Love in the Time of Corona

This morning, I, like so many others around the world, worshiped from the confines of my home. I wore sweats, folded laundry, and did dishes, even as I prayed the Lord’s prayer, sang Amazing Grace, and passed the peace.

While I type these words, my youngest son is in the basement playing Legos. This may sound mundane, but it isn’t: he’s also having a FaceTime playdate while he sorts and builds.

As we all know, and we’ve certainly all been told, these are strange days.

Strange isn’t necessarily bad.

I loved my time of worship this morning. I managed to do chores, take in the Good Word, and spend time with my community by sending hearts and thumbs up and quick messages at the bottom of a tiny screen, all while in my slippers and without wearing a bra. What could be better than that?

As I listened to the sermon, my mind started making plans to stop physical church altogether, choosing instead to worship virtually while on the treadmill or cooking, thinking of all the time and energy I could save I didn’t have to shower, dress (appropriately), or spend time making small talk each week.

And then I remembered my Lenten sacrifice: to forgo complacent isolation. To take my community seriously instead of for granted, and to give in to the societal expectation of jeans and yes, even uncomfortable undergarments.

Several years ago, I discovered what I call my life verses:

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. (emphasis added) (Acts 2:4-6)

My love for these verses isn’t surprising. As a lawyer, a writer, an editor, even a Sunday School teacher, everything I find satisfaction and joy in revolves around language. The language of law, of stories, and of speaking into the vernacular of children and church. To me, these verses are powerful and validating. They represent the essential need of humans (and the church) to recognize, hear, understand, and speak to the spiritual and emotional needs of others. Through this, hearts are touched, healed, and filled. This is what language can do.

But I, you see, am an introvert—note the word “sacrifice” attached to my commitment of non-isolation. My preferred language is written, not spoken. I love to interact online and by blogging, but call me on the phone and you’ll find a socially awkward woman who isn’t quite sure when it’s her time to speak. This is an exaggeration of course; I’m only a little awkward on the phone, and I certainly love face-to-face interaction, though generally only on my terms. The days when the stars of
coffee,
and NSAIDS,
and sleep,
and spoons
have aligned.

But this morning, folding laundry while my pastor spoke to an empty room, looking out at faceless pews, nothing needed to align. I was isolated and in my element. My youngest was not crawling under the communion table, threatening to knock over the baptistry, or making fart jokes at the alter. It was good.

But it wasn’t church.

Because see, a few verses above 4-6, we read, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. (emphasis added)

This morning when my pastor spoke of Abram and Sarai, we were not all together in one place. We were not sitting in a house soon to be filled with the violent wind of the Holy Spirit. I was here, and they were
there,
and there,
and there.

But nonetheless—and perhaps by now you see where this is going—while we may have been there and there and there instead of a common here, this morning’s service wasn’t not church.

In this moment of semi-forced isolation and distancing, I am faced with a choice: will I be complacent in my isolation, relishing the excuse to hide behind my door, or will I refuse complacency and reach into the scary places of phone calls, check-ins, sharing toilet paper, and sparing canned goods?

Watching a Facebook live stream isn’t a scary place. It’s easy peasy. But it would be even easier to shrug it off; who would even notice if I wasn’t there? Likely no one. And I likely wouldn’t notice if so-n-so didn’t watch, but actually, according to the numbers we had about as many viewers as we tend to have at in-person worship.

We showed up.

And in the act of showing up, we hearted and thumbs-upped one another, shared comments from our couches, and prayed together. We showed our screens to our dogs, let our kids hold our phones, gave honest feedback about the video feed. Knowing that in our private homes so many of us logged on and gave back is a tremendous gift. Perhaps it doesn’t seem so at first mention, but when the individualistic nature of American society is considered, paired with the amount of entertainment options in our homes, it truly is a countercultural decision—a gift of time and presence—to choose church and in so doing, to choose one another.

In a way, even for those of us who love language, who love to type away at our screens and turn pages until the wee hours of the morn, it is incredibly difficult to choose online church. Not because it’s easier to go in person, but because it’s easier to use this time of physical distancing as an excuse to relish isolation. For the healthy, COVID-19 provides excuse-free time to drink cocoa, read books, watch Netflix … even to break up fights between siblings.

But as life likes to remind us so often, easy isn’t always right.

