Hi, I’m Lauren.

Thank you for visiting my website!

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Here’s a little bit about me: I am a recent graduate of the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, a bizarre little grad school/seminary in Belltown, Seattle. I focused my research on the intersection of theology and literature. I currently work at the Seattle School as an assistant instructor.

My day job is as a transcriber/editor and quality assurance specialist for 3Play Media. I work with educational videos, movies, documentaries, radio programs, and webinars, editing transcripts and closed captioning.

Apart from school and work, I am a writer. I mostly write creative nonfiction, but I try my hand at poetry now and then. This website is full of examples of my creative writing as well as my academic writing (see sidebar). I also like to create things. (It’s the INTJ in me.) I’m the editor of my school’s first-ever literary magazine, Litand I have a somewhat collaborative blog over at theologyandliterature.com.

In my free time, I like to write, of course, and read (to say I’m obsessed with John Updike is an understatement). I care deeply about modern and contemporary literature. I am a history nut. I like memorizing things and re-organizing my books/desk/clothes.

So here’s how the site works: a good chunk of my writing portfolio is here to view (see sidebar).  To the far left are icon links to my Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts.

The Intellectual as Prophet: Reframing Theological Education to Provoke Change in the World

Form: 20-minute Symposia-style Presentation for the Seattle School community and alumni
Presented: Fall 2015


 

Abstract:

“[An intellectual is] someone whose place it is publicly to raise embarrassing questions, to confront orthodoxy and dogma (rather than produce them), to be someone who cannot easily be co-opted by governments or corporations, and whose raison d’être is to represent all those people and issues that are routinely forgotten or swept under the rug.” Edward Said, Representations of the Intellectual, p. 11.

A year after I graduated with my master of the arts in theology and culture, and eight months into my first year as an assistant instructor, I attended my first academic conference as an educator and presenter. The excitement I felt before the conference (“OMG, I’m a real professional!”) was met with a similar degree of disdain afterwards. I sat through a dozen lectures and came away feeling as though I had left the city, entered—of course!—an ivory tower that stood alone with no connection the world outside.

Bitter, caustic, I began wondering what I had gotten myself into, pursing the life of the intellectual.

And yet, the kind of intellectual I was trained to be at the Seattle School, and the kind of intellectual that post-colonial thinker Edward Said heralds is not the intellectual I met at the conference. Said’s intellectual is one who embodies his or her work and who does so for the sake of the Other. The intellectual is, indeed, a prophet.

My presentation for the alumni Symposia expounds on Said’s portrait of the intellectual by reframing theological education—particularly the MATC program—in light of his work as well as Esther Meek’s scholarship on “covenantal epistemology” and Dan Allender’s Stranger/Prophet trope. I hope to show how theological education at the Seattle School did not just prepare my peers and me to be pastors, leaders, and artists, but intellectuals equipped to provoke change in the world.

The Nexus of Desire and Insecurity (Learning to Indwell with Papers, Students, and Myself)

Form: Blog Post
Written: Spring 2013
Published by: The Seattle School’s Stories Blog


At the Spring Banquet last year, a few weeks before I graduated from The Seattle School, I was asked to pray for the returning students. I had a lot going on for me that weekend, including an impending breakup with my boyfriend, but at the forefront of my mind was I don’t want to leave. I didn’t want to graduate. I didn’t want to leave my classmates and my mentors. I didn’t want to leave that red brick building.

So I read the prayer I had written out, choking up every other word, making it nearly impossible for me to get to the “amen.” When I finished, I sat back down and sobbed—for my boyfriend, for graduation, and for my future.

I entered the Theology and Culture program sure I wanted to continue in my vocation as a creative writer. Yet as I got deeper into the program, the vision I had of my future began to expand. I wanted to write, yes, but I also wanted to teach: I wanted to facilitate learning and curate conversation around the arts and theology.

These two desires—to not leave my Seattle School cocoon and to teach—were met in one job: assistant instructor. I pictured myself sitting at Caffe Ladro, grading papers with a goofy smile on my face, giving out those A’s, B’s, C’s with confidence. I imagined meeting with teary-eyed students who would sigh, Oh, Lauren, all I want is to write as well as you do! And every student would cling to my guidance, changing that C average to an A.

Though in reality, in my job as an assistant instructor, my desires have collided with insecurity.

Every Wednesday when I walk into the classroom, a million thoughts clog my mind. I am too young for this job. I don’t know enough. I don’t look like I know what I’m doing. I don’t like the Bible enough for this class (whoops). There are people better fit for this position. Why was I hired?

DogMemeThere’s an Internet meme I love of a dog dressed in safety goggles, sitting in front of beakers and graduated cylinders. The caption reads, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” Often in my job I feel this way, that I’m “faking it till I make it,” that I’m a Labrador in a laboratory.

This culminated last term, when I graded a stack of 54 “Harry” papers. The students were assigned to read a memoir about a boy, Harry, growing up in the Ozarks with three old men after witnessing his friend get blown up by a grenade. Then each student wrote a dialogue with Harry, imagining how they would talk with him about class concepts and sit with him in his suffering.

When I took the class two years ago, I totally biffed my paper. I could not get to the heart of the assignment, to listen to Harry and stay present in our imaginary conversation, rather than hide from the big issues in his life. Wanting to show off my creative writing skills, I spent too much time constructing our imaginary setting and making sure I perfected Harry’s voice. My grade was well-deserved. I did not have the capacity to be with Harry the way he needed me to be; I realized this when I began grading my students’ papers.

I recognized, first, that some students just got it. And despite my own insecurity, I felt pleased to give them A’s. On one paper I wrote, “If it were possible to ‘win’ a paper, I think you’ve just won.” I was delighted; I found reparation in his receiving the A I did not get.

Second, I noticed that what we were asking our students to do, to sit and listen to Harry—to indwell with him in his story and in his suffering—was what I needed to do in my grading. As an assistant instructor at The Seattle School, I’m not just checking off boxes on a rubric. I’m accepting an invitation to sit with every student’s paper as if I’m having a conversation with him or her.

