Sunday, December 23, 2012

1000 Cranes

Something special happened yesterday.

1000 origami cranes were delivered to my sister by a high school classmate who had enlisted other graduates to contribute to the project and show their support for her battle against cancer. Accompanying the huge pile of colorful cranes with wings spread wide was a plaque with these words burned into the wood:

Senbazuru - 1000 Cranes
The ancient Japanese tradition of Senbazuru promises
that if a person folds 1000 Origami Cranes or if their
friends and family perform this labor of love on their
behalf, that person will be granted a wish.

These cranes were folded with Love and Hope for
Pat Reed Tanner
By her Dragon Brothers and Sisters

The project was deeply meaningful because of our Japanese heritage and wonderful memories of growing up on Okinawa.

What struck me about this symbolic gift was how a community can impact one individual in simple but profound ways. When a community joins hands, something powerful, even miraculous, emerges.

Encouragement. Hope. Solidarity. Healing. Courage. Strength. And most of all, LOVE.

There are many ways a community can express support. Often they are rooted in cultural traditions like a quilt created by a group of women for a wedding shower or a "barn raising" to help a family whose home was lost. For the Japanese culture, 1000 origami cranes.

Makeshift public memorials have become more popular as a way for a community to share in the grief and loss of a member.

Whatever expression is chosen by a community, it can help to infuse hope into the one who needs to know she is not alone in what she faces. But it's also redemptive for the community.

Besides a way to deal with their own grief, a community needs to see visible signs of their own compassion. It gives hope that all is not lost, that there is still good in the face of evil, that we are still capable of loving well.

One paper crane is fragile but when you see 1000 paper cranes, a miracle happens and one's own fragility is transformed into strength.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tears for the Children

Matthew 2:18 (NIV)
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Innocent children. Evil intent. A gun instead of a sceptor.

Grief shared across 2000 years, one in the Afterbirth, the other in the Advent. 

Shocked. Helpless. Angry.

We weep.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Real Elders Among Us

Beaver Lake Dam - Open Floodgates from Flickr via Wylio
© 2011 Doug Wertman, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

I sat with my new friend, a sweet soft-spoken woman with graying hair. We were sharing prayer requests and it didn't take long for her share her experience in the church where she and her husband had attended for years. With some hesitation and tears on the verge of spilling, she said this: "In all these years, no one has asked me where I can use my gifts."

Immediately I had a deep feeling of empathy as I remembered one of my own church experiences. For over a year I had been advocating for women but never once during that time did the elders ask me what God was calling me to or where I wanted use my gifts. I got the message.

Don't question where we put you - we are the gatekeepers of the Spirit's work among God's people.

But that's not how I read my Bible. Rather than listening to the Spirit and growing the church toward maturity, leaders can act like a dam on a river that restricts its flow. Asking and listening well to the Spirit AND the people will help to open the floodgates.

On behalf of my friend and others like me who are in this middle place
     between birth and death,
          between our stories of youth and our last chapter of life,
               between the journey of growing into our unique take on life and faith
               and the final journey to heaven:
     God is not done with us yet.

His Spirit is moving, transforming and empowering the elders among us. (Here I am referring not to church leadership but to those in the pews who are 50+.)

In fact, as I wrote in an earlier post, not affirming this hurts the church and grieves the Spirit of God "who more often than not waited until His appointed leaders were well past youth before they were called to enter into their most significant leadership and ministry roles." Remember Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Anna.

This is what I used to hear from the older church population when I was younger and seeking to empower others in ministry: I've done my duty in the church. It's the younger generation that needs to step up.

Looking back I wonder if the problem was not lazy elders but discouraged ones. Elders tired of being used and not known. Elders drained from working in expected roles rather than serving in their gifted roles. Elders used to duty and discipline but not freedom and joy.

Today, with the emphasis on the younger generation and the real need to disciple them well toward maturity, there is a danger of ignoring the elders into the margins, of misinterpreting the movement of the Spirit in their lives, of forgetting that dreams and visions do not die at age 50.

There is a danger that as the population of baby boomers swell within the ranks of the retired, these neglected servants and mentors shrink within the church.

We can't afford the same mistake.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

It's a Small World Afterall

My toes wiggled through the damp sand as I stood at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. It was finer than the sand I had always known. At least the water was warm like what I was used to. But the landscape behind me was foreign.

It was my freshman year of college. Across the vast ocean was home where my family remained while I settled into dorm life. The adventure of leaving home and being on my own didn’t take long to evaporate into the warm salty air of San Diego.

The university was situated on cliffs overlooking the ocean. I would stand and gaze out towards the horizon overwhelmed by the vastness of the separation that was at times unbearable. I wanted to go home so badly. But each time I turned around and walked back to my new world. Eventually it became home.

The hardest thing to adjust to was the size of the United States, almost 4 million square miles. The island of Okinawa where I grew up is only 464 square miles. The more I realized how big my new home was the smaller I felt inside and the smaller I got, the more lost I became.

But the one thing that helped press back the looming lostness was my new faith in Christ. My journey of navigating this country is in some ways a metaphor of my journey into the vastness of God and his love for one small person.

Each step, each move, each tear, each embrace of whatever and whomever God put in my path has enlarged my world both inner and outer. God has grown and stretched me into the space he ordained from the beginning but waited and worked patiently to fill in my 56 years.

The last 12 years have been especially trying and stretching. They were years of regaining a passion for ministry in the church, of earning a masters in theology, and of discovering and using my gifts. But they were also years of wounding, of disappointments, of being misunderstood, of resisting efforts by others to keep me small, and of being named and shamed.

It meant I had to leave two churches that I loved dearly. But I found another church and it felt like I had finally landed on a friendly shore. I was ready to engage my new community and find my niche.

Then just as I thought I was going to fill out the rest of the space God had for me, he had something else for me to do. I found out my sister had lymphoma and she needed me to be a caregiver. God had another battle for me to fight, the beginning of which I described in my last post.

Since then the events have carried me like a whirlwind to another place. Only recently have I had the time to begin processing where I have landed.

My world has become small once again. It consists of only two places, my home in Portland and my second home in Florida. There’s no other place I’d rather be as I have walked on holy ground journeying alongside my sister and her battle against cancer.

