Y’all, be angry!

As someone who has spent a fair amount of time reading the NIV translation of the Bible, I was surprised when I translated Ephesians 4:26 from the Greek to find that it does not really say “in your anger do not sin” (NIV). It actually says, “be angry and do not sin.” (This is all in the second person plural, so one might say: “y’all, be angry, and y’all, do not sin.”)

Y’all, be angry! 

We live in a time when all sorts of racial injustices and government abuses of power are becoming―for more and more people―harder and harder to ignore. Perhaps this makes it an especially good time to seek out and hear the parts of the Bible that invite us to acknowledge anger and embrace it.

Anger is a normal part of the range of human emotions. It is a very appropriate response to the things that are very wrong in our world. And the Bible is not nearly as uncomfortable with anger as some of us sometimes are, or as some of our church communities and church leaders sometimes are.

Ephesians 4:26 reads, “be angry, and do not sin; let the sun not set on y’all’s rage.” 

Three quick side notes on this translation, for the real Greek geeks out there:

  • If you find the “y’all” distracting, try perhaps: “let the sun not set on your collective rage.”
  • I know “let the sun not set” isn’t really how we talk these days, but I wanted to clarify that this is a third person singular (“he/she/it”) command―referring to the sun―and not a second person plural command directed toward Paul’s hearers (like “be angry” and “do not sin”). 
  • I used the word “rage” at the end of the verse to reflect how this word comes from a different root from the word used for “be angry.” 

Side notes aside, I like that Paul uses an imperative (command) form to tell the people of the church of Ephesus, communally and collectively, to be angry. 

I also like that―and here I imagine Paul wouldn’t be averse to adding “as much as possible, as far as it depends on you” (to quote from Romans 12:18)―Paul prefers for these angry people not to find themselves still angry at the end of the day.

What it actually means to “let the sun not set on y’all’s rage,” though, is not exactly clear. But I think it means something more, or something different, from what we might be tempted to think, or what we might have been told: just forgive and let go. 

It seems connected to verse 31: “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (That’s from the NIV; a more literal translation could read, “all bitterness and wrath and anger and brawling and slander, let it be taken away from y’all, with all malice”―which I kind of like, because the passive voice makes it feel more like a prayer than a command). 

Given this context, it seems that Paul wants the church community to be angry without destroying themselves in the process by giving in to the kind of bitterness that takes root, and grows, and finds expression in things like brawling and slander, and tears apart communities. Paul wants them to be angry, but not to hold onto malice. 

This is all easier said than done, of course. But I think the general idea is that Paul wants the Ephesian church community to be angry without self-destructing. Paul wants to see them support one another and speak truthfully and heal wounds and thrive together, anger and all. 

I think an important part of all of this is to seek out ways to meaningfully express the anger that we hold. To―actively and urgently―seek out ways to try to right the wrongs that cause us to be angry. 

Not only is this the right thing to do, but it is also a more effective way of “letting the sun not set on our rage” than trying to just let go and move on. For the things that anger us deeply, is it really possible to just set these things aside and go to sleep? Can we really just let it go―all in one day? 

When we try to do this, we often end up suppressing our anger―which is both unhealthy for us and less than loving toward the people around us, as our repressed anger tends to burst out in harmful ways at other times.

Perhaps we are not meant to just try to stop being angry by the end of the day, but, instead, to not let another day go by without doing something with our anger―something healing, right, and good. 

This is what Jesus did in Mark 3:1-6. Jesus wanted to heal a man’s withered hand, but the religious leaders did not care about the dude and his hand. They just cared about what it would look like if they let Jesus do that on the Sabbath. They were waiting for Jesus to do something that looked bad, something they could accuse him of. And Jesus got angry at them (v. 5). Then, immediately, Jesus asked the man to stretch out his hand, and the man did, and Jesus healed him.

Jesus got angry―and then he moved urgently to do something good with that anger. Something healing and liberating for the man―and, at the same time, something that messed with the worldview of the powers that be (so much so that they went away wanting to kill him, as Mark 3:6 tells us.) 

