Subversive Advice from Eugene Peterson

eugene_peterson-250w-tn“Prayer is subversive activity. It involves a more or less act of defiance against any claim by the current regime. . . . [As we pray,] slowly but surely, not culture, not family, not government, not job, not even the tyrannous self can stand against the quiet power and creative influence of God’s sovereignty. Every natural tie of family and race, every willed commitment to person and nation is finally subordinated to the rule of God.”

—Eugene Peterson, Where Your Treasure Is:  Psalms that Summon You from Self to Community

In the forward to Peterson’s book, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual DirectionRodney Clap quotes the above and goes to explain that Peterson’s call to subversive prayer  ultimately produces subversive actions:

“. . . common Christian acts. The acts of sacrificial love, justice, and hope. . . . If we develop a sense that sacrificial love, justice, and hope are at the core of our identities—they go to our jobs with us each day, to our families each night—then we are in fact subversive. You have to understand that Christian subversion is nothing flashy. Subversives don’t win battles. All they do is prepare the ground and change the mood just a little bit toward belief and hope, so that when Christ appears, there are people waiting for him.”

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My Meeting with Pope Francis

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Ever since white smoke billowed out of the Vatican chimney back in 2013, I’ve been an admirer of Pope Francis. I love his humble spirit and his heart as reflected in his care for the poor and the disenfranchised. No one was prepared for the new pope from Argentina to reject the palatial papal residence for a simple two-bedroom apartment and to drive himself around in a Fiat instead of traveling in a chauffeured Mercedes.

I find his bold unvarnished criticisms of prosperity, power, intolerance, and injustice refreshing. Pope Francis is giving the world and the church (both Catholic and Protestant) a much-needed radical vision of how it looks to follow Jesus.

Needless to say, I was terribly disappointed when Pope Francis’ 2015 historic visit to Philadelphia occurred when I was on the West Coast. Little did I realize, when my friend Mae Cannon invited me to contribute a chapter to a book she was editing on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, that I would get a second chance.

Pope Francis and I would meet as allies in a common cause on the pages of that book.

Multiple Narratives Toward Peace

9781498298803Hot off the press, A Land Full of God: Christian Perspectives on the Holy Land, is a collection of twenty-nine short essays by a wide variety of individuals and perspectives, including Pope Francis, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Secretary of State John Kerry.

The purpose of the book is to create an expanded space for Christians to listen, and learn from differing viewpoints, narratives, and research about the Holy Land and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Too often we default to a binary perspective where the goal is to decide which side we’re on, when the situation is far more complex.

These essays move the conversation beyond theory by putting the faces and suffering of real people on the crisis and by probing the biblical text for wisdom. At the heart of the book is the profound conviction that American Christians have a major role to play in promoting peace and justice in the region.

My chapter, “Unlikely Friendships,” recalls my family’s experience of living in Oxford, England during the First Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm. The war created tensions in Oxford, where anti-war sentiments ran high and many viewed the war as a battle for the American automobile. Friends from other countries expressed their disapproval of American involvement by withdrawing from us.

During that time, we were drawn into unlikely friendships within the Oxford University student community with two neighbors who were experiencing similar isolation—a devout Muslim from India and an Israeli who was a regular commentator on British news networks during the war. We did a lot of listening.

That experience was proof that Oxford offers more than one kind of education.

Take Up and Read!

My copy of A Land Full of God just arrived, and I am already learning from the contributions of other writers. The book itself is a work of grace and an important contribution toward peace in a conflict that festers at the center of the Middle East. Mae deserves enormous credit for her vision for the project and for assembling such a diverse group of writers.

I’m convinced this book is strategically important for the church and feel strongly that it deserves a wide reading—not just because it documents my official meeting with Pope Francis, but because of the potential impact the church can have for peace. The personal stories are gripping, the biblical teachings speak to the heart, and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian crisis is an issue we can’t ignore.


