcentric. It's norm is to use masculine language and to speak to men and of men. There's not a lot of places where it speaks to women - and when it does, it's more along the lines of "I also want the women ..." "Likewise, teach the older women" Women are indirectly addressed the few times they are referred to. So what's the point in this passage - are men being addressed, or women?

That leads us to one of the other 'whats' - hair lengths.
 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. ... Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. (Vs 5-6, 14-15)
Disgrace, dishonor, glory - that's honor/shame language. Hair lengths are almost always cultural. The Romans, for example, viewed long hair as uncivilized, as the barbarians that raided them usually had long hair. Native Americans viewed long hair as honorable. For us, we don't really have a cultural attitude about how honorable or shameful certain lengths of hair is on men and on women. We have a number of short hairstyles for women that are fairly popular from pixie haircuts on younger women to short perms on older women. Long hair on men isn't all that odd either. Hair is just hair, nobody has the right to decide how anyone else must wear their hair or to change it on anyone else. The question here is more along this line: Does a 55 A.D. description of hair lengths define a universal standard?

When ...

There really isn't a specific 'when' given - however, most people read it into the context of 'when gathering together to worship at church or at church-like events' because some of the passages in the preceding and following chapters refer to being gathered together. Some point out that scripture says that we should pray without ceasing, so women should always wear head coverings and men should never wear hats.

Where ...

Same, really, church / church-like events - anywhere a congregation gathers where praying and/or prophesy takes place. More specifically, events that 'borrow' from the order of worship just as churches do. And those in the pray without ceasing camp say 'everywhere' is the best answer. So if a famous Christian musician starts off his concert with a prayer, takes up a love offering to be donated to charity, delivers a short message, and prays some more - that's reason enough to require women to wear head coverings on their long hair and forbid men from wearing hats on their short hair.

How ...

At least with communion, there's a 'how' and prayer, too - a 'how' it ought to be done. With this passage, you have to decide which what has what how - in terms of hair lengths, it's not easy to see that the 'how' is to see to it that men get short hair cuts regularly and women are to be permitted a only long hairstyles. In terms of wearing a headcovering, a veil, a hat, an item of some kind - there's really no specific type given. The best  guess comes from the idea that Paul uses the verb to command that women are to wear a head covering, by leaving the noun - a cover - up to the person to choose - anything is acceptable as long as it covers one's head (except hair). Some would rightly point out that towards the end, the passage says that a woman's hair (noun) is given to her for a covering (verb).


The thing is - it's open to interpretation. Whatever you already believe, you can interpret these verses to support your ideas about what they say. Whether you're for or against making women wear something, whether you're for or against certain hairstyles, whether you're for or against male headship and female submission - you can't go wrong. But that's the peril of these verses as well, not everyone will agree with you on what they mean or how to interpret them or how to apply them. Did Paul write them as a temporary solution to a Corinthian problem? Did Paul intend them as a trans-cultural, eternal commandment? Do they still apply the same way in 55 A.D. Corinth and 2016 America? What do we do with the honor/shame concept? What is an honorable hair length look like? How do we treat people with a shameful hair length? In a way - realling taking a close look just shows you how far out of context they can be taken. It's almost ridiculous - as if asking: "Does the Bible say that blue is a honorable color for a man's hair?" I don't think we're really meant to live as if the Bible is the play-book that tells us what to do and the rule-book that tells us what not to do. I don't think that God's threatened by a woman's hair, and that the rules that were necessary two millenia ago apply to us even now.

I know - church practice is usually one of the arguments - but that's hard one to make given that the rest of the New Testament doesn't discuss them. We don't have a lot of information about the head coverings used in ancient Israel, Turkey, Greece, and Italy. We know even less about why Paul wanted them in the first place. Sure enough, the tradition was carried on through the ages - helped by the rule being turned into a matter of law every now and then. It also didn't hurt that most societies generally wore hats anyway - after all, they didn't have access to the haircare products that sets us apart from them. Time changes, cultures change, attitudes change, and beliefs change. We're not a culture that's scandalized by a woman who walks around in public with her hair showing and uncovered. Why we feel the need to pretend to be one that does mystifies me. How that glorifies God just puzzles me.

