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.

Between Heartache and Hope (or, How Hermeneutics Done Well Is Good For Your Soul)

I recently finished the fourth week of the hermeneutics class that my pastor, Josh, has been leading for a small group of women at my church, and it’s been the bomb-diggity. (Josh once commented in passing that “Paul was straight up gangster”, so I’m just following his lead with the hipster speak.)

Part of the reason I’m loving this class so much is its structure. Josh is walking us through a book of the Bible (Ruth), and teaching us one or two hermeneutical principles with each section we study. We then compare our own study with a someone else’s (in this case, Paul Miller’s solid work “A Loving Life”), to strengthen our ability to test an outside author’s examination of a text against the hermeneutical principles we’re learning. The final step is a discussion about a discipleship relationship we’re accountable to pursue, to apply what we’re learning in our shepherding of other women.between-heartache-and-hope-e1499990129737.jpg

Like I said, bomb to the digitty.

Truth be told, I didn’t drive to last week’s study last night brimming with hope over what God was going to teach us. God had been walking me through some trials that had me identifying with Naomi way more than I had anticipated. I was emotionally drained and spiritually empty. This was a humbling irony given I that was the one who had been asking for and praying for this class to happen for a solid six months. I was dragging myself to the study on commitment autopilot, with my mind and heart overfull with the cares and disappointments of the last several months, and it all felt wrong.

The exercise we’d been assigned that week was one of fitting micro and macro together. We were to read through Ruth in its entirety several times, asking ourselves how the last four verses in chapter 1 fit into the arc of the entire narrative. I had been immediately drawn to the way this final set of verses passage acted as the completion of the circle begun in the first verses. In the first five verses of chapter one, Naomi had left famine-stricken Bethlehem with a husband and two sons. In the last four verses, she was returning with none of them.

“She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21 ESV)

Naomi’s words summarized her interpretation of all that had transpired up to that point; she had left Bethlehem full and was returning empty, all at the hands of the LORD. But the author’s closing comment about the barley harvest gives us a window into what Naomi could not yet see, and what would unfold in the next chapter. I thought this was the insight Josh was wanting us to see.

It took about twenty minutes of discussion and guidance from Josh to unpack how much deeper this section really goes.

The book of Ruth concludes with a group of women speaking over Naomi words that stand in contrast to Naomi’s words at the end of chapter 1. The blessings the women describe extend far beyond Naomi personally. What the LORD did for and through Naomi was something that had begun long before her, through the line of her new son-in law’s ancestor Perez, who himself was born out of the aftermath of a whole-scale family collapse. And it would continue long after her, through the lineage of her grandson to David, and from David to Jesus. And from Jesus to the entire world.

“Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:14-17 ESV)

All of this was foreshadowed in the last verse of chapter 1.


Naomi believed she was coming home bereft of everything that signified God’s blessing and care for her. What she couldn’t see was how God was already preparing her, and the generations who would follow her, for blessings that were even greater than the ones she had lost. The seeds of the blessings God was preparing to pour out on and through Naomi, had been planted in the soil of her present trials, and were already beginning to grow. She just couldn’t see them yet.

In many ways, Naomi was looking at her circumstances the way her ancestor Eve had looked at hers. Naomi was focussing on what she had lost, and not what she had. But unlike Eve, Naomi chose not to turn her heart away from God. She turned towards Him as best as she was able – to His land and His people. And in doing so, she placed herself exactly where she needed to be for God to do abundantly beyond what she could have asked or thought.

God had been at work for Naomi’s good, and our good, all along.  The hard things of chapter 1 and the blessings of chapter 4 were inextricably linked. They always are.

There is no resurrection without death.

You would have had to be there to witness the way Josh let us sit with our various initial impressions and thoughts, before leading us to, and through, the words of Naomi’s friends in chapter 4. He took his time. There were uncomfortable silences. If brains could sweat, ours surely were.

As Josh finally lead us through the parallelisms between Naomi’s words in chapter 1, and the words of the women in chapter 4, it was as though the Holy Spirit superimposed my name onto Naomi’s. I could see the trajectory of my heart, and I could see how God was calling me to respond.  I could see Him – His trustworthiness, His mercy, and His deep, deep love.

And so my thoughts on my drive away from the study were entirely different from the ones I had had on the way there.

