Ruth Goes to Uganda!

Photo Courtesy of Lifesprings International

Monday’s email made my day with this incredible photo of Christian ezer leaders in Uganda.

It was a scramble, but 2021 ended with an opportunity to help Lifesprings International wrap up their training session in Uganda by giving each attendee a copy of The Gospel of Ruth—Loving God Enough to Break the Rules. Close to the wire as Lifesprings leaders were leaving the states for Uganda, I got an SOS email saying they’d bought all the books they could find, but it wouldn’t be nearly enough.

So I was privileged to help out. I shipped a box of books to Klamath Falls, Oregon where Terri Labri, a member of the leadership team, packed them in her suitcase and delivered them to this class of Ugandan students.

The photo was accompanied by this good news from Terri:

Greetings from Kampala Uganda! Wow what a historic moment for Lifesprings Int! If you look closely you will see your books were transported safely in my suitcases! . . . The women upon receiving their books opened them thrilled, to begin reading! Despite lots of obstacles and curveballs thrown at us, we were able to gather 85 women from all 5 districts of Uganda! We are full of praise for the work God is doing there! Such a privilege to have been the only one of 4 travel mates that made it. One got Covid the night before travel, one was prevented from getting the yellow fever shot, and the other recovering from cancer! But thank God I did arrive, only after a delayed plane and reroute thru Kenya, no small journey and God was faithful!!

Lifesprings International was birthed when women missionaries in France and their stateside friends grew concerned that Bible training wasn’t available for women, and the demand was growing. I joined their efforts several times as speaker for women’s retreats in Lyon, France and twice co-teaching courses in Switzerland with Fuller Seminary Church History Professor Nathan Feldmeth, first in Zurich and later in Geneva. And the ministry continues to expand.

Now 85 Ugandan ezers are reading The Gospel of Ruth and following through with their Lifesprings course homework. May God bless these women and may Uganda feel the life-giving impact of their ministries!

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Something to ponder . . . 

Image by Patrick Gregerson from Pixabay

The timeless article below was written by my husband and posted on the Missio Seminary website in honor of Martin Luther King and republished here with permission.


When Moderation and Justice Collide

Today we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. We remember his stance on non-violence, his bravery in the face of racism. We remember the soaring rhetoric in his sermons and speeches that still inspire us. But we must also remember his words that continue to haunt us as a society.

Sitting in a Birmingham jail, he wrote his famous letter that troubles my soul and weighs on me to this day.

“The Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the …Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”
———————————————————— Rev. Martin Luther King

For much of my personal and my professional life, I have sought to be moderate—to be a mediator who looks for the ‘golden mean,’ the middle way that allows sisters and brothers in Christ, who have real differences, to live and work in peace and harmony for the greater good of God’s kingdom. After all, the Apostle Paul tells us that moderation is a good thing: “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” (Philippians 4:5)

But what if, in the historical moment, moderation collides with justice? What if our moderation perpetuates injustice? That is a deep and agonizing question for all of us.

When I read MLK’s poignant words about ‘white moderates’ I inevitably hear the echo of the prophet Micah: “He [God] has shown all you people what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8). The prophet does not call us only to mercy and humility. Somehow justice, mercy, and humility belong together in a Christian social ethic. I think that is at least part of what MLK was telling us. I don’t have easy answers amid the brokenness of our world. But neither can I ignore the call for justice, mercy, and humility. Perhaps the collisions along our journey will shake us awake and lead to repentance, restoration, and redemption

Frank A. James III, DPhil, PhD,
President and Professor of Historical Theology
Missio Seminary

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International Ezer Day!

I was born on Memorial Day. When I was old enough to understand, my father used to tell me people were flying flags on their houses because it was my birthday. To those whose loved ones have served in the military, this may sound like sacrilege. But for me, it was better than Santa Claus. Seeing all those flags on my birthday always made me hold my head a little higher.

Then, in 1968 Congress passed a law that took effect in 1971 changing Washington’s Birthday, Veteran’s Day, and Memorial Day to Mondays to create 3-day holidays for everyone.  Veterans were not pleased because the change seemed to elevate long weekends over remembrance of those who have served our country.  I’m sure if Washington were alive, he’d have a thing or two to say about his birthday being moved.  You can be sure I was disappointed when flags stopped waving on my birthday except for that rare year when my birthday lands on the last Monday in May.

Mother’s Day is the one day on the calendar when you could say the church is waving flags for women.  Yet ironically, a day that brings enormous joy and much deserved gratitude and love to many women, is at for many others a day of utter discomfort and grief. Maybe it’s part of the way FaceBook is changing things, but this year I received an unusual number of messages from women who were dreading church that day because of infertility, singleness, the loss of a child, or heartache over a prodigal.