My interpretation is that Paul understood that some believers were required to wear a covering and some believers were under no such obligation, he wrote this passage in a way to satisfy both - giving those who covered a better reason than the one they had known, but also allowing room to interpret a woman's hair as her covering and satisfy the requirements without being required to take on the cultural obligation of their sister's pre-existing traditions. For us, that means that if a woman feels she is required to wear a head covering, that's her choice, but women who do not feel that she is required to wear a head covering - that's what her hair is there for - as a covering in it's own right. It's optional. It only made it into the Bible because the question was how to satisfy Roman requirements about proper worship as Christians and not necessarily because it's some big secret to real, true god-honoring worship. When these verses are taken out of the historical and cultural context in which they were written, they're really easy to interpret however; but when anchored to it's time and place, there's far less reason to see as applicable to here and now - today even.

So I think I finally understand why there never really was an article about who, what, why, when, where, and how 1 Corinthians 11's first half really applies to - it's just far easier to leave it open to interpretation and declare yours to be the one, true interpretation than it is to recognize that nobody has a monopoly on sending a message from Scripture - that other interpretations are valid, because if other interpretations are valid, then yours loses it's power and you lose your power over others. 

April 25, 2016

Melting Pots

I remember my social studies teacher explaining to me that a good metaphor for our society was that of a melting pot, where different substances are melted and mixed together to form a new substance with elements of the original substances, but not substantially different across the board... with commonalities everywhere. Likewise, ancient Rome was something of a melting pot, with a highway system connecting cultures from one side of the empire to another, cultures could interact with one another, travel freely and trade as well.

But there will always be some cultures that resist losing what makes them unique. For us, groups like the Amish, Mennonites, and others live a distinct sort of life even in the midst of the rest of us. In ancient Rome, odds were Jewish people were the ones who just wouldn't integrate with the rest of society. I think we can see this in 1 Corinthians 11.

Corinth is a multi-cultural port city, ruled by the Romans, located on the Greek peninsula, and with a sizeable Jewish population - it was a recipe for culture shock and a clash of the cultures if there ever was one. Even then, not all Jews were on the same page. Some were more moderate, while others were more like the Pharisees who believed in the teachings of the Talmud.

Inevitably, conflict broke out in the church because some Jews believed that the teachings of the Talmud were just as valid as those of Jesus and the Apostles, and they wanted them to be taught and applied to everyone. After all, they didn't stop being Jews just because they were Christians. The Greek and Roman members of the church didn't believe that the teachings of the Talmud applied to them. After all, it was written for the Jews, by the Jews, about the Jews. They were gentiles who were usually excluded from it's mandates just because they weren't Jews.

Take Paul's comment here: "Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head."
According to the Talmud, not only were women to be silent, but it was a disgrace for a woman to walk in public without her head being covered. But for Greek and Roman women, it was not disgraceful for them to walk in public without some sort of head covering. What if Paul was really saying this:

"If your culture demands that you wear a head covering, then do so - as it's the honorable thing to do. If your culture does not demand that you wear a head covering, then it's optional as it's not shameful if you don't. Don't force what you're culture says is right onto another person from another culture, after all, a woman's own hair is her natural head covering."

Much of the church's early history was the story of how they cut ties with their Jewish roots and became distinctly Christian. Oddly enough, when the church allied itself with the power of the state, sins became crimes and head-coverings a matter of law. Even in medieval times, laws still existed saying that poor women couldn't wear as fine or elaborate or expensive head coverings or veils as the wealthy women could. Some laws said that no woman ought to be permitted into the marketplace or church without a head covering. This was because this rule was viewed as a prescription  - right up there with doing communion and baptism.
It's difficult to say when and where the practice of head covering ceased - culturally, hats were already on the way out by the 1960s. At least the Catholic church does give us a reference for the practice and why and
when it fell out of favor:

    1. It is desirable that, consistent with ancient discipline, women be separated from men in church.
    2. Men, in a church or outside a church, while they are assisting at sacred rites, shall be bare-headed, unless the approved mores of the people or peculiar circumstances of things determine otherwise; women, however, shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord. - Canon 1262, Code of Canon Law 1917
 

In 1982, the Canon failed to mention head coverings one way or the other. In the updated version of the rules, it specifically stated that any rule that was not mentioned was repealed. For most of the rest of the Christian faith, head coverings had ceased to be a thing at least a few decades earlier. Canon means that it was a law - a church law, but something that ought to be obeyed all the same. It wasn't a custom or a tradition that was freely accepted and practiced by those who were drawn to it. But a requirement for everyone. Which is why it was not uncommon for little girls to have Kleenex tissues secured to their hair with bobby pins as a makeshift head covering should they have forgotten to bring one of their own. 

