#MeToo Story 1: Hagar

Image by Niki Vogt from Pixabay

A #MeToo Story Hidden in Plain Sight

Genesis 16
Written by Josh Macha

Hagar’s experience is a #MeToo story hiding in plain sight. Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian servant, is given to Abram as a solution to Sarai’s infertility. After laying with Abram, Hagar conceives. But instead of rejoicing over the success of her ploy, Sarai takes offense because Hagar, knowing she conceived, looked with contempt on [Sarai] (Gen 16:4). Then Abram, wanting to wash his hands of the situation, charges Sarai to do to [Hagar] as you please (v6b). We are told simply that Sarai deals harshly with her servant and Hagar flees. In short, Hagar’s body is used for reproduction and then cast out, along with her unborn child, when Sarai reckons with the consequences of her own choices. 

As horrifying as the details are, they often fail to color the common portrayal of Abraham and Sarah. Father Abraham is often sung without so much as a wince or a shudder. No doubt, we’re quick to point out that Abraham and Sarah are flawed. But this is usually demonstrated by pointing to Abram’s lies about Sarai being his sister. We also mention with a kind of knowing fondness Sarah’s laughter upon overhearing the three visitors tell Abraham that she will conceive in her old age. Typically, their story then moves on to the covenant, Abraham’s intervention for Sodom, climaxing in his amazing faith in presenting his son as a sacrifice. To be sure, these are powerful moments of faith and important points in redemptive history. I am not suggesting we should vilify Abram or Sarai, only that we can easily overlook Hagar because we need Abraham and Sarah for something else. We need their story free from the stain of a #MeToo kind of sin. 

But we should be cautious anytime we find a biblical narrative has been censored or unsavory parts hidden away. Not because the current #MeToo movement should compel Christians to reread the scripture with an eye only on abuse, but because a reading of the Bible that excludes the significance of such moments makes us complicit with Abram and Sarai’s abuse of power in this story. Consider how Sarai crafts a false narrative to justify her actions: Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children (v2). 

Abram does nothing to  push back against this and so enters into an agreement with Sarai. Indeed, this is one simple way of explaining the premise for all abuses of power: What I do is justified because my needs are greater than the needs of another. Abram and Sarai further abuse their power by shifting the narrative after Hagar conceives, accomplishing exactly what she’s asked. Sarai uses her position to shift Hagar’s reality: It is not just that I wanted you to conceive a child for us, I also wanted you conduct yourself in such a way that wouldn’t make me feel bad about my lack of faith and poor choices. Abram is again complicit by remaining silent. What is remarkable about their blindness to their own sin is that by driving Hagar out of their midst they are disowning themselves. Remember, as far as they know their only descendant is now cut off from their household. They lied to themselves to get what they wanted and then, caught in the darkness of that lie, cast out the very thing they hoped for.  

There are several instructive points here for pastors and leaders in the church.

First, it is important to see such moments as more than mere hiccups along the road of redemptive history. Rather, we should see them as woven into the narrative as a warning for the church about the deceptive nature of the human heart. God has not/is not doing ______, therefore I will _____ is a pattern we must be on guard for. The scriptures don’t bury this story, it right at the doorstep of the Bible. This is a challenge to pursue asking questions that may at first appear risky: Who are the victims of sin in the biblical narrative? Are we overlooking any of them for the sake of a more familiar story we want to tell? Do I take the time to specifically name the sins of the biblical characters? 

Second, more than just asking new kinds of questions, church leaders may need to notice that our tendency to glaze less palatable portions of scripture is instructive for how we view and shepherd our congregations. Seeing this in myself caused me to wonder where I am blind to needs that are right in front of me. It brings the question: Is my congregation a place where victims feel safe to speak up? If my reading and study of scripture tends to silence the voices of victims and generalize sin, then surely my pastoral leadership may do the same. 

