After the dark, difficult, and tear-soaked days of 2020, who doesn’t need this re-orienting and sure message of hope?! God’s people have clung to this changeless truth through wars, oppression, injustice, and atrocities—yes, even deadly pandemics and unspeakable losses.
“The virus has lain bare what people who have been oppressed or marginalized have long known—the injustice and unsustainability of the old order.”
[We have] Isaiah’s promise that God is doing ‘a new thing,’ a promise that summons humankind to radical, prophetic imagination and actions toward a new and flourishing world. . . . The price of newness is the full acknowledgment that the old creation has failed and therefore must be relinquished, renounced, and repented.”
2020 losses, wounds, and grief run deep and will travel with us into 2021. But hope travels with us too—always—for God is with us and will never give up on the world he loves.
The point in following Jesus isn’t simply so that we can be sure of going to a better place than this after we die. Our future beyond death is enormously important, but the nature of the Christian hope is that it plays back into the present life. We’re called here and now, to be instruments of God’s new creation, the world-put-to-rights, which has already been launched in Jesus and of which Jesus’ followers are supposed to be not simply beneficiaries but also agents. . . .
Christianity is all about the belief that the living God, in fulfillment of his promises and as the climax of the story of Israel, has accomplished all this—the finding, the saving, the giving of new life—in Jesus. He has done it. With Jesus, God’s rescue operation has been put into effect once and for all.
A great door has swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut. It’s the door to the prison where we’ve been kept chained up. We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God’s rescue for ourselves, to go through the open door and explore the new world to which we now have access. In particular, we are all invited—summoned, actually—to discover, through following Jesus, that this new world is indeed a place of justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty, and that we are not only to enjoy it as such but to work at bringing it to birth on earth as in heaven.”
God launched his subversive rescue operation the moment Mary said “Yes!” to the angel’s message. Who would imagine a small helpless baby held the key to every reason we have for hope. “Righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne; love [hesed] and truth go before his face” (Psalm 89:14). What could be more hopeful that that?
I needed this resounding hope and share it here with thanks to my dear friend, Karen Sawyer who sent me the link.
So as Fox News Anchor Chris Wallace said, “Wear your damn mask,” social distance, and let’s bring real hope to others in 2021!
Global catastrophes change the world . . . the legacy of this pandemic will live with us for years, perhaps decades to come. It will change the way we move, build, learn, and connect. There is simply no way that our lives will resume as if this had never happened.”
Then she added this hopeful note: Covid can instill in us a “wisdom born of suffering, because calamity is a great teacher.”
Easy enough to just want to get beyond 2020 and the dark days of Covid-19. Vaccines that are now available make the end of this deadly pandemic more real. Still, if Professor Ahmad is right (and I’m convinced she is because the Bible contains the very same message) then there is more to Coronavirus than we might think.
The point is not that there’s a silver lining somewhere in the relentless suffering, death, and heartache that we experience in a broken world. Rather the point is that God works through these dark places to change us and help us grow. Looking back over our own journeys, we often realize that the hardest places are where God did some of his deepest work in us. We can learn that truth through the stories of legendary biblical sufferers like Naomi and Job.
Both lost everything. Both felt abandoned and betrayed. Both were embittered by their losses. Both believed God had turned against them. Job questioned God’s justice; Naomi questioned his hesed (his unending, always, and forever love).
God never answered their questions. Instead, he took them to a deeper understanding of his character—for Job that he is good and can be trusted, no matter how things look; for Naomi that his hesed is never ending, never changing and doesn’t have anything to do with how her culture ranks or devalues her.
When Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann expressed his conviction “that any serious crisis is a summons for us to reread the Bible afresh,” the “serious crisis” he had in mind was the coronavirus pandemic. He practiced what he preaches with a new book in which he digs into scripture to process what is happening in the pandemic and how it impacts us.
In Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety (which I have read twice so far) Professor Brueggemann leads us to the heart of issues that the pandemic raises for Christians and offers help to those who long to learn what God might teach us—about himself, ourselves, our neighbors, about how we might honor and share in the grief of those whose loved ones are among the staggering 300,000+ who have died, and about God’s call to look after one another.
Brueggemann’s book draws from some of his earlier writings and includes fresh reflections that the current pandemic has prompted. He doesn’t simplify or explain the whys of suffering. Instead, he engages the struggle and invites us to join him in searching scripture to learn, change, and grow.
Bonhoeffer was part of the resistance in Hitler’s Germany and was arrested in 1943. The book is a collection of Bonhoeffer’s reflections and letters he wrote during his two-year imprisonment at the close of World War II. His story ended tragically. Just ten days before the Germans forces began to surrender, Hitler ordered Bonhoeffer’s execution. He was 39 years old.
From prison, he described his situation to a friend when he wrote, “One waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other—things that are really of no consequence—the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.” His book is a treasure during Advent, and his reflections are fortifying when faith is tested through adversity.
Both books are well-worth reading again and again. Each reading brings deeper understanding of truth and wisdom we all need in this devastating time of global trouble.
I find it comforting to know that, even during shutdowns and quarantine, we have wise friends who have traveled similar paths and who can guide us to rich wisdom and a deeper trust in God.
Christmas Blessings to all! Please say safe everyone and wear those masks!
For a lot of people, 2020 is the year we’d most like to forget.
2020 will always remind us of the global Covid-19 pandemic. It’s been a year of irreparable loss of loved ones, jobs, businesses, even homes. Shutdowns have been hard and isolating. The grief of well more than 280,000 lives lost in the USA alone is hard to fathom and will journey with us into the future. Anxiety, worry, and depression are epidemic too. That doesn’t include the economic downturn, political upheaval, food insecurity, and all the anxiety they bring.
Little wonder we long to put 2020 behind us.
Hope flickers on the horizon with vaccines that hold the possibility that this horrible nightmare will be over and the world can begin to restore some level of normalcy. Still, despite the widespread suffering and perhaps even because of it, some memories are worth noting and etching indelibly in our minds.
Who can forget those daily news reports inside overcrowded hospital emergency room and intensive care war zones where teams of medical professionals and their support staffs continue working well beyond the point exhaustion to save lives, ease the suffering, and comfort the dying and their grieving families? It’s impossible not to notice how many of these valiant warrior doctors, nurses, and medical technicians are women—many at the high cost of separation from their own families, of contracting the virus, and of losing their own lives.
Another group of heroes are the countless school teachers who overnight had to shift from face-to-face interaction with their students to a virtual classroom using evolving technology—some doing both simultaneously. Again, a significant number of these teachers are women. They are our heroes too.
November 2020 marked the 60th anniversary of the day another hero, six-year-old Ruby Bridges, became the youngest Civil Rights activist and the first Black child to integrate a Southern elementary school. Hers is a heartbreaking but remarkable story of courage. Every school day that year, four state marshals escorted her past a jeering crowd of angry white protestors who shouted vicious racial slurs at her. She later recalled that she “only became frightened when she saw a woman holding a black baby doll in a coffin.” Talk about courage! Some of those protestors were church-goers. Barbara Henry was the only member of the school faculty willing to teach her; Ruby’s kindergarten experience was in a class of one. Both Ruby and her teacher were leaders and heroes for civil rights under stressful, even life-threatening circumstances.
The 2020 national election was an historic milestone too with the election of America’s first vice president who is both female and a person of color—Kamala Harris. Regardless of how you voted in the presidential election or your views of women in leadership, this shattered glass ceiling is a historic milestone to remember and also to celebrate.
What all of these women have in common is the fact that they are ezers. The ezer identity is every girl-child’s birthright. No exceptions.
Ezer is a Hebrew military word—used mostly in the Old Testament to describe God as the Ezer of his people. Ezers aren’t spectators. Our ezer identity comes with God-given responsibility to pay attention to what is happening in God’s world and to take the initiative to address the wrongs, help the afflicted, and serve as agents of God’s goodness in the world.