A Land Full of God: Christian Perspectives on the Holy Land

Editor:
Mae Elise Cannon

Foreword by Muslim & Jewish leaders:
Aziz Abu Sarah and Rabbi Dr. Daniel Roth

Contributors in chapter order:
Dale Hanson Bourke, David Neff, Rich Nathan, His Holiness Pope Francis, Judith Mendelsohn Rood, Tony Maalouf, Michael Brown, John Phelan, Andrea Smith, Clayborne Carson, Troy Jackson, Donald Lewis, David Gushee, Susan Michael, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, The Honorable John Kerry, Paul Alexander, Bob Roberts, David Anderson, Darrell Bock, Jerry White, Shane Claiborne, Carolyn Custis James, Lynne Hybels, Eugene Cho, Jim Wallis, Joel Hunter, Bill Hybels, and Tony Campolo.


Published originally at Published originally at Missio Alliance

Also published at HuffPost

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Girl Power!

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Whenever I speak at women’s conferences about God’s purposes for his daughters, women who find this message to be as life-changing as I do inevitably wonder how differently their stories would read if they had heard this message when they were young girls.

I wonder too.

How would my story read differently if I had understood as a young girl that being God’s image bearer involves a mission that comes with responsibility and a call to action? What if I had known that ruling and subduing God’s creation are women’s jobs too? What more would I have done if I had known that God created me to be an ezer-warrior for his kingdom? And, more to the point, how can we get this message to our girls?

Well, we are about to find out. And the implications of what follows are significant!

Girls in the Pow Wow Room

Several months ago, my friend Jenny told me about a group of sixth and seventh grade girls at a private Christian school who, with their passionate art teacher, were studying and discussing their way through my book, Lost Women of the Bible: The Women We Thought We Knew.

41ylC8oL6mLTo my knowledge, this is the youngest group to tackle this read, and I was eager to meet them. That happened last week. When I arrived, the girls led me to a small room—the “Pow Wow Room”—located inside their school Art Department where they regularly huddle together to dig into this study.

Trust me, the world is going to hear from these girls. They are smart and they are using their minds to process a lot of information. They are getting the message that God has a big vision for his daughters, and they have plenty to say.

Putting it mildly, lights are going on.

Reflecting on what she had learned, one girl told me, “I’m just as special as any boy.” She wasn’t being defiant or combative. She was simply stating a fact that, sadly, was brand new to her.

When there are precious few resources for young Christian girls that challenge them to go deeper in their relationship with God, to cultivate and employ the gifts he has given them, and to embrace his calling on their lives, the work this group of girls has done represents something of a break-through.

It breaks from the practice in the church of teaching girls that God’s purpose for them lies somewhere in the future and is secondary to what their brothers can and will do. It proves that they are looking for substance and are willing to work for it. It gives them a whole new vision of themselves that isn’t based on how they look or how the culture defines them. Instead it challenges them with God’s vision for his daughters that begins at birth, lasts until they breathe their last, and calls them to be more.

It’s the same vision we all wish we’d known when we were their age.

What Christian Girls Hear

For those unfamiliar with Lost Women of the Bible, the book features some of the best-known women in the Bible—Sarah, Esther, and Mary of Nazareth, for example. Hardly women we’d describe as lost. Yet we’ve lost sight of them and their significant contributions because their stories have been overlooked, marginalized, diminished, toned down, and explained away until we’ve not only lost them, we’ve lost the potency of their examples.

One girl remarked about the chapter on Mrs. Noah, “It is sad that we don’t even know her name.”

“Their stories have been buried under layers of low expectations and the belief that God is doing his most important work through men. It is a profound loss—not just to women, but also to Christian men.”    
                                                                               —Lost Women of the Bible

The girls told me they have experienced that loss. Stories they mainly hear in church and Sunday School are about men—Moses, David, Daniel, and the twelve disciples, to name a few. But women? Not so much. Maybe on Mother’s Day or around Christmas. Overall, girls aren’t hearing the bracing stories of women in the Bible who will speak meaning, purpose, and courage into their lives.

