Les Mis at Easter

This past Saturday, in the throes of preparing for Easter Sunday, the girls and I met up with some school friends for front row seats of Les Miserables, put on by the Pinewood Performing Arts program. 1525194_713789328632871_1784591407_nIt was a phenomenal production and if you live in the Bay Area and are looking for a great evening, I encourage you to get tickets. This is one talented and passionate group of students!

I have been a Les Mis lover since my senior year at Monta Vista High School, when Mr. Keep played the debut recording of the London musical during our AP Humanities class while we read along to Victor Hugo’s unabridged masterpiece. The written story is mind-blowing, a brilliant study of the nuances of law and grace and the gray spaces between our self-serving definitions of right and wrong. The musical adds a breathtaking and layered interpretation, and despite knowing every word of the entire performance, I still get chills up my spine whenever I hear its iconic opening measures. A few summers ago I sat in my living room with tears quite literally pouring out of my eyes as Alfie Boe sang Bring Him Home in honor of the 25th anniversary of the production. In fact, just wait a minute … I’m going to YouTube right now to watch it and then there’s this one, where all four of the Valjean’s sing the song together and Alfie makes what might be the most stirring key change in the history of key changes. Chills, I tell you. Chills.

Saturday evening, squeezed along with a few dozen other people into the tiny Pinewood theatre, as this familiar and beloved story unfolded for me once again on stage, God arrived.

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The cast of Les Miserables, Pinewood School, 4/19/2014

I know I just lost some of you, and that’s OK.

But you see, if you recall from my post last week, Easter came out of nowhere for me this year. I ran headlong into Good Friday with barely a thought about the crucifixion. The weeks leading up to this most sacred of liturgical events had, for me, been thoroughly secular and I was struggling to carve out time and space for intentional reflection. I felt like a failure — as a parent who couldn’t seem to incorporate meaningful spiritual discipline into my daughter’s lives, and as a follower of Jesus, who couldn’t seem to carve out even the most rudimentary time and emotional space for journeying from cross to grave with the One I call Lord, Savior and Friend.

Then two young men step in and out of the light — one Valjean and the other Javert. One sings of grace, the other of Law. One sings of mercy, the other duty. Their voices flow seamlessly from solo to duet to antiphony, at times harmonious and then discordant. I listen to each word, knowing full well the end of the story. I know the last words on Valjean’s lips will be a humble prayer to God for salvation. I know Javert will take his final breath in searing, confused pain as he throws himself from a great height into a watery grave.

This movement from law to grace, this is what captivates me in the theatre that night. How hard it is, especially for those of us who have a religious heritage. We want the rules to matter. We want to be righteous in our own eyes. “Those who follow the paths of the righteous shall have their reward,” Javert sings, and we believe it deep in our bones. We want life to work this way, because we, like Javert, are sure God is on our side, and in that deluded state we heap judgment upon ourselves because we heap it upon others. God have mercy on us all.

Awash in the music, God lifted my head to see myself there in that antiphony. The entire guilt trip I had been living under for the weeks leading to this sacred Easter weekend, every moment of condemnation I felt, every self-chastisement to do more and do better was law. I was Javert, clinging to my bedrock beliefs about what God wanted from me and why.

The thing is, there are only two ways out of a life saturated in law — grace or death. Javert chooses death, because choosing grace would require him to willingly dismantle his entire understanding of God and the way the world worked. I know people, Jesus followers and Jesus haters both, who would rather die than hold in their own two hands the idea that they are wrong and always have been wrong — about God, about themselves, about what matters, about what it means to follow Jesus.

This journey from law to grace — it is perhaps the hardest one any of us take. To learn to open our hands to receive. To discover we have nothing to offer God, not because we are worthless sinners but because there is simply nothing we can put in our hands that matters more to God than our very human selves– not our talents or gifts, not our effort or grit, not our theology or our highfalutin convictions, not our money or time or intentions. Nothing.

