Heading to Troy, Michigan

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No one has to twist my arm to get me to talk about the Old Testament book of Ruth.

It has been a total game-changer for me. I live in the book of Ruth. Hardly a day goes by when I’m not pondering this story. After publishing two books on the subject (The Gospel of Ruth and Finding God in the Margins), I still haven’t exhausted everything this book has to say to us.

Who knew the message of this small book could be so 21st Century relevant and so utterly earthshaking.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to be invited to help kick-off the Midweek Series on Ruth at Kensington Church/Troy Campus. Like I said, no one has to twist my arm.

If you’re in the area, I hope I’ll see you there!

Kensington Church

1825 E Square Lake Rd
Troy, Michigan
Wednesday, October 10
7:00pm

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Called and Courageous Girls!

40219638_2061450690775057_1381514842514391040_nThe brave little climber in this photo is my four-year-old grand-ezer. She’s the same little ezer who, this past summer at a pool here in Philly, stood in line with kids twice her size and—armed with her floaties—jumped off the diving board into the deep end. Anyone watching her tackle that rock wall or jumping off that diving board would have heard her parents cheering her on.

And yes, she made it to the top!

A New Day for Girls

Today little girls are finally hearing, “You can be anything you want to be!” That message is long overdue, but doesn’t yet have the global reach so desperately needed in today’s world.

It is one of life’s mysteries that the church hasn’t led the charge—challenging girls to push the limits of their abilities and opportunities. The Bible is a storehouse of powerful narratives of women (many of them young girls) who courageously answered God’s call, often risking their lives, to step up and lead in a variety of situations. Their bold actions take place within the ancient patriarchal culture, which effectively places an exclamation point beside their stories. Yet instead of giving these narrative texts the same weight we give to any other biblical text that references women, the language of “silence” and “submission” has become the dominant message for women and girls.

Strong women like Tamar, Rahab, Deborah, Jael, Priscilla, and Junia have always posed problems for interpreters because biblical writers clearly admired these women and held them up as outstanding examples of godliness even though their conduct broke with accepted convention. They were daring, took the initiative, and courageously exercised leadership, even in their interactions with men. To resolve the conflict this poses, biblical interpreters . . . reclassify them as ‘exceptions,’ thereby removing their portraits from the gallery of acceptable role models for Christian women.   —Lost Women of the Bible

Considering the enormity of the mission God has entrusted to his image bearers, the church cannot afford to bench half of our vital human resources. This creates a major quandary for women, for we have responsibility before God for the gifts, privileges, and opportunities he has entrusted to us. It’s hard to imagine burying our gifts and folding our hands when so much kingdom work needs to be done. Furthermore, in this #MeToo/#ChurchToo world, we need these Lost Women of the Bible to teach us to be strong and courageous.

For those who fear a female uprising, let us be clear. This is the best possible kind of uprising, and it is long overdue. These biblical stories and the impact they are having on women’s lives are good news for the church and beyond. Narratives of strong women and girls in the Bible aren’t fomenting a gender war or encouraging women to elbow their way to the top of the power pyramid. The strengths and gifts God entrusts to his daughters (and to his sons) are never ends in themselves. They are a God-given trust—a stewardship—gifts designed to empower, bless, and bring goodness, flourishing, and justice to others. These indispensible female role models exert themselves in radically counter-cultural daring gospel ways for the sake of others and for God’s kingdom. The world is a better place because of their courage. And their stories challenge us—women and girls today—to do the same.

Recovering the Bible’s Message for Women

For nearly twenty years, I’ve been committed to recovering the stories of women in the Bible—for my own sake as much as for other women.

Through the women of the Bible, God puts real everyday faith on display for the world to see. Their stories portray in vivid tones the resolute ‘risk it all’ brand of courage that faith in such a God produces.  —Lost Women of the Bible

These ancient stories have been utterly life changing for me, and it is gratifying to hear women from around the world say these strong female role models are changing their lives too.

Like the wheelchair bound woman in her 70s—a former missionary, then a pastor’s wife, now divorced and alone—who was completely convinced her climbing days (metaphorically speaking) were over. When a young friend of mine told her Eve’s story and explained the meaning of ezerthat this calling begins at birth and lasts for a lifetime—the spark of life returned to her with force. “I have a mission!” she exclaimed.