Beyond the way God had worked in my own heart, I was struck afresh by the process God had followed to do it, and what that meant when it comes to the discipline of Bible study and principles of hermeneutics. I’ve read the book of Ruth countless times. I’m familiar with the way it is often taught to women, with all of its drama and romance and relatable characters. I’ve heard the “Waiting for Your Boaz” and the “Living Like Ruth” sermons, and rolled my eyes through most of them. Shallow wading through the surface of the book of Ruth yields shallow, and narrow, insights. But weeks spent in deep, directed study, grounded in tried and true principles of biblical exposition, that reveal the character and the work of God, has yielded fruit that has been nourishing and strengthening my soul, and changing the way I think and act.

I was raised in a tradition that valued training in doctrine and hermeneutics as ends in themselves, and I’ve got the scars to show for it. But this week I was reminded anew of how hermeneutics done right, as a means to the highest and best end of knowing God in a way that changes you, is truly good for the soul.

*Since so many of you had asked,  my pastor gladly permitted me to share the syllabus and notes from the initial session he wrote. From scratch.

Seriously – Bomb.Dig.Git.Ty.

If you end up using/leveraging them, and they’re a blessing to you or your church, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to let him know in as many ways as possible how much this ministry is a needed blessing.

Womens Equipping Syllabus

Women_s Equipping Session 1

When Trials Come, Then Go, Then Come Back (Hannah – Part Two)

When Trials Come, Then Go, Then Come Back (Hannah – Part Two)

I’ve read a lot of pastoral and scholarly treatments on 1 Samuel 2 that dive directly into the depths of Hannah’s prayer; I haven’t read so many that consider the significance of its timing. Hannah’s words of prayerful exultation don’t occur when she first finds out she’s pregnant, as with Mary’s. Nor do they happen just after she’s given birth, like Eve. Hannah’s prayer occurs several years after God has answered her previous prayer in giving her a son, when she’s preparing to honor her vow to God and give her son back.

In “Through His Eyes – God’s Perspective on Women in the Bible”, Jerram Barrs asserts that, through Hannah’s words, “we come to believe that Hannah gives up Samuel to Eli joyfully” (165). Later, he characterizes it, in contrast to her earlier prayer,  as a “song of happiness” (166), a notion at which I arched one highly skeptical, perfectly sculpted lady eyebrow when I first read it.

Two years after I had cried myself to sleep over my singleness after my best friend’s wedding, I had finally walked down the aisle at my own, and  was now laying in a hospital bed in the maternity ward, gazing at my new  baby girl as she slept in a warm, padded crib next to me.

For the first nine months of her life, my daughter had lived under my heart, her body literally tethered to mine. For 24 hours a day, my body had given itself over completely to nourishing, strengthening, and protecting hers. Then the day came when my body pushed hers out into the world and away from mine. Now she slept, in peaceful vulnerability, all by herself.

My daughter was barely six inches away from me, but it felt like sixty miles. It was as though a piece of my heart had been torn from me and was clinging stubbornly to hers, still beating. The feeling faded with time, but has never entirely disappeared.

With each milestone of separation and independence that followed (for her and the two sisters who came after her) – the first night at home in her own crib,  the first morning at preschool, the first sleepover, the first boy-girl party, the first driving lesson – it would return. If you ask most women with children, they’ll describe something similar –  that whenever our children are out of the protective reach of our eyes and our arms, a piece of our heart goes with them.

The environment in which Hannah was leaving her barely preschool aged son was not one that was exactly primed for being raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Samuel  was being handed over to the custody of a passive old man with failing eyesight, and his two grown sons who treated the house of God like their personal party palace. Aspirational models of biblical manhood they most certainly weren’t.

And let’s not forget the situation to which Hannah would be returning, after she pried her beloved son’s arms from her neck and and travelled back home to Ramah without him. We can hope that Peninah’s taunting might have abated in the wake of Samuel’s birth. But the noisy presence of her children would have served as a continual reminder of the son Hannah could see and hold only once a year. And Elkanah, the husband who could have intervened but didn’t, would probably have continued in his clueless confusion over why his wife was still crying.

It’s no wonder modern Bible translators go back and forth on whether Hannah says she is really giving her son back to God, or if he’s just on loan.

However much joy Hannah expresses in the opening lines of her prayer, it was most certainly a joy mixed with tears. But in this way, Hannah’s prayer models the attitude Paul exhorts the Corinthians to pursue in 2 Corinthians 6:2-10 of rejoicing in the midst of sorrow.  Hannah’s words are the words of a woman who has learned through experience how to bear up under the trials and tribulations of life, not by pretending they don’t exist, nor by giving in to despair, but by leaning fully and continually on the One who has been sovereign over them.