This is not what I thought I would be experiencing as an assistant instructor. I thought my job would be spent circling grammar errors (though there is some of that), not engaging with students emotionally both in office hours and on paper.

In reflecting on this, I’ve come to realize that the indwelling that I’ve asked my students to do with Harry, and that I’ve come to do with papers, is what I need to do with myself. Instead of pushing down those insecure messages of you’re not good enough or allowing them to control me, I sit with them. I ask them, Are you true? Are you worth listening to?

Practicing this kind of mindfulness has made my Wednesdays at the school less exhausting. It’s helped me see the stack of papers I have waiting for me as less frightening. I know this is something that I can take with me, too, when I finally leave The Seattle School community and its red brick walls.

Canonizing Augustine’s Concubine: An Exploration of St. Augustine’s Theology of Desire through John Updike’s Fiction (Abstract & Video)

Form: Short academic thesis (abstract)
Written: Fall 2013 – Summer 2014


For centuries, St. Augustine’s perspective on desire and sexuality were taken for granted: that lust was a cardinal sin, that babies born of any sexual act (marital or otherwise) were damned, carrying within them the sin of Adam until baptized. Beginning in the mid-20th century, however, theologians in and outside the Church began wondering if Augustine had been wrong on one or two of these accounts. Joining this conversation in the late 1970s, Pulitzer Prize winning author John Updike critiques and reimagines Augustine’s theology of desire in his short story “Augustine’s Concubine,” a retelling of Confessions. Updike offers a way into understanding Augustine’s theology of desire that avoids oversimplifying, as others have done. This paper analyzes Updike’s criticism of both the Augustinian tradition and its modern opposite, the Freudian tradition, and considers “Augustine’s Concubine” as an embodied critique of these traditions. It then looks at St. Augustine’s theology of desire, as explicated in his Confessions, to show how it deepens the meaning of Updike’s story. Finally, this paper explores the recent work of theologian Sarah Coakley in forming a theology of desire for the contemporary Church.

Watch my 11-minute thesis presentation here: http://vimeo.com/103339935

Kiss the Baby: Reflections on Psalm 2

Form: Blog Post
Written: March 1, 2014
Published by: Wits’ End Church Blog


A few weeks ago, friends of mine, Bethany and Michael, had a gender-reveal party for their growing baby, who is due in July. They chose to learn the sex just moments before announcing to their closest friends and family, who were in the room. A girl. We all rejoiced at the news, throwing confetti in the air. A girl!

Hugging Bethany goodbye after such an exciting day, a friend and I asked about names. Have they picked one out? Is there a little Lila or Madeleine in there? Bethany said they have ideas, but they want to wait till the baby is born before announcing her name to the world. They want to bless their baby with a name when she’s in their arms, and then bless the world with this named child.

When I reflect on Psalm 2, I think about Bethany and the baby girl she will birth and bless in a few months. The psalm itself is a tricky one to read; it’s one of the “royal” psalms, by David and about the coming Messiah. Christians have tended to understand it to be about Jesus. The structure of the psalm is that of a crisis: the nations “rage and the peoples plot in vain” (v. 1). The kings of the earth are warring and are even challenging God. In response, God laughs at the attempt and says there’s another, better King whom God has “set … on Zion” (v. 6). Then the psalm shifts to first person. “I will tell the decree,” the narrator says, “The Lord said to me…” (v. 7).

This is where the psalm gets tricky because no one’s quite sure who “me” is. Is it David? Is it Christ? Is it Israel as a nation?

For me, there’s something really delightful about reading this passage as being about Jesus. The declaration made by God in verse 7, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you,” reminds us of God’s word to Jesus at his baptism in Mark 1, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” I imagine Bethany and Michael’s naming their daughter and presenting her to the world as remarkably similar to these declarations (though without a voice from heaven and, presumably, fewer doves).

In Psalm 2, before God says anything about what the Messiah will do (rule and—yikes—“break [the nations] with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel”), God says who Jesus is. You are my Son. This statement is not just saying who Jesus is, establishing his independent identity. This statement defines his relationship to the Father; Jesus is Son.

And when Bethany and Michael hold their newborn daughter in their arms, they will be naming her before she has a chance to do much at all. All they say is who she in relationship to mom and dad. They will say to her, “You are our daughter. We have begotten you. We hardly know you now, but already we are so pleased.”

What has always drawn me to this psalm, even in its complexity, is verse 12: “Kiss the Son.” The Message says it this way: “Kiss Messiah!” The psalm says to do this in order to keep the Son from anger, to keep him happy. But now I can’t help but picture this kiss as an act done by a new mother and father, or maybe someone meeting the newborn for the first time. You can’t help but kiss her soft little head.

The Catcher

Form: Poetry
Written: November 2013
Published by: The Seattle School’s Lit


“What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them.”

–Holden Caulfield

By junior year
I was quoting Paul to my friends: “Bad company
corrupts good behavior.”
Ashley’s brother Jason dated
this girl we said corrupted his behavior.
He would say things like………… “oh my god”
and puffed cigarettes and drank on weekends.

I found myself quoting the rest of Paul to him—
“Come back to your senses and stop sinning”—
with my own addition, “because she’s a slut and you can do better.”

Not much before then
Ashley, my best friend, cussed
after we got Chinese food—
she said she was pissed—which pissed
me off for weeks.
I thought: how dare she say that word around me?

I was also thinking:
Have I failed her? Have I failed
her that she would cuss, skip church, try drugs ………(or so I heard)?
Haven’t I collected her
from the edge of the cliff, grabbed her
with my butterfly net
as pebbles rolled beneath her heels?

We were youth group kids, all of us,
from middle school till graduation.
But something ……..snapped …….. in my friends,
somewhere around everyone’s junior year.
Obediently waking at 8 on a Sunday became
impossible or holding tongues when 4-
letter words tried hard 2 escape.

I blamed their friends. I blamed
the city high schools and their parents who sent them there.
But mostly I blamed ……..me.