Third, related to the second, it is important to teach out of the scriptures with specificity. Just as we say generally that Abraham was “flawed” or a “sinner”, we are prone to do the same with one another. In fact, sometimes we sort of laugh off our sin. Don’t get me wrong, there is something healthy and grace oriented about not taking ourselves too seriously. But this should be carefully balanced with vigilance about naming and unmasking specific sin. Abraham and Sarah didn’t mistreat Hagar out of their understandable distress, no, they conspired together to abuse her out of a lack of faith. This proper naming turns the specific words back to our own hearts: Where is abuse happening in our midst? Where do we see temptation to abuse power to satisfy our own appetites and agendas? Who am I conspiring with to manipulate a situation I’m unhappy with? 

Fourth, and finally, it is important to not miss the consequences of sin in this story. Hagar’s son Ishmael is born into a life shaped by the sins of others. Again, sin needs to be named and seen in the catastrophe it brings. Our personal sins impact the community. Knowing this rightly raises the stakes for church leaders and forces me to a confession: I can’t fix the problem of sin. The notion that I can is dangerous for many reasons, pertinent here is that if sin can be neatly contained and cleaned up after, then it is far easier to feel a sense of false security in the midst of the wolves of our own hearts. 

Published here with permission.

Josh’s article is the first of three student papers exploring a #MeToo biblical narrative. See my introduction to these papers, “Confronting the Bible’s #MeToo Stories” CJ

Posted in #MeToo, abuse of power, Sexual Abuse | 8 Comments

Confronting the Bible’s #MeToo Stories

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

“Women’s story is there [in the Bible] written large, though it may be hidden in the text, and finding it might be like digging for gold.”
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––Rabbi Julia Neuberger

In the early days of my quest to understand the Bible’s message for women, I came across this hope-filled statement from Rabbi Neuberger. Her words gave me added incentive to keep digging. Turns out, she was right.

The gold I found was life changing. In Lost Women of the Bible, The Gospel of RuthFinding God in the Margins, and Half the Church, I passed that gold on to other women. 

Meanwhile I’m still digging. 

It may not have occurred to you, but there are #MeToo stories in the Bible. Recent events have exposed the urgency to hear from this neglected category of women in the Bible. Their #MeToo stories make us uncomfortable and often carry an R-rating. Women in these disturbing biblical narratives have been labeled “sinful women” or “temptresses.” We often overlook their stories completely, blame them for what happens, minimize or ignore their suffering, or simply turn our attention to the more significant men in their stories. The end result is that we fail to benefit from a vital resource from which biblical writers intended to instruct us.

As Walter Brueggemann writes in his foreword to Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror

“What now surfaces is the history, consciousness, and cry of the victim, who in each case is shown to be a character of worth and dignity in the narrative. Heretofore, each has been regarded as simply an incidental prop for a drama about other matters. . . . The presumed prop turns out to be a character of genuine interest, warranting our attention. And we are left to ask why our methods have reduced such characters so that they have been lost to the story.” 

These #MeToo stories are instructive at multiple levels and are never more important than now. It’s worth asking, where would we be now in the midst of the #MeToo/#ChurchToo crisis if we’d paid attention to these stories right in front of us and pondered the truth they reveal? 

At Missio Theological Seminary’s November 2019 seminar, “Confronting the #MeToo/#ChurchToo Crisis,” I asked students to write a paper on one of these four #MeToo narratives—Hagar, Bathsheba, King David’s daughter Tamar, or Esther—evaluating her #MeToo story with these five questions: 

  1. What makes this narrative a #MeToo story?
  2. How and why has her #MeToo story been minimized and/or overlooked?
  3. How does the abuse of power play a role?
  4. How is her story an important resource in helping pastors and ministry leaders understand, raise awareness, and address #MeToo/#ChurchToo in your ministry context? 
  5. How could you employ her story to confront the #MeToo/#ChurchToo in your ministry context?

Student papers were powerful, honest, and often heartbreaking. Many students admitted this was the first time they’d considered these biblical narratives as accounts of #MeToo abuses against women. Their papers often reflected the newness of this perspective and their efforts to probe the implications for their own ministries.

After the holidays, I planned to post a few of these papers on my blog.