But I am on an “island” once again. I have to say no to the yearnings I feel when I stand at the edge of this new ocean and remember the land I once inhabited. I have had to put all future plans on hold. I constantly remind myself that being inwardly large is not directly proportionate to outward achievements. I struggle to believe that my value, my identity, and my gifts are intact and that God will continue to grow me whether I’m constrained on an island or roaming a continent.

For now my world is smaller but I am choosing to believe that I am not.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Different Battle

There are times when you need to turn around and walk away.

Retreat from the conflict.

Reflect on the events and conversations.

Reframe your story and a new direction.

Restore any cracks in your identity to its resurrected condition.

Reconcile the disappointments to the bigger Story of Jesus and the Spirit's movement in your life.

In the past two months I've started doing all of these.

It meant leaving a church and leaving my blog in order to regroup. During that period the fight I was engaged in on a small scale was being duplicated on a larger scale in blogs that have a national and worldwide following.

As I listened to conversations about what women in ministry can or cannot do or whether wives should or should not desire mutuality in marriage, I struggled with deep emotions and wondered if God was going to ask me to continue the fight.

I seriously wanted to walk away forever.

I'm in a church now that has women elders. So far what I see is giving me hope that I can do life with this beautiful, raw, vulnerable, imperfect, compassionate community. I feel wanted. I believe I can contribute with my gifts and strengths.

No more battles to fight, right God?

Well, the answer wasn't what I expected.

I'm in another battle but it's not mine. It's my sister's. My younger sister. My only sister.

Pat has cancer.

God has called me into a season of helping her fight for her life, of serving her in ways I have never done for anyone else.

My friend Ed recently wrote a blog to encourage us to walk away from the battle and choose to serve others for the Kingdom's sake. Instead of fighting people, fight the darkness of this world.

I believe he has wise words to offer those who are battle-weary or those who are fighting for the wrong reasons.

There are times when God will call one into battle against thoughts, arguments and pretensions that are set up against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5). Arrogance and a lack of Christian love will mistakenly meld the person with the argument. As Ed eloquently points out, fighting people will not grow the Kingdom of God.

But humility and authentic Christian love will serve the other -- even in a battle. This may be tough, confrontive love or this may be patient, quiet love. This is Christ both washing the feet of Judas and then identifying him as a betrayer.

Then there are seasons in which God calls one away from the battle, away from those who might betray you or cage you in places where they might feel safe but you are not. So you leave to be safe, to be free, to be loved by a different tribe.

But I am discovering that just because I walk away from one battle in order to serve does not mean there isn't another one to fight.

Currently I am not fighting people or belief systems. I am fighting alongside my sister against a consequence of fallenness in the world, against cancer.

I entered battle by going to her when she called for help.

I will battle the cancer in my sister's body just as fiercely as I have battled against injustice and inequality.

I battle with prayer every night while I tuck her into bed. I pray over every cell of her body to submit to the regimen of drugs in order to return to normalcy, over her mind to face this with faith, hope and courage and over her heart to believe that she is not alone.

I battle with truth as I read Scripture and Sarah Young's Jesus Calling to help her believe that Jesus sees her, knows her, loves her and is present with her.

I battle with love when I shampoo her long hair knowing she may lose it soon and when I massage her feet which have felt the sheets of the hospital bed for too many days.

When I do what God has called me to do, no matter what it is I battle those forces that fight to thwart my calling. It may be traditional views of women. It may be spiritual arrogance or ignorance. But it can also be fear or loss of health and hope.

Right now I am fighting with my sister against unseen forces gone awry in her body.

I battle through serving.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

In Search of an Adult to Grow Into

In my last post I described a delightful visit from two Japanese relatives who judged our lives to be joyful and productive. Intersecting with us for three days prompted them to ask me, "What is your power?" I gave a pretty short answer but if I had more time and they had indicated a desire to go deeper, I would have explained that the Jesus-kind-of joy is usually juxtaposed with pain. That grief, tears and disappointments deepen the well for joy to fill. That an abundant life does not mean an easy life but it's a life that makes even the poorest on earth feel rich.

Their question helped to remind me of the life Jesus has called me into, which I especially needed at this time.

During the recent transition from one church to another, my husband and I worked hard to leave well. We met with the elders to plan an exit strategy since we were very involved at several levels. The discussion went well but the execution of the plan hit a snag and in the process, I was deeply hurt in two very painful conversations.

It was a disappointing ending to six years of loving and serving in this church. A period of depression and withdrawal followed but it was very brief. I came out stronger and more confident of who I am as a woman and follower of Christ. The pain was felt, grieved and then released. In the aftermath I have felt more alive and clear of what life means for me. It is filled with people I love and who love me and is superintended by Christ who loves and delights in me. 

Often I will reflect on my past journey taking note of patterns and significant felt changes. I am amazed that after each point of pain and disappointment, there has been a greater awareness of and sensitivity to people, a growing clarity of my values and purpose in life, and a deeper experience of God's love and acceptance. I feel more alive today than last year and the years before that.

Put another way I feel like I've taken another step from adolescence toward adulthood.

I admit I am still waiting to grow up and be an adult. Not adult as in physical development, educational achievements, job security, family responsibilities or age of majority. Adult as in emotional and spiritual maturity. The reality? I will always be adolescent in some way.

As much as I want to get past adolescence, progress is not something I can totally control. The next painful event exposes another childish way, whether mine or someone else's, and it's not easy to put it behind me as the Apostle Paul exhorts in 1 Corinthians 13:11. Those "childish ways" insist on playing peek-a-boo.

Despite the continuing threat of emotional and spiritual growing pains, becoming an adult means being more comfortable in my own skin, accepting others where they are and embracing life along with its gut-wrenching, take-the-air-out-of-you moments. I have taken comfort in knowing that Frederich Buechner confessed at the age of 80 that he had not yet become an adult.
I am not a past participle but a present participle, even a dangling participle. I am not a having-grown-up one but a growing-up one, a groping-up one, not even sure much of the time just where my growing and groping are taking me or where they are supposed to be taking me. I am a verbal adjective in search of a noun to latch onto, a grower in search of a self to grow into.
An "adult adolescent" he calls himself. The adolescent ignores the pain or is trapped by it. The adult will grow through the pain without burying it or succumbing to it. Pain puts you in touch with your emotions which makes you more human. It is not how much you know or how well you reason your way through life. It is pain that grows you up.