*

Katie and I became friends when she was 13, swinging
her chicken legs off the side of the bunk, belting
Veggie Tales songs while Ashley and I talked boys.

Katie’s the only one I still talk to. Two
years ago, I asked her, “What happened? Are we the only two
untouched?”

She still has that sing-songy optimism. When I wanted to blame
the youth pastor, the church, she said, “Oh well.” She asked me
if I’d heard from Ashley.

*

In college, I cried
when Matt said he and Ashley had sex.
That she was spotting—I rolled my eyes.
That just happens sometimes; she’s not …………. pregnant.
He called two months later to say they broke
up again. She’s back with that girl,
her first same-sex ……..love.

Jason went off to war, came back horrified.
Another friend joined so he could carry
a gun, like killing zombies in Xbox games.
They would see things.
They would …..see…… things.

I imagine standing with Katie on the far
edge of that cliff, holding hands.
Goodbye, Ashley. ……..Goodbye, Jason.
I see them all topple off. They’ve run
under my arms, through my fingers, ……..like Red Rover.
They’ve landed in the sea. They’re falling
through the air.

*

I see Katie when I’m home.
We sit on swing sets, thermoses of coffee
sloshing in our hands.
We’ve talked through every one
of her boyfriends and crushes. ……..This newest one,
he’s the one.

She said, “Someone asked me
why I wanted to have sex with only one
my whole life.”
I wondered, is this what I taught her,
after 7 years of friendship? To have sex
with the one you love?

In March,
Katie told me she was ……..pregnant.
I woke to her text, before it an “oh, by the way.”
I imagine her blonde hair, blue eyes, chicken legs, baby belly,
tumbling off the cliff.

But Katie won’t fall;
she floats. Her white dress—a parachute.
While I stand at the edge, waiting for another to ……..slip
through my fingers, Katie flies away and takes
with her the cliff. Calling back, she rephrases
Paul: “Peace, peace.”

The Other Side of Paradise

Form: Narrative Essay
Written: August 2013
Commissioned by: Indiana Wesleyan University English and Writing Department


When I was a freshman in college, I had nothing better to do on a Saturday than to drive off campus, far and away to Purdue University, where my sister Sam was a junior. It was January, maybe February, not long after we had found ourselves in the middle of holiday drama—aunts complaining about cousins, moms mad at dads for their imperfect gifts. And Sam and I had realized once again that we liked each other, so much so that I drove the snowy two hours from Marion to West Lafayette, just to spend an evening with my big sis.

Sam gave me a taste of her college life: we spent our lazy Saturday shopping at cute boutiques and big chain stores, trying on clothes neither of us could afford. She showed me where she worked, her favorite places to eat. At night we stayed up late, curled up together on the couch like we used to as kids, and made fun of the Miss America Pageant, throwing words like sexist and degrading at the screen.

After dinner that evening I had had an itch to buy a book at the Borders across from our restaurant. I found myself in the fiction section, then the F’s, fishing to find the book I wanted to read, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. I had read Fitzgerald of the Gatsby fame before but was intrigued by the author’s first novel, the semi-autobiographical story of one Amory Blaine, who came of age during World War I. I started the book there in West Lafayette; I’m not sure what Sam was doing while I, in my imagination, traveled to 1910’s Minnesota.

There was glamor in that book I knew I was missing in my life. Amory went to these impressive prep schools with high towers and gargoyles overlooking the lawn. (Where were IWU’s spires?) He had long, pretentious conversations with the wise ex-Catholic, Monsignor Darcy, who encouraged the boy in his pursuit of self-knowledge. And Amory loved reading George Bernard Shaw, and he wrote for Princeton’s newspaper, and he skipped class one day to drive to the coast and steal meals with his buddies. My adventure, I knew, went no further than this Saturday, driving across the state to spend 24 hours with someone I had known my whole life.

The next afternoon I drove back to Indiana Wesleyan in the snow. I remember being eager to get back to campus, but now I’m not sure why. I had so much fun with my older sister, and I knew I was coming back to a (hopefully) empty dorm room and an eventless Sunday evening.

Already I had become dis-illusioned by college life. I had arrived in the fall, believing that everyone around me would have the same interests as me, would care about the same causes, and would want to be my friend. By second semester, I had no friends (or very few), and it seemed that everyone around me was fake. Fake smiles, fake hands-in-the-air worship. I knew my options were to either adapt, to play a role that was not truly me, or to opt out and therefore be alone.

I chose to be alone. I worked my way through This Side of Paradise slowly, reading when the rest of campus socialized between classes, during lunch and dinner. As Amory ages in the book, I formed a kinship with him and adopted his sentiment. He prides himself in his narcissism. He is the star of his own story. And if someone does not like him, does not find him as “damn debonair” as he knows himself to be—well, who needs them (Fitzgerald 54)?

To his friend Tom, Amory describes himself as a “cynical idealist,” adding that he is not sure if that means anything (Fitzgerald 94). To me, that meant everything. It meant you were an idealist maybe at heart, that you wanted so much for the world to piece together for the good of all. But you also knew it would not and could not if people were the way they were. Roommates could but won’t ever invite you to hang out. Classmates could but won’t care about the project as much as you do. You could but won’t change the world. For those first few months of the spring semester, I let myself become Amory Blaine, the cynical idealist.

One time I remember walking from my residence hall to the campus coffee shop with this air of egotism, chin high and hands in my pockets. I was shaky for some reason, maybe clinically anxious, my heart ached, but I ordered a latte as if it were the hard liquor the flapper version of me thought she needed.

“One vanilla Cuban latte,” I said coolly to the barista-turned-bartender, “with skim.” Waiting for my drink to be called, I sized up and labeled those around me the way Amory had as a student. Prep. Jerk. Hipster. When I finally got my drink, I sat at a table alone, with my book turned open, shakily bringing the cup to my lips. I read one of my favorite, and sadly most relatable, sections of the book: “[Amory] sat in the train, and thought about himself for thirty-six hours” (Fitzgerald 66).