Those emails reminded me of a blog I wrote on Mother’s Day 2009 to wish everyone a Happy Ezer Day!  Afterwards Caryn Rivadeneira suggested we declare an International Ezer Day.  I loved the idea. But at the time, we were selling our house in Orlando and moving to Massachusetts, so a great idea got lost in the chaos. This year, Memorial Day falls on May 30, and Old Glory is flying on houses again. Seeing those flags and recalling what my father used to say has me thinking we do need a day to celebrate ezers we love, pay tribute to ezers who have impacted our lives, and cheer on the rising generation of young ezers. 

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2021 National Love Your Red Hair Day!

It’s that time again, and we are celebrating our favorite little red head! Arden is 7 now and happily in second grade. So much to learn and discover. She and her little sister Avery (6 and first grade) are both reading, playing soccer, and becoming competent swimmers. Arden is also making steady progress in physical therapy. Thank you again for praying!

This official once-a-year national celebration is a daily event around here and includes celebrating Arden’s little beautiful brown hair sister too. We have a lot to celebrate and the reasons for celebrating continue to multiply.

The pandemic is a sober reminder that every life is a treasure, invested by our Creator with gifts, strengths, and potential waiting to surface and thrive and that the world desperately needs. The impact of global events on women and girls remind us how much the world is squandering when those gifts lie dormant.

When girls are banned from school or overtly discouraged from pursuing their education to the highest levels, when families sell them into child marriages, even when inside our own churches the message comes through loud and clear that the gifts, wisdom, and contributions of women and girls are only marginally needed, but not by the whole church—the consequences are severe and widespread.

Whether we’ll admit it or not, we all pay a price.

The joy of watching a little girl’s mind and gifts come alive and thrive is impossible to describe. I pray these two little ezer-warriors and countless others like them will flourish as God intends, will thrive in the goodness of his love, and will discover possibilities inside themselves just waiting to surprise.

Happy Love Your Red Hair Day Arden! And Happy Love Your Little Brown Hair Sister Avery too!

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“If Ruth, why not me?”

Image by kangbch from Pixabay

For a long time we been looking at the lives of women in the Bible through the wrong end of the telescope. Their lives are noticeably small next to the larger lives of men in their stories. This has influenced how we see ourselves. It is a major distortion, and it comes at an exorbitant cost.

Against the cultural backdrop of ancient patriarchy, whenever a woman steps out on the pages of scripture and uses her mind, heart, and voice for the purposes of God, we are often told her story is “an exception to the rules for women.” But that is to imagine God doesn’t mean for us to take the whole Bible seriously and not just a few choice verses. That woman may be breaking the rules of her culture, but she is embracing God’s creation call on his daughters as his image bearer and as an ezer-warrior.

Biblical narratives are intended for our instruction too and must be taken just as seriously as any other biblical text. I learned that lesson when I threw out the Cinderella version of the Old Testament book of Ruth and probed deeper into the a narrative of two women and God.

The opening sentences of the book of Ruth can easily lead readers to assume this story will be about men by introducing Elimelech (Naomi’s husband) and their two sons. But that assumption is short-lived. In a terrible sequence of tragic eventsfrom famine, displacement, widowhood, two pagan daughters-in-law, a decade of double infertility, and more deaththe narrator clears the stage of male characters. Remarkably, the story isn’t over. Instead, the biblical camera zooms in on two childless widows, Naomi, a famine refugee, and Ruth, an undocumented immigrant, and the real story begins.

If we line up Ruth with other women in the Bible, no one would imagine her amounting to anything significant. The tally of strikes against her is overwhelming. Without sons, her patriarchal scorecard ranks her a zero. Her other demographics drop her below zero. She’s an immigrant, widowed, certifiably barren, new convert, and forced to scavenge for left-over barley to keep her mother-in-law and herself alive. Ruth lands at the bottom of the female value scalefar below prominent women like Deborah, Huldah, Esther, or Priscilla who rose to significant leadership roles in the nation and the church.

The thought of Ruth playing any role, much less the world-changing kingdom role she ultimately plays in God’s purposes is laughable. All too often, that’s how Christian women see themselves. God works through men, right?

I never will forget the day someone turned the telescope around for me. It happened with the book of Rutha book I thought I knew as well as my own name. It went off like a bomb in my life. I never knew God expected so much of me. It changed everything and, as the email below attests, is doing the same things for others.

