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)

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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.

Women and Words: Eve, the First Woman

If I’m being honest, Eve’s first recorded words in Genesis 3 are painful for me to read. When Adam’s first words are so beautiful and quite literally perfect, why, I ask myself, aren’t Eve’s the same?

I think part of the answer lies with the one to whom Eve is talking.

It’s easy to read Genesis 3 through 21st century lenses and raise a skeptical eyebrow at the Dr. Doolittle-esque idea of a snake talking to a woman. But when God has just called the whole universe into existence with his words, it seems completely consistent that the creatures He made for His glory might possess some echo of this attribute of their Maker.

The more significant detail in this passage isn’t so much a snake talking to Eve; it’s how, and why, Eve is talking back to the snake.

Genesis 2:4-23 reads like the opening scene in a Disney musical, with its once upon a time beginning, and its lush descriptions of gardens, rivers and gold to set the scene. Moses describes the beautiful way in which God makes Adam his necessary ally- someone who is both like him and not. Adam responds to God’s work with poetic exultation. You can almost hear the music begin to swell into the opening notes of a duet.

But then a third character suddenly breaks into the scene, and the music stops abruptly.

Moses introduces the serpent by calling out what makes him unique, but not in a way that negates the essential truth of what he is. He’s just a beast of the field. His wits may set him apart, but in all other respects he’s just one of the many creatures who move over the earth, over which God called Adam and Eve to rule, together.  So how is Eve drawn so unquestioningly into talking with him as if he’s an equal?  Why aren’t Eve’s first words directed at Adam, about who on God’s green earth this creature is to presume to strike up a conversation with her, uninvited and unintroduced?

The answer lies in his crafty, conversational strategy.

True to Moses’ description, the serpent engages Eve by framing his question in terms that presume upon the things they share in common, even spiritual things.  Both of them were made by God. Both of them have a role to play in God’s creation mandate. What could be more natural, even fruitful, than clarifying conversation between two of God’s creatures about His commands, just to make sure they were both on the same page?

Eve unquestioningly follows the lead of the serpent’s questions. Her answers stretch, and shape, and smooth God’s words until He looks like someone altogether different than who He actually is.

With her words, Eve:

  • puts herself and Adam in front of God, sidestepping His authority.
  • reduces the scope of God’s provision, reducing His generosity.
  • redraws the lines of God’s protection, exaggerating His boundaries.
  • diminishes the scope of God’s transcendence, diluting His glory

all in the space of a single sentence.

The god Eve’s words depict is a god Satan knows how to work with.

Eve’s words form the fatal framework for the lies Satan feeds her, and Adam, and all of us.

That’s why my heart aches when I read Eve’s words in Genesis 3. Because in her words I hear echoes of my own – in every time I’ve put my will ahead of God’s, in every complaint I’ve made over what it seems God has withheld, in every chafing at His protection, in my lust for glory that robs God of His.

The bitter consequences of Eve’s words, and all of ours like them, are what makes Jesus’ words in Luke 4:1-13 all the sweeter.

Several thousand years after Satan meets Eve in a garden, he meets Jesus in the wilderness. He deploys the very same strategies he used with Eve (Satan may be crafty, but he’s hardly creative), questioning authority, testing God’s boundaries, proffering power he doesn’t possess in exchange for the worship he continually craves.

But where Eve succumbed, Jesus prevails.

In the wilderness, Jesus, the Living Word, speaks over Eve’s words with the word of the living God.

  • Where Eve’s words set aside God’s authority, Jesus’ words submitted to it.
  • Where Eve’s words dismissed God’s provision, Jesus’ words rests in it.
  • Where Eve’s words rebelled against God’s boundaries, Jesus’ words revered them.

Eve’s words were the beginning of humanity’s undoing; Jesus’ words were the beginning of its rescue.

With His words, the second Adam spoke with perfection where Eve, and I, have not. And with His words, He modeled for me, and for all of us, the kind of speech that crushes the crafty serpent into the dust – speech that centers itself on the words of God, and the worship of God, all for the glory of God.

Ladies, Truth, and Tables

Last summer, some Reformed lady friends and I stirred up some spirited conversation about troubling teaching concerning extra-biblical prescriptions for gender roles, originating from a questionable understanding of the Trinity. Last week, some more Reformed ladies stirred the conversation up again. The differences between the responses our groups received says much about how far the conversation about women’s engagement in church life and ministry has come, but also how far we still have to go.

Several years ago now, a loosely affiliated cohort of Reformed women began writing about the topic of gender roles and the Trinity from a number of different angles, based on what we we were observing and experiencing in women’s ministry in our various denominational contexts. The topics included:

  • Genesis 1 through 3, imago Dei, and its expressions in maleness and femaleness
  • Differing foundational descriptions of maleness and femaleness – specifically, headship and submission as ontological categories of being, or as temporal functions related to specific roles
  • Marriage as an expression of the gospel, vs. as the expression of the gospel
  • Differing convictions on the nature of the relationship between the members of the Trinity (ESS/EFS), how those convictions influence perspectives on the issues above, and the articulation of those positions in books, Bible studies, and other resources for and about women
  • Womens’ ministry and discipleship for all of life, in all spheres of life – pursuing a posture of affirmation of women’s gifting beyond the proscriptions of 1 Timothy 3, and calling the church to more intentional training and equipping of women to know and understand all of Scripture, and to affirm the use of their gifts for the glory of God and the building of His church.