Pastors need to know, young girls are listening.

Instead, what girls hear about women is often negative. They’ve gotten the message that Eve is responsible for the fall of humanity which, besides being inaccurate, implies all women and girls are a hazard. Yet Eve—the unfallen Eve—remains God’s official blueprint for his daughters, no matter how young or old they may be. Once that message is unpacked, it is empowering a lot of women today, and now these sixth and seventh grade girls too.

Before reading Lost Women of the Bible, the girls didn’t realize the Bible contains so many gripping stories about women. They are well aware that the patriarchal context intensifies the potency of these narratives. What girls typically hear about women from the church doesn’t call them to strength or to courageous faith. It doesn’t motivate them to aspire.

These girls are aspiring now.

One of the sixth graders has abandoned her dream of becoming a veterinarian and now aspires to go to seminary to become a Bible teacher. Who knows what the rest of them will do!

Who are those Lost Women?

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The women I cover in Lost Women of the Bible are some of the most familiar. Yet, the significance of their contributions and the battles they engage deserve deeper study.

Some of the lost women are shapers of Judeo-Christian theology. Sarah’s pregnancy at ninety fuels our faith in God’s power to keep his word. The prophetess Hagar (slave girl of Abraham and Sarah) teaches us the intimate side of God. She names him El Ro’i, “the God who sees me.” The barrenness that made Hannah a failure as a wife and as a woman became the crucible in which she learned and from which she ultimately taught her son (the future mentor of Israel’s kings) deep truth about God’s sovereignty. Hannah is appropriately regarded as the theologian of the monarchy.

Some of the lost women risked their lives to advance the purposes of God. Judah threatened Tamar, his twice-widowed daughter-in-law, with an honor killing. The very young, pregnant-out-of-wedlock Mary of Nazareth could easily have faced stoning. Likewise, Esther took her life into her hands when she stood up to the two most powerful men in the world and identified herself as a member of a people threatened by genocide.

Some of the lost women were very young and likely in their early teens when they enter the story. In patriarchal cultures, girls are marriageable when they reach puberty. So Hagar, Tamar, Esther, and Mary of Nazareth fit into that age group.

I learned that when the girls reached the chapter on Tamar, they encountered a little short-lived parental hesitation. After all, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and duped Judah into impregnating her.

Is this something young girls should be reading?

Turns out the Tamar chapter had a profound and positive impact on them. They found her courage inspiring and were puzzled that they’d never heard her story before. One girl expressed bewilderment that any pastor would avoid her story. She wondered out loud, “Shouldn’t we be reading the whole Bible?”

Empowered!

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My interaction with these elementary school girls was a strong reminder that we should never underestimate what young girls can understand. Nor should we limit what they can and will do when they discover the Bible’s powerful message for girls. They can handle the fact that the bar has been raised for them.

The word they used most often during my time with them was “empowered.” They’ve been empowered and validated by the courageous stories of women in the Bible. Several of them said that what they learned brought them closer to God.

You should have heard them pray!

Through the stories of his daughters recorded in the Bible, God has empowered these girls to live boldly and courageously for his purposes. They don’t intend to hold back.

The implications of their study addresses, at least in one way, the question “How can we get this message to our girls?” The girls I met don’t need, nor do they want, a dumbed-down message. Surely other girls can read and learn from Lost Women of the Bible too—on their own, or with their teachers, mentors, moms, and dads.

Oh, and about that Pow Wow room in the Art Department? They’ve renamed it “The Ezer Room!” I suspect we haven’t heard the last from the girls who are spending time in that space.


Published originally at at Missio Alliance

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Mark Driscoll’s Cinderella Story

What he gets right and what he gets wrong.