Then, because this news was too good to keep to her herself and because she wished she’d known it all along, she urged, “Go tell the girls!”

That’s exactly what is happening.

“Go tell the girls!”

Authors Rachel Spier Weaver and Anna Haggard, along with illustrator Eric Elwell, have launched the Called and Courageous Girls book series for girls ages 3 to 7. These beautifully illustrated books present the courageous stories of women in the Bible in ways that little girls can truly relate to and own for themselves. We owe these two authors a tremendous debt of gratitude for taking these powerful stories to this young audience before negative messages for girls begin to take root.

In the words of Sarah Bessey, author and mother of young girls,

“If you’ve ever wondered where the women of Scripture are in the children’s book section, this book is your bright and bold and gorgeous answer.”

Weaver and Haggard just released their third and newest volume, A Fearless Leader: A Bible Story about Deborah!

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To give you a taste of what’s inside and get the blood pumping through your veins, here’s the trailer.

What I wouldn’t give to have had these books when I was reading books to my daughter. What I wouldn’t give to have read these books myself when I was little.

Truly A New Day for Girls!

As I watched my courageous little four-year-old ezer reach for that next rock—her little three-year-old sister watching from below with every intention of climbing that wall too—I thought my heart would burst with hope. How good to see her discover that she can do more than she imagined. How incredible for her to inspire her little sister to reach for new heights too.

I thank God for the Called and Courageous Girls book series and for the expansive vision and aspirations these stories are instilling in the hearts and minds of little girls God created to love and serve him with all their hearts, souls, strengths, and minds.

Truly this is a new day for girls, and because of that it is a new day for all of us! Who knows how this will change their stories and how their courageous stories will change the world for others!


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A Brave Big Sister: A Bible Story about Miriam

An Extraordinary Teacher: A Bible Story about Priscilla

Coming soon! An Unexpected Hero: A Bible Story about Rahab

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Coming to the City of Sisterly Love

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4word: Philadelphia September Gathering

with Carolyn Custis James

“Minding Your Own Business as a Jesus Follower”

Anyone seeking biblical guidance for how to follow Jesus into the workplace would probably never consider the Old Testament book of Ruth as a crucial place to start. Traditional interpretations of Ruth as a beautiful romance obscure its profound relevance to multiple dimensions of twenty-first century life, including the workplace.

Women who follow Jesus into the workplace will find much to ponder in this powerful resource.

Thursday, September 27,
8:00-9:00AM

American Bible Society
101 N Independence Mall East FL8
Philadelphia, PA 19106-2155

The Philly 4word chapter invites Christian women in the workplace into a local and national network of likeminded women. Over a hundred women showed up for the inaugural event in August to hear 4word president and founder Diane Paddison explain the vision that is driving this organization/network!

Coffee and tea will be served. We hope to see you there! Bring a friend or two!

Registration ends September 25th at noon!
4Word

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Something to Ponder on Labor Day . . .

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“At the beginning God didn’t deliver a finished product; rather, God provided a setting in which human beings, working with and enabled by God, could cause the created order to flourish. . . . As Martin Luther once said, as we do the work to which we have been called we become the hands of God.”

—Jeff Van Duzer, from Why Business Matters to God

 

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Trauma, Resilience, and the Church

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Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Cultural Encounters: A Journal for the Theology of Culture, Vol. 13, edited by Paul Louis Metzger and is reprinted here with permission. 


As a young girl blessed with vigilant parents, I got early signals that somewhere “out there” lurked some mysterious danger. I needed to be alert and take precautions.

As a child, when a kind man in a bookstore gave me candy, my parents taught me never to trust a stranger—even nice ones. To make sure I got the message, they confiscated the candy. When they refused to let me go on an errand in a car with a male relative, I learned that not even everyone I knew and loved was safe. As a young teenager, when I was walking home in the dark after spending the afternoon at a friend’s house, my father tracked me down, picked me up, and drove me home as he warned me that it was dangerous to be out in the night by myself.

As a teenager, I never heard warnings from school officials or youth group leaders about the ever-present risks of sexual abuse or violence against women and girls. I never heard boys warned to respect girls. I never heard anyone say that a real man or true masculinity, understands that “no” means “no.” School officials warned us about STDs. Youth leaders mainly talked about sexual purity. I’ve since learned that already some of my friends and classmates had been sexually assaulted or were currently being abused.