The reception to our efforts was notably mixed. We received significant public encouragement from many laywomen, some laymen, and some leaders in ministry. The leading response from most institutions and their leaders was polite silence. Only when Dr. Liam Goligher posted a fiery, two-part post on the Mortification of Spin blog, at the request of one of our group, did the conversation really take off. Like a rocket.

You can go here to read ChristianityToday’s summary of the controversy and our role in it, and here to see a full bibliography of the websites and blogs that hosted much of the debate.

Some of us gently arched an eyebrow at the reception one brother with a D.Min received when he spoke boldly and directly in a single, two-part blog post , vs. the small village of women who had been speaking and writing with quiet, careful conviction for months, and even years. We also noted how much of the conversation centered almost solely on the intricacies of the Trinitarian issues, on the academicians who advocated for them, and to what extent their positions rendered them outside the bounds of orthodoxy and fellowship. Far less attention was paid to the practical implications of these doctrines for women that our experience in women’s’ ministry had uncovered, or to us as the women who had raised the issues.

Within a few months, the fierce flames of debate had died down, everyone returned to their respective academic corners, and little observably changed.

Fast forward to last week.

In March, three Reformed, African American women launched a blog called Truth’s Table. They described themselves and their endeavor this way: “We are Black Christian women who love truth and seek it out wherever it leads us. We have unique perspectives on race, politics, gender, current events, and pop culture that are filtered through our Christian faith.”

I’ve never met nor talked with Christina Edmondson, nor Michelle Higgins, yet, but I can say of Ekemini Uwan that all of the above is entirely true. I treasure the memory of a two-hour brunch and spontaneous parking lot prayer session we shared last year. Knowing her heart for the Lord and her keen mind, I subscribed to the podcast as soon as it launched.

Unfortunately, I had only been able to listen to snippets of several episodes when the provocatively titled “Gender Apartheid” episode came out. This was one I I knew I needed to make time to listen to, and so I did.

Several days later, I was still processing, and praying over, what I heard.

The topics the Truth’s Table sister covered were encouragingly familiar – there were a lot of “Yes. SISTER.” moments in my kitchen as I listened. The approach to some of the topics was unexpected, to the point of making me uncomfortable, so there were a few “Jesus, help!” moments as I listened as well. But I didn’t know reasons for their approach, the context for some of their assertions, or whether I was even representative of their target audience. Until I could understand these things better, (Prov. 17:27), I was reluctant to be either “all in”, or “all out.”

Others were not so reluctant.

On Friday, at the Mortification of Spin (a blog where our writing has been featured, and where Wendy Alsup was recently interviewed about her new book, “Is the Bible Good For Women?”), Todd Pruitt published a passionate protest against the podcast and called for the women to be reported to their various presbyteries (All three women are affiliated with either the OPC or the PCA.)

The inevitable barrage of Twitter fire ensued, until Dr. Edmondson intervened. She appealed for the detractors to stand down with their public ire, and invited them to engage together in private, with the Scriptures, on any points of dispute. But the unfriendly social media fire continued.

Late Friday afternoon, Todd Pruitt took the original post down, expressing shock at the charges of racism he had received, seeming to suggest that it was the charge itself that was wrong, rather than the statements or actions that invited it.

But while Todd attempted to put out the fire the critical post started, the cloud of accusations and theological suspicion lingers over the women to this day. To my knowledge, no private discussions or other attempts to reconcile the public disagreements have yet taken place.

So my heart was, and remains, very heavy.

Last year, some Reformed women raising questions without getting many answers had our work amplified by one supportive, albeit controversial, blogpost by a pastor/scholar. That was the spark that ignited a vigorous debate about Trinitarian orthodoxy between pastors and academics on both sides. The implications for gender relations and church life remained largely undiscussed. The women who raised the questions stood on the sidelines, not really engaged, but not attacked either.

Last week, one controversial podcast by three Reformed women on the very same topic ignited a debate between pastors and laypeople on one side,and the three women on the other, with the gender issues front and center. The women who raised the questions were hauled before a digital tribunal on charges of unorthodoxy, their expressed willingness to engage privately on the biblical substance of the disagreement ignored and/or declined, with the final verdict still pending.

The issues the Truths Table women raised last week are entirely in line with many of the issues my cohort of women raised last year. The category of controversial Trinitarian theology that emerged in this latest round of debate (this time about the Holy Spirit) is every bit as worthy of critical challenge and testing as the one discussed last year. So, too, is the question of which rhetorical strategies for these conversations are most helpful and effective, and which are not.

These are important and worthy conversations to have, and the Truths Table women, as sisters in Christ, with shared convictions, yet different perspectives, education, and experiences, are worthy women to have them with. And I lament the way they were attacked, rather than engaged.

I’m just returning home from three packed days of worship and teaching at TGC, all focused on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Last night, Ligon Duncan reminded us that one of the forgotten lessons of the Reformation is that “we cannot only stand for doctrine; we must also work for unity.” In that spirit, I am praying two sincere prayers in the midst of this situation:

1. That we would always center our fight for doctrinal orthodoxy on our own tendencies to stray from it, before we concern ourselves with others’. Specifically, that we would remember that there is no category of sin which we are incapable of committing, and no category of sin that is beyond the cleansing of the cross.

2. That we would heed Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 4:1-6

“…to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Coda: I completed this post on my first of two plane flights home. I decided to check Twitter to see if my in-flight prayers had been answered. And they had, in the form of this post by Richard Phillips, a fellow member of the ACE. I hope the way he carefully engages with the topics the Truths Table women covered, seeing much to agree with and articulating points of disagreement Biblically and with charity, is as encouraging to them as it is to me.

Meanwhile, Todd provided another update here, focusing on his dialog with other PCA pastors.