Cinderella & Prince Charming

Some mornings, I don’t need coffee to jolt me awake. Sometimes all it takes is a tweet.

The tweet that did it recently came from a friend who, with a simple “ahem,” forwarded a Mark Driscoll tweet to me. Driscoll was promoting his current sermon series (and eBook) on the Old Testament book of Ruth. Anyone who knows me or has read The Gospel of Ruth will understand why that tweet woke me up.

I live and breathe the book of Ruth.

Naturally, my curiosity got the best of me, so I clicked on the link to see what Pastor Mark was up to. The link took me to a video from the series entitled, Ruth—Redeeming Romance.

With a title like that, I was not surprised to learn Driscoll views the book of Ruth as a romance between Boaz and Ruth and sees Boaz as the Kinsman Redeemer hero who rescues Ruth from her abysmal life as a single impoverished woman. Naturally, it also reinforces his views of manhood and womanhood.

In the sermon, he categorizes Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz all as “singles” and uses the book of Ruth as a jumping off point to advise singles about dating and sexual purity and to coach single women to look for a man like Boaz whose qualifications pass muster—he “loves God and has a job.”

What did surprise me was his unabashed, effusive description of Ruth as a “Cinderella story.” At least on this point, I think Driscoll got it right. It’s also where he gets it wrong. The label “Cinderella” is an open admission that there’s a problem with this view.

Cinderella in the Bible?

According to a Cinderella hermeneutic, Ruth, a young, destitute, immigrant widow, catches the eye of the rich and powerful older Boaz as she is scavenging (or gleaning) in his field for leftover scraps of grain. Naomi, Ruth’s widowed mother-in-law, interprets his unexpected generosity towards her daughter-in-law as romantic interest. Nothing more comes of it until Naomi gives the hesitant lovers the nudge they need, offering Ruth what Driscoll considers very bad and morally questionable counsel.

She sends Ruth all dolled up, perfumed, and in her best clothes, to present herself to a sleeping Boaz at the threshing floor in the dead of night. Ruth proposes marriage, Boaz accepts, and the man who threatens to spoil it all walks away. Boaz purchases Naomi’s land, marries Ruth, and, before you know it, Ruth gives birth to a baby boy, the grieving Naomi’s spirits revive, and a “happily-ever-after” banner waves triumphantly over the ending.

The genealogy at the end delivers the startling news that this baby is the great grandfather of King David and, as we now know, the ancestor of King Jesus.

Driscoll’s sermon video includes a dramatization where God moves Ruth “from widow to wife, poverty to prosperity, alone to adored, sadness to song, languishing to laughing, misery to motherhood.”

Sounds a lot like Cinderella.

But Ruth isn’t Cinderella, and the Bible isn’t teaching fairytales, which won’t preach anyway, not to congregants whose stories aren’t playing out like that. In order to unearth the deeper meaning of this story, we need to look at the story through the lens of patriarchy—the culture in which the story takes place.

Abandoning Cinderella for a Better Love Story

Within the patriarchal culture, a woman’s chief contribution in life was to produce sons for her husband. Women in the Bible are desperate for sons. None of them are begging God for daughters. Under patriarchy, a woman’s value is gauged by counting her sons. Sons are essential for family survival. The fate the ancients feared most was for a man to die without a male heir to perpetuate the family for another generation.

So when a post-menopausal Naomi loses her husband and both her sons, she plummets from the status of an honored mother of two sons to a zero. Little wonder she describes herself as “empty.” Death destroyed her life’s work.

Far from a Cinderella story, the book of Ruth is a Job story. Naomi is a female Job. That changes the entire book and makes God the rightful focus of the story.

Like Job, Naomi loses everything, sees Yahweh as her adversary, voices bitterness of soul, and raises hard questions about God that her story engages. Naomi believes she has lost God’s love (hesed). Why would Yahweh love her?