It will be hard for a phone-hating introvert like me, but as a deacon for my church, I (and others) will be calling to check in on fellow church members as the days at home drag on. Even now, having only sent a handful of (non-scary-place) emails, I have heard stories of loneliness and frustration. Confusion and fear. And in my community, this is only day three of “distancing.”

For those of us who love our jammie-and-coffee time, all day every day, it will take work to overcome our natural tendency to settle in for a good read. But it is necessary work: even in a time when crowds are disallowed and gatherings are frowned upon, the task of speaking to one another’s heart does not end.

So friends, good luck making it through this journey, and if you want to talk (or not), you I know where to find me you.

The Problem with a Woman’s ‘No’

Like most women I know, I am a woman who “does things.” Whether in the church, classroom, or community, I volunteer for activities and events because I enjoy doing them.

The problem with this (one of a few) is that once a woman gains a reputation of saying yes to things, even more requests for stepping up come her way. There is some good that comes with that, but also some bad. The requests begin to broaden in scope until they encompass unenjoyable, un-called-to things. They also begin to pile up, as two hours of help turn to three, then ten, and before you know it, a whole month has gone by. Sleep is lost, kids ignored, husbands relegated to last in line for attention. Nutrition and exercise fall to the wayside, and, perhaps, stress begins to manifest in physical ways.

Hence the market for self-help books teaching women the seemingly-easy skill of saying no. There are actually books—plural!—that contain hundreds of pages explaining how “no” is a word women shouldn’t be afraid to say. Those two little letters, that tiny package of a word, is truly a linguistic barrier to a happier, healthier life. If we women who “do” things could just learn no’s value, the books claim, we could better live into our actual calling, better love ourselves, our husbands, and our children. But wait! There’s more! We also wouldn’t lose friends, professional opportunities, important roles in the community, or any of those other things we’re afraid of losing should our yesses stop coming.

It isn’t just books: Pastors give this advice. Therapists. Friends. TV doctors with good intentions. And I agree with them: no-saying is a necessary skill for those of us living in a world with too high expectations and too few people to fill the roles we’ve spontaneously created then deemed essential.

But knowing intellectually that we should balance our yesses with a handful of nos is one thing; putting it into play is another.

It’s hard to step back and let something fail, go fallow, or not be done to our personal specifications. It’s even harder to let go of things that fulfill us, that intellectually stimulate us, that give us more to talk about over dinner than laundry and homework. But sometimes there are reasons we must say no, even if we’re left not just with more family and “me” time on our hands, but also with isolation, unpracticed talents, unstimulated minds, and deep sadness.

A couple of years ago I was really sick. Like go-to-the-hospital-bi-weekly sick. In that two-year season I posted on this blog a grand total of FOUR TIMES. I couldn’t even write while at home in my PJs sipping cocoa! I was living off prednisone and even with that most hated of the best loved drugs propping me up, I still just couldn’t go on being someone who “did” things.

So my husband and I decided it was time I just said no.

I emailed heads of boards and bowed out of roles. I spoke for hours, days, years it seems, with my (very supportive and understanding) pastor about church roles I could no longer fill. I let folks at my children’s school think I’d fallen off the edge of the world. I rejected clients. I just … stopped.

So I’ve been there, and you can trust me when I say that sometimes saying no is way, way harder than the overburdening of all the yesses combined.

Being out and about in the world I knew without being an integral part of how it ran was devastating. Not because of the loss of control, but because some of us, like me, were created to be in the ranks of those who do. I thrive on the yesses.

But then … it got easy.

Don’t get me wrong—it wasn’t like easy easy. Just … easier. Enjoyable, even. After the boredom and sadness passed, I started to feel better. I went off the prednisone. I had the energy to switch to a vegan diet (one of the top five best decisions I’ve ever made, by the way. Feel free to ask me about it.). I watched TV. Read books. Had an actual conversation with my husband. And then I was able to go off the immunosuppressant medication that kept me living off antibiotics.

Through this I learned that while the yesses might be life-giving, saying no can be lifesaving.

But I’m sad to say I learned another lesson as well.

I learned that the books are wrong. That our well-intentioned friends are wrong. That the TV-doctors and celebrities are wrong. Even our religious leaders are wrong.

The hard truth is that few people want to hear a no.

While many are sympathetic to the need to step back, many are not.

I was told I didn’t care about my church.