You know what was wrong with me this Easter? I kept thinking I had to do the right religious things in order to receive from God. Intellectually, I know better, but deep in my core still the law lurks. “Do more. Be better. Work harder. Figure it out.”

To get through to me, God used what was readily available — in this instance, a 19th century story about the French Revolution, re-imagined for 20th century musical theater and then further revised for high school students, to remind me to live in the grace by which I have been saved.

As grace abounds, the law recedes, and faith takes flight.

It was a blessed Easter after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a Jesus Feminist Looks Like

If you haven’t read Sarah Bessey, you are in for a treat. You can find her at http://sarahbessey.com/.biopicjan2014.jpg

I’m unabashedly re-blogging her blog post today because it is spectacular. It made tears run down my cheeks and made me sit taller in my chair to see these women of Haiti who preach and cook, who serve and lead, who carry the weight of a nation on their heads. I love the fire in their eyes and the smiles — oh, the smiles! So unashamed and unposed.

Enjoy!

http://sarahbessey.com/women-haiti-make-stand-straight/

 

From the Rabbi: “Going to Heaven on a Preposition!”

For all you Bible lovers out there, here’s a taste from the rabbi of what deep exegesis of the Hebrew Psalms yields.  I am so appreciative of pastors and teachers like Brian and Bruce and many others who labor to present as neutrally as possible the original Hebrew of the Bible so the rest of us can engage with far fewer layers of cultural interpretation and inference.  Here’s Brian:

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Dr. Bruce Waltke, my mentor for almost four decades, sends me his unpublished translations and exegesis of psalms, one by one, for which I then create Power Point slides and reformat his exegesis to make it more accessible for his students. IMG_4343_2I have felt so privileged to slowly digest the inspired poetry of the Hebrew poets under the clarity and beauty of Waltke’s magnifying lens. When giving a definition of a Hebrew word, Bruce has a way of summarizing fifty years of scholarship into a concise sentence. There is no scholar I know who matches his clarity, precision, faithfulness to the text, and remains faithful to Davidic authorship and the historical superscripts. But Bruce’s greatest gift to the church is his humility that is born out of his supreme love and devotion to Christ.

Last summer I found myself deeply moved by the way he handled a difficult phrase, a mere preposition, that stumped most translators in Psalm 7:10.

The first line consists of just two nouns and one preposition. מגני על אלהים

Literally: my shield / upon / God

magenni       ‘al        elohim

The second line is more straightforward:   מושיע ישרי לב  

who saves/ the upright of/ heart

moshia             yishrey             lev

Translators have difficulty knowing what to do with the preposition ‘al (עַל) in the first line:

NASB & ESV: My shield is with God
TNIV: My shield is God Most High
JPS: I look to God to shield me
NRSV: God is my shield

Bruce is the only scholar who seems able to penetrate the Gordian knot and unravels the difficulty. He translates it:

God takes it upon himself to be my shield,

the one who saves the upright of heart.

He explains,

“The preposition (עַל)‘al “upon” requires an appropriate verb of motion, such as “take.” The preposition marks a burden or duty that the subject feels with pathos as “upon” him. Some English versions emend the text to ‘ali (“O most high God”), but the final yodh is missing, unlike ‘ali in verse 8. The circumlocution God takes it upon himself to be (על אלהים, literally “is upon God”) aims to unravel a terse use of the preposition עַל (“upon”), which has no one word equivalent in English. “With,” found in many English versions, misses the thought. עַל ‘al here signifies that God feels the burden to be David’s shield.

My shield (מגני magenni) is a round, light shield, made of wood or wicker and covered with thick leather rubbed with oil (cf. Isa 21:5) to preserve it and to make it glisten. It is carried by the light infantry to ward off the enemy’s sword, spear or arrows; it is frequently employed to describe God’s presence in warding off a foe’s attack (Ps 18:2, 30, 35).[1]

I was reading these lines three summers ago, when Emily and I spent a week on the coast north of San Francisco in a home perched on a hilltop with stunning panoramas of the ocean. But needless to say, what I gleaned from a mere preposition was just as breathtaking as the vistas that assaulted our senses each morning.