Predominately African American churches also held onto the practice, favoring hats over scarves, chapel veils, mantillas - they also served as a sort of status symbol - which is helpful for us because in Ancient Rome, it wasn't uncommon for wealthy women to display their fabulous wealth in that they wore elaborate outfits, braided hair, sometimes with gold woven into it. You'll recognize this as the description of what women ought not to wear, but nowhere in those sections that tells women what not to wear does it say that they must also wear a head covering. Paul and Peter failed to mention head coverings one way or another. Even now though, the younger generations in predominately African American churches don't really wear head coverings as their grandmothers tend to. It has become more of a custom among the elders and not a thing for young women.

In this way - we can see two cultures, they used to demand head covering, but they changed and head coverings became optional, and shortly thereafter almost non-existent. Those who continue to practice it, choose to freely. That speaks volumes to me. I'd much rather see a church where a few here and there choose to freely practice head covering, foot washing, what have you, rather than a church that has made it into law and requires it of everyone.

Predominately Caucasian churches let the tradition die some time ago, but there are some trying to revive it - to spark a return to it. To me it seems to be a reversal: a culture that doesn't practice something being instructed to do something. Cultures, fashions, tastes, styles - they all change. That's the nature of being a melting-pot society, with each new addition, there undergoes a change. I think the same is true of Church. We usually don't try to pinpoint the our Golden Era of Christianity - and pause on it as if it were the ideal to which we should try to return to at all costs. We would recognize that we're not that church and we cannot live up to the standard set back then. But we can usher in new Golden Eras, where we let some traditions melt away and others change as we ourselves change. Just as we can't be the church of 20 years ago, 200 years ago, and 2000 years ago - we have to give this living body permission to keep changing, or else it will cease to grow and become stagnant.

I don't think Paul wanted the whole church to give into the tradition of one culture as if the contribution of the other cultures, their own styles and rules didn't matter, so he would tell us the same thing today - if your culture demand something, do it, but don't force it upon other cultures in your midst. If your own morality demands something of you, obey it, but don't force others or require it of others to obey your morals in order to gain your approval or friendship. Ultimately, you have the power to decide what you will wear or what you won't wear on your own head and nobody else can decide that for you.

April 23, 2016

What does 1 Cor 11:10 really say?

It certainly is extremely easy to lose something in the translation. For those of us with more than one language to contend with, we usually have to ask: "Which is best, a literal translation that is faithful to the words even if it means being unfaithful to the meaning, or a figurative translation that is faithful to the meaning even if it means being unfaithful to the words?" Perhaps it would help if we had the original words for 1 Corinthians 11:10: "διὰ τοῦτο ὀφείλει ἡ γυνὴ ἐξουσίαν ἔχειν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους." (Here's a sampling of the English: "It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels." - NIV, "That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels." - ESV, "That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels." - RSV) And here's the same words, transliterated and with it's most common English translation:

dia - through, on account of, because of (1 - same word)
touto - this; he, she it
opheilei - is owing / ought
- to, the (2 - same word)
gynē - woman/wife
exousia - power/authority
echō - have
epi - on, upon
tnc - to, the (2 - same word)
kephalē - head
dia - through, on account of, because of (1 - same word)
tous - to, the (2 - same word)
aggelos - messenger / angel

So a rough translation might be: "because of this the woman/wife ought to have power/authority on the/her head because of the angels/messengers"  

(2 is a definite article, English would use "the" the same way at all times, Spanish and Portuguese borrow from Greek in that "the" changes depending on it's use: "la or a" (feminine, singular), "el or o" (masculine, singular), "las or as" (feminine, plural), and "los or os" (masculine, plural). The definite article retains the same meaning, even though it is used in the form of different words. Likewise, "the" here displays three different forms, hé - t_ Nom Sg f, tnc - t_ Gen Sg f, and tous - t_ Acc Pl m. Let's do a little decoding t_ = definite article, Nom = nominative case, Gen = genitive case, Acc = Accusative case, Sg = singular, Pl = plural, f = feminine, and m = masculine. So for those of you who are unfamilliar with non-English grammar, it's not a trick that "to, the" would have three different words that mean the same thing.)