I stopped hearing from friends I’d made through shared volunteer activities.

I was excluded from certain conversations and actions I still wanted to be a part of.

I was stunned.

I readily admit it’s true we can’t always have the best of both worlds. In some roles you’re either in or out; there is no in between. It’s also true we can’t expect place holders: we snooze, we lose. And, of course, there’s the issue of reliability: will she or won’t she back out at the last minute?

Showing up is crucial—when one takes on a role or task it’s expected that she will perform it. How, especially after repeated cancellations, can others continue to rely on and trust those who no longer seem reliable? Likely they can trust that the intentions are good, but good intentions never cleaned the church kitchen, taught a Sunday School lesson, or edited a manuscript. You need an actual person for that.

So this isn’t a bright line issue.

There’s a burden on the chronically ill person to know her limitations and establish firm boundaries, even if those boundaries are disappointing. Being on a particular board may be something really relevant, important, and desired, but if all the meetings start at 8pm and you need to be asleep by 8:30pm, then not accepting the board position to begin with is essential.

There are other roles, however, that are more fluid. Roles someone can more easily step into on the fly if needed, roles that can be quickly understood and executed. Roles where a bit of delay won’t actually cause as much of an issue as others might like to think it will.

There is definitely nuance to the conversation.

But the point here isn’t to delve into each possible scenario, rather it’s to bring a hard truth to the surface for conversation: though we are taught, preached to, advised, and counseled that “no” is a viable and even respectable option, the response received to it does not always correlate with that position.

As I write this, I’m wondering if some will think this is a pity party or indictment of my various communities.

I reject both of those notions.

Let me say that I am writing this only because I hope that by bringing a real-life experience to light, those on the receiving end of “nos” may reflect on their own responsibilities as leaders and respond the way we’re taught to believe they will: sympathetically, warmly, and with understanding.

I also hope that by reading this, those who need to take a step back from some responsibilities can go into the process as better-informed decision makers. Are there things you will lose, perhaps long-term? Will some—even those you think of as friends—respond with criticism? Will people second guess you? And worse—will you begin to second guess yourself? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding … maybe.

All this begs the question: should you say no if you don’t feel up to a yes? Yes! And should you say yes if it may sometimes be dotted with nos? Well, yeah, I think you should.

My mentor, who has her own chronic health issues, explained it this way: we don’t forgo our work in this world because of illness. Yet we don’t necessarily need to live it out in times of flares or in ways that push us to the brink. Instead, we establish systems and supports that can be put into place as needed. That is one of the many things community is for, and part of successful ministry is learning to use the strengths of community wisely.

As hard as some things have been post-season-of-nos, it was worth it. I got a significant-if-limited portion of health back, reconnected with my family and myself, and made radical life changes that I will continue to reap the benefits of in the years to come. There is nothing more important than that, even ministry, as we cannot give of ourselves if there’s nothing left to give.

 

 

Whole Women, Whole Families, Whole Truths: Saying What You Mean and Meaning What You Say

The number of abortions in the United States may have declined by more than one-third over the past two decades—reaching its lowest rate since record keeping started in 1976—but the issue is far from settled. Today the Supreme Court hears its first major abortion case in almost 10 years, and, barring a 4-4 split due to the death of Justice Scalia, will likely hand down a decision by the summer.

This case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, questions the constitutionality of restrictions the state of Texas is imposing on abortion providers—restrictions like requiring abortion providers to hold admitting privileges at a local hospital and for centers to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Opponents argue that these standards are unnecessary and will cause clinics to close, resulting in significant limitations on women’s access to abortion.

This case has far-reaching implications as the Court is set to consider what regulations constitute an undue burden on a woman’s ability to get an abortion. As it is in all Supreme Court cases of this significance, media coverage is intense, and the protestors are many.

Significantly, this whole discussion is taking place during an election year, which is sure to force presidential hopefuls to address abortion head on. A study by the Barna Group has found that while only 30 percent of the general population places abortion as a priority in determining which candidate will get their vote, 64 percent of evangelicals say the same. And that means, because abortion will again be in the spotlight, this 64 percent will have their views heard by a larger audience than normal.

Of course, neither a Supreme Court case nor a presidential election is a top motivator for pro-lifers* to make their voices heard. Still, if history is any indicator, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole will provide a unique opportunity for influence that may not come around again for quite some time.

