Monday, August 18, 2008

A Quick Note

I am still alive. The last couple of weeks have been very busy. I finished up my internship at the newspaper, but was asked to remain on part-time. I am starting a new tutoring gig three times a week (yay, catrina!), and possibly still keeping my restaurant job. On top of that, I've been helping my roomies (friend, Theresa, and her 18 month old daughter, Kayla) transition from NJ to GA and my sister is visiting this week from NJ as well. So, it's a full house with constant activity. Plus, I am leaving for NJ on Wednesday, so lots of preparation for the drive. Needless to say, I have zero computer time. But at night I have been reading through all my head covering research and mentally composing the next study. It'll be a little while before it makes it on to the blog. Anyway, I am alive and well, just extremely busy. I promise not to stay away too long. :)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Some History On Head Coverings

"The veil was a sign of guilt and shame worn by the Jew in worship to signify condemnation before the law. But what has the Christian to do with such a sign when professing that, 'Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law,' and 'There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit,' (Romans 8:1). For such believers to wear a sign of condemnation is to nullify the worth of the atonement, and so dishonor Christ who released them from the condemnation of the law."--Katharine Bushnell

Before we can delve into the actual text of 1 Corinthians 11: 3-16, we must set the stage to get a feel for the context and unique situation Paul was dealing with when he composed his instructions to the Corinthian Church.

Corinth was a Greek City situated on the peninsula of Southern Greece and was part of the Roman Empire during the time Corinthians was written. Before 146 B.C., Corinth was known for its military might, commercial capabilities, and for its excessive worship of the love goddess, Aphrodite. The city erected a temple dedicated to her, staffed with up to a thousand temple-slaves and courtesans. Prostitution became so ubiquitous in Corinth that the phrase "to corinthianize" became slang for "practicing fornication." This went on until the Romans destroyed the city in 146 B.C. and its citizens were dragged off into slavery. In 44 B.C., the city was refounded by Julius Caesar and became a Roman colony. It regained prominence by 27 B.C., becoming the capital of of the Roman province, Achaia. This resurrection set the stage for Corinth to become a cultural melting-pot, where Roman, Greek, and Jewish cultures found themselves coexisting, conflicting, overlapping and sometimes, colliding.

Corinth became the wealthiest city in Greece during the first century A.D., with a possible population of 600,000. The city returned to its roots and reestablished the temple of Aphrodite during this time. The gods of Apollo, Asclepius, Poseidon, Hermes, Artermis, Zues, Dionysus Heracles and even Egyptian deities also found their way into Corinthian culture during this period.

In light of the myriad of religions and gods present in Corinth, it is not surprising to find a myriad of customs and practices that varied from time to time, place to place, and sect to sect. Not only were the customs themselves varied, but separate groups with shared customs still possessed different reasons for engaging in those customs. For instance, Jewish men covered their heads during worship to symbolize their guilt under the law, while certain Greek men covered their heads in accordance with the mystery cults that taught followers to cover their heads while engaging in religious sexual rites and ceremonies to preserve their anonymity. So certain Jews and certain Greeks both covered their heads, but for very different reasons.

We must remember that neither Greek nor Roman culture were monolithic cultures. Sub-cultures and diverse sects formed within each culture and had both over-lapping and conflicting customs. Most people think the Greek and Roman cultures were nearly interchangeable because the scripture lumps its people together as "gentiles", but each culture was VERY different and clashed over a number of religious, philosophical and legal matters.

Although Jewish culture is considered to be a monolithic culture for the most part, we must remember that there were still different offshoots and interpretations of Judaism (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, etc.), who also argued over all sorts of customs.

We know that within specific Greek cults, women DID NOT always cover their heads during religious ceremonies. But whether these cults' uncovered women characterizes Greek culture as a whole cannot be determined. There is some evidence that only Greek married women wore head coverings (as an external symbol of marriage, sort of like our modern-day wedding ring) and single women went about with uncovered heads so they could more easily find a husband. Roman culture was much more consistent, with the vast majority of its people wearing head coverings (both men and women) during religious ceremonies, but not always in everyday public life. The type of head coverings were also diverse: colorful scarves, helmets, headbands, heavy woolen cloths, coverings that went down to the ground, partial ones that only hid the back of the head and hair, and so forth. But there is no doubt that head coverings were associated with piety in Roman culture.

Jewish men wore (and still do) head coverings, called talliths, as a symbol of guilt and shame before God. It was their way of showing that they were guilty under the law and their sin separated them from God. To this very day, the practice still stands in Jewish worship. Jewish women consistently covered their heads during this time, but throughout Jewish history there is evidence of women freely appearing without head coverings. But during this time, it would seem the majority of Jewish women absolutely kept their heads covered in worship services, in public, and even in their own homes, lest they face dire consequences (more on that later...)

Since Paul attempted to unify these THREE distinct cultures under the counter-cultural Christian faith, the cultural component to this passage cannot be underestimated when we study Paul's teaching on head coverings.

