Heading North!

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Next destination is Houghton, New York, where I’ll be speaking in chapel at Houghton College and interacting with students about Malestrom in a class and over lunch this Wednesday.

I’m expecting a very interesting time!

Later that day, I’ll be visiting Houghton’s campus in Buffalo where they are running an AA program for refugee students and partnering with other institutions in the city to help students complete their four-year degree. The program was written up by The Buffalo News:  “Innovative Houghton program offers refugees a brighter future.”

Sounds like the kind of innovative program we could use more of in this country. I must say, I was thrilled to be invited to see it firsthand.

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Construction of the Glass Ceiling Starts Early

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A 1991 study, “Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America,” conducted by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation (AAUW) reported

“a strong link between the ‘sharp drop in self-esteem suffered by pre-adolescent and adolescent American girls to what they learn in the classroom’ and determined that lower confidence in girls—what is known as ‘the confidence gap’—is not innate, but learned.”

By the time girls reach middle school, many already lack the internal resources that would fortify them against the plummeting self-esteem and confidence they so often experience during those sensitive years and that will follow them into adulthood.

As AAUW president Alice McKee observed,

“Construction of the glass ceiling begins not in the executive suite, but in the classroom. By the time girls reach high school, they have been systematically tracked … away from areas of study that lead to high-paying jobs in science, technology, and engineering. America cannot afford to squander half its talent.”

The problem she identifies that deter young women from pursuing their love of science, technology, and engineering, spills over into other areas. For from an early age girls are bombarded with negative and limiting messages that reduce their aspirations and can lead them to hold back from pursuing the gifts and opportunities God has entrusted to them.

And as the study notes, shortchanging girls, shortchanges America.

The church should be leading the charge to counteract this trend—far surpassing the efforts of educational institutions. The church should be the one place girls can count on for confidence and courage building and where they best learn to live boldly for God’s purposes in the world. Sadly, we are part of the problem bringing our own set of messages that limit a girl’s aspirations and teach her it’s godly to to hold back.

Ironically, the solution to this problem, both for the church and for the wider culture, has been in our hands all along.

The Bible contains story after story of females—many of them very young—who answered God’s call, often in the face of danger. They demonstrated strong faith and courage and took action, in many cases advancing God’s purposes for the world. Their stories didn’t happen in a more progressive cultural context like 21st Century America, but within an intensely patriarchal culture that elevated and empowered men, relegated women to supporting roles, and prized and promoted sons well above daughters.

In the Bible, everything a female does to answer God’s call is all uphill.

Think Malala’s daring pursuit of education in Pakistan, and how the Taliban shot her for daring to go to school to get an idea of how patriarchal cultures stack the deck against girls.

The patriarchal context in which Bible stories occurred places an exclamation point beside every story where a female leads the action. And many of those females were young girls. Within patriarchy, puberty signals a girl’s marriageability—so unmarried girls such as Miriam, Esther, and Mary of Nazareth, for example, could easily have been thirteen or younger. Yet, God placed enormous responsibilities on their young shoulders

For far too long we have overlooked the rich resource we have in the Bible for empowering girls. More to the point, if we truly believe the Bible’s message about women, we’re risking a lot for God’s kingdom if we fail to raise up and empower his daughters. For far too long we have been shortchanging girls and also the church, not to mention the cost to our mission as followers of Jesus.

All of this is about to change. And the goal is to address the problem early.

Two called and courageous young women, Rachel Spier Weaver and Anna Haggard, are launching a new book series—Called and Courageous Girls—for girls ages 3-7.

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The first volume in the series, A Brave Big Sister: A Bible Story About Miriam releases October 3, but is already available for pre-order. I already have my copy and two little grand-ezers in mind!

To learn more, tune in to the webcast webcast on Thursday, September 7, 2:00pm/ET, where line-up of advocates for the Called and Courageous book series weigh in on this important initiative.

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For those who can’t make the 2pm airing, the entire webcast will be available afterwards online.

We can’t afford to continue shortchanging girls. They are capable of so much, and Jesus wants all of them!

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The Door That Only Pain Will Open

51Kg8ENizPLEvery once in a while I start reading a book where the journey is so rich and impactful, I start dreading the final chapter.

That happened when I read Walter Brueggemann’s Genesis commentary. It happened again recently when I read Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament by Professor Ellen F. Davis.

If you don’t know Ellen Davis, she is the Amos Ragan Kearns Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School.