As an adult, I’ve learned that even the best parents can’t be sure their child will skate through life without suffering trauma at the hands of another human being. For years now, through my friendships and teaching, writing, and speaking ministries, women have been (still are) telling me their stories. They’ve put faces and accounts of deep and relentless suffering on the subject of trauma inflicted through the abuse and sexual violations they’ve suffered at the hands of an abusive parent, a twisted neighbor or family “friend,” a controlling boyfriend or husband, or a self-indulgent boss.

One by one the stories came—opening my eyes to a social problem that simmers beneath the surface but often goes ignored. Evidence of trauma surfaces here and there—proving the lasting scars a woman carries after someone violates her person, her body, and her sacred sense of self, sometimes when she was just a child. Apart from a few lone voices and professionals who have devoted their careers to trauma counseling and advocacy for victims of abuse and violence, I was not aware of any concentrated effort to address these issues, not even in the church.

Three factors proved pivotal and compelled me to become an outspoken advocate for women and girls. First were the stories of abuse and assault I was hearing first-hand. Second was my research into the Bible’s empowering message for women and the platform to communicate that message that I must steward. Third was my growing awareness that the problem is far greater and more systemic and global than I ever imagined, thanks in particular to Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide—a bracing exposé of the human rights violations of women and girls globally that the authors call the “paramount moral challenge” of the twenty-first century.[1]

These three forces converged in my book, Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Call for Women—a call to action for Christian women to engage this crisis as God’s image bearers and ezer-warriors for his kingdom.

Recent events have drawn national attention to this issue and intensify the urgency of addressing this crisis.

Breaking Silence

2016 may well be remembered as the year the topic of sexual harassment and assault stormed the headlines and the dam of silence burst. In October of that year, the Washington Post released a 2005 Access Hollywood video that captured presidential candidate Donald Trump boasting lewdly about sexually assaulting women and getting away with it. Over a dozen women stepped forward with allegations that Trump had done exactly that to them. Denials notwithstanding, the issue was firmly on the table, and American women were fiercely determined to keep it there.

On January 21, 2017—the day after Trump’s inauguration—thousands of pink-hatted female protesters flooded American city streets in protest of violence against women and to advocate for women’s rights.

A tsunami of sexual harassment and abuse allegations followed, sequentially toppling a line-up of powerful and once-thought invincible men in media, Hollywood, politics, and technology for exploiting women sexually. Those first few courageous women paved the way for other women to speak their truth. A flurry of #MeToo tweets flooded the Internet, signaling a problem of epidemic proportions. To our shame, a second major wave of #ChurchToo tweets followed. Time magazine acknowledged the global significance of what was happening by naming The Silence Breakers their 2017 “Person of the Year.”

2018 opened with another horrific spate of stories that continued to rock the country. Over 150 courageous young women (former US gymnasts), testified in court of sexual abuse repeatedly inflicted on them by Larry Nassar—the once trusted US Gymnastics team doctor—in the name of “medical procedures.” Attorney Rachael Denhollander[2] was the first former gymnast to make public allegations against the doctor for molesting her.  She was the last of 156 survivors to testify in a sentencing hearing that resulted in a 175-year sentence.

The Power of Trauma

Trauma resulting from abuse of a sexual nature involves irrevocable psycho-spiritual damage that reshapes a person’s story and may well become the dominant controlling force for the duration of her life. The severity of the trauma and the criminal nature of the abuse demands involvement of professional counselors and law enforcement. Allegations that implicate someone within a church or ministry organization make it “essential to have sexual abuse allegations investigated by an independent party that does not have a vested interest in the church.”[3]

The scars are deep and lasting. Recurring nightmares and unexpected triggers keep traumatic memories ever capable of reawakening. The legal notion of a statute of limitations on sexual abuse and violence may give perpetrators a pass on vicious crimes. It is a total fiction for survivors and an outright denial of reality. In some cases, trauma can establish such a debilitating hold on a person that their lives are shattered, driving some to the point of suicide. Trauma’s wounds may be invisible to the naked eye, but the scars are deep and lasting.

There is no silver lining to this hideous cloud. But survivors have demonstrated again and again that trauma can have unexpected outcomes. Today, we have vivid memories of the remarkable moral strength and courage survivors heroically display by standing up, telling their stories, and fighting for justice. That feat is all the more remarkable because they’ve had to fight against overwhelming odds and overcome the trauma of reliving their ordeal in public. Can anyone truly fathom how hard that must have been or what powerful emotions those former gymnasts suppressed to voice their suffering before a battery of media cameras all while facing their abuser?