The LORD is wiser and stronger than any adversary. (1 Sam. 2:1,3,10)

All the world’s resources in avoiding or overcoming adversity – strength, riches, power – are His. He grants them, and withholds them, as He sees fit. (1 Sam. 2:4-8)

The power over life and death is His. (1 Sam. 2:6)

All He requires is our faithfulness. (1 Sam. 2:9)

God had proven Himself faithful to Hannah in the trials of her past. He would be equally faithful to her, and to her son, in the future.

Hannah’s prayer is the prayer any of us can pray whenever we are standing in between God’s deliverance from adversity or trials in our past, and the prospect of adversity overshadowing our future.

When the job offer finally comes, or the abusive boss moves on.

When the medical report reads“negative”, or the pregnancy test reads “positive”.

When an LEO husband comes home safely from his shift.

Or an African American son comes home safely from a party.

When the job offer hasn’t come, and the abusive boss is still there.

When the medical report reads “positive”, or the next pregnancy test reads “negative”.

When your husband is deployed into combat, or your wife is being wheeled into brain surgery.

When your child starts preschool, or public school, or college on the other side of the country.

As you drive away from the rehab center, the prison, or the cemetery.

As a white woman hugs her husband or son goodbye before he drives to work.

As an African American woman does the same.

Through Hannah’s prayers, and what God both before and after them, we see how God was working to do abundantly beyond what Hannah could ever ask or think. In time, God blessed Hannah with other sons and daughters. But He did so much more than that.

The  son Hannah had given to God, grew up to anoint the king through which an even greater King, the promised Messiah, would come. In his incarnation, life, death and resurrection, Jesus experienced everything to which Hannah testified. He suffered weakness, poverty, hunger, and persecution.  He lived a fully human life of perfect faithfulness to God.  He laid his life down and subjected himself to death. And now He sits, exalted, at God’s right hand, preparing to return to judge the earth and make all things new.

Hannah’s prayer models a way of praying over, singing about, and talking about God’s sovereignty and care in the midst of all of our circumstances –  past, present, and future – because of the One who reigns over them all.

 

When Words Fail (Hannah – Part 1)

Awake, O Sleepers

Awake, O Sleepers

I was sitting in an air-conditioned hotel room in Little Rock, Arkansas, as Philando Castile sat bleeding to death in his car. I was getting ready for an important day of meetings, and I’d put myself on strict social-media lockdown to stay focussed. So it wasn’t until the following afternoon, when my meetings were over and I was in the back of an Uber car, driving through the thick Arkansas humidity back to the cool comfort of my hotel, that I finally read the news.

Being away from home meant I was free to read longer, and more in depth than I otherwise would have that night. I had spent part of my travel time out to Little Rock reading about the death of Alton Sterling, which had happened just one day earlier. The customary cycle of commentating and social media back and forthing about Sterling’s death between my longtime white community of friends, and my growing community of African American friends, had barely abated. Now a new cycle was starting before the previous one had even slowed down. It was almost too much for my mind to process, or my soul to bear.

The next day, I had  three hours before I needed to be at Clinton Airport for my flight back to San Jose. I noticed that my route to the airport would take me past a high school that was designated as a National Historic Landmark. My curiosity was piqued – could anything historically significant come out of Arkansas? A couple of clicks laid my ignorance bare. With all the questions swirling in my mind in the aftermath of Philando Castile’s death, it seemed providential that I just happened to be four miles away from one place that might offer some answers. I decided I should visit.

Little Rock Central High School was the school of the “Little Rock Nine” – the three African American boys and six African American girls who were the first black students to attend one of the largest and most highly regarded all-white schools in America, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954. That ruling declared that “separate but equal” segregated education was a violation of the 14th amendment of the Constitution. But Arkansas civic leaders were determined to ignore the ruling, and maintain the racially segregated status quo.

When the NAACP helped register the nine students before the beginning of the 1957 school year, Arkansas Governor Faubus deployed the Arkansas National Guard to forcibly prevent the students from entering the school on the first day of class. President Eisenhower then sent in the 101st Airborne Division to force the Arkansas National Guard to stand down, and ensure that the nine students would be escorted in safely.

For nine months, the Little Rock Nine attended classes under the presumably protective watch of the 101st Airborne Division. But the reality of what they experienced was almost unimaginable. They suffered relentless psychological torture and physical abuse by students. Teachers and administrators ignored their pleas for help. The soldiers and other law enforcement agencies who were their security detail did little beyond what they had been forcibly ordered by the Federal government to keep them physically protected.