These were hard times for me, particularly lonely. But I am convinced that reading This Side of Paradise brought me to the other side in one piece. Living vicariously through this character gave me the space to work though all my frustrations about college life. In being Amory, my loneliness wasn’t quite as weighty. In being Amory, my disillusionment wasn’t quite so jaded. Amory carried the brunt of my troubles; all I had to do is follow along.

I didn’t finish This Side of Paradise until the spring semester was over and I was back at home. By the time I got to the final pages, when Amory becomes disillusioned by his own disillusionment—I didn’t need him anymore. I had survived the final days of the school year. I had made friends, girls who were slightly less cynical than I was, but definitely not fake. That book had led me from the frustration and pain of being disillusioned, of knowing that my expectations were not met, to a place of hope. I began to see that calling someone or something fake was pointless if I could not define real. I began to see that cynicism was only worthwhile if it provoked change. Amory taught me that if all I did was complain and look inwardly, name myself a god and everyone else peons, I could end up like him: selfish, alone, knowing myself well—but nothing more.

Shocking Sisters: Exegesis of Ezekiel 23

Form: Exegetical Essay
Written: Summer 2013


“Wild Nights—Wild Nights! / Were I with thee / Wild Nights should be Our luxury!”

Emily Dickinson, “Wild Nights—Wild Nights!”[1]

“Is he still coming around like an injured bird needing a nest,
A place to rest his head in a song you’ll regret?
Still you take him / Lord knows I don’t want to compete
But I still sleep in the very sheets he’s been in”

Damien Jurado, “Sheets”[2]

“Sex Sells,” the old media mantra, comes to mind when reading Ezekiel 23, the story of Oho’lah and Ohol’ibah, the sister harlots who are married to God. The text relays a disturbingly graphic depiction of women who turn from God to do lewd acts with the men of Assyria and Babylonia. This story, a metaphor for the turmoil-to-come for the split kingdoms of Israel and Judah, is meant to relay a truth to God’s people that they are not hearing: things are bad now, but it is only going to get worse. While this text is alarming to us in the 21st century, this paper hopes to show how Ezekiel 23 may have been more shocking to its readers 2,500 years ago. Through its focus on sister bonds, threats to the patriarchy, and contrasting images of dryness and fullness, Ezekiel 23 employs its own version of “Sex Sells” by shocking its audience into hearing God’s word.

Who Are These Harlots? – Ezekiel 23:1-4

In the women’s first introductions, no names are given. The narrator, presumably Ezekiel relaying God’s message, refers to these women first as the “daughters of one mother,” sisters.[3] He continues on to reveal their actions. At first, the sisters have agency: they are the nameless subjects to the negative verb phrase “played the harlot.”[4] This phrase brings the reader back to Genesis 38, when this zanah zanah was first mentioned. Judah accuses Tamar, his daughter-in-law, of having “played the harlot” zanah zanah at the entrance to Enaim.[5] Will this story of the sister harlots bear the same outcome; will the women be called “more righteous” than their accuser?[6]

An answer, it seems, comes soon after. The agency bestowed upon the women in the first part of verse 3 is negated in the second half with a passive construction: “there [in Egypt] their breasts were pressed and their virgin bosoms handled” (emphasis mine). Even if these women “let” their breasts be touched (which is implied through their subsequent judgment), the narrator still places them as the object of someone else’s action. For the first three verses of Ezekiel 23, these women are nothing more than nameless sinners and the sinned-upon.

Though already promiscuous from youth, however, the narrator declares that the women “became [God’s],” and they bore children.[7] In the entirety of this story, this verse is the only one that implies goodness in these women: their fruitfulness. But even then, the narrator mentions first the women’s youthful indulgences before mentioning their union with God. Thus in the narrative of the harlot sisters, there is no word of “innocence lost,” for the women were never innocent. In verse 4, finally the narrator gives names to the women and reveals this story as a metaphor —Oho’lah, the older sister, represents Samaria, the capital of Israel, which was taken into captivity first by the Assyrians. Ohol’ibah, the younger sister, represents Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, which was taken into captivity second by the Babylonians.

Sister Bonds and Threats to the Patriarchy

            Something essential to this story is the relationship between Oho’lah and Ohol’ibah: they’re sisters.[8] In the Bible, relationships between women are critical to the stability of the patriarchy. When women are bound together, they have power; they are a threat to the patriarchy. When the sisters are torn apart in competition or jealousy, their power is divided; they are no threat to the men around them.[9] Considering the union between these women alongside other sister bonds in the Bible can shed light on why Ezekiel would use this metaphor and give more insight to its “shock value.”

The Bible tells of these two kinds of sister relationships, those in competition and those in union. The first, sisters in competition, is revealed in Rachel and Leah’s sisterhood.[10] The women’s father, Laban, puts the two in conflict against one another when he sends Leah in to sleep with Jacob, though her sister was wedded to him. The conflict persists when Leah is blessed with several children, while Rachel remains barren. Neither woman is a threat to her father or husband, because they remain divided. They play the roles given to them, though they are often marked with unfulfillment and envy. On the other hand, Lot’s daughters represent sisters in union.[11] The two women bind together in order to trick their father into drunkenness, so they could sleep with him and carry on their family line. This story shows how women, who apart are not given much agency, when united are able to accomplish much, usually to the demise of the men around them.

The story of Oho’lah and Ohol’ibah, two sisters united, would be shocking to its hearers in the 4th century B.C.E. in its suggestion of disruption. “The bond between the sisters enables them to act independently and to assert their agency apart from the patriarchs,” says Amy Kalmanofsky in her essay, “The Dangerous Sisters of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.” She continues to say that “together [the harlots] embody the ultimate patriarchal nightmare—they become adulterous wives and murderous mothers. And they dare to commit their crimes within God’s patriarchal house.” In this story, the women do the most actions, not the men. In this story, the women are not victims of sexual crimes, but invite the promiscuity of men and are even aroused in a pornographic way.[12] If a prophet were to shake his hearers out of complacency, why not do it in such a way that threatens their comfortable, seemingly unshakable way of being? Notice that Ezekiel doesn’t use a metaphor of murderous men or greedy kings—these images would be far too familiar to the now disbanded Israelites. No, the prophet needed to use something more subversive and more unpredictable, and therefore all the more shocking, to warn the exiles of what was to come.