“God takes it upon himself to be my shield,

the one who saves the upright in heart.”

With this new lens I began to think back on my life and considered all the times I have been protected from evil’s lures, attacks, or consequences solely because God took the initiative to be my shield. God chose to protect me long before I knew I would be in danger, and even at times when I chose to go my own way headlong into temptation, he set up roadblocks and barriers. And even if I chose to ignore the signs, and fell prey to the ugly consequences of sin and death, he became a “hiding place for me,” and the “rush of great waters (of judgment)” (Ps 32:6) did not reach me.

In appreciation for Bruce’s labors in the text, I wrote him – “Bruce, I went to heaven on a mere preposition!” He wrote back, “I did too.” Think of that. A mere preposition can transport us to heaven under the wings of God’s protective care. May his word bless you, as it did me.

“God takes it upon himself to be (write your name) shield,

the one who saves the upright of heart.”

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, James M. Houston and Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Lament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, forthcoming).

World Vision Waffles While the Church Throws a Giant Hissyfit

First came the news that World Vision U.S. was changing its policy and would from here on out allow for the hiring of legally married, gay Christians.

Progressive Christians applauded World Vision’s stance, fist-pumping that this is what Jesus would do too and “take that you Conservative bigots who hate gay people,” while Conservative Christians denounced the decision as an unbiblical, cowardly kowtowing to popular culture and called for World Vision sponsors to prove their commitment to Jesus by withholding food, shelter and education from the poor to advance a political agenda.

Then came the news that World Vision U.S. had reversed it stance, issued an apology for causing global consternation, and would return to it’s previous policy of abstinence for all unmarried Christians, which by definition includes gay Christians because they believe gay marriage is a biblical oxymoron.

Conservative Christians took over the fist-pumping, with “well duh’s” being sung stridently to the choir and “thank God I can keep feeding my World Vision child with a clean conscience” while Progressive Christians threw around a lot of WTFs  and demonized the Christian Establishment as a money-grubbing patriarchy that hates gays more than it loves poor children.

It’s been an awesome couple of days in Christendom, don’t you think?

The irony of course is that the stated reason for World Vision’s inclusion of married gay Christians in their employment ranks was to model Christian unity.

I was awake a lot last night — you know that fatigue that sets in when you are so freakishly tired you can’t even sleep? That’s me these days.

I pondered a lot of mundane things during the dark hours of last night: I need a new title for my book. Does the concussion band my daughter wears in soccer games really protect her noggin, and why oh why does an 8 year old have homework?

But mostly I thought about Jesus and World Vision and I kept picturing this scene in my head where we are all there, standing around in a big dusty circle pointing fingers at each other and loudly making our arguments, all shaky on the inside because the adrenaline is pumping while the camera crews film our Atticus Finch-like epic takedown of the opposition and because this matters and then … then He squats down and draws in the dust.

What is he drawing? We don’t know.  We didn’t know then and we don’t know now. What we do know is that everyone walked away that day from that dusty circle needing to repent. 

The self-righteous needed to repent, and for them Jesus modeled humility and grace.

The sinners needed to repent, and to them Jesus offered forgiveness and healing-in-community.

The religious needed to repent, and to them Jesus offered unfettered freedom to be a blessing to the nations.

In other words, Jesus surprised everyone. He took people where they were and to each He gave an essential vision of His Father’s Kingdom — and that small, incomplete glimpse changed the self-righteous into humble servants, the sinners into bold evangelists, the religious into risk-takers.

How did we come to the place this week where we hurl insults at each other right over the head of our Lord and Savior while he squats in the dust to show us a different way?

I’m guilty too. I have started and then edited and then erased more comments on more blogs on this World Vision fiasco than I care to admit. I have spoken in self-righteous anger. I have felt myself justified by the Bible. I have fist-pumped and shaken with adrenaline and what I most need to repent of is this notion that anything about how I think and behave reflects the face of the One I love most in the world.