Then came 2020—the coronavirus pandemic and one of the most tumultuous national elections in U.S. history. These developments largely eclipsed but didn’t prevent more #MeToo/#ChurchToo scandals from surfacing. In fact, warnings have come from different leaders (including President Biden) that during Covid-19, domestic violence and abuse have increased

So this week, I’m posting three student papers. I do this, not to endorse their interpretations, but for readers to see how three very different individuals have begun to re-see these narratives through a different lens. Not only do we owe this level of study to begin telling the truth about the women themselves and how they were sexually violated, we need these ancient stories now more than ever to help us confront the ongoing 21st century sexual abuse #MeToo/#ChurchToo crisis.

We all have a lot more digging to do to unearth the gold these stories hold.

Tuesday: #MeToo Story 1: Hagar by Josh Macha
Wednesday#MeToo Story 2: Bathsheba  by Yeohan Ko
Thursday: #MeToo Story 3: King David’s Daughter Tamar
––––––––––––––––––––––––––––by Amy Lineburg Knöttner

Posted in #ChurchToo, #MeToo, Brueggemann, Covid-19, Domestic Abuse, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

January 6 Revisited

TapTheForwardAssist, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, we re-witnessed—in more horrifying detail—the brutal violence of the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. It was worse than we thought, yet mercifully and thanks to Capitol Police not as bad as it might have been. It was yet another painful reminder of the deep divides in our country and the question of how or if effective bridges can be built.

This morning I got a much needed infusion of hope from reading these reorienting words from The New Testament in Its World:

“. . . the inbreaking kingdom Jesus was announcing created a new world, a new context, and he was challenging his hearers to become the new people that this new context demanded, the citizens of this new world. . . .

The work of the kingdom is in fact summed up pretty well in the beatitudes. Blessed are the poor, the mourners, the meek, those hungering for justice, the merciful, the pure-hearted peacemakers, and the persecuted. These people are not only blessed, but more than that, even in their vulnerability and weakness, they are the ones precisely through whom Jesus intends to transform the world. When God wants to change the world, he doesn’t launch missiles. Instead, he sends in the meek, the mourners, and the merciful. When God wants to put things to right, he doesn’t scramble combat jets; he calls people to love and do justice. Through those kinds of people the blessings of God’s reign begin to appear in the world.”

—————————————————N.T. Wright and Michael Bird

This isn’t religious escapism, but a counter-cultural path forward that reflects the kingdom of God and the teachings of Jesus that he embodied and calls us to follow.

If you haven’t already heard of this incredible New Testament survey with its rich re-centering on Jesus, I encourage you to check it out. The book is big—5 pounds in all. Some Amazon reviewers are complaining about that. But I have a different opinion. I’m reading a couple of pages at a time, already knowing that when I reach the final page, I’m going to be sorry it isn’t longer.

So if your tank is low on hope these days, let Wright and Bird fill you up with the earth-shaking good news of Jesus’ kingdom and your own summons to follow him!

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A Call for Help!

It is every parent’s worst nightmarethat something bad will happen to one of our kids.

That nightmare is happening now to a dear friend, Christian brother, and colleague of mineknown and loved by many of you. Professor Paul Louis Metzger’s son Christopher (a young husband and father) is in the fight of his life. He is in critical condition following emergency surgery for a traumatic head injury and is several states away from his parents.

Paul started a GoFundMe, Christopher Metzger’s Critical Care and Family Needs, to assist with medical costs and various monthly bills, groceries, and travel associated with this unfolding ordeal.

Here’s his latest post on FaceBook.

I wish to thank everyone who has reached out in a variety of special ways in support of my son Christopher, our daughter-in-law, our granddaughter, my wife, daughter, and me. Your prayers, meditations, and gracious gifts for Christopher and his family’s needs make such an indelible impact. Where would we be without God and you? Blessings on you all.