Buechner describes what I have found to be true:
We are never more alive to life than when it hurts - never more aware both of our own powerlessness to save ourselves and of at least the possibility of a power beyond ourselves to save us and heal us if we can only open ourselves to it. We are never more aware of our need for each other, never more in reach of each other, if we can only bring ourselves to reach out and let ourselves be reached...We are never more in touch with life than when life is painful, never more in touch with hope than we are then, if only the hope of another human presence to be with us and for us.
What is my power? It's not "what" but "who."

Christ saves and heals me, binds me to a community, takes the yoke of my adult burdens, teaches me how to carry them with gentleness and humility, gives me permission to be emotional and fragile.

Christ takes me from infancy through adolescence into maturity, into the fullness of Himself so that I am less and less tossed back and forth by men.

That is when I am most human and most like Him.

That is when I feel most alive and most adult.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Life That Needs No Translation

I've been on a two-month hiatus from my blog, taking the time to realign my heart and readjust to this new place I am entering. I have transitioned out of one church to another where I am no longer fighting a patriarchal system. This means I'm trying to get back on track on why I want to write and what I want to write. It is going to take some time. In the meantime...

I admit I was a bit nervous and a little stressed about the two strangers who were coming to stay with us for three days. Strangers but also family from the other side of the world whom I had not seen for many years. I had met my Japanese cousin only briefly 15 years ago on a trip to Osaka with my mother. His daughter had visited our home 27 years ago. There had been no communication since then because my deaf-mute mother could not call long distance nor write a letter, having never learned how to read or write. I did not know Japanese either. My cousin and his daughter were now 72 and 46 years old. Our lives had changed drastically on both sides of the world.

The time spent hosting them in our home turned out to be surprisingly fun despite the challenge of translation between English, Japanese and sign language. They responded to every new experience with "Ahh!" and "Ohh!" in harmonious squeals of delight. Rejecting offers to take them to Japanese restaurants, they preferred the real American thing, preferably Portland-style. So we introduced them to McMenamins one evening and Multnomah Falls Lodge the other. They especially loved craft beers. We capped off their final night with a late evening firepit and roasted s'mores. Everything was captured on their digital camera.

In between expressions of gratitude for caring for my mother, they made frequent references to one particular observation. My cousin lamented that the Japanese worked too hard and did not know how to enjoy life like the Americans did. I assured them that Americans had the same problem. But according to their observations of our home and never-ending fun projects, our children and grandchildren, and our hospitality, they insisted that Jon and I knew how to live life with exuberance and joy.

Now granted, we have had more time to enjoy life since Jon retired from teaching three years ago. Even that amazed them because Jon was able to retire at the young age of 55. My cousin had no thoughts of retiring even in his 70s. Believe me, we keep pinching ourselves that we are in this particular season of life.

On the day they departed, we spent a few hours enjoying our last three-language conversation on our deck under a billowing, yellow canopy that shaded us, along with the forest of 150-ft Douglas fir trees, from the hot sun. Then during a lull in the craziness of broken English and gesturing hands, my cousin turned to his daughter and asked her to translate a question to me. He saw our productive, happy, love-filled lives and wanted to know what our "power" was.

Our power? You mean motivation? Her head nodded. I thought for a minute and gave two answers. In short, my father and my Father. I had a father who taught me I could do anything and I am a Christian who loves Jesus. They accepted my answer happily and offered their own Buddhist faith as a point of mutual contact and respect. I accepted in return.

Since that exchange I have reflected on their question some more.  What does not need translation is a life that is enjoyed and filled with people who are loved. Maybe that's why Jesus insists we treat each other with his kind of love and live his kind of abundant life. Such a gospel-life "speaks" so loudly that it prompts the question, "What is your power?"

My Japanese relatives only saw a very small slice of our life. When I have guests I'm like any other person - I behave my best and put a lot of effort into my hospitality. But my hope is that what they saw was the real thing, the Jesus-kind-of-life that comes from loving Christ with every fiber of my body and every intention of my heart. I don't have the gift of evangelism but perhaps my gift of hospitality is close enough.

I don't live that life well all the time but there are moments like those spent with my relatives from the other side of the world that tell me I am progressing with my translation skills.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Unwritten Story

Eden and Eternity. The Beginning and the End of the Story.

Eden. Perfect man and perfect woman created in the imago dei to live in a perfect world. Created to rule and steward the earth together. Created to love perfectly both in friendship and if married, in one-flesh union. Created for community with God and with a world filled with perfect men and perfect women together imaging a creative, loving God who sits on a heavenly throne and walks in a lush garden.

Stop. Fast forward.

Eternity. A new heavens and a new earth converge as the Holy City, the place of the heavenly throne, comes down to dwell among the community of the imago Christi. The Second Adam comes for his Bride and wipes the tears from her eyes. No death, no mourning, no pain, no night. Instead there is dazzling beauty, shining glory, and thirst-quenching, healing life from a river and from a tree. The new earth is not the old Eden restored. It’s completely replaced by a far more glorious creation.

The old has passed away; Christ makes everything new (Revelation 21:4-5).

In the meantime we live in the middle story between Eden and Eternity, bookended by perfection in creation and then recreation. The challenge lies in trying to anticipate the story yet to be written because those who consider themselves to be characters in God’s story tend to want to write the future script based on the past script, especially the sacred script.

But God is not one to be scripted by any human.

God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts; his ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9; Job). God may change the rules (Deuteronomy 23:1 to Isaiah 56:3-6; Old Covenant to New). God will dismiss former things to do a new thing (Isaiah 43:18-19).

Furthermore the sacred script is often silent on many social issues, which begs the question, “Why, if the text is inspired, did God not make his thoughts more clear from the beginning?” Thoughts concerning polygamy or slavery or the treatment of women. Those who care about these issues and then read the script at face value conclude it is flawed and therefore God is an imaginary character.

