Birthing Thoughts About Boaz

Birthing Thoughts About Boaz

“Encouraged” and “blessed” aren’t big enough words to describe what it felt like to receive so many notes/texts/tweets of encouragement yesterday about the piece on Boaz I wrote for Fathom Mag last month. (And it’s not only because Fathom is one of the most thoughtful and beautiful new digital magazines for Christians out there today, and you should read it every month and subscribe and support their hard work.

Can I tell you the bigger reason for my gratitude?

That piece was one of a series of interconnected pieces on Boaz and the book of Ruth that I wrote for publication over the past few months. A complementary piece on being Boaz in the business world came out at TGC today. Another piece about a conversation I had with a total stranger on a plane about Boaz comes out soon in Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

I wrote all three pieces in conjunction with, and as a direct consequence of, a twelve-week study in Biblical hermeneutics my pastor took a small group of women at my church through this summer. I nicknamed it “Hermeneutics Without A Net.”

Each week, we studied a portion of Ruth using different principles of hermeneutics (word studies, macro before micro, Fallen Condition Focus, etc.) We also read through Paul Miller’s “A Loving Life” on the same passage, to test our observations and insights against his. We were also accountable to talk through what we were learning with another woman. Then we would meet together and pastor Josh – (the Best Preacher in America You’ve Never Heard Of™), would walk us through our work, and lead a discussion.

It was, without exaggeration, the best Bible study I’ve ever done.

I’m not saying that as a novice. I’m saying that as a 5th generation preacher’s kid with a degree from the Master’s College (English major, Bible minor), and twenty-plus years of women’s and coed Bible studies under my belt.

It wasn’t easy, at all.  As in, I may have broken a sweat as Josh let us sit in our ignorance over a passage or idea for a little while (before eventually pulling us up and out of it graciously).

It felt a little bit like the feeling I’ve had when I’ve started working out with a trainer after years of doing the same old stuff. Twenty minutes into my first workout I want to die, and the next day I wish I had, because every cell in my body is weeping in agony. But the next week I go back, and after 12 weeks, I’m in better shape than I ever thought possible.

God used that hermeneutics study to break open the book of Ruth to me in a remarkable way (not to mention all of my Bible study since then). I saw the good news of the gospel in it, and experienced its power and its practical implications, in ways I’ll never forget. It’s my favorite book of the Bible now (and probably will be until Josh starts his next class on another book of the Bible. I’m hoping for Hebrews – go big or go home, I say.)

But that’s still not the biggest reason I’m so thankful for yesterday’s response to the fruit from that study.

The greatest reason I’m so thankful is because of the reason the study happened in the first place. Because I had praying for something like it to happen since I read the first piece in this series about women’s discipleship by Thabiti Anyabwile, in 2006.

Of the numerous follow-on topics and conversations that ensued after that series, the one that stuck with me, and prompted my prayers and thinking over the next literal decade, was the principle Thabiti drew out from the beginning of Titus 2 – that in order for older women to teach younger women what is good (Titus 2:3), they need to be taught in accordance with sound doctrine themselves (Titus 2:1), first. And who better to do that, within a local church context, than their own pastors?

And so that’s what I started praying for. And when we moved church campuses two years ago and started sitting under Josh’s preaching, I prayed even harder. (Because, seriously, Best Preacher in America You’ve Never Heard Of ™). Last January, the praying turned into talking, and last summer, the talking turned into a study.

Beyond all that God taught me through the book of Ruth itself, he also affirmed what I had been praying and thinking on and talking through with other women, in the aftermath of Thabiti’s series:  

When pastors intentionally invest in the theological training and maturing of the women in their church, the whole church benefits.

Our group of women benefited, as Josh walked us through the hermeneutical mechanics of study of a text, and turning it into teachable, gospel-rich food for others.

Our pastor benefited, as he gained a new level of insight in how the women in his congregation and communities approach the characters, themes, and arguments of the Bible uniquely as women.

Our church benefited, as we took what we’d been taught and began teaching it to others in our church and social circles.

And the church outside our four small walls has benefited, as the insights we gleaned have made their way onto social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and even a new digital magazine like Fathom. 