So the big question is how best to assert that influence.

Public perceptions of the pro-life movement are often significantly and negatively shaped by high profile cases like that of Robert Lewis Dear, the man who last November shot and killed a police officer and two civilians at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. At his first court appearance, Dear proudly professed guilt and claimed to be “a warrior for the babies.” Not much earlier, a pro-life group released highly controversial, sting-style videos of Planned Parenthood executives that resulted in a wide, public debate about federal funding for the organization. And, of course, we’ve all seen the heart wrenching and anger-inducing footage of protestors blocking young women from entering into clinics, making clear their opinion that the young, scared woman will burn in hell.

There is also the perennial issue of conservative politicians taking a hardline pro-life stance, yet seemingly disregarding the hardships that can come from an unplanned or unsafe pregnancy, and eliminating funding for programs that could either help minimize these hardships or stop the unplanned or unsafe pregnancy from occurring in the first place.

It’s a hostile context, with various “camps” pitted against one another. Surely there has to be a better way, a way far removed from pickets, judgment, hate, and hypocrisy.

To this end, it’s important to remember that when hoping to sway public opinion and/or policy to align with one’s belief system, moral credibility is key. That means the pro-life movement must become one associated with believing all life is sacrosanct—whether in the womb or already born. Perhaps it should go without saying, but the most basic tenant of eliminating abortion must be rooted in compassion and love, and not just for the unborn, but also for the expectant mothers. Certainly, pregnant woman who feel trapped by their pregnancy and are considering abortion should think of the church as the first place to turn for help, not as the last.

Thankfully, there are faith leaders who are opening their doors wide to those both considering abortion and those who have already had abortions. Last year Pope Francis declared that women who have had abortions could seek forgiveness from any priest, without authorization of a bishop. President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, wrote of those who have had or participated in abortions, “God has already pronounced what he thinks of this person: ‘You are my beloved child and in you I am well pleased.’ … Offer [] mercy not only at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but in the small groups and hallways of your church.” There are those who will take umbrage at the notion that a woman needs either forgiveness from a priest or mercy from church members, but for many women, both avenues of grace are desired and significant to their lives.

By decreasing social stigma within the church environment, providing non-judgmental counseling and assistance to women suffering at the hands of a partner or family member, and putting in place the go-to tried and true church supports of meals, rides to the doctor, deacon’s fund assistance, and the like, local churches can provide tangible support to women both considering abortion and those who have already had abortions. Shaming, shunning and judging will only drive women from the church.

Of equal importance is the significant contribution of churches and faith-based organizations to social services (the Catholic Church is the largest provider of social services in the world). One of main reasons women give for seeking abortions is financial. In fact, studies show that women with family incomes below the federal poverty level account for more than 40 percent of all abortions, and this particular demographic has one of the highest abortion rates in the nation (52 per 1,000 women). Given that six in ten women who receive abortions already have at least one child, it seems clear that greater systemic support for families below the poverty line is a prime way to reduce abortions.

These numbers indicate that being pro-life is about speaking up and acting on socioeconomic matters just as much as it is on abortion itself. Recognizing this, faith-based non-profits can and do provide subsidized childcare, job training, financial and material support, housing, and counseling for women in the “at risk” category. These efforts should be seen not just as economic in nature, but as essential ways to demonstrate  one’s commitment to ending abortion.

Similarly, better educational and vocational opportunities, workplace protections for pregnant women, and low cost, high quality childcare would help reduce the stressors on women who seek abortion for financial reasons. Many of the socioeconomic changes needed must be systemically implemented at a policy level, but others are within the grasp of individuals, places of worship, and organizations.

For those interested in having a direct, personal impact, there are many options other than marches and protests, all of which are considerably more effective. The influence of making ones position known to state and federal legislators through letter writing and phone calls, petition signing, ballot measures that increase socioeconomic support of women and families, and an individual’s voting power cannot be overstated.

For those less politically inclined, there are ways to advance one’s beliefs that may not change laws, but will fulfill the primary goal of both reducing abortion and creating more sustainable futures for those lives once they enter into the world.

Pregnancy centers, most of which are religious in nature, make it their goal to support women through their pregnancies as well as achieve long-term self-sufficiency. Women who might otherwise feel there are no options other than abortion can turn to these centers for help not only throughout pregnancy, but also into the future by learning the life skills necessary to successfully parent a child and run a household.