Several of them finished high school elsewhere, but the majority endured, and eventually graduated. Little Rock Central High School was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1982. In 1999, the Little Rock Nine were awarded Congressional Medals of Honor, the highest offer given to civilian American citizens, in recognition of how their courage and  determination, in spite of their youth, catalyzed a nation toward greater awareness and action in the fight for civil rights for African Americans.

I walked into the Visitors’ Center having never heard one word of this chapter in America’s civil rights story.  I had spent my high school years overseas, and my college years at a conservative Christian liberal arts school. Over the past several years, I had grown increasingly uncertain about the scope, and especially the slant, of my understanding of American history, let alone the church’s role in it all. But I didn’t know yet how much I didn’t know.

The LRCHS Visitors’ Center sits diagonally across from the still-operating school. A collection of exhibits are positioned strategically near large windows, so you can see the school and its sidewalks in the near distance, and envision the dramatic events unfolding as you learn about them.

The entire center is riveting, but it was the moments I spent standing in front of this picture of Elizabeth Eckford  that I’ll never forget.

220px-Little_Rock_Desegregation_1957

She is walking away from her new school after being turned away from the entrance by the Arkansas National Guard. The picture stands in the exact middle of the center. On a wall to its left are quotes from judges and politicians, referencing landmark rulings and arguments in the years leading up to that day, some of them referencing God or the Bible.  To its right, only slightly further away,  is another enlarged photograph, this one of Emmett Till’s mother gazing at the mutilated face of her son as he lays in an open coffin. Also close by is an exhibit dedicated to the role of the  new media of television in bringing this event directly into the living rooms of ordinary Americans.

The tapestry of thoughts that ran through my mind as I took in that scene were woven from the innumerable threads of providence that brought me to stand in front of it. My oldest daughter was the same age that Elizabeth Eckford was then. My middle daughter was the same age as Emmett Till was when he was lynched.  The white woman with the face contorted in rage resembled any number of the women at my youngest daughter’s private Christian school (including me).  I gazed at the passive faces of the military officers in the background, and at the adjacent pictures of television newscasters delivering live commentary from nearby sidewalk corners. With the morning media coverage of Diamond Reynold’s horrifying commentary recorded on her iPhone and posted on Facebook so fresh on my mind, it suddenly became crystal clear how the same confluence of factors at work in America in 1957, were working themselves out in identical ways in America in (then) 2016.

Before I headed to the airport, I stopped at the gift shop and bought books for each of my daughters, and one for myself titled “Warriors Don’t Cry”. An autobiography of another of the Little Rock Nine named Melba Beals, it reads like the memoir of a survivor of a POW camp. Tears streamed down my face, unchecked, as I read it from cover to cover on the flight home.

All of the same themes I had observed  in the Visitors’ Center as I stood in front of Elizabeth Eckford’s picture, repeated themselves in Melba Beals’ story:

  • The institutional entrenchment of unjust laws and abusive authority structures, buttressed by Biblical language and ideological blackmail
    In the aftermath of the Civil War, the battle for the segregated South shifted to America’s institutions – law courts, schools, police forces, and churches.
  • The prophetic power of visual media
    Mamie Mobley insistence that her son’s casket be left open so that as many people as possible would be confronted by the horror of his death lead to the picture that was the visual spark that ignited the Civil Rights movement in earnest.
    REAL_CHICAGO_1950_S_3519509
    Two years later, ordinary citizens watched history unfold via the televisions in their living rooms, as the Little Rock Nine made their way home through an epithet- spewing mob via the new media of live television.
  • The unfathomable courage and resolve of black women (many of them Christians)
    From the mothers and grandmothers of the Little Rock Nine and their advocates like NAACP chapter president Daisy Bates, to women like Mamie Till, Rosa Parks, JoAnn Robinson and others, black women both endured and resisted immense political and personal pressure to push forward the work of racial equality and justice for African Americans
  • The passive (and active) complicity of white Christians
    Judges, politicians and pastors deployed Biblical language and theological arguments as offensive weapons against integration. Professing Christians absorbed them, and embraced entrenched racism and segregation as “biblical”. Christian dissenters and desegregation advocates were marginalized, labelled as liberals or heretics, so that many ordinary Christians capitulated to pressure to remain silent in the name of keeping peace.

Those themes have emerged yet again this past week in the aftermath of Officer Jeronimo Yanez’s acquittal in Philando Castile’s death, as new video and still images of the incident and its aftermath, and commentary on it, are rolling through social media.*

Whatever thinking, reading, writing, and social media interacting I’ve done on topic of the gospel and racial reconciliation since then was birthed from what God did in my mind and heart over those two days in Little Rock, Arkansas.