Some of the most intensely traumatized women display unearthly levels of compassion and tenderness for others. Their antennae—sensitized by their own suffering—are always on red alert. They are quick to spot someone else who is hurting and possess an exquisite ability to come alongside. As Henry Nouwen astutely observed, “The great illusion of leadership is to think that [a person] can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”[4] The byline on the jacket of Nouwen’s book refutes the notion that wounded people in the church are liabilities and speaks instead to the rich potential of survivors. “In our own woundedness, we can become a source of life for others.”

It is also true—and we have biblical support for this—that survivors of trauma of every kind have given us some of the deepest theology we possess. Job stories are borne of trauma. Hagar, Naomi, Hannah, and Esther are a few examples. These sufferers give us permission to wrestle with the deepest questions human beings ever ask. They take us to the edge of human existence, to the perilous precipice of faith. They remind us that even in our darkest most desperate moments when we feel ourselves going over the ledge—God grips us by our ankles (1 Samuel 2:9a).

In the words of Rachael Denhollander:

There was a point in my faith where I had to simply cling to the fact that although I didn’t understand or have the answers, I knew that God was good and that he was love. Whatever else I didn’t understand couldn’t be a contradiction to that.[5] 

Superficial, pie-in-the-sky, prosperity theology is not only misleading, but foreign to these anguished realms of human existence. And sooner or later all of us will need the insights trauma survivors gleaned in the darkness.

The Resilience Journey

From what I’ve gathered from the women who’ve trusted me with their stories, resilience isn’t so much a destination as a journey. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure that this side of eternity anyone burdened by trauma ever fully sheds that load. Instead, they spend their days traveling somewhere between trauma and resilience—putting one foot in front of the other and pressing on with life, each deliberate step rendering a new defeat of trauma’s powers. Some days are no doubt easier than others. But nightmares and unexpected triggers always retain the power to bring trauma back into the present with devastating force.

I’ve also learned there are forces that can give a sufferer fresh strength on this journey. Trauma survivors have discovered the power of speaking their truth. In Gretchen Carlson’s Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back (the book she wrote in the aftermath of her successful take-down of Fox News mogul, Roger Ailes for sexual harassment) she lets Lady Gaga (raped by a man twenty years her senior) do the talking:

I see a lot of people who have secrets that are killing them . . . We don’t want you to keep your pain inside and let it rot like an old apple on your counter you know? It’s like, just get rid of all that trash. Let’s get rid of it together.[6]

They’re also proving that resilience requires community. #MeToo and #ChurchToo tweets are providing at least a virtual community for a lot of women. The solidarity they are finding with one another obviously raises the question of how the ultimate community—the church—will respond.

So far the record is pretty grim. Although there are healthy exceptions, all too often when sexual assault allegations surface within a church or ministry organization, the response is inept at best and complicit and harmful at worst. When major evangelical figures have been caught up in sexual scandal, protecting their reputations, ministries, and organizations often becomes the priority. Cover-ups result. Victims aren’t believed or are pressured to forgive their abusers. This ultimately re-traumatizes those the church should be first in line to protect and defend.

That was Rachael Denhollendar’s experience.

“Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse because the way it is counseled is, more often than not, damaging to the victim. There is an abhorrent lack of knowledge for the damage and devastation that sexual assault brings. It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. That’s a hard thing to say, because I am a very conservative evangelical, but that is the truth. There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church.”[7]

#MeToo Stories in the Bible

This escalating crisis has had a two-way impact on my work. These disturbing current events have shed new light on biblical stories I’ve heard all my life. #MeToo stories have been in our Bible, right in front of us, all along. But we tend to skip over them or sanitize what’s actually happening and ignore the frightening realities presented on the pages of our Bibles. We’ve all done this.

These stories convinced me that the #MeToo crisis has come to us, to me—as Christians. The Bible doesn’t avoid this topic. Jesus doesn’t want his church to avoid it either.

#MeToo stories in the Bible have also pressed me with responsibility and given me biblical warrant to address this crisis and call other Christians to engage.