If you’re a church pastor or teaching elder, can I invite you to pray about doing something similar with the women in your church? And if you’re a woman involved in women’s ministry, can I invite you to pray about asking one of your pastors to do it?

I promise you that it will bless you, and your church, in ways you don’t yet know.

Advertisements

The Statement the World Needs Most

The Statement the World Needs Most

“What is a human being, and what does it mean to be one?”

If popular media trends are any indication, people have been asking that question for a very long while, but we’re not satisfied with the answers.  For the last fifty years, Hollywood has been doing a brisk trade  in TV franchises like Doctor Who and Star Trek, and comic book movie universes featuring the Avengers, the Justice League, and the X-Men, selling stories that stoke our imaginations, and haunt our dreams, as they explore the boundaries of what it means to be human.

The surge in interest in science fiction and superheroes stories has happened concurrently with the rise of the Digital Age. Both “Doctor Who” and “Star Trek” rose to popularity in the 1960s, during the first wave of mainframe computing. “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, the spinoff that launched so many others, soared to popular and critical acclaim in the early 1990s, during the building of what Al Gore famously named the “Information Superhighway”. The DC and Marvel comic movie empires grew in the midst of the first Silicon Valley dot-com boom, bust, and recovery, as companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook grew from successful start-ups into the technology monoliths they are today.

This trend can be partially explained by the way technology has infiltrated the way movies and television are made. The more technologically advanced the story telling is, the more convincingly real the stories become.

But that’s not the only reason, nor the most important one.

From the invention of the first super computer to the launch of the latest mobile app, the central goal of the technological revolution has been the transcendence of human limits – ones like time, location, and knowledge.  Thanks to the wonder of FaceTime and WiFi, we can talk to someone on the other side of the planet in seconds instead of days. Laptops, tablets, and video conferencing systems let us work anywhere, anytime. The (potential) answer to any question is as close as the click of a mouse. And if bad weather and crazed children have you cursing the limits of time, space and knowledge, collectively, just ask AlexaShe’ll have 45 minutes of peace and quiet delivered to your door in a matter of hours.

But not all of our limitations are so easily surmounted.

The most enduring limits of our human state involve our bodily capabilities and the raw materials with which we exercise them.  Our physical, mental, and emotional capacities are all subjected to the vagaries of our environment, circumstances, genetics, disease, and disaster. No matter how fully we ever realize our potential, it eventually diminishes and dies, gradually, or in a single, terrible instant.

There isn’t an app for fixing that, at least not yet.

It’s the combined intractability and universality of these limits that produces cheers, and tears of wonder, each time technology helps us get one step closer to conquering one of them. Whether it’s an artificial heart or pancreas or womb, a brain implant that restores hearing or stills seizures, or an exoskeleton that helps a paraplegic walk – nothing is more thrilling than seeing the limits of our bodily brokenness overcome.

This is the place where worldviews collide, and divide.

According to secular humanism (the dominant ideology of technology industry leaders and workers), humans are uniquely evolved organic matter, possessing an intricate blend of features and flaws. The boundaries of our bodies are fluid. We are eminently malleable, and infinitely upgradeable. The meaning of our humanity is as variable a construct as its substance.

The Bible says differently.

The Bible says that humans are wondrously made in the image and likeness of God (Psalm 139:13-16),(Genesis 1:26).  Because of this, all of the boundaries of our humanity have meaning, and none of them are neutral.  Many of those boundaries are “as designed”. They display God’s character (Genesis 1:31). They enable us to serve each other as we fulfill God’s creation mandate (1 Corinthians 12:14-27). They demonstrably display the differences between the Maker and the made (Psalm 121:4).

Many others are the consequence of our fallenness (Romans 3:9-19), or the fallenness of the world in which we live. (Proverbs 13:23)  The common grace of our God-reflecting desire to rescue and heal, and our capacity to create, and the particular grace of the work of the Holy Spirit, help us retrace the boundaries of our humanity more closely over God’s design in some ways.  But we are utterly incapable of doing it completely, nor were we ever made to.

That work can only be done by Jesus.