Yes, ideas matter. Yes, theology matters. Yes, there is room for a hearty discussion about World Vision’s policies and decisions — even hand waving and hand wringing and disagreements and “OMG you can’t possibly believe that!” with (gasp) even raised voices and red faces. Yes, there is room for all of that. We must learn to trust each other and hold discursive and emotional space for each other along this journey toward shalom.

The question then is, how do we function in the midst of our disagreements, as profound and essential as they are, and live up to our calling as the arms and legs and feet and face of Jesus in this cultural moment? Big question, and I don’t have the answer, but I think part of it is this:

knowing we will be misunderstood, knowing we will be betrayed, knowing the tension will not be resolved, knowing what comes next will hurt, knowing that something far bigger is at stake than our theological framework, we pick up the basin and the towel and we kneel before our brother and even before our betrayer and we wash their feet.

 

 

 

 

The Core of the Issue

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the Christian version of a think tank for all the ways in which female subordination can be argued from the Bible and applied to 21st century living, recently posted an article positing that God’s sovereign will for women is eternal submission to men.

The post garnered a bit of attention from the blogsphere, particularly because it smacked of Mormon theology. The article was thus hastily removed from the CBMW Website, although you can still find it online and you can read an example of the critique here.

What strikes me is that the CBMW article gets right to the central question for the discussion of gender roles in the home and church : the eschaton.

For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to the future integrating of Heaven and Earth that God promises to complete, a work that began with the Incarnation of Jesus and that will eventually bring Shalom to the entire created order.

Think of it this way: Genesis and the eschaton form bookends of the epic story of God and God’s people. If you think Genesis establishes female submission as God’s perfect choice for the created order, you will of necessity conclude that this model must continue to be God’s perfect choice for the created order in the eternal future, and so it ought to be modeled in the here and now as a way of illustrating God’s perfect creation.

If on the other hand, you believe that Genesis establishes a partnership of equals between males and females, you will conclude that the fundamental relationship between men and women was broken by sin early on, establishing a hierarchy with men at the top and women subordinate, and that part of God’s eschatological shalom will be returning men and women to equal standing, side by side as it were, partners in God’s world. If you take that one step further to the idea that as Christians, our job in the here-and-now is to bring Heaven to Earth, to be an outpost for God’s shalom now while we wait for the not-yet Kingdom, then you understand why equality for women on a global scale is so important to those of us who call ourselves “egalitarian.”

It is not only about women’s rights. It is about God’s shalom covering the whole earth.

 

Fred Phelps and Forgivenes

The day after Fred Phelps, controversial leader of the hateful Westboro Baptist Church, passed away last week, a dear and wise friend of mine posted this on his Facebook timeline:

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

I respectfully disagree.

In my opinion, this smacks more of Nietzsche’s “will to power” than the Gospel of Jesus.

I am not a Bible scholar, and I could be wrong, but the year I spent immersed in the Psalms taught me just the opposite:

Willpower doesn’t mean much in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus isn’t looking for our best effort.

We are not meant to rend emotion from intellect — we are meant to embody both.

Forgiveness is a journey that starts with honest lament and eventually yields an eschatological faith that God is a God of justice and mercy both.

God will set right all that is wrong.

In the meantime, we live with the tension of an already-and-not-yet Kingdom and we are tasked with using our gifts in community to bring the sweet scent of heaven to earth, to be Jesus here.

In the case of Fred Phelps then, pronouncing “we forgive you” misses the point. Instead, we Christians ought to be the first to sit with anyone who was wounded by the likes of Fred Phelps and bear witness to their lament, holding the space so they can take whatever time they need to journey authentically toward healing.

In Which I Talk About Spiritual Abuse

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Two years ago I went looking for a way to make sense of my experience growing up in an evangelical church that had some great teaching and absolutely wonderful people, but that also had some weird aspects of fundamentalism woven through it.