The term some groups use to describe my experience is being “woke”: the scales of ignorance have permanently fallen from my eyes so that I now see what African Americans have been testifying to for so long. It’s not a term I’m comfortable using. Wobbly grammar aside, I don’t know that it’s the most appropriate term culturally for a forty-something white lady from Silicon Valley to adopt for herself.  But beyond that, it’s the way many people treat “wokeness” as a binary state – one in which you live completely, or not at all –  that prevents me from embracing it, at least for myself.

My evolving understanding, and awkward, imperfect attempts to speak and act consistently with the gospel in all this feels more akin to how Neo felt in the famous red pill/blue pill scene in The Matrix. 

I’m barely beyond the disorientation of waking up, covered in the slime of my ignorance, surrounded by a legion of others still unconscious. Gracious new friends are helping me build muscles atrophied from lack of use. My eyes hurt, because I’ve never used them before. And that’s about as far as it feels like I’ve come.  

As I’ve lurched and stumbled through dialog about race and the gospel in the digital world of social media, and the personal world of my local church contexts (both the one I’m in now and well as ones from previous seasons of life), I’ve found myself in the same place as other white Christians in times past.  I’ve experienced the subtle, and unsubtle, criticism and distancing by other white Christians, and heard the suggestions that I’ve “gone liberal” and fallen in with the so-called gospel-diluting “SJW”s. I’ve felt the tiny stings of  social media unfollowing and mutings, when I’ve shared stories in the hopes others might finally be persuaded in the same way that stories persuaded me. Remembering the immeasurably worse my black sisters have endured, and continue to endure, convicts me when I’m tempted to silence, and simply spurs me to ask God to increase my faith and give me courage like theirs.

A different hurt comes from a place my reading hadn’t lead me to expect.  When white Christians like me take a step forward in advocating for racial reconciliation or restitution, whether a small one on social media, or a slightly bigger one involving collective action, our attempts are sometimes met by some black Christians with cynicism, judgement, or a barrage of “so what are you going to do right now”s and “not enough”s. When you’ve discovered that some of the pillars of your understanding of the gospel are rotten, and you’re doing your uneducated best to replace them, the extra burden of law and guilt we’re given to wear weighs us down,  and tempts us to quit. Remembering the far worse burdens my black brothers and sisters have borne for centuries without quitting, and the gospel of grace which gives all of our burdens to Jesus, spurs me to keep going anyway.

The lament over the acquittal of Philando Castile’s killer was the biggest and loudest by Christians I’ve yet observed. It gives me hope that we may be living in what future generations of Christians might look back on as the real Great Awakening of the American church.

But it will require many more Christians to embrace the gospel in asking for God to reveal our blindness, to take the sins He reveals of our collective indifference, willful ignorance, and complicitness to the foot of the cross and leave them there,

and then ask Him to give us the grace to speak, and to act,  precisely because so many generations of our forefathers and mothers would not.

“The LORD loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.” (Psalm 33:5)

“The LORD stands at the right hand of the needy one,
to save him from those who condemn his soul to death.” (Psalm 109:31)

 

*I’ve declined to include the video or still images of Philando Castile’s death, to respect both the African American community who are so constantly traumatized by these images, and the LEO community struggling to work under the dark shadow the unrighteous acts by some cast over the honorable and sacrificial service of the rest.

When Words Fail (Hannah -Part 1)

 

 

I was never one of those girls who dreamt of becoming a mother. I had had a difficult childhood, and I was afraid of duplicating some of what I’d experienced. But the day my Dad told me he thought I’d be a good mom was the day I changed my mind. Verbal affirmation had never been high on my Dad’s list of love languages. That’s probably why the memory of him telling me that is so vivid, some thirty years after he said it. I had never longed to be a mom, but I had always longed for my father’s approval. So from that day forward, motherhood became a much more important goal.

That desire only intensified after I enrolled at a Christian college. The ethos of my college placed marriage and motherhood at the pinnacle of God’s calling for women, so we were steered toward and away from fields of study accordingly. Sonstead of pursuing the Business degree I had initially wanted to complete, I majored in English. That was considered a far more relevant field for women who would inevitably be marrying and then staying home to raise their children.

But after I graduated, a series of providences (and serious lack of marriage prospects) lead me into the world of business anyway. I was surprised by how much I loved my work, and how much it “loved” me back in the form of affirmations, promotions, and a generous salary. But endless rounds of bridal showers and wedding invitations, marriage and singleness sermon series, and what I know now was the nagging voice of Satan, drained my heart of contentment and filled it with insecurity.