If our 2020 circumstances were not so dire, I daresay the evangelical church would be debating whether or not it is “biblical” for a female doctor to issue direct orders to the men on her team or to male first responders wheeling patients into her unit, which underscores the necessity of subjecting our theological conclusions regarding women and men to the most rigorous global contingencies and worst-case scenarios that a fallen world produces. We can’t rely on theology that only holds up under ideal circumstances but collapses under other events.
Right now, no one is arguing about what a woman can or shouldn’t do. Instead, the whole world—including ourselves—are counting on these women to step up, take charge, lead the response team, and do whatever it takes to combat this virus and save lives. Our theology should be first to empower these women instead of abandoning them on the outskirts of biblical conduct for women during a crisis.
I guess it takes a pandemic to show us first, that our theology regarding women needs more work, and second that as Christians we should be first to fuel the frontline efforts of the ezer-warriors who fight to save lives, to establish a more just society, and to steward their skills, training, and opportunities to the maximum. This is one very important reason never to forget what Covid-19 teaches us.
What is heartening to me, is that women and girls around the world are awakening to their calling as ezer-warriors for God’s good purposes. This is not a competition with or fight against men. It actually benefits them, for our brothers can’t fulfill God’s calling on them without us. We have it on good authority that “It is not good for the man to be alone”—an unqualified blanket statement that ezers take seriously.
Here is the latest account I’ve received of one more sister’s awakening to her ezer calling, which I publish here with her permission. Her story is much like mine. I only wish I had learned the truth about my ezer calling when I was 26. But then, it’s never too late.
I am writing to you to express my thanks about the message that you have let loose in the world. I am nearing my 26th birthday and this year I have been radically transformed by the indestructible truth that cannot be taken away from me; the truth that I am Ezer.
My life has been rearranged.
The sense of abandonment, purposelessness, helplessness and despair that accompanied my desire for marriage has been erased. I feel seen by God, qualified, commissioned, and content to live my days bravely and extravagantly in pursuit of His kingdom come.
I came across a podcast as I began to explore egalitarian beliefs, and subsequently went through each podcast that features you as a guest, listening to your message nearly daily. A newfound peace and passion has been installed into my life. Once again thank you for your witness and for the questions you asked.
They’ve labeled violence against women and girls as “The Shadow Pandemic.” It often flares up in the shadows—behind closed doors in homes, the workplace, and other secluded spaces. All too frequently the abuser is an intimate partner or someone the victim trusts or who simply has more power. Considering the debilitating trauma and the fear that no one will take her word over his, this kind of violence is extremely difficult and risky to report.
Violence against women and girls has been with us since the fall of humanity. It can be verbal, emotional, spiritual, sexual, or physical. Yet all stem from an abuse of power and take a terrible often life-diminishing toll on the victim. The UN’s focus is on women and girls. But plenty of men and boys are victimized by the brutality and violence of other men.
Outrage and the resolve to address this pandemic come in waves and can easily diminish as other pressing global problems turn our attention elsewhere. In 2018, the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements revealed that this Shadow Pandemic has infected the American Christian church at epidemic levels. That revelation instilled in many women and men a determination never to let the matter drop. Then, in 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic turned the world’s attention to Covid. Not only did that detract from mounting attention on #MeToo and #ChurchToo abuses, Covid-19 has had a significant adverse impact on violence against women
According to the United Nations report,
“As countries implemented lockdown measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, violence against women, especially domestic violence, intensified – in some countries, calls to helplines have increased five-fold.”
Thankfully, we now have important, well-written resources designed to educate us to the complexities of this pandemic and to expose and prevent the abusive and dysfunctional patterns that protect abusers and re-abuse the victims all too frequently inside the church. The courage it took for these three women to step forward and tell their stories is hard to fathom. Their stories are disturbing. Tragically, justice is not always served—not even in the church. We do well to honor their sacrifice by listening and learning from them.