The Older Sister – Ezekiel 23:5-10

            Continuing in Ezekiel 23, in verse 5, the older sister, Oho’lah, is introduced. Again, she is given the action zanah zanah, but this time it’s not back in her youth in Egypt, but while she belonged to God. Oho’lah’s lovers were the “choicest” of the Assyrians, Israel’s captors. She “doted” (or lusted, agab) on only the “warriors clothed in purple,” a color denoting royalty, as well as “governors and commanders, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding on horses.”[13] Though her actions were promiscuous, the narrator makes a point of mentioning how Oho’lah did not betray God with just anyone; she chose the best-of-the-best. This was considered a continuation of her previous sins: “She did not give up her harlotry which she had practiced since her days in Egypt.”[14] The narrator reminds the reader, again, that in Egypt “men . . . handled her virgin bosom” and additionally “poured out their lust upon her.”[15]

Next, the narrator reveals the consequences for Oho’lah’s actions: “Therefore I delivered her into the hands of her lovers, into the hands of the Assyrians, whom she doted.”[16] God gives Oho’lah to those whom she loved (not God, the Assyrians). This is an important statement in contrast to Oholi’bah’s actions a few verses later. In the hands of her lovers, the men “uncovered [Oho’lah’s] nakedness,” killed her children, then killed her.[17] The narrator adds that Oho’lah “became a byword among women” after her death.[18]

The Younger Sister – Ezekiel 23:11-21

Note how Oho’lah’s actions were rebellious, but they were not inconceivable; her actions were no different than those described in similar metaphors. For example, in the earlier prophetic book of Hosea, Israel is described as a harlot who turned away from her husband (God). Like with Oho’lah, God accuses and punishes his sinful wife. However, Ohol’ibah’s actions were equal to Oho’lah’s at first, then they got worse. Ohol’ibah saw what her sister did, yet did not take heed. She chose to go above and beyond her sister’s sins. The narrator writes in verse 11, “Her sister Ohol’ibah saw [what happened to her sister], yet she was more corrupt than she in her doting [agab] and in her harlotry, which was worse than that of her sister.” Ohol’ibah lusted after agab the same choicest Assyrians as her sister, “governors and commanders, warriors clothed in full armor, horsemen riding on horses, all of them desirable young men.”[19] God named them equal in their sins in verses 13, only to add in verse 14, “But she carried her harlotry further.”

This next section sets Ohol’ibah from her sister Oho’lah. After defiling herself with the Assyrians, Ohol’ibah saw the images of Babylonian men painted on a wall, and that caused her to send messengers to bring the men to her. In verse 17 the narrator writes, “And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their lust; and after she was polluted by them, she turned from them in disgust.” Ohol’ibah had agency; after being aroused by images on a wall, she called men to her. She had sex with them. Then she immediately turned away from disgust. This is a similar structure to that of Amnon’s rape of Tamar in II Samuel 13. Phyllis Trible writes in her exegesis of the passage that Amnon’s love for Tamar was actually lust, so after “having gratified itself, [his] lust deepen[ed] into hatred. Lust fulfilled escalates its attack on the victim. The crime is despicable; the aftermath, ominous.”[20] Something similar is happening here with Ohol’ibah: after her lust was gratified, she became disgusted yaqa with the men she had sex with and turned away from them. God’s response then echoes Ohol’ibah’s. God says in verse 18, “I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned from her sister.”

Instead of stopping in her disgust, Oholi’bah “increased in her harlotry” as she remembered the days before she was bound to God, when she was a harlot in Egypt.[21] In one of the more illicit texts in all of Scripture, the narrator states that Ohol’ibah lusted afterher lovers in Egypt, “whose members were like those of asses, and whose issue was like that of horses.”[22] Her desire for these men was not for their riches, strength, or power, but for their physical bodies; hungry for sex, Ohol’ibah desired to use these men.

God’s Reaction – Ezekiel 23:22-35

How does God respond to Ohol’ibah? God “rouses against” her those whom she had despised—not just the Babylonians whose images she lusted after, but also the Assyrians and the people groups of Pekod, Sho’a, and Ko’a.[23] The narrator points out that again it’s the “desirable young men,” the “choicest” as named before, who are rousing against her, and they will come with “chariots and wagons and a host of peoples,” suggesting power, the same power that Oho’lah was attracted to and Ohol’ibah was attracted to at first, before being dissatisfied in verse 14.

God declares, in brief chiasmus: “I will commit the judgment to them, and they shall judge you according to their judgments,” mishpat shaphat mishpat.[24] The text draws attention to itself in this way. One thing it reveals is that God is not the one who is doing the punishing, but God allows it to happen. God instigates it, but God does not draw the sword. This interplay of two different actors, God and the men, continues in verse 25, “And I will direct my indignation against you, that they may deal with you in fury” (emphasis mine). Everything of Ohol’ibah’s is stripped, as if to match her nakedness: her nose and ears are cut off, her clothes and fine jewels taken away. God says this is how God will end her promiscuity, which she had carried on from her time in Egypt, “so that you shall not lift up your eyes to the Egyptians or remember them any more.”[25] God demands Ohol’ibah break ties with her Egyptian lovers.

It’s curious what the text does with Egypt. Clearly referring to Israel’s pre-law, pre-exilic days slaving in Egypt, the text contrasts images of the empty desert with fullness. God says to Oholibah,

Behold, I will deliver you into the hands of those whom you hate . . . and they shall deal with you in hatred, and take away all the fruit of your labor, and leave you naked and bare, and the nakedness of your harlotry shall be uncovered.