My son remains in critical condition. I would give my life for him. How I cherish my precious “Taka” and am so proud to be his Dad. I am rarely on Facebook these days and find it difficult to write. Nor am I able to provide any specifics. The letter I wrote at this site below presents all that I can say. I beg your forgiveness if you do not receive responses from me. Please do know, though, that you are such a blessing to my family. Grateful for you!

This brings back tough memories of the battle and long road to recovery we engaged when our little Arden was diagnosed with hip dysplasia. We will never forget the many friends who prayed us through and supported Arden’s GoFundMe. It meant the world to us.

Now I’m appealing on Paul’s behalf. Many of you are friends of Paul’s and will want to stand with him and help in this terrible ordeal. If you can donate, please do. Every little bit helps. Whatever you do, please join me and others who are praying for Christopher and his family, parents, and siblings.

Christopher’s wife is Keyonna, and their little daughter is Jaylah.

Paul and I have partnered on several teaching projects both here at Missio Seminary and in Portland, Oregon at Multnomah Seminary.

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The Trump Conundrum of the White Female Evangelical Voter

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A huge “Thank you!” to the 80 women who responded to the survey I posted in my previous blog, “Let it rip!—Donald Trump & White Female Evangelical Voters”

Let it be said, “They let it rip!”  

Their responses were candid, heartfelt, and profoundly helpful. They made it easier for me to head into the Evangelicals for Justice Webinar on “Race, Gender, and Christian Nationalism: The Impact of Trumpism on Evangelicals” to talk about “Inroads of Trumpism among White Evangelical Women” armed with what I learned from them. 

Responses underscored the voting dilemma that confronted white evangelical women when Donald Trump became the Republican party candidate. Here was a candidate whose campaign embraced the Republican pro-life/anti-abortion stance, who promised to appoint more conservative judges, and pledged to Make American Great Again!

At the same time, he brought with him a well-known reputation as a misogynist, racist, and a bully. His campaign appearances and subsequent term as president provided fresh examples of those character traits. That created the conundrum many white evangelical women faced over which box to check in the 2016 presidential election.  

The survey asked them to list pros and cons for a Trump vote, what influenced their vote in 2016, what if anything changed in the 2020 election, what impact did the Access Hollywood video have on their decision, how all of this, including well-known evangelical leaders’ endorsements of Trump, impacted their faith and their identity as evangelicals. Responses came from white evangelical women on FaceBook, Twitter, or who follow my blog. 

The 2016 Conundrum 

In general it was quite clear that the pros and cons were split between Trump’s policies and his character. It would ultimately reveal how for some women, his behavior toward women was a decisive factor, and how for others policies mattered more. It’s worth noting that women who leaned toward supporting and/or who voted for Trump were clear-eyed about the cons; also that several Never-Trump voters responded “none” to the pros. 


    • Anti-abortion + Supreme Court Justices 
    • Addressed fears of losing America’s white Christian heritage
    • Not a career politician 
    • Successful businessman
    • Strong man willing to fight for them 
    • Kept his promises


    • Character and Behavior
    • Misogyny
    • Racism
    • Bullying 
    • Narcissism 
    • Self-centered
    • Verbal abuse of Meghan Kelly, Carly Fiorina and other Republican primary candidates

There was significant animus toward Hilary Clinton. Several stated the 2016 election didn’t offer any “good choice” and that Hilary was “just as” or “more corrupt” than Trump. Most respondents didn’t disclose how they voted other than that they “voted against Trump”—3rd party, write-in, or for Clinton either in protest or because they supported her and believed she was more qualified.

Here’s how one woman resolved the 2016 conundrum: “I pulled the lever for Hilary and asked God to forgive me.”

The survey reflected the significant spiritual impact of the strong public role of evangelicals in supporting Trump. Almost all of the women confirmed their evangelical faith, but a significant number expressed reluctance or a refusal to embrace the label.

Women with experience in foreign countries brought an important perspective to the issues. A woman who lived two and half years in China said the biggest challenge she faced when sharing the gospel was “proving Christianity isn’t a white man’s religion.” 