Besides being a highly respected biblical scholar, Dr. Davis is a wise pastoral guide. She shepherds the reader through some of the most familiar biblical texts and doesn’t dodge the tougher ones. In fact, she tackles some of the most troubling texts. Case in point is her chapter on YHWH’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.

Her book is a strong argument for why we need more female scholars engaged in biblical and theological studies. The addition of female scholars doesn’t negate what men have done, but rather builds on their work and enhances it. This book gives solid evidence that we need both perspectives to begin unleashing more of the Bible’s life-giving power.

Davis divides her book into five sections.

  1. Pain and Praise
  2. The Cost of Love
  3. The Art of Living Well
  4. Habits of the Heart
  5. Torah of the Earth

In each section, she takes up different Old Testament texts (from Exodus, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah), episodes (“The Burning Bush,” “The Binding of Isaac”), and entire books (Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes).

As I’ve read, I’ve been stunned by her insights. I’ve wept over the tenderness of God’s heart for us. Each chapter took me deeper into the text and stirred a greater love in my heart for God and a hunger to know the God of the Old Testament better.

It is hard to choose one excerpt from so many eye-opening and heartening statements. But here’s one that I found especially powerful in her chapter on the book of Job.

The book of Job is about human pain; it is also about theology, the work of speaking about God. In the last chapter, God takes the friends to task, saying, ‘You have not spoken accurately about me, as has my servant Job’ (42:7). Here God is pointing obliquely to what is so remarkable about this book. It shows us a person in the sharpest imaginable pain, yet speaking accurately about God.

Job gives us immeasurably more than a theology of suffering. It gives us the theology of a sufferer. In it we hear authoritative speech about God that comes from lips taut with anguish. From this book above all others in scripture we learn that the person in pain is a theologian of unique authority.

The sufferer who keeps looking for God has, in the end, privileged knowledge. The one who complains to God, pleads with God, rails at God, does not let God off the hook for a minute—she is at last admitted to a mystery. She passes through a door that only pain will open, and is thus qualified to speak of God in a way that others, whom we generally call more fortunate, cannot speak.

Hopefully, this will inspire you to acquaint yourself with her book.

To hear more from her directly, Professor Davis will be Pete Enns’ podcast guest today (Monday, July 31) to discuss the practical value on the Old Testament—exactly what this book is about.

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The Blessed Alliance in Fort Collins

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“Sometimes when you’re searching for answers you get more than you bargained for.”

That was the opening sentence in Half the Church. It was also the opening sentence in the message I gave last week at Cru17 in Fort Collins when I spoke about the Blessed Alliance to the Jesus Film Project staff.

One of those “more than I bargained for” moments (and there have been many) came when I was simply trying to find solid footing in my own story. A ten year stretch of singleness knocked me off-course from what I understood to be God’s highest calling for me as a woman—to be a wife and mother.

I went back to the creation narrative to find out if God’s vision for his daughters included all of our stories from first to final breath. That’s where I got a whole lot more than I bargained for.

From a biblical story I’ve heard since I was a little girl, I learned that my true calling as a female started at birth. According to Genesis, every girl child born is an indispensible ezer-warrior (Genesis 2:18) for God’s purposes.

But I also learned that relationships between God’s sons and daughters are essential to God’s purposes for the world. He created his image bearers to reflect his character, to do his work in the world, to look after things on his behalf, and to do it together.

According to Genesis 1-2, human relationships have cosmic repercussions for good or ill—for the benefit or detriment of God’s kingdom on earth. How we work together (or don’t) as allies in every venue impacts the advance of God’s purposes in the world one way or another.

This entails a whole lot more getting along better or sharing power. Current debates in the church don’t take us nearly far enough. The Blessed Alliance is a kingdom strategy designed for the flourishing of all humanity and all creation. It’s recovery is a central aspect of Jesus’ gospel.

You could say, the Blessed Alliance is the spiritual equivalent of a nuclear weapon. Only the Blessed Alliance is not destructive. It is constructive and gospel powerful. It is, in fact, the best thing that can happen to a human being, and it is only good news to any person, culture, or location on the planet that feels its effect.

In an earlier blog I wrote:

God’s original vision—a vision he has never abandoned but revives in the work of his son—was for relationships between men and women to be dazzling points of light on this spinning globe. Dynamics between men and women were never intended to be a battle of the sexes or a heated debate within Christian circles. Male/female relationships in Christ are to be a glowing testament to the fact that we are followers of Jesus. This is where God means to put on display a gospel-powered love. This is where the world is supposed to see men and women laying down their lives for others, offering strength and wisdom to each other, and investing ourselves fully for God’s kingdom.  —“The Blessed Alliance”

Needless to say, I take every opportunity that comes my way to talk about the Blessed Alliance and expand the conversation. The Jesus Film team’s invitation to Fort Collins was the latest. I will be savoring for a long time the conversations I had with many of them—both men and women—afterwards.