I think on these things and wonder if the sacred script is ambiguous or deeply complex on purpose. Perhaps the flow of the story in the sacred script is indicative of how the script will progress throughout humanity’s history. Perhaps God intends ambiguity and has actually inspired more descriptions than prescriptions than we allow. For a good reason.

God continues to give us choice in this middle place of grace.

I wonder if God’s intention is to invite us to obedience rather than demand it, to give us enough clues about his heart and character so that we choose to obey out of love, not law. I see this in the story of Jonah which has an unwritten ending, an unanswered question. Did Jonah ever repent of his anger and choose to love the repenting Ninevites? Not knowing how Jonah ends his story forces us to examine our own and consider where we fall short of compassion. It allows us to write the rest of the story based on who God is and how he acts.

Christ came to reveal the Father through his teaching and his works. He gave us enough clues to figure out what following him entails, what it means to love a community and love God. But not everything is laid out. Not every question is answered.

So the early church has to figure out the rest of the story according to Christ’s clues. It’s rough. It’s messy. Things have to be figured out on the fly. Adjustments are made and roles are created. The church evolves. I think we forget that the church was an infant in need of time to grow up and wrestle through the implications of Christ’s Kingdom in their cultural context. The priority was not to get everything right the first time. It was to listen to the Spirit only for what the next step should be. And every step was counter-cultural, even if a very small step.

History tells me we are still on the journey of more accurately understanding God’s thoughts and ways. Otherwise we wouldn’t have needed the Reformation. History tells me silence does not mean approval on the part of God. Otherwise we would be supporting slavery today. History tells me God gives space to our broken social structures that may change over time. Otherwise we would still be engaged in polygamy and concubinage.

As each generation reads the same words on the pages of the sacred script, a different story may emerge from their new perspective. This requires discernment of God’s invitation to a more mature faith, a more loving community, and a more powerful witness to the gospel. This is what the Jews in the Old Testament understood when the author of Chronicles reread Israel’s history recorded in Samuel, Kings and other accounts and then rewrote their history in light of their post-exilic context. The changes are subtle but the changes are there. Israel needed to move on and adopt new practices in their new situation.

A new perspective always invites a new reading. (Otherwise seminaries would quickly become obsolete.) This principle was pictured for me by a modern sculpture that I encountered in Washington, DC. The sculpture is an optical illusion in which the artist created a 3-D image of a corner of a house. But as you walk from one side to the other, the house appears to move and change in perspective. Each step forward requires reinterpreting the house you are observing. Perhaps the sculpture is a metaphor for Scripture. The words on a page don’t change but their interpretation may with each change in perspective. And each new, Spirit-illumined interpretation gets closer to the “new thing” Christ is making.

In this middle time between Eden and Eternity I believe God allows ambiguity, contradiction, unanswered questions and changes in the sacred script because he wants us as a faith community to wrestle with the unwritten script. It forces us to ask important questions of identity, both of God and ourselves. It requires that we seek the Kingdom of God and not our own kingdoms. And if Christ is the only one who most accurately represents the heart and character of God, then it demands that we see life, both people and circumstances, through the lens of Christ, through his life, death and resurrection. It is the gospel that guides us through the unwritten script of the middle place.

Perhaps in this middle time between Eden and Eternity, God the Father is growing humanity, like a child, toward maturity so that past systems, past cultural dynamics, past patterns are not what write our script but only Christ and his Kingdom. It is the vision of eternity that drives our story forward. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is heaven.

It is a Kingdom vision that drives my passion for mutuality and equality on earth. I believe it is time for all the church to grow up into what has always been present in heaven. It is time to reread the sacred script from our current perspective and take a step closer to our new creation.

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. He is also the Middle. In the space between Eden and Eternity, our story is still being written. Who is writing it for you?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Dance of Mutuality in Ephesians 5