What I love about the book of Ruth is that the odds against Ruth amounting to anything in God’s purposes is so overwhelming, it leaves the rest of us without excuse. If God worked through the life, choices, initiatives, and sacrifices of Ruth to advance his purposes for the world, we should all be asking ourselves, “If Ruth, why not me?!”

God’s hand is on all of his daughters. Our lives matter. And he can and will multiply our most insignificant and unrecognized acts of kindness and sacrifice to bless the lives of others. We will never fully know the full effect of what he can and will do through us. But don’t imagine your actions of care and compassion don’t multiply.

So it always a huge encouragement when I receive an email like the one below that just arrived from Jennifer, I which I reprint here with her permission. May women and girls awaken to God’s call!

Dear Carolyn,

My name is Jennifer. I am from Grand Rapids, Michigan. I came across
The Gospel of Ruth through a blog I follow out of Yuba City, California. I pulled it up on Amazon and the description was enough to make me buy it immediately. It transformed my life and strengthened my love for God’s Word. It was a breathe of fresh air to finally read something with meat and meaning.

I followed all those mommy blogs on how to behave like a good wife at 20 years old with littles at home. I soaked it all up. I read the books as well. A time came when I grew tired of “what must I do?” and the step by step guides. My marriage didn’t work like that. I also realized the guilt of this behavior was keeping me trapped in a sea of anxiety. 

I tried to reread some of those books again, and they just fell flat. I started to wonder where the books for women were that spoke of the work of Christ in our lives and His working in us to do the things He has entrusted us to do for His glory. I was tired of the fluff, and 20 years later, at 40 years old I picked up your books. I have also listened to all the podcasts I could find that you interviewed in. It has been the best Bible Study I have had in such a long time. I haven’t read Scripture this way, ever, I don’t believe.


Thank you for this challenge.

Just as many churches are right now, our church is also suffering. I am excited to share the Word of Hope with them through fresh eyes. Challenge my sisters in Christ to see what scripture says outside of the culture we have established. And of course recommend your books!

May God continue to bless you in strength, health, and a wisdom to keep searching the Word and sharing it with the world. 

Jennifer

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2021 International Day of the Girl Child

@pixabay

It breaks my heart to read about the renewed Taliban efforts to restrict Afghan girls from formal education. It is not only tragic for the young girls, I can’t imagine a more effective way to sabotage a nature’s future.

The tragic stories of Afghan girls shed important light on the biblical narrative of Mary of Bethany. We are well aware that the events in the New Testament took place within a full-fledged patriarchal culture much like that of the Taliban. We all have read or heard how the ancient rabbis believed it was a waste of time to educate girls. In the ancient patriarchal world any education available was primarily for men and boys.

Gospel writers don’t provide demographic details about Mary of Bethany, only that she was living in her sister Martha’s home. What we do know is that, in Martha’s home, Mary was seated at the feet of Rabbi Jesus in a room where he was teaching men (Luke 10:38-42). The expression Luke uses to describe Mary in his Gospel identifies her as a rabbinical student for she “sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he said.” Luke uses the same language when he records Paul identifying himself as a student of Gamaliel (he was trained “at the feet of Gamaliel” Acts 22:3, NRSV).

Imagine the impact of this narrative on Afghan girls today. Imagine how they would be drawn to Jesus especially for his firm defense of Mary! What impact did that have on his male disciples?

The impact on Mary proved revolutionary. Her story—all three episodes—are the heart of my book When Life and Beliefs Collide where I make the case that Mary was the First Great New Testament Theologian. Her story begins, but does not end, at the feet of Rabbi Jesus and his emphatic defense of her right to be there when Martha raised objections. And the learning he advocated wasn’t just for learning’s sake. It would lead her to ministry—profound spiritual ministry to Jesus himself, which he would affirm in the most jaw-dropping statement, “She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Matthew 26:10).

I thank God for the United Nations’ determination to call attention to the injustices and atrocities daily committed against women and girls in every country and to direct our attention to the ongoing battle for girls to be as valued, educated, and championed as boys. At the same time I grieve that the American evangelical church does not always share Jesus’ enthusiasm for educating women and girls, much less any interest in receiving spiritual ministry they might offer. What are we losing? Inside the American evangelical church, a slanted value system continues to exist. Boys return home from college and are questioned at church about their studies and future plans. Girls are asked “Have you met someone special?”

As followers of Jesus, God help us from allowing this day to be a mere annual observance. May we follow Jesus in becoming advocates for girls to learn and grow and minister as Mary did. If Jesus was such a determined advocate for Mary and other women who followed him, how can we do less?