I realized, in the process, that I had experienced spiritual abuse — a mild form for sure but nonetheless seismic for how my relationship with God subsequently unfolded. The counterweight was my family of origin — I have two of the best parents ever in the history of parents, and they together with my older brother have kept me grounded in ways that even now leave me breathless. They are the manifest grace of God to me.

My efforts to understand my formative church years led me to a number of online communities where spiritual abuse survivors, among others, process their experiences in a safe, supportive place. I won’t list them all, but my favorite sites where I spent the most searching hours were:

I implore you, if you head to these and other sites out of personal need or the desire to educate yourself, unplug your keyboard. Go first to listen. The discussions can be very difficult and jarring. Sometimes the language is rough and angry, vulgar and insulting. Sometimes it is so wry and clever you’ll laugh so hard you’ll cry. Sometimes there is so much pain and vulnerability that it becomes holy ground and you simply must remove your shoes.

Prepare to be offended. I guarantee you will be at some point along the way. You’ll be OK. We can all survive being offended, and unless you are a spiritual abuse survivor somewhere in the journey of healing, you are a guest in their house and ought to behave as one — respectfully, carefully learning your way around, using your manners.

Not everyone there agrees with each other, not everyone there has experienced spiritual abuse, not everyone there had a bad (or good) church experience, but that is partly the point.

These communities are full of people who were taught that what made them unique was wrong, that God wanted conformity of thought and action and belief, that asking doubt-laden questions and answering them for oneself was sinful.

Part of recovering from this sort of experience — a form of abuse for certain — is owning your own voice, and accepting that having and knowing your own mind and heart is not something that arrives whole or on demand, just because you want it to. The self has to be fought for and protected. Mistakes have to be made and feelings sometimes have to be hurt so you can learn that neither preclude a person from deserving love, acceptance, and respect. For some spiritual abuse survivors such as myself, just using the word “deserve” is fraught with tension and dissonance.

Healing from spiritual abuse is hard, scary work. It requires extensive boundary work. It feels like you are falling off a cliff into total blackness. At times you can feel so alone that even God can’t touch your sense of isolation, because God is actually part of your problem. You feel at times like you are going crazy.

Some of us are healing from spiritual abuse by leaving the church altogether. Others are healing by criticizing the church from within, by insisting the rest of us bear witness to their experiences and refusing to let anyone define their stories for them. Some of us are healing by listening, watching others on their journeys, plodding ahead tentatively. Every journey is different.

As I immersed myself in these communities, at times I lost myself. At times I got too involved with other peoples stories and you know what? I’m glad I did. My brain grew, as did my soul. My capacity to empathize grew. The tension I experience in my relationship with God grew, and God is meeting that challenge head on for me. I wept many tears in those years, not only because of my own story and not only because someone else’s story was sad, but because others’ stories became my story too. Just because all these abuses didn’t happen directly to me doesn’t matter — they happened. They happened to people who bear God’s image. They happened in God’s name, with Bibles and Sacraments and Jesus as their justification. This is an unspeakable horror that must, nevertheless, be spoken.

The people I encountered along the way told their stories and in so doing, changed me for the better. Their voices have shaped my own and I am profoundly grateful. I wish them health and wholeness as I wish for myself, and for those who are able to accept an offer of prayer, know that in my own small way I am praying for you as I pray also for me.

I have to admit that not once did I comment in any of these sites. I didn’t comment because I was afraid. I was still coming to terms with my own story and maybe I still am. But equally important, I didn’t comment because I come out of a tradition where the Bible was sometimes used as a weapon and I didn’t trust myself. I needed to listen, to learn the languid cadence of open discussion rather than relentless drumbeat of apologetics.

I’m not great at it yet, but I’m hopeful.

Deconstructing (Christian) Culture

I love me a good deconstruction.

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I was first introduced to deconstruction in college in as part of my rhetoric degree, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Plus, studying Jacques Derrida (the French philosopher credited with most fully framing the idea of deconstruction) was a great excuse as an undergrad to hang out with cute grad students (Houck: how ’bout that postmodern name tag?)