Consider, for example, the trauma Lot’s daughters suffered at the prospect that their own father was preparing to turn them over to a mob of sexual predators. Most likely both the Egyptian slave girl Hagar and Queen Esther were young teenagers and both were trafficked ultimately for sex. What do we associate with the name “Bathsheba”? A growing consensus among Old Testament scholars is that David raped Bathsheba. Yet we often regard her as a temptress and co-adulterer while minimizing David’s violent abuse of power, focusing instead on his heartfelt repentance. What kind of pattern does that reflect?

These stories and others present significant biblical opportunities to raise awareness of the evils of violence against women and of God’s heart for his daughters. They oblige us to join our voices with the prophets in speaking truth to power and to create safe space for survivors to seek and find help and healing within the church.

#MeToo is a Male Problem Too

One final matter.

Many are now acknowledging that this #MeToo crisis isn’t just a women’s issue and that women alone aren’t going to solve it. Although women can ignite the movement, any lasting change will require the significant participation of our brothers.

Once again, the Bible already makes this point. The story of Ruth and Boaz is the #MeToo story that didn’t happen. Boaz, a powerful imposing figure, faced the kind of situation that had the makings of another abusive #MeToo story.

Ruth—a powerless immigrant who is utterly dependent on Boaz’s good graces for her survival—presents herself to him in the dead of night. If Boaz took advantage of her and this came down to a he said/she said situation, no one in all Bethlehem would take Ruth’s word over his. Yet in a radical turn of events, no #MeToo story happens. Instead, Boaz gives us a dramatic gospel vision of male power and privilege employed sacrificially to empower others and promote their good.

Today’s world is hungry for more men like Boaz. He’s an Old Testament example of the brand of masculinity Jesus himself embodied as he honored and empowered women.

The Bible gives us multiple stories of countercultural men who follow Jesus, and we have growing numbers of men like that today. This is the kind of man Jesus’ gospel intends to produce. If I’m right about Boaz—then the church is positioned to make an enormous difference in this battle. This is the kind of man who, allied with his sisters, can turn the tide in this social crisis.


[1]Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (New York: Knopf, 2009), xvii

[2]“Read Rachael Denhollander’s Full Victim Impact Statement about Larry Nassar,” CNN, updated January 30, 2018, http://www.cnn.com/2018/01/24/us/rachael- denhollander-full-statement/index.html.

[3]Jen Zamzow, “Should Churches Handle Sexual Abuse Allegations Internally?” in Christianity Today, February 2, 2018, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/february-web-only/should-churches-handle-sexual-abuse-investigations-internal.html

[4]Henry Nouwen, The Wounded Healer, (New York, Doubleday, 1972), 72.

[5]Rachael Denhollander, “My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness,” interview by Morgan Lee, Christianity Today, January 31, 2018, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/january-web-only/rachael-denhollander-larry-nassar-forgiveness-gospel.html

[6]Gretchen Carlson, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back, (New York: Hatchette Book Group, Inc., 2017), 197-198.

[7]Denhollander interview by Morgan Lee, Christianity Today, January 31, 2018.


For further reading:

Carolyn Custis James, Finding God in the Margins: The Book of Ruth (Bellingham, WA: Lexham, 2018).
     ”          ”        ”          Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015).
     ”          ”        ”         Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).

Sandra Glahn, ed., Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women in the Bible,  (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2017).

Gretchen Carlson, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back, (New York: Hatchette Book Group, Inc., 2017)

Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (New York: Knopf, 2009)

Rachael Denhollander, “My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There’s More to the Gospel Than Forgiveness,” interview by Morgan Lee, Christianity Today, January 31, 2018, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/january-web-only/rachael-denhollander-larry-nassar-forgiveness-gospel.html

Jen Zamzow, “Should Churches Handle Sexual Abuse Allegations Internally?” Christianity Today, February 2, 2018, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/february-web-only/should-churches-handle-sexual-abuse-investigations-internal.html

Join the #SilenceIsNotSpiritual movement of Christians committed to speak out and become part of the solution.

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Take a Knee for the Children

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When Dr. Colleen Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, visited a U.S. government shelter for immigrant children in Combes, Texas, what she saw undid her.

A distraught toddler was crying inconsolably and pounding her small fists against the play mat. A shaken Kraft later told CNN, “We all knew why she was crying. She wanted her mother, and there was nothing we could do. I’ve never been in this situation where I’ve felt so needlessly helpless.” According to Craft, workers inside the shelter were prohibited from picking up or touching the children to comfort them. Imagine not being able to pick up or console a distraught child!