This is what “be angry and do not sin; let the sun not set on y’all’s rage” looked like, for Jesus, in that moment. 

Maybe for us, in the moment we live in today, “be angry and do not sin; let the sun not set on y’all’s rage” looks like protesting. Maybe it looks like finding other meaningful ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Maybe it’s getting angry about something racist, sexist, etc. that we witness at work, or at church, or in other settings―and not letting the sun set before we take appropriate action in response. That may mean seeking out the person affected by what happened and expressing support and affirmation, and/or speaking with the person who made a racist comment, and/or bringing the matter to HR, and/or something else entirely. 

Christians sometimes speak about anger as if it’s a bad thing―as if the goal is to try to get rid of our anger, through prayer, or community support, or singing a lot of soothing worship music.

But I think that our goal as followers of Jesus, when it comes to anger, is not to be less angry, but to be angry in ways that align more closely with God’s anger. 

The goal is to get more angry about the things God gets angry about―things like inequity, needless suffering, dishonesty, racism, mistreatment of immigrants, misogyny, murder, rape, abuse of power, religious exclusion, spiritual abuse―and to figure out what to do with this anger.

And the goal is to let go of the other kinds of things we might tend to get angry about―things that are less about equity among people or flourishing among communities and more about our own ego, or convenience, or preferences. 

So, as Paul would say, y’all, be angry! Be angry about the right things. And, before the sun sets, find something good to do with that anger.

Each one with their neighbor

Here is a literal translation of Ephesians 4:25: 

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, (y’all) speak truth, each one with his/her/their neighbor, because we are members of one another.”

I’m interested in the part about speaking truth, each one with their neighbor.

Some translations try to make this part sound more natural in English, which is nice, but can also change the meaning a bit. For example:

  • “Each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor” (CEB)
  • “Each of you must…speak truthfully to your neighbor” (NIV)
  • “Let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors” (NRSV)
  • “Let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor” (ESV; yes, some translations do still use masculine pronouns to refer to any/all genders…)

I like the literal translation “speak truth, each one with their neighbor,” because I think it captures something that gets missed in the other translations. It captures the sense that there are two, perhaps equally important, levels to this truth-telling. The truth-telling that Paul is talking about is, at the same time, both very communal and very personal. 

As for the communal aspect, the imperative “speak truth” is addressed to the plural “you” (“y’all,” if you will.) Paul wants the community to be marked as a community of truth tellers: to, collectively, hold a high value for truth. To try to get to the bottom of things together when the truth seems murky. To refuse, together, as a community, to settle for nice-sounding, comforting lies. 

I would love to see more churches embody this more fully. When it comes to race and racial justice, for example, we would see church communities becoming the kinds of courageous places where truth is spoken, heard, and believed―truth about things like the brutal parts of our country’s history, and Christianity’s culpability in it all, and what it’s like to be a person of color in our communities and churches today. 

Paul invites the church, collectively, to lay aside falsehood: to ditch the sugar-coated versions of US history many of us have been taught; to drop the sanitized stories about where our predecessors as people of faith were in all of this; to stop repeating false narratives of progress that refuse to recognize how bad things still are; to reject the tendency to look to white, male, powerful sources for “objective” coverage of history or present-day reality. To move away from shallow, one-sided stories and seek, instead, multiple perspectives, listening especially carefully to people on the underside of power, and people most impacted by the issues at hand.

Paul says: y’all, collectively, lay aside these lies. Y’all, collectively, speak truth. Y’all, collectively, become a truth-filled community.

And then we get to the individual aspect, the personal aspect. We want to do this collectively, Paul says, but the way―or at least one important way―in which we want to do this is “each one with their neighbor.” Conversationally. Starting with the people closest to us―geographically, relationally. With our families and friends and co-workers and other people we interact with on a regular basis. 

Perhaps, thinking about today’s conversations about systemic racism and racial injustice, this supports an idea a lot of people have already been saying (and living out): that we start within our own racial or ethnic communities. 