Another having lived in Muslim majority countries said “Trump’s discourse regarding Muslims inspired fear and division” and his “‘build the wall’ campaign was extremely divisive and harmful.” 

Fear of persecution, which often surfaces among American evangelicals, drew this response from another woman with international experience: “American evangelicals have no concept of real persecution.” 

Several moms expressed grief over how evangelical support for Trump and toxic divisions in the church prompted their adult children to leave the church and their faith. Many respondents are grieving over broken relationships related to political differences. 

The 2020 Shift

By the time the 2020 election rolled around, evangelical women brought more information to their voting choice. Four years of a Trump administration, the cost of the Coronavirus pandemic in human life and livelihoods, the surging #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, racial and political unrest, combined with the lingering impact of the Access Hollywood video and how evangelical leaders dismissed it—all of these factors and more caused a decisive shift among these white female voters. 

By the time of the 2020 election, women who previously voted third party, write-in candidates, or abstained were now of a different mind. Trump’s conduct during his time in office and the fact that “Joe Biden wasn’t Hilary” freed them to vote decisively for Biden in an effort to defeat Trump. Many said the Access Hollywood video “cemented” their decision.

By far, the most unexpected response came from outside the survey—in an article titled, “I Spent 4 Years Trying to Understand Trump-Voting Abuse Survivors. Here’s What I learned.” The author, an executive director of a rape and violence prevention program in Boston wrote,

“One of the first women I interviewed had survived sexual abuse that was perpetrated by the leader of her church. . . . She was always afraid of being raped again. That’s why she chose Trump. He promised to close our borders, and secure borders made her feel safe. While she detested him personally, his harsh, clear rhetoric about keeping the “bad people” out made the world feel less out of control.”

That one statement underscores the complexity of the current political and evangelical context. 

My Reflections

Ever since the E4J Conference, I’ve been mulling over what I’ve learned from survey responses and also from the many other powerful presentations. Mine wasn’t by far the only presentation. I hope you watched the whole conference or will watch when the recording is posted on www.evangelicals4justice.org. They gave us all a lot to think about. 

I concluded my presentation by raising three serious areas I believe deserve further attention for all Christians and that are profoundly relevant to our political views and how we interact with one another.

First, as Christians we all have dual citizenship. We are citizens of our country and citizens of the kingdom of God—the kingdom Jesus launched when God raised him from the dead. In his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation, Pastor Greg Boyd explains that no human government is the kingdom of God. The best any human government can be is a good kingdom of this world. But there is only one kingdom of God. We can be patriotic and care passionately about certain local national issues. But when we embrace Jesus as Savior and Lord, seismic changes take place in who we are and how we think and live. We not only embark on the life-changing journey to know, love, and emulate Jesus, we become kingdom agents of the work he is doing in the world—the rescue operation God put in motion when he raised Jesus from the dead. It goes beyond evangelism to seeing the world through his eyes, hearing the cries of the oppressed and suffering, and entering the work to put the world right. N.T. Wright put it this way: 

“From the very beginning, in Jesus’ own teaching, it has been clear that people who are called to be agents of God’s healing love, putting the world to rights, are also called to be people whose own lives are put to rights by the same healing love. The messengers must model the message. . . . Through the church God will announce to the wider world that he is indeed its wise, loving, and just creator; that through Jesus he has defeated the powers that corrupt and enslave it; and that by his Spirit he is at work to heal and renew it” (italics added).  Simply Christian (203-204)

Second, we need to put patriarchy in its place. For generations we’ve been taught that the Bible teaches patriarchy. Patriarchy first appears in the Bible in Genesis 3 as a consequence of humanity’s rebellion against God. It has been with us ever since—the power and authority of men over women and of some men over other men. Our definitions of manhood hang on a man’s ability to establish his leadership and authority over others. Granted, at church we work to promote a “kinder/gentler version,” but there’s no escaping the damage of this mindset in homes, countries, government, even inside the church. Tragically, patriarchy is as destructive to men as it is to women.  