So the other day I decided to see what other languages translated that verse into in their own languages - to see how they compare:

Portuguese: Assim uma mulher deveria usar a cabeça coberta como sinal de que reconhece a autoridade do marido, um facto que todos os anjos constatam. - Thus a woman should wear a head covering as sign that she recognizes the authority of her husband, a fact that all the angels verify.

Spanish: Por esta razón y debido a que los ángeles observan, la mujer debería cubrirse la cabeza para mostrar que está bajo autoridad. - For this reason and due to the angels observing, the woman should cover her head to show that she is under authority.

Italian: Per questa ragione e per riguardo agli angeli, la donna deve portare il capo coperto, come simbolo della sua sottomissione all’uomo. - For this reason and out of respect for the angels, the woman ought to have her head covered, as a symbol of her submission to man.

Latin (Vulgate): ideo debet mulier potestatem habere supra caput propter angelos - For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels

Spanish: Por eso, la mujer debe ejercer control sobre su cabeza, para respeto a los ángeles. - Therefore, the woman must exercise control over her head, out of respect for Los Angeles.

It's interesting to see how some translators opted to take some of it as an idiom, others as euphemism, some decided to explain the meaning of it. They didn't all arrive at the exact same interpretation. They had to choose. The thing is - problems often arise as a result. Take a word like exousia (power/authority). It was pretty much never used to refer to the object (the thing that is acted upon) but always belonging to the subject (the thing in the sentence doing the action). So in the fragment: "the woman ought to have power" or "the woman ought to have authority" the power/authority in question belongs to the woman, not to some unnamed party who has authority over her - that would make her the object of an unspoken subject. Power/Authority is just not used that way. Remember the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13? He identifies himself as being under authority with the power to give orders to those below him, soldiers and servants alike. He is the subject who possesses authority, the doer of the action, the object is the receiver of the action, the soldiers and servants obey. None of the soldiers and servants would say that: "for this reason, we recognize the authority over us the centurion has, because of the pantheon of gods." Grammatically speaking, that's just now how the word 'authority' was used, ever. So that must mean that the authority can only belong to the woman, and to no one else.

One notable feature about some Bibles is that they don't hide the fact that words were added to the text to make it make more sense - such words were italicized. In the New King James Version - this can be seen plainly: ""For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels." Not all bible have such a feature, added words look like ones that were in there all along like in the New Life Version: "For this reason a woman should have a covering on her head. This shows she respects man. This is for the angels to see also."

I think the answer to the question that is the title of this post is: "Whatever you want it to." It doesn't matter what it really says because it can be twisted to allow for any number of interpretations and applications.

April 17, 2016

A Silenced Reply

In one of my games, there as a punishment called "silencing" basically, all the chat features would be disabled so that there was no possible way to communicate in-game. Sometimes bloggers can block their foes, effectively silencing them.

And while we we say that we can't make an argument based on silence - all too often, it speaks volumes. In the ancient world, being silenced or shut up was one and the same as losing honor. Always having an answer, a response and always winning the last word was honorable. Not having an answer, or a response or the last word was shameful. Jesus' followers wrote the Bible in such way where he never lost a debate. That's high praise.

Anyway, today my e-mail told me that somebody had written a response to a comment I made months and months ago. Sadly, months ago, I was blocked, silenced really, and I couldn't post a reply if I wanted to. Well, not on the site itself. So I thought I'd look back on the conversation and say whatever I want right here, right now. So here I go:

I said: (something irrelevant/unimportant) ... I will tell you that aside from kephale there is a word in these verses that says that the person referred to has authority; it was used by the centurion speaking to Jesus, when he said "for I am a person under authority, when I say come here, a person comes. When I say do this, a person does it." It's the word exousia and it always refers to the subject of the sentence, not the object. It's used in the verse 'for a woman ought to have authority on her head, because of the angels'. I just find it odd that the same word being used to describe being under authority shows in one instance a centurion who while being 'under authority' actually wields authority and gives out commands. Yet when this woman is 'under authority' she has no power to wield authority is and is forbidden from giving out commands. If Paul wanted to say in no uncertain terms that man was 'the leader of' the woman, Christ was 'the leader of' man, and God was 'the leader of' Christ, then archon would have been the word to use - but he used kephale. I'm not sure that the argument that leader or authority is meant in the head verses is a strong one given the word choice. (New Thought: The verse in question can't really mean that women have to wear a veil / head covering / token of the authority of the woman's husband over her, but people keep on saying that because it's what they believe it to say and they've put so much weight on it that they don't realize that it can't support their arguments. What the verse literally says is that: "For this reason, the woman ought to have power on her head because of the angels." Because the woman is the subject of the sentence - the doer of the action, she has authority. Even looking at the grammar of it, it's not possible that it's suggested in the passive that somebody else has authority over her. That would make her the object - the receiver of the action and authority is a word that just isn't used that way.)

Person A replied: Jamie Carter, it seems you would advise Paul to use the much more clear word "archon" for leader rather than the word "kephale" for head if he wants to talk about hierarchal authority here. That got me meditating on the question - why would Paul prefer the word head/kephale, both here and in Ephesians 5?
I think it is because there is something beautiful in the imagery of a head and a body. They are synergistic. They work together. My hand does not rebel against my head. My head does all it can to protect and nurture my body. They are one. What hurts one affects the other. This beautiful equality and unity is how Christ relates to the Father (John 17) while yet submitting himself to the Father. When I consider it this way, there is no fear in submitting to my husband as head. Perfect love casts out fear.
What a glorious reason to use the word kephale!

I said: We have to remember that when Paul was writing the household codes, precious few families married because of love which is why the Bible so often instructs men to love their wives and women to respect their husbands. Most marriages were arranged and were little more than a business arrangement between families meant to strengthen the bonds of community and their own positions within it. He begins Ephesians 5 talking about mutual submission in verse 21, then he specifies three types of relationships: husband/wives, parents/children, and masters/slaves. I don't think that he meant to nullify verse 21, it applies over all relationships - including friendships, and other ones that weren't specified. A husband was generally the head of the household in an economic sense, he could do business in ways that his wife could not, he was a provider in keeping with the culture in which he lived - a patriarchy. So in that sense, he was the source (kephale) from which all others were nourished; wife, children, and slaves. But that doesn't mean that it works in a modern contest where our household are often five people, not eighty. There are instances in the Bible where Sapphira submitted to Ananias and she was killed for it, and Abigail did not submit to Nabal's that David be sent away unaided and she was rewarded for it.
One major problem I have with these teachings is that single people, such as myself are often side-lined. The emphasis on 'marriage, marriage, marriage!' hasn't caught up to the statistical reality that there is not a ratio of 50:50 single men to single women in Christianity and there will never be one, ever. The head covering movement affirms that all women (married or not) must wear head coverings, but only some women (wives) must submit to certain men (their husbands) (and single daughters to their fathers) (and widows to church elders) in order to fulfill these verses. They forget that ultimately the source (kephale) of men and women, single and married, is Jesus who is God. Some of the teachings technically border on the heresy of the Eternal Subordination of the Son which Athanasius fought so hard for when Trinitarian doctrine was formed at the Council of Nicaea. (New Thought: When we think about 'authority' in terms of a body part, the 'head' wouldn't have been the ancient equivalent of authority - ones heart was. "head" gets about 50 New Testament mentions, "heart" gets closer to 150 mentions. Your head and your hand aren't two separate being with two separate wills, your head isn't male and your hand isn't female, one subject to the other because it lacks what the other has. Though  I did read a recent article about a woman whose "head" told her to rinse the dishes more thoroughly and her actual arm resisted her actual head and her actual heart obeying what she was ordered to do, but she finally worked up the will to make her own arm move and having obeyed her "head" she felt happy. One of my games actually uses the labels "hand" "mind" "eye" for the agents of it's tyrannical boss aptly referred to as "THE Head", the "hands" always had a choice, obey the boss completely and exactly, basically obey but be opportunistic and demand payment for your services, be disobedient, or work as a spy, weakening the boss' power so that he will fall and either you or your allies can replace him guess which one is the most boring option? Guess which one has the best storyline. Colossians also uses a head/body metaphor for Christ and his church in the sense of a source of life, those who are not connected to the head ceases to grow, however Christ has no direct authoritative role - God is the one causes growth. If one were to use this metaphor seriously - then most of the other teachings would be rendered invalid. It's worth it's own blog entry, but I'll try to remember to save it for another time.)