Anti-blackness manifests differently in different racial and ethnic communities. It’s up to each community to look within itself, to start within itself, to name the ways anti-blackness shows up and figure out how to dismantle it. 

When we think about race, it’s up to us to start with the people with whom we have the most in common in this particular conversation. It’s up to us, each with our own neighbor, to speak truth.

It’s (relatively) easy to make statements on social media that sound good and sound supportive. It’s harder to learn to speak the truth, in love, with one another, personally. 

But the people we know personally might listen and engage in a way they wouldn’t with a Facebook “friend” they don’t know very well. They might learn something from us, and likewise us from them.

After all, as Paul goes on to write, we are members of one another. We belong to one another. We are connected to one another. We need one another. And we need the most honest, truthful self that each person is able to bring to the table.

May we become truthful communities, among which truth is spoken and heard, collectively. May we become individuals who speak truth personally, each one with our own neighbor. And may all of this truth-telling help begin to build a more just world.

She Raises Her Daughters

A poem inspired by awesome parents like my friend Sarah Suarez, who put so much thought and intention daily into the ways they raise their daughters, and by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ recent speech in response to Rep. Ted Yoho’s disrespectful comments and subsequent non-apology.

If you haven’t watched the full video of AOC’s speech (included in the link above), it’s well worth the ten minutes. One line (among many!) that I appreciated is “I am here because I have to show my parents…that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.”

She Raises Her Daughters

She raises her daughters to negotiate,
push back, articulate their needs, 

to know that those who love them 
will respect them, hear them out, will not 

lash back in anger. 
She raises her daughters to say “thank you” 

and “no, thank you,” to assert autonomy,
embrace their agency, be willing to refuse 

demands upon their time, their bodies, souls,
and see authority as something not unbendable 

by strong and stubborn wills.
She raises her daughters to make choices,

to direct the courses of their lives, to not 
accept in coerced blindness 

all the things the world will tell them 
about who they are 

and what they cannot be.
She raises her daughters to stand tall

when men try to demolish them with words,
to see right through pretend apologies,

to speak truth to deaf ears until they hear,
and not back down upon intimidation.

She raises her daughters to know that they
and all their sisters are worth more 

than this.

So praise her, praise the mothers like her,
praise the parents like her―each the kind 

of hero our world does not know it needs.
They walk against the wind 

and swim up all the streams 
to teach our little girls to live as fully human,

teach our little girls to live what will not be
an easy life.

Enduring one another

At the beginning of the fourth chapter of Ephesians, Paul writes this:

“Therefore, I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3, NASB, emphasis added).

Or, in another translation: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3, NRSV, emphasis added).

The Greek word translated here as “showing tolerance for” or “bearing with” one another is ἀνέχομαι, and it caught my attention because the definition I have for it on my fun little vocab flash cards is “endure.” Paul invites the people of the church community in Ephesus to endure one another.

I like this translation because, to me, it sounds stronger than “bear with.” “Bear with” sounds like it could have to do with listening to someone, or perhaps reading a somewhat long-winded (but not necessarily uninteresting) e-mail. Bear with me, here.

It also sounds stronger, or perhaps more specific, than “show tolerance”―which could have a pretty general meaning, not necessarily too different from “love one another” or “accept one another.”

I like the translation “endure” because it feels real. Staying in relationship with fellow Jesus-followers―keeping on going to church with all sorts of people, with whom I may or may not naturally connect or have anything in common―sometimes calls for a stronger word than “bearing with” or “showing tolerance.” Sometimes it really does call for “enduring” one another. 

I think about this when I think about some of the reasons why people might leave a church, and why they stay. 

I wonder if sometimes we stay when we should leave. We stay even after realizing that some important things about the church environment, practices, teachings, authority structure, etc. are not healthy for us, and/or perhaps for our loved ones. We stay because we like the people and feel connected with them. We’re not sure what will happen to these relationships if we leave.

And I wonder if sometimes we leave when we should stay. We leave at the first sign of conflict, different styles of communication, or other relational difficulties. We leave when, really, the church is a good place for us, and a growing place for us―and it can continue to be, perhaps for a long time to come, if we are only willing to stay and try to work some of these things out.