It requires eisegesis (the practice of reading one’s own ideas into the Bible) to find patriarchy in Genesis 1-2, because it simply isn’t there. But patriarchy still matters—actually is crucial in how we read and understand the Bible. Here’s what I wrote in Malestrom

“Patriarchy is not the Bible’s message. Rather, it is the fallen cultural backdrop that sets off in the strongest relief the radical nature and potency of the Bible’s gospel message. We need to understand that world and patriarchy in particular—much better than we do—if we hope to grasp the radical countercultural message of the Bible.” 

Third, we need to be far more pro-life than we actually areGod defined “pro-life” at creation when he called his human image bearers to “be fruitful and multiply.” The idea wasn’t confined to physical reproduction. It is a universal call to live fruitful lives—to flourish and to cultivate and use the gifts and opportunities God has given us. It also meant to promote the flourishing of others from womb to tomb, as well as the flourishing of the whole earth. Humanity’s first responsibility was to be stewards of the earth’s resources, and God wants his good earth to flourish.

Currently, one of the most serious pro-life issues is the #MeToo/#ChurchToo sexual abuse pandemic. Right now, Coronavirus has eclipsed it. But once this deadly virus is defeated, we will find that violence against women and children has been festering unabated globally. #MeToo/#ChurchToo and other abuses inflicted on human beings are pro-life issues that in the church go unaddressed or are badly addressed. This prolife issue, this Shadow Pandemic, is the focus of my next book. I will be exploring, among other things—the Bible’s #MeToo stories—a major overlooked biblical resource that can equip the church to respond effectively to abuse and prevent it from happening in the first place. 

Stay tuned . . .

Meanwhile, for further reading:

——“Why Donald Trump is Good for Evangelicals”
——“The Failure of Complementarian Manhood”
——“Evangelical—When a Good Word Goes Bad”

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Let it rip!—Donald Trump & White Female Evangelical Voters

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

This Friday and Saturday, January 29-30, Evangelicals 4 Justice (E4J) are hosting a ZOOM conference on Race, Gender, and Christian Nationalism to discuss the Impact of Trumpism on Evangelicals

They’ve invited me to weigh in on the impact of Trumpism on Evangelicals, specifically on “the inroads of Trumpism with white women.”

White, evangelical women have been a significant voting block for Donald J. Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. That has a lot of people both here and abroad scratching their heads. In her 2019 article, Donald Trump: Why White Evangelical Women Support Him,” University of Cambridge Researcher in Sociology Katie Gaddini raises the obvious conundrum this way:

“As is well known by now, in the November 2016 presidential election, 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. That constituted the largest ‘evangelical vote’ in nearly two decades. If scholars, journalists and the general public have puzzled over why so many white evangelicals would vote for someone whose language and behaviour [sic] violated key tenets of the Christian faith, the question of why evangelical women voted for him is even more puzzling—especially given Trump’s long track record of alleged sexual misconduct and derogatory comments about women.”

Of course I have my own thoughts on the subject. But I’ve been asked to address a wider group on how Trump won such strong support from white, evangelical women. I’m interested in your thoughts on the subject. For working definitions: 

Christian Nationalism is the belief that America was founded as a white Christian nation and the commitment to defend the country against perceived threats against the original white Christian American identity our Founding Fathers envisioned.

Trumpism includes the political ideology, governing style, political movement, and methods for acquiring and keeping power associated with the U.S 45th president, Donald Trump, and his political base. Trumpism started developing predominantly during Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. It denotes a populist political method that suggests nationalistic answers to political, economic, and social problems. 

Regardless of how (or if) you voted in the past two presidential elections, or if you are evangelical or not, if you are white and female, I’m interested in your thoughts. This isn’t about your political views. It’s not a scientific or statistical survey, and I won’t be identifying respondents. 

Instead, I want to understand how Trump’s presidency and ascendency of Christian nationalism impacted you as a woman.