What is a Girl Worth?” is perhaps the most comprehensive treatment of sexual abuse against women and girls in secular and religious contexts. Attorney and former gymnast Rachael Denhollander was first to raise allegations of sexual abuse against USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar (now serving a life sentence). She tells her own story of abuse, the long-term impact of the trauma, fear that no one would believe her, and the whole saga of Larry Nassar’s trial.
Her courage empowered 250 other gymnasts to speak up providing insurmountable evidence in the case against Nassar for his crimes.
She doesn’t stop there. She brings what she learned to church, educating readers about the trauma triggered when pastors and church leaders make disparaging remarks about and blame women in the Bible who were sexually abused. She is candid about the evangelical church’s mistreatment of victims who come to them for help. Her book can be a big step toward healthy change.
Author Christa Brown is also an attorney and an activist working to address and prevent clergy sexual abuse. As a teenager, she was groomed and sexually abused by her Southern Baptist youth pastor. It wasn’t until she reached adulthood that she realized what happened to her was abuse.
At the time of her book’s publication, her abuser was still in ministry. So her fight for justice continues and for new protective procedures to protect the vulnerable and prevent further abuse from happening.
Mary DeMuth was a helpless little five-year-old, when a group of teenage boys repeatedly raped her. The violence against her was compounded by the failure to respond of grown-ups she turned to for help and who should have been protecting her. I grieved and wept for little Mary as I read her story and was outraged that no one intervened to stop the horror.
This invaluable resource will enable us to respond to sexual abuse survivors with compassion and wisdom and to involve proper authorities—both legal and counseling professionals— who are responsible and trained to address abuse allegations without making a bad situation worse.
Admittedly all three books were hard for me to read. But then this is not the time us to remain ignorant of what is happening. These eye-opening books are indispensable resources that will aid the church and motivate us all to engage this pandemic battle. May we never rest until global violence against women ends for good. This is must reading for every pastor, elder, ministry leader, seminarian, and anyone who care about the flourishing of women and girls.
With everything else on our minds today, let us not forget today is National Love Your Red Hair Day! Time to celebrate our favorite little redheaded ezer-warrior again. And we have plenty to celebrate.
Arden is six now and in the first grade. She’s two years on the recovery side of her hip dysplasia surgery and she is thriving. No more spica cast! No more wheelchair! Lots of physical therapy and hard work, and she’s on the go again. You should see her fly on her scooter!
Many of you have prayed her through that ordeal and generously helped financially with her GoFundMe campaign. We will never forget your outpouring of support, the ongoing inquiries about her progress, and reminders that you’re still praying for her.
We don’t need reminders to celebrate Arden or her little sister Avery. They both have their hands around our hearts, and we thank God for them.
In my opinion, the book of Ruth is perhaps the most shockingly relevant book in the Old Testament. I often describe it as a bomb that went off in my life. If you’ve only heard the traditional version—the Ruth and Boaz Cinderella romance that concludes with a “Happily-ever-after!” banner floating over the ending—that’s not the version I’m talking about. We all know that version won’t preach. Certainly not in a world plagued by Covid-19.
More research into the story has unearthed a profoundly down-to-earth narrative that touches real life in the present with surprising force. Which is why I keep learning from and talking about Ruth.
Similarities between then and issues we face in the 21st Century are abundant. Which is why I keep digging and finding even more ways the book of Ruth speaks into the present. Consider the current moment we are experiencing.
Ruth’s story takes place in a time of political upheaval (“the days when the judges governed” and “everyone did what was right in their own eyes”) and during a fierce famine-driven economic crisis. The story zeroes in on one family that is devastated by premature deaths.
A shattered Naomi (rightly recognized by Old Testament scholars as a female Job) plummets to ground zero of her own life. She assesses the wreckage of what used to be her full and satisfying life and draws dark conclusions about God’s love (hesed) for her.