Realistically, the “happily-ever-after” evaporates. Life goes on, but these kinds of losses reconfigure a person’s life. Sandy Hook and Gold Star parents will go to their graves in grief, no matter how many good things may happen to them. Don’t ask them to “Get over it.”

God doesn’t speak to Naomi through a prophet, a voice from heaven, a thunderbolt, or a vision. God communicates his love to her through her immigrant daughter-in-law Ruth whose every action—from her vow, to her gleaning, to her proposal to Boaz, to the birth of the son she gives to Naomi—speaks hesed to Naomi’s empty soul.

Hesed is no ordinary kind of love. It is a loyal, self-giving, costly love that motivates a person to do voluntarily what no one has a right to expect or ask of them. It shows what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

God’s hesed is the bedrock of his people and it saturates the pages of scripture. Ruth’s hesed for Naomi proves to be contagious, as Boaz, his harvesters, and Bethlehem elders all join in the hesed epidemic that spreads through Bethlehem and restores Naomi’s hope in God.

The Real Rescue

Perhaps the most surprising twist in the story is that Ruth isn’t being rescued. She’s the one launching the rescue, and the person being rescued is her deceased father-in-law, Elimelech. She initiates that rescue when her proposal to Boaz turns legal and she confronts him with two Mosaic Laws concerned with rescuing men. The Kinsman Redeemer Law requires the nearest relative to purchase a man’s land if he is forced to sell. The Levirate Law requires the blood brother of a man who dies without a male heir to marry his widow. The first son born to their union takes the place of the dead man on the family tree, including his inheritance.

Ruth’s proposal moves the discussion from the letter to the spirit of the law, as Jesus does generations later in his Sermon on the Mount. Boaz is neither the nearest relative nor Elimelech’s blood brother. He is beyond the letter of the law, but not its spirit.

Ruth isn’t seeking a husband for herself. She is battling for Naomi. In an act of unparalleled faith, barren Ruth volunteers to bear a son. Boaz is dumbfounded. He blesses and praises her for her hesed for Naomi, calls her a woman of valor, vowing that one way or another she will have her request (Ruth 3:10-13).

The Book of Ruth for Today

If Pastor Driscoll is truly concerned about bringing the message of the book of Ruth to a twenty-first century audience, abandoning the Cinderella motif would easily expand his sermon series to an ongoing exploration of the riches of this brief but utterly relevant book.

Who doesn’t need a powerful story of God’s relentless, unbreakable, fiercely stubborn love? In the current unleashing of toxicity in American culture, who of us, as followers of Jesus, doesn’t need to ponder soberly what our attitudes, words, and actions towards others convey about God’s love?

The book of Ruth surfaces issues currently running at epidemic levels in today’s world and presents a stunning display of the radical difference its makes to live as God’s child in this fallen world. The story includes refugees, an undocumented immigrant, and raises the issue of the plight of women and girls. It creates explosive combinations that burst out in gospel living: male and female, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, privileged and vulnerable, Jew and Gentile, and brings an eye-opening gospel perspective to every issue.

The book of Ruth is an open invitation for the church to engage these issues and more. Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz become our teachers as they live out in radical self-giving ways what it means to live as God’s sons and daughters—his image bearers—in a fallen world.

That’s when we’ll discover just how much we lose when we settle for a Cinderella story.

Driscoll needs to realize that the Bible is not a Disney movie, but an earthshaking existential confrontation with the deepest issues of life in a fallen world and of the hope that is Jesus.


To learn more about the book of Ruth as a Job story, read The Gospel of Ruth—Loving God Enough to Break the Rules.

To recover powerful stories of men in the Bible who, like Boaz, have gotten lost in translation and deserve to be vindicated, read Malestrom—Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World


This post was first published at www.MissioAlliance.org.

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Returning to the Shack

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There’s a rickety old shack in the Oscar winning movie, Forest Gump, where Forest’s best friend Jenny grew up. Jenny’s shack is also the place that hides her darkest, most painful memories—early years of sexual abuse.