Person B replied: Sapphira died (there its no evidence that anything but her own fear killed her)because she lied. She submitted even though she must have known that lying was going against God, and that is a case example of when it is not right to submit. How is a household to run efficiently if both the man and woman both have authority over each other. When in the woman to rule? When the man? How does this interpretation jive with the idea that God said women's desire will be for her husband, and that he will rule over her. Lastly, if a physical covering here were not being referred to, why did women cover their heads?

If I weren't blocked, I would have said: I can't tell you how many times I've heard complementarians tell me that women who submit to their husbands, even when he says "I need you to go along with me on this tax evasion scheme ..." will be spiritually protected because of their obedience even if their heads do have criminal inclinations. They take that verse: "Women should submit in everything" very seriously, in the process they basically tell women to never tell their husbands "no."
Depends on the household - men and women talk together like adults, bringing up the pros and cons of the matter and decide whats in the best interest of the family. There's no need for a man to have the final say or the tie-breaking decision because he's male, usually they're so reasonable they just agree, even if the idea was something the woman suggested in the first place.
Genesis was describing the consequences of the fall, not commanding how men and women are to relate to one another.
Women covered their heads because the Pharisees told them to. (Made it a divorce-able offense not to.) That was just in Judaism, Greek and Roman cultures didn't have any cultural laws that required them to do so. Archaeologists have found wigs that date back far old than that time, and most of the time wealthy women wore elaborate braided hairstyles that showed off their wealth. Not everything old has to have a religious reason.
(I hope this comment is accepted, I've been blocked from this site for months.)

But I am blocked - silenced - and unable to comment on that site ever again. Sure, I could start a brand new E-mail address, new Discus account and start all over again - but I suspect it wouldn't be long before they get around to blocking their devil's advocate all over again. I just hope they don't interpret my silence as not having an answer, because I do. I just can't tell them what it is. But at least I get a few ideas for a blog while I"m at it.

April 9, 2016

Must Christians be Consistent?

"Forgive me, Major, I don't mean to be difficult, but your faith seems to have led you to something of a contradiction."
"I don't see it as a contradiction."
"I don't understand."
"That's the thing about faith. If you don't have it, you can't understand it. And if you do, no explanation is necessary."
- Odo and Kira, Star Trek: DS9, "Accession"

"Consistent" can mean "(1) unchanging in achievement or effect over a period of time, (2) compatible or in agreement with something, or (3) not containing any logical contradictions."

A long time ago, Christians would greet each other with a kiss. It was a common greeting in their culture, and it was often written in the letters of the gospel that believers should greet one another with a kiss. If we were ask whether or not Christians must be consistent (1) with greeting people with a kiss, we might wonder if we should not exchange kisses for hand shakes or waving (1), we might ask if greeting with a kiss is compatible or in agreement with our own culture (2), or we might wonder if it contains any logical contradictions (3). For many of us, we see it consistent (2) to to use our own cultural version of a greeting in it's place rather than that specific form of greeting. It might not be consistent (1) with the specific command of Scripture, but it is consistent (2) with the sentiment expressed in Scripture to greet one another warmly. There will always be some who believe that consistency (1) means just that, nothing ought to change or be changed over a period of time. For that reason, they do greet one another with a kiss. Now we have two groups of people each being consistent (1, 2) with their own beliefs, that they greet others with a kiss or their cultural equivalent, which brings up the question as to whether or not that's consistent (3). How are we to resolve this conundrum? Wouldn't they have to be in agreement in order to be consistent (3)?

