Why I Banned Proverbs 7

Ben Franklin cartoon

I saw a poll once that said the Book of Proverbs is one of the most popular books in the Bible. This is evidently because people think of it as a collection of snappy aphorisms, like “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” You might not know it from “Family Feud,” but that line’s from Poor Richard’s Almanac by Ben Franklin, not the anonymous authors of Proverbs.

The book as a whole is well worth studying as “wisdom literature” and many of its passages are both beautiful and wise. However, in the Daily Office, we don’t study the Bible so much as absorb it day by day. From this we can glean a little of the context and the overall themes, and are exposed to a representative sample of the book’s contents; by no means do we read the whole thing. We get 2 1/2 weeks’ worth of Proverbs, which leaves out a lot of material. Lectionaries of appointed readings are always selective; contrary to what you may have been told, they leave out vast swaths of Scripture considered less edifying than what does make it in. If we were to read the whole Bible in daily worship, it would take us years to get through it, especially now that the Apocrypha is included. The Church decided a long time ago that it’s better to hit the Bible’s highlights than to expect people to plow through the whole thing in public worship.

By all means, I urge you to read and study the entire Bible – just not in public worship, where readings should give us the essentials of the Christian faith. And indeed, since the 1979 Prayer Book lectionary was approved, Episcopalians are reading more Bible than ever before.

This morning after our webcast, I set about preparing tomorrow’s services as I always do, and saw that Proverbs 7:1-27 was on the agenda. I have files of all the lections, which I could just plug into my worship template and go on about my business. Instead, I read them every day, because I’m here to pray too; that’s why I do this work, for my own benefit as well as yours. So I read the authorized lection, and my jaw dropped.

I’ve read it before, but man, did it drive me nuts today, because it’s sexist to the core.

We know, all Christians do, that our Scriptures rose out of a thoroughly patriarchal society, which went unquestioned for thousands of years. There’s no getting around that or apologizing for it. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible assumes male dominance; at its worst the authors bless it and promote it, utterly heedless of its injustice. Ironically, we get our sense of right and wrong, justice and injustice, from this same Bible. So believers today, both women and men, try to separate the wheat from the chaff as best we can, and then feast on the wheat.

We are all “cafeteria Catholics.”

Proverbs 7 is a rant about the evils of adultery; I have no problem with that idea. Marriages and relationships are indeed facilitated when we’re faithful and keep our promises to each other. But then the author puts all the blame on women!

Then a woman comes toward him,
decked out like a prostitute, wily of heart.
She is loud and wayward;
her feet do not stay at home;
now in the street, now in the squares,
and at every corner she lies in wait.

I asked myself, “How can I inflict this on our congregation? Why should Maria, Debbie, Alison, Katrina, Anita and Valerie have to listen to this, especially at 6 in the morning? Like it came down from heaven as the Pronouncement of God and…” You get my drift. There isn’t enough coffee in the world to make that tolerable when you just woke up!

We lack the context for this lesson in the Daily Office; Proverbs is one long extended letter from father to son, telling him how to find the right wife, manage his household and be a righteous person. Fine – but at 6 in the morning, when you know that 90% of the mayhem in the world is caused by the male of the species? And we’d all be better off if we had gender equality to go with complementarity?

It made me think of the Taliban – and of how Episcopalian women used to have to wear hats or mantillas to church every Sunday, lest their ravishingly gorgeous hair cause all the men to riot on the spot. (My mother had one of those $3 lacy things folded up in her purse and another one in a drawer at home. She was glad the day she didn’t have to wear one anymore.) I Googled images and found Jackie Kennedy and the President 50 years ago outside a church door, but I kept looking. Then I found this one, only two years old, and was absolutely appalled.

Benedict was big on protocol, pomp and ceremony and Prada shoes; I don’t blame Mrs. Obama for getting decked out for him, but I doubt she’d have to grovel this way in front of Pope Francis. (That’s how I see it, groveling; Benedict didn’t riot over the President’s naked head.)

Maybe I’m wrong to ban Proverbs 7; I substitute a better Old Testament lesson, one we don’t read often enough (it even condemns adultery), as well as a link to the offending passage for lectionary fetishists. But I just couldn’t see making my women friends listen to/read a recitation of it with all the other things they’ve got going on in their lives. Men wouldn’t like it either; they know who’s usually responsible for sex outside of marriage.

I’ve only banned a passage once before (“slaves, obey your masters, etc.”) in nine years; this is an act of ecclesiastical disobedience, because I’m not here to force my opinions on others, but to present the Prayer Book Office. I take responsibility for my decision. I did what I think is right for my congregation. It’s my job as de facto pastor not to drive people away from the Gospel of Christ, but to invite them into it. Indeed, it’s our special calling as a virtual/not real parish to assist hurt and alienated people in returning to the Church; that’s what we do well. Nobody has to worry about what they look like to come to us, how they dress or how much money they have; nobody’s going to gossip behind their back at coffee hour, or say something snooty in the pew. Then, if hurting souls have a good experience with us, they can venture back into a real church, and test it to make sure it’s a safe place.