After they reach adulthood, Forest and Jenny revisit the shack. It is a powerfully wrenching scene when Jenny, enraged by the memories she cannot shake, hurls fistfuls of rocks at the hated shack. Later, Forest finishes the job by flattening it with a bulldozer. But the ill-effects of childhood suffering are able to withstand Forest’s demolitions efforts.

Paul Young’s runaway bestselling novel, The Shack, which has now been made into a movie, takes up a similar theme.

A Redemptive Encounter

The shack in Young’s tale is the site where Missy, the beloved young daughter of the main character Mack, is brutally murdered by a sexual predator. The impact of her brutal death on Mack is, as you can imagine, utterly devastating. Like Forest’s friend Jenny, Mack lives a tormented life because of what happened to his little girl in the shack. The shack casts a dark and terrible shadow over his life that he can’t escape.

The shack—that dilapidated vacant old eyesore—comes to represent unspeakable loss and an open wound in Mack’s soul. Just like Jenny, Mack returns to the place most abhorrent to him, drawn by a note in his mailbox signed “Papa”—the name his wife Nan uses most often for God. But unlike Jenny’s story, Mack’s story doesn’t include a bulldozer scene. Instead of trying to destroy the shack, Mack enters it alone. He is angry, skeptical, fearful, and filled with revulsion.

Yet it is in returning to the place that pains him most that Mack has a life-altering, redemptive encounter with God.

[bctt tweet=”Returning to the place that pains him most brings a redemptive encounter with God.” username=”missioalliance”]

A Counterproductive Debate

Young’s novel attracted enormous attention, as has the recently released movie. This, in itself, would be reason enough to discuss The Shack. Young has also drawn fierce criticism from evangelicals for his portrayal of the Trinity and for his theological views which he is audacious enough to put into the mouth of God.

From my vantage point, it seems counterproductive to debate, when Young is serving up to us on a platter an amazing opportunity for deep conversations and real ministry with so many people. We may not like every detail of the book or agree with every theological statement it contains. (And in all fairness, Young’s critics should also inspect C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, not to mention their own views, under the same theological microscope.)

Young is doing here what most people do every day. He’s asking the tough theological questions that hound every wounded soul. (If you’re not in that demographic, sooner or later you will be, so this is for you too.)

Why do bad things happen—not just in the abstract, but to me? Does God really care about me? Why is my life such a mess, if God is truly good?

And here’s one to ponder: How do we present God as Father to this father-starved generation and call them to draw near to Him, when the mention of “father” conjures up images that are uncaring, distant, and (in more cases than we’d like to admit) abusive? Young tackles that question head on by starting in the kitchen with “Papa” represented as a warm, embracing African-American woman and leading Mack from there to know “Papa” as Father who will shepherd him gently through the hardest stretches of his journey.

I suspect one explanation for the skyrocketing sales of this book is that there are a lot of hurting people in this world who long for an honest discussion of the big questions they are already asking. Young is giving them that discussion.

I read and discussed The Shack when it first came out with six highly respected, theologically minded people. All seven of us are seminary graduates with years of experience in theology, biblical studies, and pastoral concerns. You may be surprised to learn that our discussion touched only briefly on the theological controversy and then went in another direction. Yes, we are all seminary graduates capable of wading into the controversy. But we have another thing in common which changed our reading of Young’s book.

We all have shacks.

Meeting God In Our Shacks

If you’re hurting—if there’s a painful, immovable fixture on the landscape of your life—this book will touch you in your deepest place. It did that for all of us. Frank and I felt a deep connection between Mack’s struggles and the shack because we were dealing with the aftermath of his brother Kelly’s death in the snow cave on Mount Hood.

The Shack is about revisiting the hard places—the shacks—of our lives and wrestling honestly with God there (instead of avoiding, ignoring, or trying to bulldoze it). Somehow God meets us in our shacks. This is the consistent story of God’s people all through the Bible: Job, Abraham and Sarah, Naomi, Hannah, David, and Jeremiah, to name a few.