When I think about these things, I also think about my experience of two different churches over the course of my two years in Pasadena. 

When my husband and I first moved to Pasadena, we visited five or six different churches, and then decided to attend a church where we had started to feel connected relationally. I knew that I disagreed with the church on LGBTQ+ affirmation, but I liked the people, and I figured it was all temporary. We didn’t plan on staying in Pasadena after I graduated from seminary, so I wasn’t looking for a longer-term denominational home.

As time went on, though, I began to feel more and more disconnected, unengaged, and often upset on Sunday mornings.

Sometimes I felt angry about parts of the sermon; other times, I just felt a strong sense that I no longer believed the same things that the pastor believed, on a very deep, fundamental level. This was an alienating feeling. I looked around, wondering if anyone else felt the same way, and it seemed like no one did.

There were so many people at the church whom I thought (and still think) were awesome. But some of my basic convictions about what it meant to follow Jesus and be the church together were changing, and some were growing stronger. 

Regarding LGBTQ+ affirmation, for example, I came to realize more strongly that the foundation of any church I want to be a part of is Jesus’ radical, all-inclusive love and justice―and that, to me, any church whose theology or practices treat my LGBTQ+ siblings as second-class citizens does not actually share this conviction in a way that extends to all people.

(How could we as a church talk about seeking justice alongside marginalized people if we only wanted this to apply to some things, like race, but not other things, like sexuality and gender?)

It wasn’t just about LGBTQ+ affirmation, but more generally about the entire lens through which the church’s leadership saw Scripture. It was a lens that just didn’t fit me anymore. 

Finally, during our last couple of months in Pasadena, we began attending another local church instead―one whose core values aligned much more closely with the kinds of things I wanted to pursue at the heart of my faith. 

Our first Sunday at this new church, though, I saw a student who had gotten on my nerves during a class we had together. And my first thought wasn’t exactly holy. It was probably something like, “UGH! Can’t I just get away from people who annoy me for an hour on Sunday mornings?”

And then my second thought―well, maybe not precisely second, but something I realized upon later reflection―was, “I think this is how church is supposed to be.”

Church is not supposed to be full of what I would consider nice people―people I find easy to get along with, easy to make friends with; people who share a lot of common interests with me, or common communication styles, or Myers-Briggs types. 

Churches are meant to be full of all sorts of people, richly (and difficult-ly) different from one another in every imaginable way―people who come together and stick together, not because they naturally get along well, but because they treasure a common set of deeply held values, a basic common idea of what it means to follow Jesus.

Jesus tends to bring together people like this. Healthy faith communities tend to bring together like this: people who choose to endure one another in love, for the sake of seeking God together and living out the story of Jesus together.

I hope for communities like this, for you and for me. I hope we meet people we get along well with at church, and I hope we meet people we have nothing in common with except our faith. And I hope that, when people, situations, communication styles, personalities, etc. try our patience, we dig in and learn to endure one another in love.

God knows we all need it.

Utterly spiritless

In Ephesians chapter 3, Paul writes about the mystery of Christ that has been made known to him (v. 3). He writes about how God has given him grace to speak about the boundless riches of Christ (v. 8). And he writes that, in Christ, we have boldness and confidence to approach God (v. 12). 

Then, in v. 13, he writes, “I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory” (NIV). (All the “you”s here are plural, by the way, so feel free to replace them with “y’all”s if you feel so inclined.)

I got interested in the word that is translated as “be discouraged” in this verse, in the NIV. Other translations read “lose heart” (NASB, NRSV, ESV). The Greek word is ἐκκακέω (ek-kä-ke’-o).

As a translation of ἐκκακέω, I feel like “be discouraged” is quite mild (and “lose heart” is a common enough English expression that it might as well just mean “be discouraged”).

The word comes from ἐκ, which means “from” or “out of,” and κακός, which means “bad” or “evil.” According to my buddy blueletterbible.org (have I been socially distancing for too long, such that I now consider websites my buddies? probably…), ἐκκακέω means “to be utterly spiritless, to be wearied out, exhausted.” It carries a sense of failing in heart, of being faint.

