Saturday, October 03, 2009

Women in the Word: A Workshop (plenary sessions audio)

(PS: my favorite from last year: Jayne Clark, "Bringing the Bible to Life: the Heart of Interpretation")

It was expected to see fewer cars in the lot than last year. I registered and slipped into the plenary session, Dr. Erika Moore's first of three four.

She spoke about the prophets as being successors to Moses (Deut 18:18), guardians of the theocracy, witnesses to God's sovereign rule over history, intercessors (Genesis 20) and covenant prosecutors (Hosea 4:1). She categorized the prophets according to when they wrote, so-called "pre-classical," those who ministered during the early years of the monarchy and who aren't really remembered for what they said as much as for what they did, of which all we know are the stories recorded in Kings and Samuel.

Then the "classical" ones from the 8th and 7th century whose oracles cluster around two great dates, 722 and 586: Hosea, Amos, Isaiah, Micah and Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah and Jeremiah. Then the so-called "exilic" prophets, Ezekiel and Daniel. And the post-exilic prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. She admitted to not knowing where to place Joel but finds herself dating it later than she used to. And she reminded us that Daniel is among the Ketuvim in the Jewish Bible and not considered a prophetic book. She didn't mention Jonah or Obadiah at all. Incidentally, I didn't bring a Jewish Bible with me because I figured the four that I brought was enough.

Next, we broke into our smaller study groups. One person from our group was a no-show and another was a last minute substitution. We briefly introduced ourselves. The woman next to me almost immediately went into an explanation for why she's such a Johnny-come-lately to Bible study: she was married to a Catholic for twenty years. The ad hoc thumb tabs on her Bible were proof positive. And she let us know that the Catholic Church is selective in which scriptures it reads aloud on Sunday morning. That means that Catholics don't read the whole, entire Bible. Somehow I thought that once she got this off her chest, we'd hear no more about it.

Then we got into our work. The best presentation was that one given that first afternoon, on Ruth 1. And without anyone else present scheduled to lecture that day, we goofed off the rest of the time before dinner, talking about the book's setting and possible themes.

At meals, it's always the choice whether to sit with your friends or your group. And I could go either way on that. But I sat with someone from my group and our table filled pretty quickly with her friends. My name-tag displayed my church as well. I had identified as "Roman Catholic" on the registration because they'd call me that anyway. And when I answered a polite question about the size of my church, in declaring it "small" by Jersey standards with 2,000 families, jaws dropped in disbelief like a wave around the table. Their churches had between 50 and 200 families. But they told me, "Welcome." I overlooked how strained it sounded.

The second plenary session began after dinner and wrapped up that first night. Dr. Moore talked about how the exiles considered Jerusalem "inviolate" because of promises in 2 Sam. 7 and Ps. 89:3-4, 35-37, the lesson from history (Is. 37) and the current political situation (secular, extra-biblical documents indicate there was a coup in the Babylonian army around 594, a couple of years before Ezekiel 8ff). And Ezekiel is telling them they aren't going home for a while because God is going to destroy Jerusalem.

She talked about the glory of the LORD leaving the Temple in stages because of the idolatry. And that the glory never returned after the second temple was built because the temple would be the believer's body. Very basic stuff. I wasn't lost at all. But she rattled off a bunch of scriptures to substantiate her remarks without taking the time to read them. But I don't disagree with her, even if I think the glory isn't restricted to the believer's body: God's glory is still found in creation, etc., like before. There are other manifestations of God's glory outside the believer's body.

I arrived early the next morning because my presentation was scheduled for 9am. Somehow, overnight, the group member who had disparaged the selectiveness of the Catholic Sunday lectionary learned I'm Catholic. She asked me to confirm and I did. Then she gave her impression of Catholic preaching as compared with expository preaching. As before, I could only concede the point to her. She concluded with the example of her daughter who left the Catholic Church on the advice of her fiance when the priest's homily failed to follow the trajectory they thought it should, to unequivocally proclaim the Bible the Word of God. "She left and never went back." I supposed there was an intentional lesson in her story, but if I had a nickel for every time ...

Of course I thought my presentation on Ruth 2 went well. I posted what I said in a previous post here, just scroll down. The evaluations were a little soft. Nobody wanted to come down too hard on anyone. That undermines the usefulness of the workshop but we're all trying to be good Christians. After my presentation, I was struck with one of those incredible headaches that I can get but still managed to listen to another woman's lecture on Ruth 3. I was so glad for the chapter that I had. I would not have wanted to teach Ruth 3. The participant chose as her intended audience junior high youth group kids, "churched," she considered them. And my criticism of her presentation - which I didn't actually offer because I can find a reason for her to structure her talk as she did given her audience - was that she completely abandoned the text at hand and took her hearers on a New Testament tour of appropriating Jesus' death for their sins. I don't work with teens so maybe this evangelistic repetition is necessary but heck, she should have signed up for the small group on First Corinthians or something.