Fears she expresses then are all-too familiar to us now and can strike the strongest among us when calamity strikes and God seems absent. We need Naomi’s story more than ever right now because many of us are feeling exhausted, isolated, depressed, fearful of or having suffered already the loss of health, loved-ones, jobs, businesses, and homes.
Inevitably we can’t help wondering along with Naomi if God has forgotten us and withdrawn his love.
We also need this story because Naomi discovers through the sacrificial hesed actions that Ruth initiates and Boaz empowers that God hasn’t forgotten his love for her. Their story is a powerful reminder that this pandemic creates a context in which the simplest acts of kindness can speak loudly of God’s unrelenting love to someone who is in despair.
That’s a lot to think about.
Here are a few questions that came up in this conversation:
Ruth is often characterized as a “damsel in distress,” but is that even accurate?
How have we mis-read this story as contemporary Americans, distanced from a full-fledged patriarchal society?
What do we do when we can’t see signs of God’s love for us . . . when the lights go out and grief overtakes us? What can we learn from Naomi’s story?
What can we learn from Boaz, as he takes his power and privilege and employs it for the good of others?
It is not overstating things to say this book is as desperately needed as a coronavirus vaccine, for it addresses an ongoing global pandemic that has been with us since the fall of humanity—crushing and shattering human lives. But unlike Covid-19, for which at present there is no vaccine, there is hope for us to recover the goodness of redeemed power as God intended at creation.
Dr. Langberg’s latest book is the culmination of years of professional experience as a psychologist dealing face-to-face with the human wreckage caused by the abuse of power, as well as with abusers themselves and their enablers. Readers will benefit from her candid treatment of the subject, her wisdom in addressing this crisis, and her heart for the church to become a place where power reclaims its goodness for others.
Redeeming Power is available for preorder now! Order a copy for yourself and be sure your your pastor and other ministry leaders know about this important resource.
“We are in a crisis: pandemic, racist violence, political uncertainty, cultural clashes, economic downturn. All this is exposing fragility of our lives and calls our way of life as individuals and society into question. The truth is we must be confronted with fragility and death to seek a more promising life. That’s Jesus: the healthy do not need—and do not seek—a doctor.
We are sick and yet, faced with death, most of us crave not a new life, but the life we’ve always known, the very life whose cracks the crisis is exposing. —Miroslav Volf
Ponder also what Professor Volf has to say about repentance in his incredible book Exclusion and Embrace. This book is not a quick read. That’s said, it is deep, rich, and utterly profound—without question one of the best books I’ve ever read! It couldn’t be more timely either, given our current crisis.
“God is shaking his daughters awake and summoning us to engage. His vision for us is affirming and raises the bar for all of us. We cannot settle for less. We have work to do. There’s a kingdom to build, and what we do truly matters. Our compass is fixed on Jesus. We can no longer listen to those who call us to love him with less than all our heart and soul and strength and mind. We may not have titles, position, or power in the eyes of others, but leadership is in our DNA. The call to rule and subdue places kingdom responsibility on our shoulders. Conflict draws us out. And as we answer God’s call, our brother will be first to benefit.” —Half the Church
If you are, or know someone who is, a woman in ministry leadership or who aspires to a career in ministry, Lead Bold should be on your radar.
The 2020 Lead Bold Conference is set for Saturday, September 12, 9:00am-3:30pm/PT. The Coronavirus pandemic made an in-person conference out of the question. But the Lead Bold leadership team persevered and are moving forward with a virtual conference, which could, in the long run, reach more women across the country and beyond.
This California-based gathering of kindred spirits is designed to equip women ministry leaders “to be refueled, revived, and refocused.” With all the the changes, isolation, and catastrophic loss of life, health, and jobs that Covid-19 has brought to our lives and communities, the value of such a ministry is hard to overstate. Ministry comes with responsibility to care for and support others. Under these dire circumstances, ministry can be exhausting, and leaders face their own struggles too.
Anyone who has access to a computer can attend via ZOOM. I’m looking forward to participating as a speaker.
For more information and to register go here. And help spread the word to others who may be interested!