Despite the high number of women served by pregnancy centers, they aren’t without controversy, and some are more reputable than others. Volunteering at or donating to centers with a track record of providing sustainable assistance with long-term implications is a great way to make a local, direct impact. Before partnering with a pregnancy center, affirm that the center has appropriate medical oversight and licensing, as well as non-deceptive advertising, literature, and practices. Some pregnancy centers have come under criticism for these things, and to truly help women and the unborn, maintaining credibility and compassion, not merely pushing an agenda, is key.

Of course, pregnancy centers aren’t for all women, such as those who feel unprepared to parent. For those in this situation, adoption agencies are often presented as an alternative to abortion. Like pregnancy centers, these agencies provide pregnant women with services to help them throughout their pregnancies, but also help match birth mothers with adoptive families. Many provide prenatal care, help with housing and other expenses, and even maternity clothes and rides to the doctor.

Some of these centers are religious- or state run non-profits, others are privately owned and for profit. As with pregnancy centers, some are more reputable than others and must be thoroughly researched before a referral can be made. Each state has its own regulations, but as a general rule, adoption agencies should be licensed, been in business for many years with a well-maintained reputation, have a high number of successful placements per year, and should not pressure clients into making certain choices. Individuals and faith communities should take the time to research near-by agencies and be prepared to make a knowledgeable recommendation to a woman in need.

In so doing, it must be remembered that for adoption to be a truly viable option, women must feel emotionally and physically able to make it through nine months of pregnancy. This means pro-life advocates must recognize that the reasons women seek abortions can take all kinds of forms, including social stigmas, lack of health care, abusive relationships, family pressures, and financial and work or educational limitations, among other things. Those committed to ending abortion should consider putting time and energy toward finding a workable solution for as many of these problems as possible—although certainly no perfect or easy solution exists, nor does this list address the myriad of needs that present when women become pregnant through rape, or when a pregnancy compromises the mother’s health. Those are complicated, emotion-laden, and highly individual cases that I cannot begin to address here.

Promoting and achieving pro-life goals will come from establishing credibility by honoring the sanctity of life, both born and unborn, and taking compassionate, non-judgmental, prayerful and loving action to reduce the reasons women seek abortion in the first place, primarily their belief there are “no other options.” Simply put, we must give them options.

What if rather than creating picket signs and coordinating protests, efforts turned instead toward creating options by caring for women and families in need, and working towards systemic change that does the same? This is not only a third-way of being pro-life—it is the best way. It’s a way that respects and honors all life, at all stages, without judgment, but with honesty, compassion, and a nuanced understanding of the very real hardships faced by women dealing with an unexpected pregnancy.

State laws and Supreme Court decisions don’t change the fact that the real work of making pro-life mean all life often takes place behind the scenes, through small acts of love and kindness that have a big impact on the lives of many, both those born and those yet to be.

 

* I use the term “pro-life” because it is the term most commonly used and understood in public discussion. I find it to be a misnomer, however, as those who are pro-choice are not, in fact, anti-life. Similarly, many who may deem themselves “pro-life” for lack of a better term, are not “anti-choice,” although they would limit situations where that choice might be employed.

 

 

 

Evolving Faith: An Interview With Sarah Bessey

Today we hear from award-winner blogger and author of Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey. Sarah’s latest book, Out of Sorts, recounts her journey through an evolving faith, ending not with the finality of a concise resolution and tidy list of how-tos, but rather the firmly held belief that while Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, she—and we—should be continuously questioning, changing, and growing in relationship with Christ. Sarah’s raw and honest retelling of her evolving relationship with the Church, with religion, and with Christ serves not as memoir, but rather as Sarah’s encouragement to others to embrace their own meandering paths without fear as they work their way through a hopefully-unending evolution of faith.

1) You write that when you were in your twenties, you stopped being a Christian because you didn’t want to be associated with the Church. It seemed to you that in the Church, one could be a Christian without being a disciple of Christ. How do we put Jesus back into Christianity? Into the Church?