These bring to mind images of the desert, which is often described as vast, dry, exposed, deadly. One definition of the Hebrew word jeshimon refers best to the desert of the Arabian Peninsula, “the most terrible of all the deserts with which the Israelites were acquainted.”[26] But most importantly, the desert“is the symbol of the Jewish church when they had forsaken God. . . . It is a symbol of temptation, solitude, and persecution.”[27] The narrator of Ezekiel 23 relates the two harlots with the Egyptian desert. While Oho’lah defiles herself with men as she did in Egypt, Ohol’ibah actually misses her “paramours” in Egypt.[28] This is why God desires to “put an end” to the younger sister’s harlotries in Egypt.[29]

These images of the dry, exposed desert of Egypt are contrasted with fullness in the following verses. God says to Ohol’ibah, “You have gone the way of your sister; therefore I will give her cup into your hand.”[30] This introduces what seems to be a curse from God, written in poetic form, a passage which contrasts the prior images of the desert. God says to Ohol’ibah:

You shall drink your sister’s cup
which is deep and large;
you shall be laughed at and held in derision,
for it contains much;
you will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow.

A cup of horror and desolation,
is the cup of your sister Samar′ia;[31]

These words suggest not emptiness or exposure, but fullness. Ohol’ibah’s curse is directly related to her promiscuity in Egypt and now in the desert of exile. These images would have been meaningful, and even shocking, to the Israelites at the time: instead of fullness being their comfort and relief from desert life, the fullness is a curse.

Continuing on, the final verse of God’s curse on Ohol’ibah may be the most troubling. God says,

you shall drink [the cup] and drain it out,
and pluck out your hair,
and tear your breasts;[32]

The source of her promiscuity, her breasts which were “pressed” and “handled” in Egypt, receive the punishment. This again points back to the fear of sister bonds and threats to the patriarchy. If these women somehow gained their power and their agency from letting their breasts be handled, then to take their breasts away would be a way to disempower them. Kalmanofsky writes that through this “self-mutilation” on behalf of Oholi’bah—this tearing at her breasts in verse 34—”Ezekiel removes the threat of sororal desire. The sisters’ double mastectomy removes the site of their lust. Effectively neutered, the sisters are no longer dangerous.”[33] Concluding this rhetorical section of the chapter, God states for the first time in this text that the women have forgotten their God and turned away from God—it’s no longer about whom the sisters turned to, but whom they turned from.

God Addresses Ezekiel – Ezekiel 23:36-49

 

The final section of this text addresses Ezekiel specifically. God asks if Ezekiel will be the one to judge the sisters and tell them their sins. Then God rehashes to Ezekiel the sins of the women, which are different and more extensive than their previously named sins. God says the women have “committed adultery,” committed adultery with idols, sacrificed their children, defiled God’s sanctuary, and “profaned” the Sabbaths.[34] In fact, they “slaughtered their children in sacrifice to their idols, on the same day they came into [God’s] sanctuary to profane it.”[35] God expresses frustration in a phrase used throughout much of Ezekiel, “This is what they did in my house” (emphasis mine).[36] This idea is carried through in the metaphor, when God says that “you [the women] sat upon a stately couch, with a table spread before it on which you had placed my incense and my oil.”[37] It’s as if the women invited her lovers to sleep in her and her husband’s marriage bed.

Contradictory information is introduced in verse 42. It’s not just the “choicest” men that the sister lusted after, but the “men of the common sort drunkards” who adorned the women with jewelry. These men came from the wilderness, again bringing to mind the Egyptian desert. While in prior verses the women were the only ones sinning, verses 43-44 introduce the idea that the men who have sex with them are sinning as well, “for they have gone in to her, as men go in to a harlot.” Those who don’t sleep with her, deemed “righteous men,” will be the ones to judge Oho’lah and Ohol’ibah for their sins.[38]

God gives a final command, seemingly addressed to Ezekiel: “Bring up a host against them, and make them an object of terror and spoil. And the host shall stone them and dispatch them with their swords; they shall slay their sons and their daughters, and burn up their houses.” Death is an appropriate (yet altogether shocking) punishment for adultery,[39] but Oho’lah’s and Ohol’ibah’s punishments are carried even further. Their children are put to death, their property burned. It’s obvious here that God is not referring to specifically the women, who are just metaphors, but to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. This is the punishment for all of the Israelites; this is how God will “put an end to the lewdness of the land.”[40] But again, it’s not that God is the one carrying out this action; it’s a host of men, namely the Assyrian and Babylonian captors.

Conclusion

One of the most shocking aspects of Ezekiel 23 is not its images of sexual lewdness, but that God approves of the women’s punishment. In the final verse of the chapter, God states that through all this punishment, “you shall know that I am the Lord God.”[41] Is this the best way to know God? For present-day readers, this story may seem like an excuse to reject God, not to know God. But Ezekiel was constructed the way it was for a reason, and it has more to do with its original audience, not us.

Katheryn Pfisterer Darr, in her essay, “Ezekiel’s Justification of God: Teaching Troubling Texts,” suggests four reasons why stories such as Oho’lah’s and Ohol’ibah’s exist in Ezekiel. First, she says, Ezekiel used texts such as these to warn the Israelites (specifically the newly-exiled Judah) that their captivity would not end as soon as other prophets had promised. “Ezekiel believed that further devastation lay ahead for Judah and its inhabitants,” she writes.[42] Second, the texts were meant to tell the Israelites that God had not abandoned them in their exile. Third, these texts were to show how the destruction to come was because of Israel’s sins, not because of God. And finally, “Ezekiel created these troubling texts because he believed that Yahweh was just—that the punishment was proportionate to the crime,” says Darr.[43] The sins of Israel were immense; therefore the penalty would be just as so.

One way for Ezekiel to get this message across would be through shocking images, ones threatening to his hearers. Women of agency were certainly a threat to the male Israelites. The Israelites had seen death; they were already taken from their homes. What could be worse than betrayal from the inside? If they couldn’t trust their own families, who could they trust? Similarly, images of the desert would be familiar to the Israelites, especially while in exile. But it would have been shocking for them to consider how even the fullness, contrasted against the desert emptiness, was no comfort but brought more suffering (verses 32-34).