I appreciate this fuller definition of ἐκκακέω because the real, hard stuff of life often makes us feel something stronger than just discouragement. There are things we encounter―in the news, and in our own lives and circles and communities―that evoke in us a stronger response than just “well, that’s disappointing…not ideal, a little discouraging, but it’s okay. I’ll do some yoga and get a good night’s sleep and feel better in the morning.” 

The real stuff of life―and of trying to live a Jesus-following life that seeks love and justice amidst powerful forces that work against these things―can make us feel utterly spiritless. Wearied out. Exhausted. It can make our hearts fail and our bodies faint. 

Looking at where ἐκκακέω (or a very similar word, ἐγκακέω), is used in the New Testament, I see that some of the particular things that make people feel utterly spiritless include:

  • Praying. Especially when it doesn’t feel like there’s an answer. And, in particular, praying for justice that doesn’t seem to be coming (see Luke 18:1 and its context).
  • Being ministers of a new covenant. A covenant that is not so much about following rules as it is about experiencing freedom in God’s Spirit, contemplating God, and being transformed by God―a covenant that is very good, and yet also often not what people want, or think they want. A covenant that pushes back against oppression by invoking freedom, grates against a drive for efficiency and productivity by calling for the slow work of contemplation, and contradicts independent self-sufficiency by inviting communal spiritual transformation (see 2 Cor 4:1 and its context, especially the verses preceding it in Ch 3). 
  • Being hard-pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. Experiencing all sorts of pushback and difficulties, especially from those in positions of power and authority, because we’re trying to seek justice, trying to do the things God calls us to do (see 2 Cor 4:16 and its context, including 4:7-12).
  • Doing good. Galatians 6:9 could read “let us not become exhausted, or utterly spiritless, in doing good.” Trying to do good can be exhausting. Especially when people around us are not.
  • Seeing other people suffer, as the Ephesian church saw Paul suffer (from the verse we started with, Eph 3:13). Suffering is exhausting, not just for the person undergoing the suffering, but for everyone who cares about them as well. Not knowing the answers to our questions of “why?” or “where is God?” in it all can leave us utterly spiritless. Even hearing about the suffering of people we don’t know―especially when it’s unnecessary suffering, caused by powerful people’s and governments’ evil actions―can be completely wearying. 

It is Paul’s hope and prayer that God meets the people of the church in Ephesus in the midst of their total faintness, their complete exhaustion, their utter spiritlessness. For this reason Paul kneels before God (Eph 3:14).

May we, too, not be afraid to acknowledge and engage with utter spiritlessness―our own, and that of others. And may God meet us in our exhaustion, breathe life into our faintness, and lift up our failing hearts.

Light pink roses

We have one more kind of rose that I haven’t posted pictures of yet, and I don’t want it to feel left out.

There are four identical plants (if the colors look different, it’s just different sunlight).

A couple weeks ago I felt like I was spending a lot of time deadheading them, so one day I counted…and I cut off 120 deadheads total from those four plants. In case that was a fluke, I counted again two days later, and got 158.

Then, yesterday, after having deadheaded thoroughly two days before, I counted again and got 268 (!). I’m not sure if I like how this is trending in terms of amount of deadheading work, but the roses sure are lovely…

A splash of color for you in these dark times.

Blow Up the Shelter (Apocalypse)

Thinking of the situation over the last few months with Menlo Church (see this article for what seems like a pretty reasonable summary), and also just the general tendency of a lot of church leaders to cover up things that might seem incriminating rather than actually search for truth and try to do the right thing by their people. This goes, of course, far beyond the particulars of Menlo Church and the Ortberg family. (Their story, by the way, is still unfolding, with a new investigation announced yesterday.)

Thinking of the people who are the most vulnerable when churches and church leaders don’t do the right thing―in this particular case, children and LGBTQ+ people, as well as all the church members who put their trust in the church’s leadership and feel betrayed―and praying for comfort and strength for them in this time, including the courage to cut ties if need be.