So have at me, liturgical fetishists; our substitute lesson tomorrow is the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not adulterate the faith.

If it's good enough for Chuck Heston, it's good enough for me.

If it’s good enough for Chuck Heston, it’s good enough for me.

Jesus said, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” That’s what Proverbs 7 is when shorn of its context, a stumbling block.

We need a new lectionary that’s up with the times. God may stay the same, but theology/knowledge of God evolves, just like every living thing.++

Norms for Our Webcasts


Praying isn’t showbiz. It isn’t even public speaking. (cutcaster.com)

After Thursday’s webcast of Morning Prayer we had a discussion of what’s involved in leading the worship. Most or all of our participants are capable of doing it, and several are experienced in their parishes and dioceses. It’s easy, and we want to have rotating leadership rather than depending on or burdening one person – or elevating the Vicar as if he’s some Big Cheese. But some people get stage fright, and I hope my remarks didn’t scare anyone off.

Nobody is required to lead or even speak. If you just come and hang out with us, we’re happy with that. We know you’re participating in the prayers whether you speak or not.

Since the service is printed out on our site, it’s almost impossible for anyone to do it wrong. The lectionary specifies the readings, the rubrics set out the rules, and I select the options within those rules, so all a leader has to do is keep things moving. Almost anyone can do it; the service is specifically designed so that anyone can lead it, clergy or lay.

Leaders should trust that whatever stumbles any of us make, the rest of us are flexible. Nobody attends to hear a performance; we come to pray to God and do it together.

That said, we’re developing certain patterns that facilitate the webcast. As Vicar I’ve taken on the mostly silent job of producing the broadcast, while somebody else leads.

Find & Use Your Mute Button

Our volunteer Subdeacon Clint Gilliland is our designated hitter and most frequent worship leader. He’s experienced, dedicated and good at it. But some days he doesn’t feel like leading and prefers to listen while someone else leads. If so, he lets me know and we pick someone else.

We’re still developing these patterns as we go along. No doubt some things will change as we gain more experience together. Most of our norms simply involve the technology of webcasting; our only challenges are minimizing ambient noise, and coping with the slight time delay of bouncing our signals across the continent.

All participants are able to Mute themselves on their control panel (a little pop-up screen from our webcast provider). If someone is accidentally making unwanted noise, I can Mute them until the problem clears up. It’s good for each participant to find her Mute button (a tiny icon of a radio microphone next to your name) and use it effectively; turn it on when you need to speak and turn it off when you don’t.

The little icon on the control panel looks sort of like this. (psdgraphics.com)

The little icon on the control panel looks like this. When muted it has a red diagonal slash. (psdgraphics.com)

The technical limits of webcasting mean that we don’t do as much unison reading as we would in church. I typically keep myself muted except when I’m called on to speak, or I notice a problem. I still say the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed with everyone else, but I trust God to hear me so you don’t have to.

The Rest is Common Sense

Here are our other norms. They’re not written in stone handed down on Mt. Sinai.

• We like to get everyone involved if possible, so Clint typically asks other members to read a section. Just do your best, and realize we can’t pronounce Hebrew or Swahili any better than you can. We’re a very forgiving bunch – and besides, we’re all reading along with you.

• We want male and female leadership every day, so we’ve developed a norm in how we read the psalms: one female, one male alternating by verse, with everyone else silent.

• Some people are singers, and might chant a canticle or the Lord’s Prayer, which is delightful. If you feel like singing, please do, but nobody has to.

• Nobody ever has to read.

• In the Prayer section, Clint will usually designate someone to read a Versicle while he reads the Response. The worship leader typically reads the Collect of the Day, then calls on someone else to lead other prayers.

• After our designated intercessions, Clint asks us to add our own prayers. I make sure all Mute buttons are off, so feel free to speak up.

• Someone will lead the Dismissal. If we have clergy present, s/he may be asked to pronounce the final blessing, on the theory that you’d rather hear it from her than from me. But a layperson is perfectly able, and we don’t always know who the clergy are.

• We’ve learned not to play the video at the end as part of our webcast, but to play it individually when the service is over. Again, this is because of the internet’s time delay as the signal travels from one place to another.

The best thing about our webcasts is that they’re really church – just different. Over time we get to know each other, and a real community is developing. Sometimes I think, “Wow, I’m not crazy for believing in God. These people do too. I’m not a religious fanatic simply because I pray the Office every day. I like these people!”

The reason we do corporate worship, online or in a building, is because God reveals herself to us through other people. I feel I know God a little better because I know Clint and Katrina, Valerie and Steve. Maybe God knows me a little more because I reveal myself to my friends.

Please join us, and don’t worry about the spotlight.++



The Queen Has Her Walkabouts, but the Vicar Rogates

(Megan Hills)

(Megan Hills)

Welcome! This is a page for news about our Daily Office prayer community, so I begin with a milestone: our Facebook group now has over 1500 members, who receive links to our services twice a day in their News Feed. (Please set your option to “Most Recent.”)