Craft described the separation of children as “government-sanctioned child abuse.” The United Nations condemned the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy as “a serious violation of the rights of the child” and “arbitrary and unlawful interference in family life,” calling the U.S. to “immediately halt this practice of separating families.”

Under duress, the president signed an executive order on June 20 to end the separation of children from their families. So far, government efforts to reunite children and parents has been riddled with incompetence, chaos, and little success. Identification records have gone missing, been destroyed, or never existed in the first place. The government has already deported some immigrant parents. I am grateful for every parent/child reunion, but I am deeply troubled that this happened in the first place—and that it happened in America.

Cages and Caves

Compare the muddled recovery effort for the crisis on our southern border with the response in Thailand when twelve young soccer players (ages 11-16) and their soccer coach became trapped inside a watery cave.

On learning that the boys were in trouble, Thailand officials feverishly mobilized an all-out rescue effort that didn’t stop until all were safely out of the cave. Rescue workers and experts poured in from around the world (including the U.S.) with strategies, resources, divers, and drillers to explore every conceivable option for getting the boys out alive. The risks were enormous, costing the life of one Thai navy seal working to save the boys. Midway through the rescue, a determined Thailand prime minister resolved that “this kind of event should never happen again on Thai soil. . . . We should learn from this experience to prevent it from happening again.”

In contrast, no all-out rescue effort is yet underway here to reunite immigrant children with their families. The president has yet to appoint a “Family Reunification Czar” to oversee the process, coordinate government agencies, and resolve legal, logistical, and bureaucratic logjams. Instead, prolonged separations persist. Each day the harm to innocent children deepens. Meanwhile the media cycle charges forward as the next big story threatens to eclipse or distract us from this unresolved human rights crisis.

Repent or Repeat?

What heightens the heinous nature of this ongoing immigrant tragedy is that this is not the first time the U.S. government has been guilty of this kind of human rights violation. Nor is it the only time Bible waving national and religious leaders have claimed divine support to justify their abusive actions. Consider the removal of Native American children from their families and communities into boarding schools. Recall the breakups of African slave families when slaveholders callously sold off a husband, a wife, or a child. Then there was the internment of Japanese American citizens during WWII and our government’s refusal of safe haven to thousands of Jewish refugees, and now to refugees from Syria and other war-torn regions.

To our shame, the United States has never come to terms with its history, nor expressed remorse and repentance for the sins of our past. The dark stains of America’s past have been expunged from history texts and swept under the rug. We never learned from those past abuses to prevent them from ever happening again.

So here we are—in a classic fulfillment of Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana’s warning that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Praying and Persisting

I thank God for the heroic rescue of the Thai boys from the cave and that their 18-day ordeal is over. But the separation of immigrant children from their families has been going on much longer than 18 days. That poses a very serious problem: the very real prospect of losing interest, of being worn down by emotional exhaustion from being undone over suffering children, of being distracted by other headlines and scandals, of losing sight of the suffering of immigrant children and families.

As followers of Jesus and God’s image bearers, we are not spectators to what happens in God’s world. We have a mandate to stay the battle for these children and their parents. As believers, we have responsibility to engage.

So take a knee for the children. While you’re at it, drop on both knees and plead that God who hears the cries of the oppressed will give us strength and determination to stay in this battle. I’m right there with you.

Let us keep making noise online and badgering our senators and congressional representatives—church leaders too—to do all they can to bring this terrible crisis to a speedy and successful end. And let us resolve to learn the lessons of history to insure that this never happens again on American soil.


This article was first published at Missio Alliance.

Republished by Evangelicals for Social Action and Outreach Magazine

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Whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on!

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It always does my heart good when the book of Ruth makes the ground shake underneath someone else’s story too—especially when the quake hits while they’re reading Finding God in the Margins or  The Gospel of Ruth.

Which, of course, makes it worth repeating that the popular interpretation of the book of Ruth as a beautiful rags-to-riches Cinderella love story between Ruth and Boaz won’t produce that kind of life-changing seismic disturbance in anyone’s life. Asserting (as one scholar did recently) that the story concludes with Ruth “happily ensconced as a wife and mother, no longer having to work for a living but fully supported by her husband” not only excludes most readers from connecting this story to their own, it defuses the book of Ruth’s explosive impact on our lives.