Also, in case you needed a little gratuitous Greeking out, I mean to use “apocalypse” in its original Greek sense, which is a revelation―a revealing of things that were hidden.

Blow Up the Shelter (Apocalypse)

blow up the shelter
blow up the lies


it’s time to show
    that it was never safe
    that there was never any hiding
from a changing world

and who exactly wants to hide 
from changes that are good?

blow up the megachurch abuse 
blow up their cover-ups


it’s time to show
    the stench that lies within
    the clammy muck stuck on the underside
of shiny shells

so tear it down

why not?
and what precisely do you fear?

and did you think God’s people would
    keep standing here 
    like little lambs 
who do not know you slaughter them?

did you think they would 
    keep circling up like wagons 
    to defend you while you 
slit their children’s throats?

blow up the iron-fisted secrecy
blow up the blind obedience


it’s time to show
    the blood of children 
    hear their cries
break open all the closed church doors

why wouldn’t we?
what do we have to lose?

it’s time to show our scars
    our filth 
    our infestations
let the surgeons do their work


or would we rather dig a hole 
and wait as if there were 
a normal worth returning to

bury our heads 
under this sand
and fester underground
and die?

Gendered titles & getters-of-stuff-done

While reading the biblical books of Ephesians and Colossians in Greek, I have been struck by Paul’s repeated references to himself and others as διάκονος (pronounced de-ä’-ko-nos; it’s where we get the English word “deacon”):

  • Paul says that he has become a διάκονος of the good news of God’s promise in Jesus, according to the gift of God’s grace (Eph 3:6-7).
  • Paul calls his friend Tychichus a beloved brother and faithful διάκονος in the Lord (Eph 6:21).
  • Paul says that the Colossians heard the good news from his other buddy Epaphras, whom Paul describes as a beloved fellow servant and a faithful διάκονος of Christ (Col 1:7).
  • Paul says (again) that he has been made a διάκονος of the good news (Col 1:23).
  • Immediately after this, Paul calls himself a διάκονος of Christ’s body, which is the church (Col 1:24-25).
  • Paul mentions Tychichus again and calls him a beloved brother, faithful διάκονος, and fellow servant in the Lord (Col 4:7).

Different translations, in different places (the passages above as well as others), translate διάκονος as servant, minister, or deacon.

Danker et. al.’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (affectionately known as “BDAG,” which stands for the initials of the four main contributing scholars…not to be confused with a d-bag, which is something else :D) describes a διάκονος as “one who is busy with something in a manner that is of assistance to someone”; for example, “one who serves as an intermediary in a transaction,” or “one who gets something done, at the behest of a superior.”

So basically, a διάκονος gets *stuff* done. On someone else’s behalf. (Feel free to think of that when you read these passages from now on.)

I think I was struck by Paul’s descriptions of himself―and of other friends and fellow leaders whom he clearly likes and respects very much―as διάκονος, because it feels like such a humble term. When you are a διάκονος, you are doing something on behalf of another; carrying out another’s wishes; assisting someone else in achieving their goals, while perhaps putting your own goals on the back burner for a time. 

These are all things that have been historically, and are often in the present, relegated to women. They are things that are expected of women, often much more so than they are expected of men―however much churches and their male leaders might talk a big game about servant leadership. 

Because of this, I’m surprised and glad to see that Paul is proud to apply the term to himself and to his male friends. He doesn’t mind seeing himself as a getter-of-stuff-done on behalf of the good news of God’s promise; on behalf of Jesus; on behalf of the church.

When we call someone a “minister” these days―at least for those who hold some sort of respect for the church and its titles, and I don’t particularly blame those who don’t―it’s a term of honor, leadership, respect. Some churches balk at the idea of female ministers; others (well, more precisely, the same ones, plus a whole bunch more) balk at the idea of LGBTQ+ ministers. 

People and churches who find their place in the more conservative streams of Christianity often end up doing a great deal of verbal gymnastics to try to delineate which roles and titles are available to women (and/or LGBTQ+ people) and which ones are not. Some churches want to allow women and/or LGBTQ+ people to be deacons, but not pastors; children’s program directors, but not ministers; or teachers of other women, but not elders who make decisions on the behalf of the entire church.