I had been taught that women who God loved the most, the ones with whom He was most pleased, were the ones to whom He gave husbands and children. I wanted my Heavenly Father’s approval even more than my earthly father’s. With every wedding I attended, as I watched each bride stroll down the aisle past me towards her groom and her new life, the weight of feeling unloved grew steadily heavier. I would come home from the celebrations to the quiet of my apartment, and cry myself to sleep on the twin bed I had slept on since my freshman year, the one I didn’t have the will to replace.

That’s why the Old Testament story of Hannah is one of my favorites.

To the women of Hannah’s day, the “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage” playground rhyme of my childhood would have sounded even more unusual back then. In the Old Testament era, love didn’t come first – family did.

Marriages were arranged by fathers (albeit sometimes with a daughter’s consent), with the goal to strengthening family ties and extending the family line. A wife’s greatest contribution to her family was the production of children, and especially sons. The firstborn son was raised with the expectation that he would inherit the largest portion of his father’s wealth, and with that inheritance he would provide for his mother and the rest of the family after his father died. Thus, sons represented long term security and provision for families, and for wives in particular. They were an Old Testament form of life insurance in an era when women were precluded from providing for themselves.

Women who produced many children, and sons in particular, were believed to be favored by God; women who were infertile were considered to be under God’s judgement.

Husbands whose wives were suffering from infertility usually chose one of two paths – both culturally permissible, but inherently problematic. Husband could have children by one of their wive’s servants, whose offspring would be considered the legal progeny of the infertile wife. The second option was to marry a second wife and hope to have children by her.

Women who were married solely for their procreative potential would have been vulnerable to mistreatment, so the law of Moses made particular provision for them. It required that if a man had children by multiple wives, he was to recognize his firstborn son as his heir, regardless of his feelings for the woman who bore him.

These were the dynamics in which Hannah found herself. Hannah’s protracted infertility was the probable reason Elkanah had married his second wife, Peninnah. Peninnah had given Elkanah the sons and daughters Hannah could not, but that had done nothing to elevate her standing in Elkanah’s eyes, at least in comparison with Hannah.

If the common translation of 1 Sam. 1:5 is accurate, Elkanah’s insistence on giving childless Hannah a double portion of the sacrifice, instead of Peninnah’s son, telegraphed his favoritism loud and clear. Anyone who’s ever experienced the heartbreak of a lack of affection from a spouse, or the righteous indignation of a son or daughter being denied something they’re rightfully owed, (let alone both at the same time!) can understand how Peninnah was stumbled into bitterness over her “rival’s” place in her husband’s affections, and why she succumbed to the temptation to fight back.

Conventional wisdom argues that men are the sex more prone to fighting and aggression. I’ve got one sister, and four years of experience attending a private girls’ high school as a charity case amongst the daughters of the rich and powerful that argues otherwise. Peninah’s behavior reminds us that men may fight with their fists, but women fight with words. Ask me, or any of the girls I grew up around, which hurts more, and  which scars last longer.

Peninnah perhaps wept privately over her position as the unloved wife. But in public, she could surround herself with tiny towheaded symbols of God’s love and provision for her, and wage war on her rival’s heart. Hannah was having her day now, but one day, when Elkanah died, Peninnah would have hers. Peninnah wasn’t going to let Hannah forget it.

That Peninnah times her verbal assaults to coincide with family’s annual pilgrimage to Shiloh to worship and offer sacrifices to God, speaks to how determined she is to blister her rival’s heart with the blowtorch of her tongue. Hannah’s response show how well she succeeded. The language of 1 Samuel 1, especially when read in multiple translations, depicts a woman who is wrestling in both body and soul to bear up under the weight of deep emotional pain.

There is a tragic irony in the fact that the two men most accountable to God for Hannah’s welfare, demonstrate an inability to see or understand her distress, let alone seek to mitigate it.

Elkanah’s leading his family to the temple regularly to offer sacrifices indicates a measure of spiritual faithfulness, and his expressions of love for Hannah seem sincere. But both are belied by his obliviousness to the legal and cultural dynamics which are both the reason for Hannah’s distress, and the means by which it could be alleviated. Elkanah has apparently declined to try to have children with one of Hannah’s servants, children who would have been considered her own. He flouts the spirit of inheritance laws (and escalates the friction between the two women) by giving a double portion of sacrifice to Hannah instead of to Peninnah’s son. And when God finally does give Hannah a son, and Hannah tells Elkanah about her vow, Elkanah fails to avail himself of his legal right as her husband to nullify it, so that Hannah could keep her son with her- a visible, symbolic assurance of God’s favor and promise of provision.