Jesus was with God at the beginning (John 1:2), forming living being from dust, and life-bearer from living being (Genesis 2:7, 21-22). In his incarnation, the limitless one took on human limits (Philippians 2:6-8), living perfectly within them on our behalf. Then he submitted himself to humanity’s greatest limit in death, shattering its hold on us through his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:55-56).

Sin is what causes us to see the different boundaries of our humanity – our ethnicity, our socioeconomic status, our gender,  – as tools to divide and oppress.

Jesus is the one who covers that sin, not by erasing our boundaries, but by redeeming them, and uniting all of us, as human beings, in him.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

This is the statement the world needs the most. The one it keeps asking for. The one the church still hasn’t written.

For all of its good intentions, the Nashville statement answers questions the world thinks it already has answers for, without sufficiently addressing the ones the world knows that it doesn’t. They are questions the world has been asking for years, ones the church has largely overlooked.

And while the world continues its quest for answers, Silicon Valley has been steadily, effectively reframing the question.

“What is a human being, and what does it mean to be one?”

We’re living in an era of unprecedented human transformation. Does the question really matter that much?

 

On Stumbling Over Statements

On Stumbling Over Statements

This morning on The Briefing, Al Mohler proposed that people’s responses to the Nashville Statement would fall into one of at least four categories:

  1. Those certain of its rightness, who would be committed to outspokenly supporting it.
  2. Those reticent about its rightness, who would be uncomfortable saying it.
  3. Those uncertain about its rightness, without yet knowing why, who would be uncomfortable saying it.
  4. Those certain of its wrongness, who would be determined to repudiate it.

I’d like to humbly propose adding a 5th, one that might change the way we consider the other 4:

  1. Those concerned that its rightness in some aspects, is so overshadowed by its wrongness in others, that it’s impossible to support, in its current form.

This is the group in which I find myself.

It’s important to note the variety of points of disagreement people in this group have raised, as well as the their number:

It’s also important to note how many of the people in the group offering up some, or all, of these points of concern, agree with the statement’s basic assertions about sexuality and marriage,and most essentially, with the affirmation and proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ with which the statement ends. (No one that I know of in this group is offering up anything about Article 14 other than “Amen and Maranatha”.)

In other word, this group is not comprised of the usual suspects who drag their soapboxes out anytime the letters LGBTQ start trending on Twitter (although, yes, they’ve shown up this time as well).

These are faithful brothers and sisters of the household of God, whose collective public work, and personal testimonies, make their concerns worthy of consideration.

The preamble of the Nashville Statement asserts that Western culture is in a season of “massive revision of what it means to be a human being.” On this point, almost everyone, from the statement’s ardent supporters, to its angriest critics, are potentially agreed.

A statement that began there, then proceeded from it, could do much clarifying good.

But in its current form, the Nashville Statement seems to be the equivalent of a brick path that’s been unevenly laid down. When so many committed, thoughtful Christians are stumbling over it, it would be judicious to examine the way the bricks were placed, not just assume the only problem is that people aren’t looking where they’re going.

On Forgiveness and the Corporate “Family”

I’ve never watched “The Apprentice.” The fact that the star of the show is now the President of the United States hasn’t made me any more inclined to watch it. But I’m familiar with the show’s famous tagline, and I occasionally use it with my daughters, because it reinforces one of our family’s most sacred values, one that is the very heartbeat of the gospel.

Whenever one of my girls has legitimately dropped a logistical or behavioral ball – carelessly broken something, not followed through on a task they owned, said something disrespectful to me – and they’re genuinely remorseful and asking for forgiveness, after granting it, I look them in the eye lovingly and say “You’re fired.” They respond as they should, and do, with a rueful giggle, and maybe roll of the eyes. They know I’m joking. They know, to the depth of their souls, that there is nothing they can ever do that can separate them from my love. At least, that’s what I’m teaching them.

We’re a family. Family doesn’t fire each other. Family forgives.

It also repents, and makes restitution, and builds boundaries, and lays down paths, so that each family member in it grows into the human being God created them to be. But all along the way, it forgives.

Companies in my city are increasingly fond of not just self-identifying as a family, but of setting up structures and perks to persuade current and potential employees that they are one. From three meals a day, exercise facilities and after-hours activities, to onsite medical clinics and daycare, Silicon Valley companies go to extreme lengths to telegraph care for their employees’ needs to enable their optimal contribution and commitment.