For me, everything was reoriented on Jesus and that changed everything. I think for too long we’ve made Jesus just one character or episode in the Bible. If we want to see God, we look to Jesus. In Hebrews 1:3, the writer says that Jesus is the exact representation of the Father. So I think that if we could recapture that centrality of Christ in our churches through our teaching, our worship, our way of life, well then, what would change? For me, a lot of things changed. My opinions, my preferences, my work, my purpose, my reading of Scripture, my place in community, and so on. We aren’t bringing Jesus into our lives: he’s welcoming us into his life. Years later, I still feel like the only place that makes sense is in his presence, the only place I want to be is in the dust of his feet.

2) You once again consider yourself a Christian, and presumably a disciple of Christ. To that end, how do Jesus’ teachings impact your day-to-day life? Is there a particular area of discipleship you struggle with more than others?

You can read the rest of my interview with Sarah at Red Letter Christians.

Book Review: Women, Leadership, and the Bible. By Dr. Natalie Eastman

Dr. Natalie Eastman is one of the smartest women I know. If you’re looking for proof of that, check out her book, Women, Leadership, and the Bible. It’s a smart read, but not so much so that it’ll bog you down. In fact, I was enthralled from page one. If you’re the theologically- and academically-inclined type with a passion for women’s issues, I know you’ll feel the same.

Women, Leadership, and the Bible: How Do I Know What to Believe? A Practical Guide to Biblical Interpretation.

By Dr. Natalie Wilson Eastman. Cascade Books, 280 pp., $31.50.

In her book, Women, Leadership, and the Bible, Dr. Natalie Wilson Eastman does not, as one might imagine based on the title, try to convince readers of her position on the role of women in the church. In fact, she argues that women have for too long relied on the theological positions of others rather then undertake their own study, a practice that has only worked toward women’s detriment. Twelve long years in the making, the intent of Women, Leadership, and the Bible is to right that wrong.

Eastman received her Doctor of Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Realizing that the majority of women will not receive the same extensive seminary training that she did, her hope is to teach formal Biblical interpretation skills to the lay reader so that they can decide for themselves what God intends the role of women in the church to be.

Eastman writes specifically to a female audience, explaining that women are less likely to go to seminary, less likely to have time for theological study, and less likely to have the confidence necessary to take on as tough and divisive a topic as women in the church. While all that may be, Eastman is unequivocal that women are responsible both to themselves and to God to “think through these questions Biblically and theologically.”

That’s where Eastman’s “practical guide” comes in, as she takes on the heavy task of equipping women with the skills necessary to equalize a field traditionally dominated by men. Steering clear of four-syllable and hard-to-pronounce words, Eastman assumes her readers are unfamiliar with even basic interpretation skills. She defines “scary” words such as hermeneutic and exegesis, and includes a table of Scripture abbreviations, acronyms referring to different versions of the Bible, and detailed appendices for easy reference to outside sources of study. Despite her clear effort to write to a lay audience, by virtue of the subject matter the language used and study methods taught are best suited for those who have had at least some experience with higher education, as well as possess a great capacity for self-direction.

Staying true to Christian fundamentals, Eastman first and foremost points to the Bible as one’s primary study source. Outside resources are important, but the Bible is the ultimate authority on what the role of women in the church should be—it is in its interpretation that things get sticky. The primacy of the Bible firmly established, Eastman then provides a five-step strategy for methodically obtaining and sorting data and thinking logically about it: prepare (to engage in a concentrated study); identify (existing views and interpretations); study (the Bible as well as outside sources); filter (analyze what studying has uncovered); and choose (one’s position on the role of women in the church).

The third step—study—makes up the heart of the book, and is where the bulk of the burgeoning theologian’s work is done. Those interested in simply being told what to think or believe will not find any easy answers; instead, as Eastman openly tells readers, the study and discernment processes for even this one issue could take years, and even then may never reach full resolution.

Eastman takes seriously the individual responsibility to self and God to think through questions Biblically and theologically, keeping her own position hidden, choosing instead to draw out each step of her study plan by quoting women from varied backgrounds and positions. These women—a large number of whom are scholars—explain what they believe, why they believe it, and how they reached their conclusion. Readers hear from complimentarians and egalitarians equally, but all those quoted are women. This leaves Eastman vulnerable to criticism for excluding male voices in an otherwise balanced book. The study process taught, however, is gender-neutral, and men interested in learning more about Biblical interpretation can certainly benefit from Women, Leadership, and the Bible.

