Live from Synergy 2008: The Return of the Ezer
Synergy 2008 is off to quite a start!
First off, let me just say: it's so wonderfully warm here. Sunny and warm and humid?and there are flowers. Spring has been late in coming to Chicago (or at least that's how it feels to me), so I'm loving this!
Now on to the good stuff. Last night, Carolyn Custis James wowed us all during the first plenary session of the conference. She reminded us of our roles as ezers ? the word used to describe females in Genesis 2: 18: "The Lord God said, ?It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper (ezer) suitable for him.'"
But ezer does not simply mean helper?or not in the simple way we might define helper anyway. We were not made simply to help men clean up after themselves or to do the stuff they don't want to do. Ezer signifies a partnership beyond mere conveniences or even simple reproductive purposes. Ezer is not a word to be taken lightly; nor is it a word used solely (or even primarily) for women. Ezer is more often used in the Bible to describe God as Israel's helper. Or sometimes to describe Israel's war allies. This is a powerful word embodying so much more than our English "helper" would have us believe. Ezer: (pronounced azer with a long a, as in razor) is a powerful Hebrew military word. And yet it's the word God chose to twice describe the woman he created. This is not the image of a helpmate; this is the image of a compatriot, a fellow warrior in an all-important battle.
This is the image Carolyn wanted us to hold in our minds: we are warriors fighting against a common Enemy. This is an epic and long battle. And our roles are critical. Warrior, Carolyn said, is a word that describes women in all different places, stages, and vocations. It's a word that we can all embody and stand within; a word to be proud of.
Then Carolyn pointed us to the book of Ruth, the subject of her new book: The Gospel of Ruth. The book, Carolyn says, she was born to write. Carolyn admits that she used to think of the book of Ruth as a nice, happy fairytale. A little like Cinderella: a woman who is down and out and at the bottom of the social ladder who perseveres and is nice and eventually wins the heart of the (handsome) hero who sweeps in to rescue her. And they lived happily ever after.
But, Carolyn asserts, "This is not so. I was mistaken." Ruth is not a theological lightweight. This is not the happy romance we always thought it was. This is a story of suffering, of sacrifice, of ezers fighting a battle with long-lasting consequences.
Last night, Carolyn introduced us to Naomi as we've never seen her. Tomorrow night, we are promised a new look at Ruth. So what is it about Naomi that we need to know? She was just a bitter complainer, right?
A look at her circumstances reveals that she had much to bemoan: she lost everything. Her husband: gone. Her sons: gone. Her hopes of grandsons: gone. Her safety and certainty in a patriarchal society during a major famine: gone. She had nothing. Sound familiar? Like another biblical character? No? Think again.
"Naomi," Carolyn tells us, "is the female Job." She had lost everything in her life, and for no apparent reason. There was no justice in it; no feeling of fairness. And she felt like God had left her; had abandoned her forever.
But God reached out to her in the midst of that barrenness; not verbally, not physically?but through another woman. Through Ruth, God revealed that he had not left Naomi.
Through Ruth's sacrifice and submission?through Boaz' sacrifice and submission?this broken story is redeemed. Not fixed ? their grief has not disappeared, Ruth and Noami still lost ones they loved ? but it is redeemed. A son is born and Ruth gives that son to Naomi to raise. This son, the grandfather of King David, lived as the legend of that redemption: of that sacrificial love from God, revealed through an ezer.
OK?I have that desperate sense that I'm not quite getting it right...that a blog post cannot do justice to a powerful forty-five minute talk. But, I started reading Carolyn's book (The Gospel of Ruth) last night, and I'd recommend it. Her words last night are based on the book, and of course there's more in the book than what we heard in her talk.
One other quick mention about last night. We did some "speed networking" after Carolyn's talk, which means we all switched tables and then in ten minutes each person at the table described herself and her work (so we each had about a minute) and then we switched tables again for another round. Fun! And I just want to say: what a powerhouse of women are here! Passionate, driven and called to God's work, these women are doing it and it's awesome to rub shoulders with them. There's a palpable energy here and it's inspiring to be part of it.
Check in later this evening and we'll have more reports about today's sessions and workshops!