We broke for lunch and my headache affected my appetite. But the hotel continental breakfast had been subpar and I wouldn't eat again until I got home so I tried to eat something. By this point, I had a few "regulars" who were willing to eat with me. (I never know how seriously Bible believers take 1 Cor. 5:11.) I asked one of them for a couple of tablets for my headache. Women are great - they're always packin' meds. I guess I'd better realize that these headaches aren't going to go away and start carrying my own supply. Anyway, one of them asked me as politely as possible how I thought I'd apply the techniques I'd seen modeled at the workshop. And I said that I do not see myself ever leading a Bible study, but that maybe as I participate in them, I can offer some things here and there. I took her question at face value, as a recognition that Catholics also study the Bible. But later I began to wonder whether she thought I was wasting my time. I have to put that suspicion out of my mind.

My headache didn't go away and as our final presenter began her poorly prepared lecture, I dashed out to the ladies' room with the hopes of getting right. I retrieved ice-cold bottled water from the meal hall and held it to the side of my head. I must have been a sight. I'd much rather be invisible, you have no idea. And I called to mind how an Orthodox coworker from years ago used to boast that Christmas carols made his wife physically ill. I did not want to suspect any spiritual cause for my extreme illness. Another thing to put out of my mind.

The third plenary session from Dr. Moore was an apologetic against dispensationalism. She grew up in a dispensational church and didn't realize good Christians believed otherwise until she got to Wheaton where, I suppose, she was shown out of it. The mistake she made about dispensationalists, and I wanted to take her aside afterwards to explain but I didn't, is to assume they don't acknowledge literary genre in the Bible. They do. But it's a matter of degree, not kind. And Catholics go even farther in that regard - in being sensitive to genre - than the Reformed. Still, I guess, it's a plague and she feels she's got to speak against it, as she also spoke against health & wealth. It was interesting but neither of these systems are temptations for me.

Our final small group session was spent on Ruth 4. We were fairly brain dead at this point. But, thankfully, my headache had gone. I was already thinking about the drive home, not wishing to make it with a debilitating headache. As I said above, I had four Bibles with me but the chunky ESVSB stayed in my suitcase all weekend. I used the SRSB/NIV before my presentation, Sproul's ESV for my presentation (A great review of both here. Also be sure to follow this playful discussion on the differences until WCF 1.7 is invoked.) and the ESV w/A when we worked on Ruth 4 so as to handicap myself against ready footnotes and cross-references. Someone even asked me about Sproul's: Is that like the Geneva Bible? And I was able to answer that the notes are but the text is the ESV. In fact, I found myself following conversations about evangelical personalities and even managing to drop a few Reformed names and help people remember book titles and authors. But then, it's a small world, especially around Philadelphia. Yet, I've already added all the books mentioned this weekend to my WTSBooks wish list!

I think my intention is to encourage them to discover and appropriate their heritage but with a small hope that some might be left dissatisfied even after all that and will keep looking. Dr. Moore teaches at an evangelical Anglican school and the way she described her relationship with the faculty, especially the women priests, made me think that their self-understanding as "via media" is a little bit credible. More so than I thought.

God willing, I'll be there again next year.


Matt said...

I enjoyed this post a lot.

The woman next to me almost immediately went into an explanation for why she's such a Johnny-come-lately to Bible study: she was married to a Catholic for twenty years. The ad hoc thumb tabs on her Bible were proof positive.

In my Bible study, the one I just finally found, there are 10 people. As far as I know it is one of the only Bible studies in the whole Diocese of 75,000 Catholics. Luckily I learned it is an on going one.

As to the Bible tabs - I was bored one night and bought some Catholic Bible tabs. Knowing they are kind of tacky I figured what the heck because who's going to see it anyway? Its not like we Catholics take our Bibles out in public right? They are on my Baronius Douay-Rheims. I now regret it.

Somehow, overnight, the group member who had disparaged the selectiveness of the Catholic Sunday lectionary learned I'm Catholic. She asked me to confirm and I did. Then she gave her impression of Catholic preaching as compared with expository preaching.

The priest at my Saturday evening Novus Ordo consistently uses the Bible to preach from. Its not typical for sure, but he can really dive into the texts and even point out differently scholarly things in it.

But then again, the point of the Homily is different from a Sermon. The Homily is meant to expound on the readings for the day, as opposed to a sermon which can be on any topic.

Sounds like you had a good time, minus the headache.

Moonshadow said...

Oh, good. It was a fun post to write. I appreciate your comment.

It is sort of about expectations and how non-Catholics reorder the priorities of Catholics (or try to) and then there's disappointment. Maybe I've hung on because I have rather low expectations. :-)

I bought those Great Adventure Bible tabs several months ago when I was thinking of finding a study group but I put them into a Bible that I don't often use, an old Catholic Study Bible. If I feel like showing off next Tuesday, I'll bring it.

The hospitality was wonderful and the fellowship. And times of worship. Sure, I learned a bunch, too, especially about my chapter. And I think God gave me some insight. Dr. Moore was far better than I anticipated ... and I do recommend you listen to her talks if you have time. I don't remember there being anything objectionable in them.