All that changes when we view the book of Ruth within its ancient patriarchal context where women—stranded without husbands or sons—have no meaning, value, or security. Suddenly the book of Ruth becomes one of the Bible’s most brilliant undercover operations for the Kingdom of God and its potency returns to rock our stories in a wide variety of ways.

Here’s just one example:

The story centers on two marginalized widows: Naomi and her pagan daughter-in-law Ruth. When all the men in their family die, and Naomi is post-menopausal and Ruth is certifiably barren, it’s a foregone conclusion that the story is over.

Culturally speaking, these women don’t count.

Their plight becomes even more pitiable when the label “foreigner” gets attached to them. Naomi becomes a famine refugee, and Ruth an undocumented immigrant. But, when God says he “loves the foreigner,” he means exactly what he says.

Instead of allowing tragedy to bring down the curtain on the lives of these two marginalized women (as they and their cultures would automatically assume), God reaches into the margins and recruits both women as Kingdom agents—not just for local issues that threaten their family’s extinction, but for the whole world.

Hard to imagine a more subversive operation than that! It was so subversive, that these Kingdom operatives themselves never realized the cosmic impact of their sacrificial actions.

Battles Ruth fights to rescue Naomi’s family from annihilation just happen also to rescue the royal line of King David and ultimately of King Jesus. Who knew so much was at stake?! Nor was it any accident that the hesed[1] theology Naomi taught her son Obed—who passed it on through his son Jesse to David and ultimately to us[2]—was forged in the crucible of her own dark night of the soul.

Naomi’s spiritual crisis centered on her belief that God not only had withdrawn his Finding-God-in-the-Margins-V4hesed-love from her, he had turned against her. In studying the book of Ruth, we learn along with Naomi that God’s hesed is unstoppable and that we should think twice before we count anyone out for Kingdom purposes—including ourselves.

But also this: that when refugees and immigrants approach our borders, the book of Ruth gives reason for us to be asking: What is God up to? What extraordinary gifts, what world-changing potential is he covertly sending us? How might welcoming foreigners into our communities (as Bethlehemites ultimately welcomed Ruth) make us and our country better than we can ever be without them?

God is more subversive than we imagine!

Like I said, the book of Ruth can make the ground shake. It shook underneath one reader when she read Finding God in the Margins: The Book of Ruth. Here’s her review.

My breath was taken away by the truths revealed in this book.

As a trauma survivor, where for all intents and purposes, it looked like my story was over, too, these words have been a balm to my decimated heart. They have caused me to hope that I might know the love of God despite the strewn wreckage.

As a female who has long struggled with (and because of) the distorted understandings of what the Bible teaches about the value of both women AND men, the lessons in this book have been freedom-granting.

And as a committed follower of Jesus Christ, the glory of God worked out in and through his people that is explained in this book has lifted my wounded soul to praise and magnify our scandalously loving God in a way that has been absent for far too long.

Thank you Carolyn Custis James for showing me that God loves at all, but even (especially?) the shattered lives of the deeply suffering in ways that are often obscured because of broken hearts. I desperately needed the message of the book of Ruth to be torn open wide so I could look inside! I will never read Ruth, or think about hesed the same.

Read Finding God in the Margins: The Book of Ruth and see if you don’t feel the ground shake underneath you too!


[1]“Hesed is a power word in the Bible and the most important word in the book of Ruth. . . . .It is a costly brand of love that involves going above and beyond what anyone has a right to ask or expect. It is the brand of love at work in the actions of Ruth, Boaz, and ultimately of Naomi too. . . . YHWH is the ultimate hesed giver. The confidence and hope of God’s people banks on the fact that YHWH is “abounding in love [hesed]” (Exod 34:6). . . . The book of Ruth puts God’s hesed on display. . . . God’s hesed love is indiscriminate, unearned, and persistent. YHWH’s hesed will reach Naomi through the selfless and relentless commitment of Ruth to fight for her, and Boaz will join Ruth in this effort. . . . What [Naomi] learns is indispensible to us—because so often we struggle to put suffering and God’s hesed together in our own stories.” Finding God in the Margins, (49, 51).

[2]King David echoes Naomi’s theology when he writes, “Surely goodness and hesed will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6a).

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