I have revised and consolidated my previous three posts on Ephesians 5:21-33, "Deconstructing the Marriage Metaphor in Ephesians 5", into one post here in order to contribute to Rachel Held Evan's WEEK OF MUTUALITY. I encourage you to follow her as she makes a case for egalitarianism.
Metaphors are powerful. 
With a picture that’s worth a thousand words, a metaphor can translate the unknown and abstract into concrete and known. It gets our attention and engages our emotions and imaginations. However the meaning of a metaphor can be perplexing, especially when it’s used within an ancient cultural context.
Understanding metaphors takes work because they are imprecise by nature. The image demands patience as it invites us to a leisurely stroll around it, looking at the metaphor from all angles like a sculpture in a museum. It is a picture to be pondered, not to be passed over quickly without questioning assumptions and initial perceptions. Metaphors require thoughtful examination but they resist efforts to reduce it to a statement of facts or a dictionary definition. 
Like the one in Ephesians 5. 
By tradition, the metaphor in this passage has been reduced to a model and a mandate: The husband is the authoritative head to which the wife, his body, submits. In everything. Therefore the husband must be the spiritual leader of the home and the wife must be the respectful follower. Lately conservative interpreters have conceded to adding a halo of loving sacrifice on his head in connecting the husband to Christ in order to soften the current cultural resistance to submission. 
No mystery here. 
The problem is Paul says there is a mystery. In fact there is a PROFOUND MYSTERY. In verse 32 Paul explicitly ascribes it to Christ and the Church. But he also clearly links the mystery to the “one flesh” union of a husband and wife in verse 31. The quote from Genesis 2:24 occupies a special place in the immediate context which serves then to inform the head and body metaphor used by Paul. But before I address the significance of verse 31, let me back up to the previous verses and suggest an alternative understanding of those verses. 
In Ephesians 5:22-27 the relationship between the head and the body, or the husband and the wife, cannot be understood apart from the reigning paradigm of verse 21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Verse 21 supplies the verb “submit” for verse 22, which is verbless.) This verse is critical to understanding the rest of the chapter. 
Like a pair of reading glasses that have been left on the table for too many years, the verse has been ignored to the detriment to our understanding of the metaphor. Once the glasses are put on, you gain an alternative reading of Ephesians 5 and a vision of a mutuality that God intended from time of Genesis 1 and 2. Paul takes his command in verse 21 and fleshes it out in the following three spheres of relationships: marriage, parenting, and slavery. In each of these spheres, Paul applies the principle of mutual submission, which would have been counter-cultural to his audience. 
Let me start with the last and work my way back. Slaves submit by humble obedience and wholehearted service while masters submit by treating their slaves with kindness and fairness. Children submit by obeying and honoring their parents while fathers submit by not exasperating their children but instead by being involved in their nurturing. Assuming consistency, Paul also applies the principle of mutual submission to the husband and wife relationship.  
The issue at hand is not who is in authority but how we are to treat one another within the current cultural context of hierarchical relationships. Paul is not prescribing an authority structure (otherwise we would accept slavery today) but is fleshing out mutual submission within those relationships.  
Interestingly when Paul addresses the marital relationship, not much is offered as to how the wife submits to the husband. This is conjecture on my part but perhaps the readers of Paul’s day know fairly well what submission looks like for wives since they have been submitting for hundreds of years and that is why Paul’s instruction to wives does not need further explanation. 
What is new to his readers is the inference that husbands are to submit to their wives. So Paul spends more time on submission for a husband who seeks to follow Christ. Such a husband will love his wife like Christ loves the Church. That kind of love sacrifices for the other and puts the other before him. The words of Paul describe a kingdom-defining, culture-defying relational dynamic unknown to the typical first century Christian husband.  
However, care must be taken to not make the correlation between the husband and Christ too closely. A husband’s love cannot accomplish for the wife what only Christ can do. A husband does not make a wife holy – only Christ does. A husband cannot cleanse her through the word – only Christ does. A husband does not present his wife to Christ as a pure and blameless bride – only Christ does. Husbands are NOT like Christ in this way and the husband is NOT responsible for the wife’s spiritual state. This is an inappropriate extrapolation from the metaphor. In fact Paul has already stated that only Christ is the Savior of the church, which includes both husbands and wives.  
During the first few years of my marriage, I had a very clear picture of what I expected from Jon – a knight in shining armor come to rescue me from my slide into a spiritual pit where I was slowly losing my passionate love for Christ. I had hopes that Jon as my “head” would lead me back to Christ.   
That didn’t happen. And for good reason. Jon was not my “savior.”   
As my spiritual state deteriorated I began to panic. I did everything I could to avoid the slide down, digging my heels deep into the side of the hill through counsel, mentoring, reading, and praying. I tried to respond to Jon’s attempts to lead but he had his own spiritual journey and he didn’t know how to lead me. It was painfully awkward for both of us. When I gave birth to three sons in three years, our family devotions became child-friendly but not desperate-wife-friendly.   
I finally quit taking communion. That’s when it hit Jon that I was in deep spiritual trouble. He felt helpless. Seven years into our marriage I hit bottom and abandoned my faith in Christ.   
But Christ did not abandon me. With the help of a woman who eventually became my mentor, Christ revealed himself to me and I was transformed. That transformation not only impacted my journey with Christ but it also impacted my journey with Jon. We began a new dance.   
A dance of adults in which we individually took ownership of our own spirituality.   
A dance of equals in which we respected each other’s unique form of spirituality and leadership.   
A dance of lovers in which we shed our facades and grew in love and knowledge of each other’s true selves.   
A dance of full humanity in which we faced our weaknesses and leaned into each other’s strengths.  
In those years after my transformation, our dance was really awkward, at times painful as we stepped on each other’s toes. But with each passing year we got better at dancing. And it’s still getting better. Sometimes he leads and sometimes I lead. In our understanding of mutuality in partnership we believe the leader is the one who is stronger and more gifted. The follower is the one who humbly accepts limitations and trusts the other.    
Over time the dance has become smoother. It’s become more graceful. Thirty-three years later it’s definitely more fun!
So how IS the husband like Christ? If he is not the wife's savior, then how is he to love her? How does he "give himself up for her"?
Paul goes on in the next section, 5:26-33, to explain how the husband’s relationship with his wife correlates to Christ’s relationship with the Church introducing it by the phrase “in the same way.”
Paul takes the correspondence of husband-wife and Christ-Church to a deeper and more profound connection – the mysterious one flesh union. The head/body metaphor is not a model for setting the husband above the wife in authority or responsibility. It is a metaphor for unity, one that is founded on their marriage union as equal partners of grace in a relationship of mutual submission. Notice that Paul does not exhort the husband to become the head of his wife. He states what is the reality of marriage – the husband is connected to his wife as a head is to the body. 
For Paul, the mystery of this union is best pictured by a human body that is viewed holistically. Using a Jewish literary device called a chiasm, Paul connects the concrete metaphor of a head with its body to a theological mystery. (Many New Testament scholars acknowledge Hebraic or Semitic styles employed by the NT authors.) Here is how these verses are laid out as chiasm: 
(A)   husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 
(B)    After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. 
(C)   For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 
(B)   This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
(A)  However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. 
I believe many make a mistake in applying linear thinking to this passage of Paul’s writing. The main point is not at the end – husbands love your wives and wives respect your husbands. The main point is in the center, identified by the chiastic structure: A husband is to leave his family of origin and be united with his wife in a one-flesh union.
Surrounding the main point of the one-flesh union are the layers of implication. First, the one flesh marriage union is a picture of the “marriage” union of Christ to the Church, his Bride. It is as impossible to separate a husband from his wife as it is to separate Christ from his Church. 
Second, it is impossible for the husband to hurt his wife without hurting himself. A husband is united to his wife in a mysterious and organic way such that he must love his wife like it is assumed he loves himself. A husband’s headship is defined as a nurturing role of feeding and caring, not as a leadership or decision-making role. It is the same nurturing role described by Paul as defining Christ’s headship in Ephesians 4:15-16. 
If Paul had wanted to perpetuate a patriarchal model of marriage, it would have made more sense to appeal to the order of creation or the deception of Eve which he uses in 1 Timothy 2:13. Instead he appeals to a verse that defines the core of a marriage – the mysterious union of husband and wife where two individuals become “one flesh,” a metaphor that corresponds to the head-attached-to-body image. 
The relationship of the head to the body is not a function of authority but a function of unity and a necessity to life. You can cut off an arm or leg and you still have a body that lives. But cut off the head and you kill the body. Paul is exhorting husbands to embrace what has been true since the day the vows were exchanged and the marriage was consummated. A husband is connected to his wife in a mysterious union of one flesh, of one body. Therefore he must act out that union by submitting to his wife and loving his own “body” by giving himself up for her. A husband cannot treat the marriage as if he is independent of his wife.