What, pray tell, is deconstruction? Deconstruction (severely reduced for our current purposes), is a philosophical or literary method of critically examining a text (a written document, a piece of art, a social movement, a religious doctrine, an idea, etc.) in order to understand it better, mainly by whacking away at its limitations. Good deconstruction breaks the text down into its formative, usually deeply hidden assumptions; excellent deconstruction creates new space for the text to be rebuilt in a more transparent way so that the assumptions that inform it are visible and therefore something people can engage with a shared vocabulary.

It is high time Christian culture — or better yet, The Christian Worldview — gets thoroughly deconstructed. Christians like me need to acknowledge just how much of our faith is really tradition — which on its own is neither good nor bad — and seeing it as such becomes a starting point for more fully understanding the faith we proclaim.

This can be painful and frightening work, particularly for evangelicals who have been raised on the idea of Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura is an illusion, or, maybe an ideal, rather, that none of us attains. So, while the centrality of Scripture must be maintained as we discuss the Christian cultures that have developed around the Scriptures, we must take great pains not to confuse our particular tradition with sacred writ. Deconstruction helps us avoid this trap.

Professing Christians need to be at the forefront of this effort for two very good reasons:

1.  the secular cultures we interact with are very good at deconstructing Christian culture and in order to participate with integrity in the public square we have to know our stuff, and

2.  growing in faith depends on it. Faith is smothered by dogma; it thrives alongside doubt.

Fortunately, the available topics for immediate deconstruction are legion. Here are just a smattering off the top of my head:

  • christian marriage
  • christian parenting
  • Side A and Side B LGBQ debates
  • biblical interpretation
  • Calvin (yes, that one)
  • eschatology and all things Kirk Cameron
  • gender roles

Rather than wax didactic on deconstruction, let me give you two examples to ponder.

This first instance, illustrated by our friend above in red stilettos, is not about deconstructing Christian culture per se but it shows deconstruction in action. It ran a few months ago on the Huffington Post and, well, click at your own risk, but prepare to laugh in a pained sort of way.

It goes without saying that what makes these photos funny in a grimace-producing way is to see men contorted into traditional “sexy female” poses and clothing. But the work it does is far more subversive. It challenges our assumptions about women, men, sexiness, objectification, and probably motorcycles too, but we shouldn’t go there. It invites us to reconsider all sorts of beliefs simply by putting male bodies into clothing and postures typically assigned to female bodies.

Here is a less risque but equally challenging deconstruction, this one launching a shot directly across the bow of christian culture, from a very honest and smart blogger, Micah Murray. He blogs at http://redemptionpictures.com/

In this case, the topic at hand is the typically Christian belief that feminism is bad for men, and its underlying assumption that feminism is anti-biblical. The deconstruction in this piece is done off-stage, so that Micah gives his readers the result of his deconstruction efforts. He exposes the assumptions that prop up the anti-feminism discourse, attempting to show how ridiculous it really is to describe feminism as bad for men. Importantly, I believe the goal of this piece is not to tell people what to think but rather to challenge them to think beyond what Christian culture tends to dictate.

And by the way, all cultures and subcultures operate with unexamined assumptions that fuels their praxis — this applies to the atheist as well as the believer, so none of us have the right to go all superior on everyone else. In fact, if I could sit Richard Dawkins down for 5 minutes, this is what I’d try to get him to understand: his credibility is lacking because he seemingly can’t deconstruct his own worldview. But I digress.

As long as I’m blogging, we’ll deconstruct stuff here because, well, its fun!  And more importantly, it is useful for growth — spiritual and intellectual.

So, anyone have a favorite topic we ought to deconstruct?

Bathsheba, Purity and Psalms Journeying

Let’s talk about Psalms, shall we? Because really, that’s what motivated me to start this blog in the first place, those amazing poems smack in the middle of the Bible that, let’s face it, bore many of us to tears.

Yes, I really did just say that.