To read more: When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference

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Jesus, John Wayne and #MeToo Warnings We Missed

The latest issue of the Journal of Urban Mission just went live. The theme is #ChurchToo, which was enough to get me interested.

I contributed two articles. One is a double review of Kristin Du Mez’s two booksher bestselling Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (J&JW) and her previous book, A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism. Katharine Bushnell’s story reveals the fact that #ChurchToo has a long history and sheds light on what, at least in part, motivated Du Mez to tackle J&JW.

Both books are eye-opening, painful to read at times, but exposing destructive realities we need to face both inside the church and beyond. Both deserve to be widely read.

My second article, entitled, “The Gospel versus Patriarchy: Ruth and Esther have Something to Say” features two biblical narratives where male power and female vulnerability collide with very different outcomes.

In Esther’s story corrupt male power leads to the sex trafficking of young girls (including Esther) that loved ones like Mordecai were helpless to prevent. In Ruth’s story we learn twice that she is risking her safety by venturing out alone (which she does) on Naomi’s behalf. Boaza very powerful man in Bethlehemdisplays a counter-cultural gospel brand of masculinity and employs his male power to empower Ruth. The Ruth/Boaz story points to Jesus, the true antidote to the #ChurchToo crisis. It is exactly what we need more of in the church today.

Check out these and other #MeToo related articles while you’re on the https:jofum.com website.

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ARDEN UPDATE #22: Whiplash!

Arden is not having surgery this morning as planned. I can’t believe I just typed that. The surgeon postponed the procedure to run a couple more tests and make sure she’s in good shape for the surgery.

Arden’s birthday party was a grand success, even with the cloud overhead of the surgery scheduled for today. She, family, and so many friends were bracing for the procedure. And then this news.

It feels like whiplash!

Already we’re hearing supportive messages from friends and family: “Better safe than sorry.” “This is not a coincidence. God wants her super strong at the time of the surgery . . . this has to be for the better.”

So this morning, Arden and Avery are back in school; family members from out-of-state are changing flights and heading home; and I’ll be leaving Wednesday morning.

Thank you for praying. I’m grateful that the heavens are already hearing her name as so many of you are praying. Please don’t stop. God’s hand is on her and in this sudden shift in plans.

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ARDEN UPDATE #21: Another Milestone . . . Actually Two

Our Arden is turning seven next week. It’s an important milestone. She was four when doctors discovered she had severe hip dysplasia. Two surgeries later, at least three spica casts, lots of physical therapy, and a determination to ride her bike and her scooter, and run around with her sister Avery and other children, Arden has been a champ throughout.

[Search this website for “ARDEN UPDATES” to retrace her story.]

We couldn’t be more proud of her or more grateful for praying friends and so many who helped her GoFundMe succeed.

Tuesday, May 18, is another important milestone. Arden will have surgery at Akron Children’s Hospital to remove the metal on her femur that enabled her to heal and get back on her feet. As hard as it is to face another surgeryfor her, her mommy, and the rest of the familythis procedure signals hard earned progress.

Please join us in praying for a smooth and successful procedure and a speedy recovery.

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No more Cinderella. We need hope!

“. . . this harmless looking little story . . . will awaken us to a whole new way of being human that will reconfigure our lives and leave us longing for more. . . . and will inject rich hope, purpose, and significance into the veins of the most God-forsaken, hollowed-out human soul.”
—————————————————Finding God in the Margins

It doesn’t require any arm twisting to get me to talk about the book of Ruth. I’m always ready to liberate Ruth from the traditional Cinderella damsel in distress just “waiting for her Boaz” and to get to the heart of the story. The book of Ruth is a paradigm changer.

So I certainly didn’t need time to “think about it” when The Revd Bruce Thompson of Lincolnshire Methodist Church UK invited me to participate in a webinar April 28 on the book of Ruth with author Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism UK and Rabbi of New North London Synagogue.

Revd Bruce had recently hosted a webinar on the coronavirus pandemic back in November 2020, inviting me to be a presenter with Rabbi Jonathan and Professor Ted Fuller of the University of Lincoln, UK and UNESCO Chair on Responsible Foresight for Sustainable Development.

It was a huge honor to participate and unforgettable to hear from these two men. I will never forget hearing Rabbi Jonathan talk about ministry to those suffering and losing loved-ones from Covid-19. Learning about UNESCO’s efforts was truly heartening as well.

I can hardly wait for this next conversation. If you are interested in joining this ZOOM webinar, the welcome mat is out.

To attend and receive ZOOM info, contact Alison:  PA@lincolnshiremethodist.org.uk 

Feel free to invite others.

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