So here are the questions:

  1. How would you describe yourself?  Evangelical, non-evangelical, ex-evangelical? 
  2. What political/cultural/religious concerns were foremost in your mind as you evaluated Trump as a prospective U.S. president? 
  3. What were the pros and/or cons of him as a candidate?
  4. What was the decisive issue (or issues) in your decision to vote for or against him in 2016?
  5. How, if at all, did your voting preference for president change during his tenure as president?
  6. Explain any concerns you have that your faith and religious freedoms are under threat and by whom?
  7. How did the Access Hollywood tape impact your decision regarding voting for Trump? 
  8. Describe how white evangelical leaders and evangelical voter support for Trump has impacted your faith.
  9. How did Trump and Trumpism change or solidify your identity as an evangelical?
  10. Any extra thoughts?

To respond, cut and paste the questions into an email, and send your responses to cjames.survey@gmail.com  I need to hear back by Thursday, January 28

Please don’t hold back!

To register for the ZOOM conference: http://bit.ly/E4JVoices

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“If only we’re brave enough…”

Yesterday’s inauguration of President Biden introduced us to a new voice. Twenty-two-year-old Amanda Gorman, the first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate, became the youngest poet to read her poetry at a presidential inauguration. Her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, gave us all a lot to think about.

The part that seemed to stick with many of us came at the end, when she said,

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it

If only we’re brave enough to be it

History is full of ezer-warriors who have been “brave enough to be” light in their time and place in history. The Bible is brimming with narratives highlighting women (often very young) who stepped into the challenges and callings of the moment to bring light and truth and hope into the lives of others.

Think Deborah, Abigail, Esther, or Mary of Nazareth.

Naturally, I’m reminded of Ruth. Probably about the same age as Amanda, Ruth embraced Naomi, her people, and her God against a dark, uncertain, and utterly grim future in Bethlehem.

She took refuge under Yahweh’s wing and from that place of blazing light, she found the courage to do what needed to be done for Naomi. Everything changed. From that moment, she refused to hold back or shrink from actions that involved risk to herself. She dared to make bold initiatives to a powerful man—all on Naomi’s behalf. She risked everything crossing cultural lines drawn for her as a newcomer, an immigrant, an impoverished, barren, widow, a scavenger for food to bring light and hope to her despairing mother-in-law.

Downsizing and mischaracterizing the book of Ruth as a Cinderella Story, is a terrible injustice to Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi, and a monumental loss, not merely to women and girls, but to the whole church and to every person we encounter without seeing how we can help.

So I am more than delighted to announce the online bookclub: Grace, Growth, and God Honoring Reads is featuring The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules. If you don’t feel particularly brave these days, this book will fill you with courage.

Sign-up to join the FB discussion (February 4 to March 11) here.

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Vaccine for Despair

la Caixa Foundation Handel’s “Hallelujah” Barcelona Ars Nova 350 voice chorus

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 atrocitiesyes, even deadly pandemics and unspeakable losses.

2020 has been a year like that. In the foreword to Walter Brueggemann’s Virus as an Invitation to Faith, Rabbi Nahum Ward-Lev writes,

“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 tooalwaysfor 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.”

————————————— N.T. Wright, Simply Christian

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!

Posted in Brueggemann, Covid-19, Hesed, Hope, NT Wright | Leave a comment

Virus as a Summons to Faith

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

In the early days of Covid-19, Professor Aisha Ahmad, University of Toronto (who is no stranger to suffering) offered this insight:

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.

I am also re-reading God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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!

Posted in Bonhoeffer, Books, Brueggemann, Covid-19, Hesed, Reviews, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The 2020 Ezer Surge

Artist: Bria Goeller; design commissioned by Good Trubble and published here with permission.

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.

Frontline Warriors

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.

And let us not forget that December 1, 2020 is the 65th anniversary of when African-American Rosa Parks stood up for civil rights by sitting down.

It Takes a Pandemic

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.

Hi Carolyn,

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. 

I feel found.

I write to you from Little Rock, AR.

Your fellow Ezer,
Meredith Kingsley 

To read more see: Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women

Artist: Bria Goeller; design commissioned by Good Trubble and published here with permission.

This article was originally published at www.missioalliance.org

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