I say more about my presuppositions about the psalms in my book, and weirdly I have to excerpt it with permission because my contract says so. I’m cool with it y’all, just find it odd to get permission to quote myself, but here goes:

When I first started psalms journeying” …

“I expected to be bored. I expected to struggle really hard and then fail to connect with the arcane language and inaccessible imagery of the psalms. I expected the psalms to remain as flat and lifeless as they have been my entire life – great for the occasional worship song in church, wonderful for cherry picking a verse here and there for a feel good moment, but fairly useless as a tool for making sense of my life, let alone drawing me deeper into relationship with God.”

My book is the story of discovering just how wrong I was about the Psalms, of discovering how accessible they are as tools for spiritual formation, for renovating one’s experience of prayer, for self-awareness and for encountering God.

Psalms journeying is ultimately not about reading or studying the psalms, although both reading and studying play a part. Psalms journeying is about the psalms reading you. I know that sounds all esoteric and woooooo mumbo jumbo, and I suppose in some ways it is. The salient point is that in psalms journeying, you aren’t pinning down the text so you can manage it intellectually, but rather you are allowing God through the text to cause something from deep within your inner life to bubble up into the bright light of day. Some of it will be gloriously good.  Some not so good. If you are like me, a lot of it is going to be downright ugly. All of it is legitimate, part of our human condition.

Look, it took me 200 pages to show what Psalms journeying is all about. I’m not going to be able to do it justice in a blog post.

I am, however, going to show you some examples, not from my book, because despite my book being done I continue to journey in the psalms. In my experience, once you start there’s no turning back, no wanting to turn back, because the yield –intimacy with God, self-understanding, unfettered worship — becomes your ether, the ruah of God.

My book covers my experiences in the first book of the Psalter, Psalm 1-41.  I kept going with David’s psalms, so eventually came to Psalm 51, a glorious penitential psalm and probably David’s finest. Psalm 51 has been part of my vernacular for as long as I can remember, and to this day I will often find myself singing Keith Green’s Create In Me A Clean Heart. Can I get an amen here?

But there is a dark side to Psalm 51 too. The story behind David’s masterful confession was always taught as the story of Bathsheba – seductress and vixen — bringing down King David who was led “like an ox to the slaughter.” I learned it was a woman’s fault when men turned her into a sexual object and therefore the most important thing about us women was our sexual purity.

For 12 months I read this psalm every week, sometimes every day, trying to work through my wounds in this area. Then one day, my perspective oddly shifted and instead of looking at David in this psalm, I started looking through his eyes, and the person I kept seeing was Bathsheba. David, for all his other problems, was not calloused; he had a heart after God’s own, and he would not have been hard-hearted toward her (as I think his actions after the death of the baby attest). The more I pondered the story, the more I saw her reflection in Psalm 51. I pictured David after Nathan’s confrontation, as he looked around at the mess he had made, he saw this woman — not a seductress responsible for his appetites but a vulnerable woman who had been bought and sold, from father to husband and then simply stolen by the king. A woman who would bear the price of his sin with the loss of her husband, her reputation, her memory and worst of all, her child. Did he stand in the doorway and watch her weep as she held her dying baby, and did he then feel the weight of his sin more, differently? Did he realize the wreckage he had made of her life? And what could she do but kneel before God and pray for mercy.

Finally, after 12 long months in Psalm 51, I wrote my poem, Bathsheba.

Bathsheba
(Psalm 51)

They say I am beautiful
a possession, a plaything
a bartering chip for men to trade
like coins rattling in a pouch.

They blame me for breasts
a belly and a womb that bleeds
it was all my fault for being on the
roof in the first place.

For the sin of being coveted
and slaughtered like Nathan’s precious ewe
I will watch helplessly for seven days
while my nameless child dies.

Look at me!
your beautiful possession
your plaything
your bartering chip

Look at me!
my “lord,” my “head”
as I bend unnaturally in submission
to your presumed superiority.

Let the bones you have crushed rejoice
as I teach you what brokenness looks like,
how to kneel before God, God only
and thus be made wholly new.

Have mercy on me, O God
according to Your unfailing love,
for I am everywoman
I am Bathsheba.