I do not believe Paul is exhorting the husband to step into a role of spiritual leader (note: “lead” or “leader” is never used in this passage), but to step with his wife in a partnership of unity by connecting to his wife like a head needs to connect with its body. Disconnection from his wife hurts her, even “kills” her as it would if a person was beheaded. It will also "kill" him.
This is what it felt like for me during a very rough time in our marriage. Our dance had stopped. Jon was overwhelmed with fulltime teaching and parttime management of a program for the school district. He was hardly home.  
And I kept myself busy as well, first with homeschooling and later with seminary and church ministry. We quit spending time together just for fun and for romance. Jon was focused on juggling his work and his students and he was happy to have me take care of everything else. We were managers living as housemates in a disconnected dance.  
Finally one evening I told Jon I had lost my feelings of love for him. I told him the long-term disconnection left me numb and unable to respond to him with any feeling. I also assured him that I had no intention of leaving him. I was committed to our marriage. But I could no longer maintain my fa├žade of happiness and needed to be completely honest. There were no demands, I said, just a deep desire for him to really know me, for him to know how empty and broken my heart was.  
It was terribly difficult for me to say these words to him. I knew it would hurt him deeply. Jon didn’t say much but with his eyes and his embrace, he received my words with grace and humility. And then in the following months he acted.  
Within one year our marriage was completely transformed and our hearts were reconnected. Our one flesh union was no longer just a theological statement but became a deeply felt reality. 
Paul’s metaphor for marriage is not a model or a mandate. It is a PROFOUND MYSTERY in its image of unity that cannot be fully explained but is intended by God to be experienced. This is true of both marriage and Christ and the Church. (If you want to consider something that will really blow your mind, especially if you still insist on equating headship with leadership, read Alan G. Padgett’s As Christ Submits to the Church where he argues servant leadership IS mutual submission.) 
Understanding of the head and body metaphor for marriage as a picture of unity rather than leadership makes more sense to me within the immediate context of Ephesians 5:21—6:9 as well as within the whole book where unity is a main theme. I offer this alternative understanding of Ephesians 5 to couples who want an alternative story for their marriage. I offer it to couples who actually live this kind of unity and co-leadership despite the story they have been told in the church. I respect the decision of those who choose to remain loyal to the traditional story but I suggest that a husband’s role of leadership be assigned by gifting and agreed to by mutual consent rather than a mandate based on a possible misreading of Ephesians 5. 
I read this quote recently: “Therapy is the art of changing a person’s controlling metaphor.” 
I want to offer a different controlling metaphor to those marriages which struggle with the burden of an oppressive interpretation of Ephesians 5. I think Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captures the intent of Paul’s metaphor in his poem, Song of Hiawatha, and offers a 19th century version of the metaphor:
 As unto the bow the cord is,  
So unto the man is woman; 
Though she bends him, she obeys him, 
Though she draws him, yet she follows; 
Useless each without the other!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On the Eve of the Evangelical Woman

I am amazed by the power of naming.

Though I do not agree that the act of naming equates with greater authority, I have to admit I appreciate how sensitively Adam named his female partner. Twice. Once in Genesis 2 and once in Genesis 3.

This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman’ for she was taken out of man. Adam totally got it. He instantly recognized the wondrous creature before him as sharing his humanity and solving his aloneness. And he fell in love.

Then after the fall Adam named the woman a second time. Eve. The name means living. It’s as though he was defying the final curse – for dust you are and to dust you will return. But I don’t believe it was defiance. It was hope. The first breath exhaled in response to the consequences, the terrible curses unleashed by sin. Eve. Not “We’re sorry.” Not “Please forgive us.” Just “Eve.” A woman’s name that embodied hope for the newly fallen world.

But ever since Genesis 3, women in general have struggled with being named by others in ways that have nothing to do with a given name.

You can’t teach because women are more easily deceived.

You can’t lead because women are weak.

You’re not invited because women are too distracting sexually.

You can’t question because women want to domineer.

You can’t say anything because women are too emotional.

How ironic that Eve was the “mother of all the living" yet so many women in the church do not feel alive, at least not in the sense that Jesus intended. Instead of feeling like God's handiwork and free to do the good works prepared by God (Ephesians 2:10), many feel caged and unable to break out of gender stereotypes, to find their place in the faith community and to shed shameful names.

Carol Kuniholm commented on a previous blog post in which I encouraged women to not silence their voices because of theological intimidation by men. She points out that the lack of biblical knowledge is not the only reason women are reticent to speak up. Carol identifies several other barriers:

In thinking about why I sometimes find myself silent on the issue of women in the church, or on other issues of importance, I find it has less to do with theology, or lack of confidence, and more to do with the way women who don't fit the common mold so quickly suffer personal attack. Even in secular politics, women who dare to speak their mind find themselves accused of being strident, unfeminine, "sluts," or worse. Women who have chosen the path of acquiescence are often threatened by women who speak up, and use gossip as an avenue to force conformity. Men who like to hear themselves talk can make life hard for those who object to being constantly shut down or interrupted. 

These are all attempts to name women in damaging ways, to shame them into silence. These are violations of relationship within the family of God. This is not Christ-like. This is not love.

So I encourage women to help each other reject these names, live into your new name in Christ and combine your voice with other men and women who believe in freedom and equality. Like Adam realized, I want you to know you are not alone. So I say again…

TEACH! You bring much needed wisdom and creative theological insight.

LEAD! You are ezer kenegdo – women of strength called to partner alongside our brothers and fight the Enemy together.

BE PRESENT! Your femininity is not responsible for keeping men from lusting.

CHALLENGE! You can disagree with a gentle and quiet spirit and speak the truth in love.