The Blessed Alliance showed up in print for the first time in Lost Women of the Bible. It is a major theme in every subsequent book I’ve written (The Gospel of Ruth, Half the Church, and Malestrom)Every book I’ve written puts the Blessed Alliance on breathtaking display in the biblical narratives I unpack. The Blessed Alliance shows up in stories of Deborah, Barak, and Jael, Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, Esther and Mordecai, Mary and Joseph, Jesus and Mary of Bethany, and Paul and the women of Philippi (to name only a few examples).

But there is still so much more to explore and understand. Work so far has only scratched the surface. So Frank and I are currently in the process of researching, discussing, and probing further this vital topic for a book on the Blessed Alliance we will be writing together.

Stay tuned for more news on this project and also news of when Lexham Press will release my just completed sequel to The Gospel of Ruth.

[Photo aboveby Citycommunications at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, Link]


Fort Collins Memories:

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I can’t imagine a better friend than Judy Douglass! She and I were allies in launching and leading the Synergy Women’s Network. Couldn’t have done it without her. Fort Collins blessed me with one-on-one time with Judy. That alone was worth the trip!

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I was privileged to attend this incredible gathering of strong ezer-warriors at the Ethnic Women Leaders’ Lunch. Their presentations were passionate and powerfully eye-opening. Cru is blessed!

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This was the third time my path has crossed with Rasool Berry. He played in the Impact Movement band at the Synergy2007 Conference in Orlando, was emcee when I spoke at Cru11 in Fort Collins, and at Cru17 we continued talking about the Blessed Alliance—a conversation I expect will continue.

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Fun dinner sharing stories with these RedBuds in Fort Collins (L-R: Gina Brenna Butz, Beth Pandy Bruno, Halee Gray Scott, CCJ, Judy Douglass, Angie Cramer Weszely, and Leslie Troutman Verner

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Even in the middle of a packed two-day schedule, I found time to savor the beauty of this Colorado State University summer garden.

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The ESV takes one small step for “mankind”!

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The common practice in Christian circles of choosing a “life verse” isn’t a practice I’ve found helpful. It’s simply too easy to lift a biblical tweet out of context and misinterpret it entirely. It can be shattering only to discover years later that a verse that promised so much had nothing to do with how you understood it.

Having said that, however, doesn’t mean I don’t have my favorites.

Back in my early twenties I came across a verse that I found useful in tormenting a young pastor with whom I was working. He had an annoying habit of pontificating on his views of women, often flinging verses at me, to make sure I knew my place. I recall once when he insisted that single female missionaries should step aside as soon as a man arrived on the scene, even if the man was a brand new convert. Evidently, it was more important for a male novice to do the job, than a woman with the training, gifts, and years of experience.

In a moment of inspiration, I asked him if he would like to hear my life verse. When he took the bait, from the New King James Version (the translation of choice at the time) I quoted Psalm 116:11: “All men are liars.” For some strange reason, he was not amused.

The look on his face was priceless.

Given the ESV’s stated aversion to what General Editor Wayne Grudem labels “gender-neutral” language found in other translations (e.g., NRSV, TNIV, NLT), I fully expected the ESV to back me up. After all, the Hebrew word for “men” in Psalm 116:11 (hā·’ā·ḏām) is the same Hebrew word that appears in Genesis 1:26-27 and that the ESV stubbornly translates “man” (see “Lost in Translation”). They insist on that translation even though “mankind,” “human beings,” or “people” is more gender accurate and certainly not subject to misinterpretation by modern readers for whom “man” or “men” signals male (as it did for my pastor friend at the time).

Imagine my surprise when I recently looked up Psalm 116:11 in the ESV and read “All mankind are liars” (emphasis added).

It seems, in this rare instance at least, ESV translators are unwilling to run the risk of readers thinking “men” in this verse is pointing a finger at males as liars at the exclusion of females.

The ESV’s inconsistency resulting in the loss of “men” in Psalm 116:11 is a price I’m willing to pay in the cause of gender accuracy. And although this represents a significant breach in the ESV’s firm commitment to retain “man” and “men” in universal statements to preserve a so-called “masculine feel” to the Bible, I applaud them for taking one small step for “mankind.”


Published originally at Missio Alliance

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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 Missio Alliance

Also published at HuffPost

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