But it’s really no surprise that Eastman writes exclusively to women: the mere act of studying and learning is confidence building and empowering, traits women desperately need in the male-dominated field of theology. In fact, this is one way Eastman fails to keep her opinion on the “woman’s issue” to herself: clearly she finds women capable of the type of theological exploration they have long been kept from as unqualified. One can only assume she doesn’t think that after months or years of study that women should then keep silent about their findings.

It is, of course, true that women can attend seminary, hold ministerial positions, and teach in certain situations and in limited ways. But women have yet to reach full actualization as leaders through positions of higher authority in which they lead, teach, and minister to all church members, not just women and children.

Some think this is what God intended. Others do not. Regardless of opinion, it’s certainly worth asking how that opinion was formed. If the answer is that “someone told me so,” it is worth undertaking months or even years of study to determine if that someone was correct or not. For those without formal training but with an above-average skill set for self-teaching, Women, Leadership, and the Bible is a great place to start learning how to do just that.

You can find out more about Dr. Eastman and her book here.

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Is the American Way the Jesus Way?

Brian Zahnd is the co-founder and lead pastor of Word of Life Church, a non-denominational Christian congregation in Saint Joseph, Missouri. Brian is known for his focus on embracing the deep and long history of the Church and wholeheartedly participating in God’s mission to redeem and restore His world. He is also the author of several books, including, A Farewell To MarsBeauty Will Save the World, and Unconditional?: The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness. Today, as we in the US prepare to celebrate Independence Day, Brian talks to us about the conflation of flag and cross, Christianity’s long history of accommodating itself to the pressures of nationalism, and the transformative hope of local churches to overcome both of these distortions of the true message of Christ.

You’ve said that for many American Christians, the American Way and the Jesus Way are essentially the same way of being human. What do you mean by that?

Many American Christians would be hard pressed to identify five examples of how the Jesus way differs significantly from the American way. In the civil religion of America, the Jesus way and the American way have been conflated into the same mode of being human. In essence this means Christianity exists primarily to support the supreme idea of America. Put just so it sounds ludicrous, nevertheless it remains the tacit assumption of American civil religion. But authentic Christianity is a radical challenge to all other allegiances.

Christians confess that Jesus is Lord and thus “We the People” are not. Christians are far more committed to the Beatitudes than the Bill of Rights. Christians believe that only Jesus has a manifest destiny to rule the nations. Christians proclaim that “the last best hope of the world” is Jesus, not America. And that most American Christians would view these assertions as controversial reveals just how deeply the Jesus way has been subverted by the American way.

You can read the rest of my interview with Brian Zahnd at Red Letter Christians. He’s an amazing writer and speaker — the interview is truly worth a read!

Brian Zahnd headshot

Freeing Men From Patriarchy’s Chains

Carolyn Custis James is president of the Whitby Forum, a ministry dedicated to addressing the deeper needs that confront both men and women as they work together to extend God’s kingdom in a messy and complicated world. She is also the founder of Synergy Women’s Network, a national organization for women emerging or engaged in ministry leadership. She is the author of six books, including Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, and Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing Worldwhich is scheduled for release this month. In Malestrom, Carolyn explores how our culture’s narrow definition of manhood is upended when we consider the examples of men in the Bible and Jesus’ gospel. She shares with us today how Jesus’ gospel liberates men from the strictures of patriarchy and restores them to their true calling as God’s sons. 

What is the malestrom?

The maelstrom—a powerful whirlpool in the open seas that threatens to drag ships, crew, and cargo down into the ocean’s watery depths—offered the strong image I needed to represent the power and seriousness of what men and boys are facing. A slight alteration in the spelling, and Malestrom was born. Put simply,

The malestrom is the particular ways in which the fall impacts the male of the human species—causing a man to lose himself, his identity and purpose as a man, and above all to lose sight of God’s original vision for his sons.

These currents can be overt and brutal, leading to the kinds of atrocities and violence we witness in the headlines—wars, school shootings, ISIS beheadings, and the trafficking of men and boys for sex, forced labor, and soldiering. The number of male casualties on the giving and receiving ends of the violence is beyond epidemic. But these currents also come in subtle, even benign forms that catch men unawares yet still rob them of their full humanity as God intended.

The repercussions of such devastating personal losses are not merely disastrous for the men themselves, but catastrophic globally as the world is depleted of the goodness and gifts men were originally designed to offer.

You can read the rest of my interview with Carolyn Custis James on the Red Letter Carpet.

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