This number has grown rapidly and now almost equals the people who receive our services by e-mail subscription. They both grow fast, but with a billion members Facebook has an incredible reach, which we’re thankful for.

Please help us grow by mentioning us to your friends who might be interested. Word-of-mouth is the easiest form of evangelism there is; no tracts to buy, no doors to knock, no embarrassing discussions, “just click.” Remember, Jesus invited people with three simple words, “Come and see.” He didn’t harangue anybody, bribe them or lay down a guilt trip; he just said, “Check it out.” You can do that – and I’m here to remind you it’s your job. It only takes five seconds, no theological conversation required, plus the mere attempt instantly fulfills your obligation under the Great Commission to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Best of all, it’s free!

Kudos to Fr. Bob Solon for turning me on to Facebook groups. We’re also on Twitter @dailyoffice, and every Monday we invite you to mention your prayers and thanksgivings, which we then cross-post later in the day.

About This Blog Title: Rogation, Whuzzat?

If you’re an Episcopalian like I am, you’ve probably heard of Rogation Days – and you probably forget every year what exactly they refer to. A Rogation is a joyful religious procession from the church and around the parish boundaries (in America, this might be around a township), then back again, led by the parish priest in cassock and surplice, accompanied by acolytes, schoolchildren and adults, and maybe a brass band. The purpose of it is to bless the village and shops, the farms and woodlands, the creeks and animals – in short everything in sight, and every one.

It’s a quaint English custom which I think we should revive, adapted to modern circumstances.

Pastor Karl Newmann of Bayshore Friends Church blessed the fleet of shrimp boats in Kemah, Texas in 2004. You know they did some eating afterwards.

Pastor Karl Newmann of Bayshore Friends Church blessed the fleet of shrimp boats in Kemah, Texas in 2004. You know they did some eating afterwards.

Every small town in the world, and every urban neighborhood, has a business district. I’d like to see churches organize a little parade to bless all the stores and offices, the passing traffic and pedestrians, all the business and industry, all the owners and workers and customers, birds and trees, dogs and cats. In rural areas like mine, farmers would enjoy having their crops blessed, and so would gardeners in town. A campus ministry could bless every classroom and laboratory, athletic field and student center. Trinity Church, Wall Street, could bless every stock exchange, bank and brokerage; God knows they need it. The priest can sprinkle holy water every which way!

It doesn’t matter whether people believe in God or not; the message is that God loves and believes in them. There aren’t many people who will turn down a free blessing.

Rogation Procession.400

One thing the Episcopal Church is really good at is public blessings – of animals on St. Francis’s Day, of boats in the harbor or motorcycles in the parking lot. I’d like to see us hold more such events, then extend them to the entire community. That’s what Rogation (Marching) Days are for; that’s why they’re still listed in our calendar and why we have prayers for them in our Prayer Book.

The whole world needs God’s blessing. This colorful public witness should be fun as well as meaningful; it’s also the kind of evangelism we can be comfortable with, because all we’re doing is offering, not coercing. (Otherwise Episkies hate “evangelism.”)

Go and bless the armory and military recruiting offices; they’ll appreciate it. Invite all your local first responders to line up their fire trucks, ambulances and police cruisers at an outdoor service just for them. Have a special service for physicians, nurses and hospital workers; recognize people in their vocations and ministries.

Rogation Days are simply an extension of that, to include the whole area.

We’re Mourning the Death of Our Attorney Ed Barce

EdMy good friend Ed Barce died suddenly last week. He was only 55. He leaves behind his wife Chris and two daughters, Alison and Abby, both students at Indiana University. He was a great cook and operated his own restaurant for several years, specializing in Cajun-style seafood.

He served 16 years as the elected prosecutor of Newton County. In private practice he was also our site’s attorney. Now we’ll go through some delay in getting our ministry incorporated by the state, after which we’ll apply for nonprofit status (your contributions are already tax-deductible). His brother Jed will take over the business but losing Ed is a real bummer. He was a principled man and a good friend. Most of all I’ll miss his sense of humor.

Praying at Night Satisfies the Soul; Tell Us When You’d Like to Have Evensong

Now then, a poll: every Friday we offer Video Evensong, including chant, hymns, some Gospel or jazz, and a short educational piece which might be about prayer, science or church history. Is Friday the right day to run it?

Site statistics show that Morning Prayer is the more popular service; it fits people’s schedule and mindset better. But twice a day really works best; that’s why the Church commends it to our use. So I’m always looking for ways to persuade or entice you to come in the evening as well – at the end of the day’s joys and frustrations. We do most of our living during the day (and, ahem, most of our sinning), so turning to God afterward really satisfies the soul. That’s why I take the time to offer an expanded service at night with weekly Evensong. I don’t care (and God doesn’t either) if you’re so tired and numbed out you just look at the videos and read the Collect of the Day; you’ve turned to God, which is the essential transaction. So please take our poll. [UPDATE: It’s not showing up for me in Firefox, so please try another browser. Your feedback is very important to us.]