SPEAK! Continue to be vulnerable even if it makes others feel uncomfortable.

Sisters, you are daughters of Eve and your name is not “deceived” but LIVING.  Through you I believe there will be unleashed a fresh movement of the Spirit in the Church because Christ is alive in you.

Friday, May 11, 2012

No Ordinary Mother

I have always been struck by the absence of the Virgin Mary in sermons, Bible studies or conversations about role models that take place in evangelical churches. My hunch is people want to avoid anything that sounds Roman Catholic. Which is unfortunate. Mary is an extraordinary woman.

Yet Mary, in some ways, is caught in the middle. On one hand, she is one who should be venerated. For crying out loud, SHE WAS CHOSEN BY GOD TO BEAR HIS SON! Her response to the angel Gabriel revealed a remarkably mature faith for such a young girl. She doesn't wiggle out of her calling like Moses did: Gabriel, can I skip the being pregnancy part and use a surrogate mother? And after she seeks out her relative, Elizabeth, Mary breaks out in a song that echoes Hannah's prayer (1 Samuel 2) and reveals her understanding of God's bigger story. But unlike Hannah who handed Samuel over to Eli, Mary does not ask Elizabeth and her husband-priest Zechariah to raise her unborn child in the temple. (The continued connection to Hannah cannot be missed however when Mary has to retrieve her young boy from the temple.) She knows her calling is to raise the Son of God herself. She deserves to be called "Blessed."

On the other hand, Mary was also an ordinary woman. Her humanity is most evident when you compile all the references to her in the gospels and observe her through the lens of motherhood. I did this a few years ago and I was pleasantly surprised to see a normal mother struggling with the same problem all mothers have - letting go of our children.

I tried to imagine what it would be like to be in her shoes, to raise what I assume to have been a perfect child. Did her heart jump each time Jesus the baby cried for her breast milk? Did she panic when Jesus the boy fell and marred the skin that wrapped the Messiah? How did she handle the pressure from the town mothers to hook him up with their daughters?

My study resulted in a poem about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Which I would like to share with you. Kind of. It's a bit intimidating to post a poem when I do not claim to be a poet or even aspire to be one. So please bear with my juvenile attempt and listen to the story of Mary, an ordinary mother learning to let go of an extraordinary son, the Divine Son.


Imbedded nails and lifted post,
That dreadful cross bore my son.
Nerves entwined, in a silent scream,
Mind and soul were now numb.

Gazing upon his battered face,
Grief swelled with each drop of his blood.
In this final test of a mother’s love,
Memories rushed in like a flood.

A virgin message to virgin ears,
Yeshua, Immanuel, his name.
And Simeon spoke of hearts exposed,
But mine would be pierced with pain.

And like the prophecy Simeon spoke,
My own heart rose and fell,
Filled with wonder, then drained with fear,
From a humble birth to death’s knell.

As I nursed the God-man in my arms;
My heart he did fill, my life he did bless.
I gave up my will and gave him my womb,
But he wasn’t mine to possess.

Raising Jesus was a mother’s dream,
A perfect child indeed.
So when he delayed for days at the temple,
I was confused at my young son’s need.

Upset at what seemed to be disrespect,
Worry is every parent’s right.
But he was surprised we were anxious for him
Since he had been Home each night.

I heard, I treasured and pondered those words;
I must not possess was his warning.
Many more years he remained in our home,
But I knew it could change any morning.

Strong in body and wise in mind,
I knew he had power from heaven.
Years passed as I mothered God’s Son,
Waiting for a sign to be given.

Then one day, Jesus departed
For the river baptism by John.
I expected much more than a Voice from above,
Instead for forty days he was gone.

Surely there would be a miraculous sign
When the Messiah was revealed.
So when the wine ran out at a wedding,
I went to my son and appealed.

With a subtle hint, I mentioned the need,
But he knew what I wanted to say.
Again with a gentle rebuke in his words,
A mother’s voice he would no longer obey.

From seas to cities, he gathered disciples,
I watched him with heart full of pride.
But pride turned to fear as I heard words of evil,
“He’s insane, he’s the devil!” they cried.

How dare they accuse him of being possessed!
I know who he is, what he’s worth.
So I had to see him and rescue if needed,
And tell them of his holy birth.

The crowds were too great to even get near
I demanded a message be sent.
Instead of a welcome or a look of relief,
He had words to confront our intent.

“My family are those who do God’s will.”
He pointed to all gathered near.
I knew he was saying the voice of the Spirit
Is greater than a mother’s to hear.

Memories faded as I stood on that hill,
Against the nails my son strained.
Surely God would deliver His Beloved,
But with each hour my hope drained.

Must a mother let go even to death?
What good has my sacrifice been?
I know Jesus saw my questioning eyes
And to John instructions were given.

In the final hour as he hung on the cross,
He gave one last push on the nail.
He cried, “It is finished,” and his spirit departed,
I felt my heart tear like the veil.

When the spear of the soldier pierced his side,
The words of Simeon came true.
With his blood darkened by the sins of the world,
The sword pierced my own soul through.

After the cross and the nails released him,
I held his body so lifeless.
Why should God give but then take hope away,
And a tomb and not me possess?

Little did I know what three days would bring,
Even the tomb would release.
And later the gift of the Spirit would come,
All works to salvation would cease.

My heart he does fill, my life he does bless,
He rules from his heavenly seat.
No more letting go, I finally possess Him,
A mother’s sacrifice now complete.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

God My Mother

A few years ago I was reflecting on motherhood. Or more accurately my own mothering. It was painful as I faced the reality of my less-than-perfect attempts to raise three sons. I knew they carried the wounds and scars of my humanity and I prayed they would navigate life in such a way to find healing through the mercy and grace of God as I had. I promised myself that if they ever were in town together on Mother’s Day, I would take THEM out for dinner to celebrate the fact they survived my motherhood.

My three sons. My amazing, gifted, loving three sons. Now they are all married to strong, gifted, incredible women and they are raising their own children with the grace and mercy I wished I had displayed more often as a young mother.

I am deeply grateful. I am humbled. I am awed by God’s gift of my family.