The Shack is about being reassured of God’s relentless love for you in the presence of your greatest reason to doubt Him. How ironic for Mack to come to grips with God’s love at the murder scene of his daughter where God’s love seemed so wholly absent.

I’ve always said, I’d rather hear about God’s love from someone who believed they had lost it, than from someone whose rosy life never forced them to doubt.

The Shack is about the importance of the hard places in our lives. In our victorious, prosperity-obsessed, air-brushed Christianity, we completely miss this. There’s a lot of truth to the charge coming from people who are leaving the church that we are not honest about the shape of our lives and the state of our faith. In the church, shacks are secrets unless something unforeseen blows your cover. Shacks are regarded as shameful. And the doubts they produce are considered to be signs of spiritual failure, not the path to growth.

I don’t necessarily advocate full public disclosure of our deeply private struggles, but there surely is a place for us to acknowledge to one another that we all have spiritual struggles, we all wrestle with doubts about God, and we all have our shacks.

Biblical sufferers offer us that kind of honesty, and we should be grateful that Paul Young has been that honest too.


This updated post was first published at www.MissioAlliance.org on March 20, 2017.

It was published at Huffington Post on March 21, 2017.


An earlier pre-movie version first appeared at www.carolyncustisjames.com in September 2008.


 

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An Unlikely Women’s History Celebrant

john-calvinI suspect the renown Reformation pastor John Calvin is one of the last men anyone would expect to show up during Women’s History Month—at least in a favorable way.

This is where the capability of church historians (I’m thinking of one church historian in particular) to dig up unexpected revelations rivals the twenty-first century press and never ceases to amaze me.

Out of the blue, Frank sent me the following quote from a letter, dated 16 September 1557, that Calvin penned to Protestant women who were imprisoned for their faith in Paris.

Mademoiselle Phillippe de Luns, a noble woman, was one of the Paris women. Calvin’s bracing letter of ezer-warrior encouragement didn’t arrive a day too soon. She was burned at the stake on 27 September 1557.

John Calvin’s detractors should probably sit down before reading.

Since we have a common salvation in [Jesus Christ], it is necessary that all with one accord, men as well as women, should maintain His cause. . . . For he who marshals us to battle, arms and shields us at the same time with necessary weapons and gives us dexterity in wielding them . . .

He has shed His Spirit on all flesh and caused to prophesy sons and daughters, as he had foretold by his prophet Joel, which is evidently a sign that He communicates in like manner His other necessary graces, and leaves neither his sons nor daughters, men nor women, destitute of the gifts proper for maintaining His glory. . . .

Consider what was the courage and constancy of women at the death of our Lord Jesus Christ; when the apostles had forsaken him, how they continued by Him with marvelous constancy and how a woman was the messenger to announce to the apostles His resurrection, which the latter could neither believe nor comprehend.

If He then, so honored women, and endowed them with so much courage, do you think He has less power now or that His purposes are changed? How many thousands of women have there been who have spared neither their blood nor their lives to maintain the name of Jesus Christ and announce His reign? Has not God caused their martyrdom to bear fruit? Has their faith not obtained the victory over the world as well as that of martyrs? … and have we not still before our eyes examples of how God works daily by their testimony and confounds his enemies . . .


Source: Bonnet CCCCLXXVI, #2716 in OC 16: 632-34. Cited in Elsie Anne McKee, Editor and Translator, John Calvin: Writings on Pastoral Piety, Classics of Western Spirituality (NY: Paulest Press, 2001), 329-330.

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Refueling Hope!

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My memories of the Synergy Women’s Network are never far below the surface. It doesn’t take much for them to burst into life for me again.

That happened as I watched the historic Women’s March on January 20, knowing Synergy women were in those crowds.