Ezekiel 23 in the Classroom

 As a college professor, I hope to teach contemporary literature alongside theology and Biblical texts.It did not take me long into the exegetical process before I knew what novel to pair with Ezekiel 23, John Updike’s Roger’s Version, the story of a lapsed minister who plays the devil’s advocate to an eager young Christian. What draws me to Updike’s novels, and specifically Roger’s Version, is his use of “shock and awe” when writing about theology. In fact, some of his most obscene passages are figured next to profoundly theological statements. In a single breath, Updike proclaims both the profane and the holy. But like Ezekiel, Updike does this for a reason; he’s trying to get his audience to reconsider what they think they know about God.

For example, about halfway through Roger’s Version, Roger, the narrator, sits in his office going over the works of Tertullian in Latin. He considers the old theologian’s views of Christ’s humanity and the resurrection of the flesh. Immediately following this comes an obscene description of Roger’s wife’s affair with the young Christian, Dale. Theology is woven into the description; Updike uses Latin phrases and Tertullian’s words to make the affair more than just a carnal act, but a spiritual one. For example, in the final paragraphs of this scene, Updike writes,

[Roger’s wife] tucks in a sliver of tit pinched below by the elastic and straightens up, looking about her as if for a fight. [Dale] asks, “Why?”

[She] mock-pouts. “Because you haven’t told me I’m a great lay.”

Rursus, Tertullian goes heartbreakingly on, ulcera et vulnera et febris et podagra et mors reoptanda? In our bodily afterlife, are we to know again ulcers and wounds and fever and gout and the wish for death—the renewed wish for death, to give the re- it’s curious, heartbreaking force. And yet, my goodness, pile on the cavils as you will, old hypothetical heretic or pagan, we do want to live forever, much as we are, perhaps with some of the plumbing removed, but not even that would be strictly necessary, if the alternative is being nothing, being nonexistent specks of yearning in the bottomless belly of nihil.

 “Oh, but you are, you are a great lay, my God,” Dale says, led into blasphemy.[44]

Many readers of the Protestant Updike wonder why he writes in this way. Christians are uncomfortable with Updike’s choice of words, his lewd descriptions, his seemingly blasphemous positioning of texts—perhaps in the same way we are uncomfortable with Biblical texts like Ezekiel 23, for its lusty metaphors, its placement in the Bible.

If I were to teach Ezekiel 23 in a college setting, I would ask of it the questions I ask of Roger’s Version. What affect does this text have on you? Why is it so compelling? How does the “shock” of sex help you understand what the text is trying to say? It seems for Roger’s Version, Updike meant to show how the question of the resurrection of the flesh is one we ask every day, while engaging in fleshly activity: eating, having sex. How much do we want to take this with us into heaven? And, are these the kinds of things Jesus engaged in while “in the flesh”? Ezekiel 23 may be understood better when viewed as a story similar to Roger’s Version. It’s meant to shock, but at the same time to teach. Once the stun (and, admittedly, the titillation) of the story has passed, it begs us to ask of it, what is the author really trying to say?

 

[1] Emily Dickinson, “Wild Nights—Wild Nights!” in The Oxford Book of American Poetry, ed. David Lehman (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 165.

[2] Damien Jurado, “Sheets,Caught in the Trees, Secretly Canadian, MP3, 2008.

[3] Ezekiel 23:2 (Revised Standard Version).

[4] Ezekiel 23:3.

[5] Genesis 38:24.

[6] Genesis 38:26.

[7] Ezekiel 23:4.

[8] Rhetorically, the sisters are bound together as well: Oho’lah means “her own tent” and Ohol’ibah means “woman of the tent.” Blue Letter Bible, “Dictionary and Word Search for ’Oholah (Strong’s 170),” Blue Letter Bible, 2013. http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?
Strongs=H170&t=RSV. Blue Letter Bible, “Dictionary and Word Search for ’Oholiybah (Strong’s 172),” Blue Letter Bible. 2013, http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?
Strongs=H172&t=RSV.

[9] Amy Kalmanofsky, “The Dangerous Sisters of Jeremiah and Ezekiel,” Journal of Biblical Literature 130, no. 2 (2011), URL: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001845437&site=ehost-live.

[10] See Genesis 29.

[11] See Genesis 19:30-38.

[12] It should be noted that though the women in this story do have agency, they do not have a voice. They’re not given a chance to defend their behavior.

[13] Ezekiel 23:5-6.

[14] Ezekiel 23:8.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ezekiel 23:9.

[17] Ezekiel 23:10.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ezekiel 23:12.

[20] Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 47.

[21] Ezekiel 23:18.

[22] Ezekiel 23:20.

[23] Ezekiel 23:22-23.

[24] Ezekiel 23:24b.

[25] Ezekiel 23:26-27.

[26] M. G. Easton, “Desert,” Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Blue Letter Bible. 1996, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Search/Dictionary/viewTopic.cfm?
type=GetTopic&Topic=Desert&DictList=2#Easton’s.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ezekiel 23:8, 19.

[29] Ezekiel 23:27.

[30] Ezekiel 23:31.

[31] Ezekiel 23:32-33.

[32] Ezekiel 23: 34.

[33] Kalmanofsky, “The Dangerous Sisters,” 311-312.

[34] Ezekiel 23:37-38.

[35] Ezekiel 23:39.

[36] Ezekiel is riddled with similar phrases. God is appalled by all the evil behavior done in the sanctuary. In Ezekiel 8, for example, God tells Ezekiel to look at the temple and see all the idolatry going on in it. It seems significant to the text of Ezekiel that the sins committed by God’s people are not just done apart from God, but in the very place God dwells, the temple.

[37] Ezekiel 23:41.

[38] Ezekiel 23:45.

[39] See Deuteronomy 22:22 and Leviticus 20:10.

[40] Ezekiel 23:48.

[41] Ezekiel 23:49.

[42] Katheryn Pfisterer Darr, “Ezekiel’s Justifications of God: Teaching Troubling Texts,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 55 (1992), 111, URL: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0000858025&site=ehost-live.