Few companies take this concept as far as Google. Ironically, their standout benefits all have to do with employees’ nuclear families.  Parental leave is generous – 18 weeks for moms, 6 weeks for dads. (Do I dare note the inequity in that? Hold that thought.) They even throw in “baby bonding bucks” – a bonus to cover diapers, formula and the plethora of other needs new parenting creates. Should tragedy strike and a Google employee dies, the surviving spouse gets 50% of the Google employee’s salary for 10 years, their children younger than 19 receive $1000 a month each, and all of their stock options vest immediately. Then again, if you’re a woman concerned that your biological clock is ticking too fast while you’re trying to establish your career, Google will help you pay to freeze your eggs to delay family building altogether, indefinitely.

As nice as this all might sound, this week, one Google employee learned a hard lesson about the limits of the Silicon Valley corporate definition of family.

Google has been one of a number of Silicon Valley companies struggling recently under a weight of allegations of varying types of discrimination against women – from unequal pay, to disproportionate representation in leadership, to various hostile work environment behaviors. For the past three years, Google has been working to actively address the imbalances, spending in excess of $250M in recruitment efforts to build a more diverse workforce.

But it’s not working.

Last Friday, one of Google’s own (a “Googler”, to borrow the Google term) wrote a ten-page internal memo to try to do his Googley part to help solve the problem.

In the memo, the engineer (now identified at as James Damore) asserted that part of Google’s challenges with diversity stem from observable disparities in aptitudes and interests between men and women that scientific studies indicate are traceable, in part, to biology. Consequently, he asserts, Google should not be striving for absolute equal representation. They should, though, work to narrow the gender gap by creating policies that both acknowledge and account for generalized gender differences -e.g.  make engineering more people-oriented and collaborative – while continuing to resist tribalism in viewing both men and women as individuals, rather than uniform members of a group. (His most thought-provoking and regrettably overlooked suggestion? Addressing the current inflexibility in the male gender role.)


Damore works hard to make his intentions clear – he observes a problem inside his company, he wants to help solve it, he wants Google to succeed. That feels like a worthy goal for anyone who identifies as a Googler. Notably, he acknowledges that biases and blind spots are universal, which means he himself is likely to possess some, and thus is looking to promote dialog and discussion as a means of collective growth. Nevertheless, he framed his assertions, conclusions, and recommendations in ways that guaranteed the merits of his arguments would be ignored, subsumed as they were in a sea of generalizations and inflammatory phrasing.

In the name of doing something Damore thought was in line with Google’s family values, Damore dropped not just one ball, but a whole bunch of them. The question became how Google was going to respond.

Later that same day, Google’s new Vice President of Diversity, Integrity and Governance sent out an internal memo stating that Damore’s manifesto “…advanced incorrect assumptions about gender….it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes, or encourages.” By the end of the day, Damore confirmed that he’d been fired.

Yesterday, Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai,  sent out yet another memo, in which he asserted that “to suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.” Damore’s manifesto actually concurs with this assertion, and some of its arguments are centered on ways to counteract that issue. Nevertheless, Pichai notes that as a result of the memo, some groups within Google are hurting and feeling judged. Consequently, Pichai states, he’s cutting his own family vacation in Europe short to come back to Google to help continue to steer the conversations.

When the story first broke, it triggered some vivid memories about time I myself sent off an email at work that got me in some temporary hot water (although not fired). The experience left a sufficient impression on me that, years later, when someone who worked for me did the same thing, I intervened on his behalf to mitigate the consequences.

I’ve read that those kind of empathetic impulses are more attributable to women. Perhaps that explains Damore’s recommendaton in his manifesto that Google de-emphasize empathy as a corporate value. And given Google’s still problematically male leadership, it perhaps also explains why they de-emphasized empathy in their treatment of Damore, and just stuck with the facts as they interpreted them.

The cycle of commentary on Google’s response, and the underlying issues that triggered it, don’t show any signs of slowing down. In the meantime,  James Damore is free to spend as much time with his own family as he would like.

One other than Google, that is.