Whenever another gifted Synergy writer gets published, I chalk up one more Synergy success. (Kudos to Lesa Engelthaler for her relentless mentoring/editing and to the publishers who scouted for new talent at our conferences!)

I get flashbacks of why Synergy got started in the first place every time I receive a S.O.S. email from a woman in ministry stranded “out there” somewhere and know exactly which of my Synergy friends will help her.

International Women’s Day reminded me of national Synergy conferences, the courageous work Christian women are doing all over the world, and the challenges and opportunities looming on the horizon.

Thoughts of Synergy and what God is doing through his daughters fill my heart with hope. No matter how dark things look, I know God’s kingdom is making headway because his daughters and sons are bearing light in all those dark places and we aren’t giving up.

Memories of Synergy2011 (our final national conference) came flooding back, along with the ongoing global plight of women that we considered there, when my friend Virginia Quarrier Knowles posted a couple of videos she recorded (see below) on Facebook. That conference was without a doubt our most honest look at the scope and ferocity of the battles Jesus calls us to fight and when our determination to engage surged.

The Synergy Legacy

Books & Culture ReviewSynergy conferences were always forward looking. We were (still are) passionate about God’s calling on our lives and energized by the challenges and opportunities before us.

Our 2011 conference theme was “The Rest of the Story: From Here to Eternity” and spread a more realistic yet hopeful and creative vision for our mission than ever before. Guest speakers that year were Andy Crouch, Nikki Toyama-Szeto, and Sheryl WuDunn.

Sheryl and her husband, Nicholas Kristof, co-authored the NYTimes bestseller, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The book’s name comes from the Chinese proverb, “Women hold up half the sky.” The book is a jarring global exposé of human rights violations against women and girls the authors describe as “the paramount moral crisis of the twenty-first century.” 

It’s a book every ministry leader should read!

Sheryl focused attention on the global plight of women and girls. The challenge in Half the Sky that convinced me this was an issue we as Christians need to address was that “Americans of faith should try as hard to save the lives of African women as the lives of unborn fetuses.Michael Jordan and the Malestrom

Reading Jesus and the prophets just reinforces my conviction that the global plight of women and girls is a crucial part of the Bible’s agenda and of our responsibility to keep it on the church’s radar. My book, Half the Church—Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, merges God’s vision for his daughters with this agenda.

Believe it or not, it is possible to have a clear and honest grasp of the appalling attrocities  happening here and around the world and still hang onto hope. As Calvin College Philosophy Prof James K.A. Smith wrote recently in the Washington Post,

Count me one of the “willfully blind” perhaps, but I would never count out a savior who rose from the dead.”

A New Day for Synergy

In 2014, Synergy became part of Missio Alliance—a step forward that was consistent with both organizations firm commitment to men and women partnering together in ministry. I had attended Missio conferences before that, and it was obvious to me that a commitment to and value of the ministry of women to the whole Body of Christ was already in their DNA. As I’ve said before, Missio Alliance was a logical place for Synergy to land.

I’m sharing these videos as a reminder to women who were part of Synergy that we haven’t gone away and to encourage you to check out the upcoming Missio Alliance Conference, Awakenings and plan on joining us. The conference is April 27-29 in Alexandria, Virginia.

y450-293I’m currently reading N.T. Wright’s new book, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning Jesus’ Crucifixion (which I’d recommend you’d read whether you can make it to the conference or not). I’ve read several of his books, and have yet to read one that didn’t leave me with a fresh sense of hope (a.k.a., informed optimism). This one is no exception. I can’t wait to hear him speak on this at the conference. I suspect plenty of us could use a bracing infusion of hope about now. This conference promises to deliver. Prof Wright is just one of the speakers in this strong line-up that I’m counting on to feed my hope.

For those who have never heard of Synergy, these videos will give you a glimpse  of the kind of work we did at Synergy and still are passionate about doing.

Come to Alexandria and get a fresh dose of hope!


 


 

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