In view of the tendency for Christians to divide themselves up on every matter and every question and every teaching and every doctrine, so much so that tens of thousands have denominations have formed, the reality of the situation is that Christians are consistently  inconsistent. For every "yes" there's a "no" and for every "must" there's an "optional". What constitutes one's person's inconsistency, is another person's consistency. Particularly with subjective areas of belief. The real problems arise when one person declares that his "must" is a non-negotiable, particularly when others view it as optional. He might even try to declare that everyone else is inconsistent. But are they really being inconsistent? If you ask them, they'd probably tell you that they're the picture of consistency, in as much as they understand what they believe to be true.

In an episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine titled Accession - Odo points out that there's something of a contradiction in that Kira used to believe Sisko was spiritual leader and now she views Akorem is her spiritual leader, to that she answers: "I don't see it as a contradiction." I think a lot of people don't see it as a contradiction to greet one another with a handshake or to wave because it is consistent with the principle to greet one another warmly. To them, being inconsistent might be doing the opposite - spitting on or smacking people in their face would be inconsistent with the principle to greet one another warmly.

Likewise, wearing head coverings has the action, which is popularly considered to be cultural and the principle which continues to be taught in our churches today. For most, consistency is not in wearing an outward symbol that is consistent with the culture of the Bible but inconsistent with our own culture, but rather being consistent with the principle that they symbol represents. As they are fulfilling it in one form or another, they perceive themselves to be consistent with that which it teaches, either the outward action or the principle therein. They see no need to be consistent in both outward action and the principle, though there are some that do feel that way and indeed do obey both.

Again, the episode of Accession is a helpful one, they too had a similar conundrum. Suddenly, a spiritual leader from centuries ago appears and teaches that all of them should return to their ancient traditions, in particular, a name-based caste system that ranked them in status and assigned them to specific jobs based on their family names. It would be as if everyone named "Baker" would have to quit whatever job they do and go start baking, if everyone named "Fisher" would have to quit whatever job they do and go start fishing, not only that, but if "Banker" arrived at a crowded restaurant, "Cleaner" would be expected to vacate her table as she hadn't the status to sit and eat in "Banker's" presence. This created no end of trouble because the current president was "Farmer" and an unclean "Mortician" wasn't keen on quitting being a Priest." People who had known nothing but doing whatever they felt suited them best weren't thrilled with the idea of returning to their ancestor's work or the rank and status system that would prevent them from taking advantage of many opportunities. Ultimately, the spiritual leaders consulted the prophets for their ruling on the matter - they considered that time is linear and that those in the present cannot return to the past. The ruling was reversed - the caste system was re-abolished and everyone returned to doing what they loved best. Unfortunately for us - our conundrum is this one: "Ought the Bible be obeyed in exacting standards, as literally as possible, or ought the Bible be obeyed in principle even if it looks like disobeying the literal commandments?" We don't have prophets we can turn to who would say "Leave the past in the past." We do have lots of spiritual leaders, some who would say "be consistent with the Sacred Text, obey it literally" and we have some who would say "be consistent with the Sacred Texts, obey it's principles".

I think whichever group anyone ends up in, they are being consistent in as much as they believe the text applies to them. For those who feel that women must grow their hair long an wear head coverings, they feel that they are being literally consistent in the same way, for those who feel that they outward symbols don't matter as long as the principle that it represents is being obeyed are also being consistent. There's no inconsistency involved when two people with different convictions are true to what they believe to be true. That's what Christianity has done for thousands of years. Inconsistently consistent, consistently inconsistent - that's Christianity. Some of it is a natural result over a long period of time. Something that somebody believes to be true on the first day is not necessarily going to be exactly the same as what somebody believes to be true of the last day, as information and knowledge and beliefs and teachings changes hands, it also changes. Like a cosmic version of the telephone game. The Bible stands as an unchanging monument to the beliefs of a particular culture at a particular point in history, but even that culture doesn't believe today as they did back then, and that culture isn't this one. I don't see it as a contradiction for a person to decide to be consistent with their own culture, to be consistent with their own beliefs about what it is to be consistent, or to be consistent with what their heart and mind tells them to be true. It's not the end of Christianity to have different ideas about what is true. Christianity has survived two millennia of differing opinions and it's not going to up and die because somebody declares everyone else is being inconsistent, particularly when everyone else is being consistent with their own principles about what the Bible means to them.


 To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. - Saint Thomas Aquinas