If we are honest about the cultural dynamics prevalent in Corinth at the time of Paul's letter, we must abandon the tendency of adhering to our own pet generalizations about the comprehensive "policy" of head coverings (who wears them and why) in the ancient world. It is simply futile. The Roman Empire fostered a pluralistic society with great variances in social and religious customs in any given city. Corinth was no exception. This complex, non-comprehensive reality makes understanding the head covering passage more difficult, but it should humble each"side," since NOBODY has an air-tight, irrefutable interpretation. We should come reason together, weigh all the evidence, seek the Spirit's guidance and be convinced in our own minds of this passage's intent. If we find that we differ in our understanding, we should show respect, while keeping each other intellectually honest.

In the next post, I will delve into some alternate interpretations of this passage. I'm curious as to which interpretations readers hold to as of now. I'm only aware of a few readers that actually enforce the head coverings passage at "face-value." What is every one's current personal understanding of this passage or what has it been in the past?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What's the Deal with Head Coverings and Hair Length?

"But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled faces, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit."--Paul, 2 Corinthians 3:15-19.

"I pray you, be you mother, or sister, or virgin, or daughter...veil your head. All ages are imperilled in your person. Wear a rampart for your sex, which must neither allow your eyes egress, or ingress to other people. Arabia's female heathen shall be your judges, who cover not only the head, but the face also, so entirely that they are content to leave one eye free to enjoy half the light than to prostitute the entire face..."--Tertullian, 3rd century theologian.

So what is the deal with head coverings? From a "biblical perspective," should women be wearing them? Should men not? Should women only wear their hair long and men only have short hair? These are questions, we as believers, must ask ourselves while studying 1 Corinthians 11:4-16.

1 Corinthians 11:4-16 is ranked as one of the most difficult passages in the bible to understand, not because it's admonishment is "unfavorable," but because the meaning of certain words/phrases within the original text can not be adequately defined and the context is obscure. Anyone who claims to KNOW 100 percent how this verse should be understood is lying to you. It is one of the most disputed passages in the entire bible with a myriad of interpretive possibilities.

But I will try to present the positions that I think make the most sense and are most conducive with my understanding of scripture, as I am sure my "opponents" will argue for the interpretations that fit best with their understanding of the scriptures. Since this text is difficult, with a variety of valid interpretive options, it is important to note that these verses should not be used as a foundation for one's viewpoint on the role of women in the church, but only as an enhancement for either position, depending on how one becomes convinced of its meaning.

Most moderate-complementarians ironically view this passage as one of the few "cultural" admonishments recorded in scripture that is no longer relevant for today. However, because of the way English versions are translated, the text does not allow for such an understanding. The face value reading asserts that women should wear head coverings (and men should not). None of the reason given for this are cultural at all, nor do they have anything to do with "offending" others. Paul argues for women covering their heads/having long hair and men uncovering their heads/having short hair because (1) man is woman's "head," (which complementarians interpret as leader or authority figure), (2) man is the "image of God," while woman is "the glory of man" and was created for "the sake of man" (3) FOR the above reasons, the woman needs to wear a symbol of subjection on her head while in church, (4) because of the angels, (5) nature itself (not culture) teaches it is a shame for men to have long hair (inferring that nature also teaches woman should have long hair and/or wear head coverings); and (6) whatever Paul is trying to say here, he maintains that the Church (as a whole) has no other practice/custom.

None of Paul's arguments here, as we know them in our bibles, are cultural. Complementarians (depending where one falls on that broad spectrum) still believe the husband/man is the head, the woman/wife is to be in subjection to man/husband, that angels still exist, and so forth. So, if all of those factors are still true and still apply, why is it that moderate-complementarians disregard the head covering/long hair mandate for women and uncovered/short hair for men?

So, whether one is complementarian or egalitarian, one must determine what exactly Paul is arguing for and why? Then we must determine if Paul's argument is a time-bound or universal teaching, and how to faithfully live it out today. If it is universal and all-time binding, what does that mean for how believing men and women dress and wear their hair today? If it is time-bound, why is Paul arguing for this practice then? The next few posts will explore some of the options.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Prayers in Unlikely Places

"Take a walk with you Sister in the rain
Let Her talk about the things you can't explain
To touch is to heal
To hurt is to steal
If you want to kiss the sky
You better learn how to kneel,"--
U2, Mysterious Ways.

I hate mornings. I should have been born an owl or something. But the past couple months of rising at 5:30 a.m.m monday through friday, to drive 55 miles to my newspaper internship does have its benefits. I've burned quite few songs and sermons on CD for the morning drives. All week I have been listening to a mix of U2 songs on the lonesome morning drive, playing one song in particular over and over again, entitled Yahweh. As I sang, I realized the lyrics comprise one of the most challenging and raw prayers I've ever heard and completely reflective of "where I am" at this point in my life. So, I thought I'd share:

Yahweh by U2

Take these shoes
Click clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes
And make them fit

Take this shirt

Polyester white-trash, made in nowhere
Take this shirt
And make it clean, clean

Take this soul

Stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul
And make it sing

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn

Take these arms
Teach them what to carry
Take these hands
Don't make a fist

Take this mouth

So quick to criticize
Take this mouth
Give it a kiss

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn

Still waiting for the dawn, the sun is coming up
The sun is coming up on the ocean
This love is like a drop in the ocean
This love is like a drop in the ocean

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, tell me now
Why the dark before the dawn?

Take this city
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city
If it be your will

What no man can own,
What no man can take

Take this heart
Take this heart
And make it break

And another fav. compilation, just because.