But it was not always how I felt many years ago when I had no clue what being a mother meant. As a young teen my babysitting career ended after my first job. I had fallen asleep after the kids were in bed and the unreasonable parents were furious with me. I never babysat again. Nor did I ever volunteer in a church’s nursery or children’s department.

I never had dreams of being of a mother.

Until I woke up with three sons under the age of 3. Literally woke up. Three C-sections in three years. Their arrivals were not quite part of my overall plan. My plan was to build our home, pay off the mortgage and then start a family.

Instead we moved into our unfinished house a couple of weeks before our first son was born. The boys were teenagers before the last detail of the house was completed. And they were out of the house and married before we made our last mortgage payment.

Nothing worked out the way I had planned. Of course in hindsight everything worked out much better. However it involved living what seemed at times to be a bad dream.

The first five years of surviving babies are a blur in my memory bank (I didn’t have a single full night’s sleep during those years). The toddler-preschool stage was a nightmare because the boys were out of control, or more accurately, I was out of control. Then God called me to homeschool them through junior high. (Seriously God?!) It was really rough when they entered high school.

Thankfully God gave me a husband who was one of 12 children. He knew how to change diapers, loved playing and wrestling with the boys, taught them how to drive and basically, stayed calm while I nearly went insane.

But then an amazing thing happened as each left home. I began to have hope that indeed we would all survive my motherhood. And we did.

For all the potholes I describe above there were more often stretches of laughter at funny antics, adventures on camping trips, evenings of family devotions and Jon’s storytelling, celebrations of achievements and many other moments of togetherness.

I look back in awe of God’s wisdom and mercy. The road through motherhood was pretty rough for me but it shaped me in profound ways.

I have been transformed through motherhood, even “saved.” Being a mother has taught me more about God than any other life experience and has been the most powerful context for “working out my salvation” (Philippians 2:12).

I think I get a sense of what the Apostle Paul means in 1 Timothy 2:15, one of the most perplexing verses in the Bible for women.
But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
When my third son was born I was in a spiritual pit, not sure whether I was still a Christian or if God existed. A motherhood crisis was coinciding with a faith crisis. It turned out that as I struggled to respond to the cries of my babies, God responded to the cries of my heart. And he saved me. He met me in the pit and restored faith.

Since the years that followed my faith rebirth, I read my own story into that verse and I see how childbearing has helped save me from myself. My anger. My efforts to control my life and others. My selfishness. My discontent. Childbearing helped me to find my heart and it led my heart straight to Christ who mothered me through motherhood.

I know that Mother’s Day is a day for children to celebrate their mothers. Some can do this more than others. Many have mothers who were absent or inflicted great damage. Others have no children with whom to celebrate. But we all have a perfect Father who is also a perfect Mother, One who answers our cries, nourishes our souls and walks us through life. Where I have failed as a mother, God will be to my children.

Happy Mother’s Day, God.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Deaf-Mute In All of Us

People have often asked me what it’s like to grow up with a deaf-mute mother. Before she came to live with me after my father passed away I would respond with a puzzled look and say something like, “Uh, I never thought much about it.” Seriously. Then I’d try to lighten the awkward moment by telling the inquirer what an advantage I had as a teenager. I could say whatever I wanted and my mom would never hear it.

On the serious side, communicating with my mother is very difficult, often frustrating. She doesn’t read lips. In fact she doesn’t read at all since she never had an education. My father made up a sign language for our family that is much like charades. If you have played the game you know how difficult it is to be understood. Concrete words are not easy. Abstract ones are nearly impossible without a common point of reference.

When I left home, I slowly came to realize that my growing up years were anything but normal. It wasn't until my mother came to live with me that I began to understand how her silent, unhearing presence impacted me in profound ways.

I have never had a deep “conversation” with my mother. In our relationship, I am as deaf and mute to her as she is to me. Now that she has lived with me for the past 15 years I am painfully aware that loneliness and isolation is her normal. I grieve for her inability to connect with the world in meaningful ways.

Lately I’ve come to the conclusion that life with a deaf mother in some ways is not all that different from life with normal hearing people.

Occasionally I run into people who hear my words but act deaf. I have conversations with people and I can tell I have not been heard. When I have something important to say I am treated in such a way that makes me feel like they wish I came with a remote and a mute button. Attempts at dialogue end up being a game of charades with large amounts of emotional energy expended to make limited points of connection.

Being deaf or mute doesn’t have to have a physical cause. It can be a state of the mind and heart. For the person who is trying to speak, the blank stares in response can have any number of causes.

A closed belief system. Fear. Preservation. A position of superiority or privilege. Lack of trust. Exclusion. Pride. Lack of empathy. I have been guilty of all of these and more. I know I have been deaf to the stories of others, to their attempts to connect with me.

And I have often stopped my ears to God.

This phenomenon is described in Scripture often where the loss of physical senses is a metaphor for the spiritual, emotional and mental state of a close mind and hard heart.

Psalm 135:15-18 The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. 
Isaiah 6:9-10 Go and tell this people: " 'Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.' Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.
Jeremiah 6:10 To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the LORD is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.
In the Old Testament, the main Hebrew word for “to obey” is the same word for “to hear, listen, pay attention, perceive.” The Jews understood that deafness is the lack of deep understanding, accurate perception and immediate responsiveness. Hearing is the prerequisite to obedience and to action.

And hearing is necessary to a transformative community, a community that listens well to God and to each other.

I’ve been in a season of articulating some concerns, expressing my passions and advocating for gender reconciliation. It’s been a season of refinement, of clarity and of growth. The result has been further shaping and a deeper confidence of who I am and who God is to me as a woman. I am finding my voice and speaking up. But I know that it is not my responsibility to open deaf ears.

It’s fruitless to keep speaking to closed ears. It’s exhausting to keep participating in a “charade.” It’s time to turn my attention and energy to those who are listening and need a listening ear, to those who need encouragement to speak because they have muted themselves among the deaf.

God is shaking up the church. For those who are willing to abandon their trenches of tradition, he is unstopping ears, unmuting voices and powerfully reconciling men and women along the Way.

Isaiah 35:1-6  
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you." Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.