Elkanah may have loved Hannah, but his love didn’t extend far beyond himself.

Eli’s regard seems similarly shallow.

Eli’s sons were the kind of PKs that give PKs a bad name – literal good for nothings who spent their days misappropriating temple sacrifices and messing around with women. Eli had voiced his disapproval, but other passages make clear his words weren’t much more than spiritual lip service. Eli’s sons’ wickedness warranted swift intervention, not just words.

There are parallels in his conversation with Hannah. Eli observes the impassioned manner of Hannah’s prayer and decides that she’s been drinking too much. (This is hardly the first time he’s observed worshippers behaving badly in God’s house of worship!) Hannah gives him an explanation, but a notably incomplete one. She describes with poignant eloquence the troubled state of her heart, but she doesn’t disclose the reason.

Eli doesn’t apologize for his mistake. He doesn’t ask any probing questions about the cause of Hannah’s “great anxiety and vexation”. He doesn’t offer her any tangible help. He simply wishes her well and invokes God’s generic name to offer what reads like a “good for all occasions” blessing.

For years, Hannah has borne up under the weight of circumstantial suffering and abuse alone, with her sorrow exacerbated as those God has given for her care and protection observe her pain, but do nothing to alleviate it.

What then, of Hannah’s response?

1 Samuel 1 records no returning of verbal evil for Peninnah’s evil, no words of reproach to her husband. And when she leaves Eli’s presence, she’s at peace.

Why?

The answer begins in the first verse of 1 Samuel 2.


 

Previous posts:
Women, Words, and the Word of God

Proverbs, Women, and Words

Women and Words: Eve, the First Woman

And Now, a Brief Word From Our Sponsors

Please excuse a brief professional/promotional interruption on a personal blog – think of this as one of those Viking River Cruise “not a commercial because this is public television but who the heck are are we kidding” commercials that PBS stations play before Downton Abbey starts.

Nine months ago, I joined a boutique sales strategy consulting firm as a solution principal, to help my family deal with the financial insanity that is Silicon Valley living. My firm helps B2B companies execute on their business growth strategies through designing and deploying digital sales playbooks and training. (Apologies for the business-y gobbledygook. If you happen to know what that that’s about, and even better, you’re in sales or marketing leadership for a company who might be in need of our services, let me know!)

The list of reasons this company has been a remarkable providence starts with the fact that it’s lead by committed Christians. It’s been a remarkable and rare blessing to work for a company who strives to manifest the goodness of the Christian faith through the quality of its work and the integrity of its people, and actually does it so well.  It’s also a privilege to be permitted, and even encouraged, to incorporate my other Christian vocations and passions into my work. (I don’t subscribe to the argument that Christians in Silicon Valley experience really overt discrimination yet, but there is a constant subtle pressure to keep your work front and center, and your faith hidden out of the way.)

One of my many passions (because yes,I have a lot of them) is for Christians in business leadership, and especially those in Silicon Valley, to remember and re-center the doctrine of imago dei in how they lead their companies. The dominant ethos of my city and its world-dominating and world-shaping industry is that people are iPhone apps – useful tools to be installed, used, updated as needed, and then deleted when not. The practical expressions of that ethos are everywhere, from the demand to be always-connected to email and always available for meetings or travel, to the “it’s not personal, it’s business” human resources policies which in effect treat people as resources, but not as people.

People struggling under the weight of the oppressive consequences of these values are often the least free to advocate for change, but also the most in need of others to do it on their behalf.

So I’ve started a page on Medium to write about it.

I have 3 goals for the project, and 3 requests of you, my dear readers:

Goals:

  1. To call attention to different implications of imago dei thinking for contemporary American work issues in a way that is not overtly about the gospel, but is deeply informed and motivated by it.
  2. To promote the success of our company and its people as a case study in how faithfulness to imago values (and the God who is at their heart), while its own reward, also inevitably leads to personal and corporate success.
  3. To raise awareness about my company,what we do, and how we do it, to help build its brand, and extend its visibility with prospective client companies.

Requests:

1. Go here to check out the page and  read/share/like/forward/etc.as it’s helpful, particularly on professional network channels like LinkedIn.