Paul’s use of διάκονος―servant, minister, and all-around getter-of-stuff-done―to describe himself pushes back against these odd distinctions churches sometimes draw. 

Paul was a gifted pastor who saw himself as a διάκονος, a deacon. He was a director or co-director of many ministries who saw himself as a διάκονος, a minister. He was a man willing to be taught by women and recognize their leadership―women like Phoebe, whom Paul also calls a διάκονος in Romans 16:1.

Distinctions like deacon vs pastor, director vs minister, or teacher vs elder have been manufactured by subsequent generations of Christians; they are not part of the mindset in which Paul and others wrote the parts of the New Testament that people look to for guidance in these things. 

I’m not exactly someone who would try to make Paul a feminist by modern standards (as much as I might wish he had been), but I do think it’s very much worth pointing out the (many) places where he pushes back, even just a bit, against the particular brands of patriarchy and misogyny so prevalent in his own time and culture―in the hope that this might help us learn to push back against the particular brands of patriarchy and misogyny so prevalent in our own time and culture.

And so, I like that Paul isn’t afraid to name himself and his fellow bros as διάκονος. 

(As a bit of a side note, I’m wary of translations that make gendered choices around how to translate διάκονος in different places. For example, the KJV, ESV, and NASB all translate διάκονος as “minister” when applied to Paul in Eph 3:7, but “servant” when applied to Phoebe in Romans 16:1. Paul didn’t make this distinction; why would we?)

Here’s to breaking down the false distinctions we tend to set up in order to justify discriminatory attitudes and practices.

Here’s to powerful religious leaders like Paul learning―often slowly and painfully, I’m sure―to be a διάκονος: to get stuff done on behalf of something (the good news), someone (Jesus), and some ones (the collections of people who make up church communities) other than themselves.

Here’s to churches thinking more about honoring the gifts and the faithful service-ministry of women and LGBTQ+ people, and less about restricting them, controlling them, and limiting how they are allowed to lead or what titles they are allowed to have.

I think that Paul―the self-proclaimed διάκονος―would approve.

These Lines

I resonated with much of Austin Channing Brown’s recent post about “unity” to her e-mail newsletter “Roll Call.” Austin encourages her readers to be aware of ways we might be asked to participate in a kind of unity that works against justice rather than for it. You can check out the post here if you’re interested – it’s worth reading.

This poem, entitled “These Lines,” encapsulates some of my reflections and points of resonance.

These lines are old, too old,
    like time etched into limestone faces
        monolithic and unmoved,
                unmoving, and

the face of founding father is
    the face of the slaveholder is
        the face of the confederate,
            the face of the white moderate,

the face of CEOs and pastors
    like priest-jesters choosing their captivity
        to live and serve in courts 
            of dying systems, and

these lips through all these centuries
    have uttered the same words, 
        lines that have lived too long
            like dreams deferred

like blasphemies still spoken after
    time has shown them lethal lies 
        too many times.
            These lies still dress in power,

clothe themselves in tones of wisdom, 
    yet upon examination 
        show themselves thin masks 
            for white supremacy;

and yet we’re trained to trust,
    trained to believe
        the ones who speak 
            with sincere eyes and

faith in their own goodness that runs deep. 
    So speak, keep speaking, 
        if you must, these lines,
            of ships so large that take so long to turn,

of donors we must not offend,
    of increments and evolution,
        the survival of the institution,
            and the need for patience, always patience;

keep on speaking, speak your violence,
    do not leave it silent―
        speak it, do not prop it any longer
            on soft lies of innocence, 

speak stress into the bones 
    that can’t afford to wait another day 
        for justice, won’t be put off 
            one more generation and 

another still; keep speaking 
    all your lies, for as you speak 
        you speed the day 
            we will no longer listen,

speed the day we will no longer stand
    and lay the gift of our participation
        at the feet of shit-filled institutions
            that have lost, or sold,

their souls.