[43] Ibid.

[44] John Updike, Roger’s Version (New York: Ballantine Books, 1986), 162.

Is this life delicious?

Form: Devotional
Written: Spring 2011
Published bySoul Shift: “Me to We” devotional


“I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10b NIV

In the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniah, below its dusty streets, is a tunnel. It’s the type of tunnel we have in the States, the kind that lets you walk from place to place instead of having to dodge speeding cars on the road above. In this particular tunnel, the walls are covered from floor to ceiling with a grid of colorful paper, each sheet saying the same thing in Kurdish—Is this life delicious?

I lived in Sulaimaniah for two months interning with an organization that funds heart surgeries for children. Part of my time spent in the city was devoted to learning the language. Kurdish, I quickly learned, has few adjectives. In English, you can call a girl beautiful, gorgeous, pretty, stunning, or cute, but in Kurdish you call her juana. It’s the same with the word delicious, xosha. Only one word describes that juicy chicken kabob, and that word has several different connotations. If your friend is wearing a cool T-shirt, you can call it xosha. If someone gives you a gift, the proper response is dest xosh. (Its literal translation: your hands are delicious.)

So that grid of paper along the walls of the tunnel asks more than just, “Does this life taste good?” It’s asking a more important question: Are you living life to the fullest?

In John 10, Jesus asks his disciples this same question, using a metaphor about a shepherd, a thief, and a sheep pen. He says the thief sneaks into the sheep pen without using the gate, in order to steal the sheep away. The good shepherd uses the gate; he calls all his sheep by name, they recognize his voice, and then follow him. We, the sheep, have the choice to follow the thief or the shepherd. Sometimes that decision is harder than it should be.

What I think makes my life delicious tends to be what poisons it. I so easily get caught up in what I’m doing at work or at school. I get absorbed in hobbies, television shows, novels, social networking sites. None of these are bad, of course, but if they are what I deem most important or what define me, I have a problem.

Last summer I learned that Iraqis, like Americans or anyone else, can be materialistic. Rich Iraqis in Sulaimaniah want to have the lowest number license plate. Numbers 1-10 are highly sought after; people pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get them. What do they gain from this? Prestige.

What I do and what I own doesn’t give me a full, delicious life. What gives me a full life is listening to the good shepherd’s voice, and inviting the rest of the flock to do the same.

My shift from Me to We came in understanding this. I knew that my trip to Iraq wouldn’t give my life flavor if it weren’t sanctioned by God. For five months I knew the opportunity to go abroad was open, but so many things kept getting in the way of my going. First, my mom wouldn’t let me. Then, there was the money thing and the safety thing. I prayed, but more importantly, I learned to rely on others for prayer and encouragement. I had people I didn’t even know praying for me. They sent me tweets like, “Praying 4 U” and texts from friends that said the same.

What made my trip most meaningful was the praying, the fasting, the relying on others, and the listening it took to make the trip happen at all. God made that part of my life delicious by teaching me to listen to him.

How have you flavored your life apart from God?
In what areas of your life do you need to learn to better listen to God?
How can you invite others to do the same?

Gender, Marriage, and the שִׁירָה of God

Form: Essay
Written: Spring 2013


In the creation myth of Genesis 1-3, God called everything into being. From emptiness, She created form. From dirt, She created life. God saw everything She created and called it good. And human beings—both male and female—she called very good. This first account of God’s creating is written in poetic form, as though She were saying: “You, man, are my poem שִׁיר. You, woman, are my poem שִׁיר. And together, you are my poetry שִׁירָה.” God made both male and female in Her likeness; only together do they wholly reflect the image of God.

The male gender reflects God’s wildness. Adam, the male, was created outside the garden, in the wilderness. He lived there alone and lonely, until God said, “It’s not good for the Man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18, The Message). God brought before Adam all the animals of the world, letting him name them. God knew that no animal would be fit for Adam; She knew Adam needed a עזר כנגדו, a protector, fighter, someone to save him from himself. So God created woman. The female gender reflects God’s intimacy. The woman was formed from the very side of Adam. She was like man ישא, but different אשה. She was to be a life-giver in a way Adam could never be. And he knew it—he called her Eve, “mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20).

When Adam first sees Eve—in a reaction already imitating his Creator—he rejoices in poetic form:

Finally! Bone of my bone,
flesh of my flesh! (Genesis 2:23)

Eve was to stick by her husband’s side, and he would need her there. In the beauty of the moment, the narrator continues the poetic form begun by Adam: “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife. They become one flesh. The two of them, the Man and his Wife, were naked, but they felt no shame.” (Genesis 2:25). And this is the שִׁירָה of God in its truest form: male and female before each other, naked, knowing each other, but having no shame.

As this creation myth continues, both genders are tempted out of their truest natures by a lie. For the woman, her intimacy with God is tested; for the man, his wildness. The serpent tells Eve that God is holding out on her: “God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on” (Genesis 2:5). Desiring intimacy with God, she eats the fruit. Desiring intimacy with her husband, she gives the fruit to Adam who is next to her. And Adam doesn’t do anything to stop it. He is passive; he refuses his wild nature.

Upon eating the fruit, nakedness is no longer safe. The two are shamed, knowing they are exposed to the other and to God. When God asks what happened, they grow in contempt for one another: she did it, he did it. So God tells them what will happen, not so much a curse as a continuation of what the two had started. Woman will experience pain in life-giving, desperation toward her husband, loneliness in intimacy. Man will never experience the fullness of his wild nature, working and toiling, but never feeling he had done much at all; always desiring more, but never knowing how to express it. So his wildness becomes violent (or violently passive) toward his wife and others. This is man and woman today.

God sees marriage as Her שִׁירָה, a balancing of sounds, rhythm, pauses, form—of wildness and intimacy, of distinctness and sameness. Through Her Genesis poem, it’s known that God wants marriage to continue as it started, as two humans living in the fullness of who they are, naked together, but not ashamed.