2. Speaking of which, please connect with me there. I’m blessed to be in a business that connects me with a lot of great companies looking for great people. If  someone you know is in any of the industries with which we work, and is looking for a job, there’s a possibility I can deploy my spiritual gift of networking to serve you. Conversely, if I happen to see that you’re connected with a company with which we’re working, or hoping to work, I might send a one-time message to you asking for a relevant introduction. I will NOT harass you with multiple requests, nor fill your email or LinkedIn messages with spam. I hate that when it happens to me with a holy hatred; I wouldn’t dare do that to you.

3. Please pray that God would bless this endeavor, for the good of my city, and my company, and well, my family.

Thanks so much!
And now, on to our regularly scheduled programming.

Women Are Not Footnotes in God’s Story

For the last few months, the binding on my ten year old ESV has been slowly giving up maps and index pages one by one, signalling that it was nearing the end of its life. I’ve been a loyal reader of the ESV since its inception in 2001. The recent controversy over its latest revision strategy had me questioning my loyalty, and considering at least looking into other translations, but a sixteen year habit is hard to break.  

On my desk amongst the many books I acquired at TGC has been a shiny new copy of the updated Christian Standard Bible inviting me to take and read. When I recently started the book of Hebrews in my morning devotions, I decided to accept the invitation. Yesterday, my morning reading brought one of the distinguishing features of the CSB into sharp relief, in way that moved me to worshipful tears of thanks.

The introduction of the print version of the CSB uses the helpful term “optimal equivalence” to represent its general translation strategy. It also provides a short summary of its approach to gendered language. A more complete explanation of this approach is on their website. I had read the introduction on the plane ride back from TGC, but not the lengthier explanation. Consequently, when I came to yesterday’s reading in Hebrews 2 and 3, I was  both generally expectant about how the CSB would tackle the passage, but startled at the impact as I read.

Two of the most commonly used Greek words in the New Testament to connote Christian family relationships are “adelphos” and “adelphoi” . Together, they’re used over 500 times throughout the New Testament, and five times in Hebrews 2 and 3 alone. For centuries, these words have been translated as “brothers” or “brethren”,  to represent the English usage that was most common at the time. As with other words like “man” or “mankind”, various strategies have been employed to communicate that these terms are representative of people as a whole –  men and women, brothers and sisters. In many Bible translations, the terms have been translated “as is”, with the onus on the reader to presume that the terms are inclusive of women. Some translations, including the ESV, place the traditional language of “brothers” in the text, and add a footnote that indicates they can be read/interpreted as “brothers and sisters”.

In the CSB, in accordance with their translation philosophy, they put the more inclusive translation of “adelphos/adelphoi” as “brothers and sisters”  into the text directly, with no footnotes. 

Consequently, as I read Hebrews 2 and 3 yesterday, this is what I read (see ironic footnote below):

“That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying, “I will proclaim Your name to My brothers and sisters.” Heb. 2:11-12a

“Therefore, he had to be like his brothers and sisters in every way so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in matters pertaining to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people.” Heb. 2:17

“Therefore, holy brothers and sisters who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.” Heb. 3:1

“Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” Heb. 3:12

 

The CSB translation of Hebrews 2 and 3 reveals with beautiful clarity the way Jesus’ redemptive work has always been for, and on behalf of women, as much as it has been for men.

Jesus is not ashamed to call us sisters. (Heb. 2:11-12a)

In his humanity, Jesus had to be like us, his sisters, to become our merciful and faithful high priest.  (Heb. 2:17)

Women share in the heavenly calling. (Heb. 3:1)

Women share in that calling’s warnings, and its accountabilities. (Heb. 3:12-13)

In the CSB, women are not footnotes in God’s redemptive plan; we’re an integral part of it. Our union with Christ makes us His sisters, and thus sisters to all those, men and women, who are united to Him as well.

It’s not hard to see the positive impact this translation strategy could have on Bible teaching and discipleship, especially in this era of ever-cycling conversation and controversy over complementarianism, transgenderism, the Mike Pence rule, and how to best encourage and steward womens’ voices toward speaking God’s truth in the age of the Internet(2).

That’s why I’ve decided embrace the CSB as the translation I’ll use to study for myself, and for sharing with others, especially with other women. It’s deepened my understanding of the implications of my identity in Christ, not just as a person, but as a woman, and as a sister.

That’s worthy of more than footnoting – it’s worthy of celebration, and worship.


(Footnote – the current online CSB is, well, not nearly as much of a blessing as the translation itself. Rather than be confusing and link to another translation, I’ve just noted the verses as they are in the CSB.)

(2) Added Thursday, April 27, in light of today’s…..spirited….conversation about women in informal ministry, ecclesiology, authority, and orthodoxy.