Sunday, January 21, 2018

Racial Injustice Today? (Part Two)

The year was 2008. I was in New Orleans for my first academic conference, the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. It was a giddy experience to walk the halls with those who had taught me so much through their writings. A living bibliography surrounded me. One thing that struck me was how white this conference was. As a woman, I represented less than 10% of those attending. But when I looked around, I was hard pressed to find anyone of color.

Perhaps that’s why he made such an impression on me. A friend and I were riding the elevator up to the ballroom level for a plenary session. Mid-way there, the elevator stopped and the door opened. Three men entered the elevator. I remember nothing about the other two men, except that they were taller but more deferential. Leading the way was a short, black man with a storied face. His eyes sparkled. He was the kind of man whose whole body exuded so much energy that he couldn’t stand still. Most people look down when they get on an elevator, avoiding eye contact. Not him. He surprised us by looking us straight in the eye, eager for conversation. I’ll never forget his southern drawl, “Now, are you ladies here for the theology-thang? Or for the nursing-thang?”

I’m sure we both smiled, almost giggled, at his energy. “We’re here for the theology thing.”

I wish you could have seen his face light up. “Oh! That’s wonderful!” Then, as if admitting a secret, he leaned in and added, “There aren’t near enough women here, are there?”

At that point the elevator arrived at our floor and we exited. I don’t remember how we responded, but we had the sense that we had met a real character.

Imagine our surprise in the next plenary session when our elevator friend took the stage. It was the venerable John Perkins! I had heard his name before, but didn’t know him well enough to recognize him. Perkins had been imprisoned and beaten unjustly, and had labored long and hard for civil rights in some of the most segregated corners of our nation.

Our encounter was arresting. Here was a man who’d been invited to address thousands of (mostly white) participants. He was neither cocky nor self-centered. He had no chip on his shoulder. In our brief conversation he celebrated our presence at a conference that was planned, led, and addressed by only men. He saw us.

Ever since, I have wanted to read about his work. Last summer seemed the perfect time. Let Justice Roll Down is the amazing, heart-breaking, inspiring story of his struggle for justice in the South. It is neither textbook nor how-to manual. It is simply his story. But he opened my eyes to the ugly realities of racial inequality in our nation. It’s easy to imagine that because slavery ended in the 1800s and African Americans have gained the right to vote, that the struggle for civil rights is long over. But here is a man who has lived the struggle and still lives today. I can no longer imagine that the suffering of blacks in our nation is a thing of the distant past. This man – friend of Martin Luther King Jr. – steps into the elevator and looks me in the eye. His verve confronts my complacency. I can no longer say “That was so long ago.” This is now.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A Professor's Prayer

Have I mentioned that I have the #bestjobintheworld?

Last week the campus lay dormant, mounds of snow lining empty sidewalks. Quiet buildings stood ready, expectant. So did my heart. This week all is abuzz as students return from break and embrace in happy reunions. Classes begin with characteristic rigor. Last semester I was new here and my head swirled with names and syllabi and schedules and handbooks. This semester I welcome familiar faces with a settled heart. The inner calm permits more deliberate reflection on my role as professor and my investment in this community. Perhaps my prayer for this new term may become your prayer as well.

You can read my prayer over at InterVarsity's Blog, The Well.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Racial Injustice Today? A Series in Honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Today it’s his actual birthday, the man who refused to take ‘no’ for an answer. The man who spoke and kept on speaking until white America was listening, too. The man who would not be content until there was truly “liberty and justice for all” within our borders.
And he achieved it, didn’t he?
They got what they wanted, didn’t they?
Today there may be Americans who wonder about the value of yearly reliving our storied and painful past, about the emotions that it stirs.
Slavery was over a long time ago.
People should just get over it and move on.
If African Americans want to make something of themselves, then they should just work hard, the way we did.
Nobody has handed me anything free. I’ve had to work for everything I’ve got.
Inequality? What inequality? Everyone in America has the same opportunities.
I wish someone could give an example of prejudice today. How exactly are Blacks being mistreated?
I’ve heard these words often enough from the mouths of people who look like me that I went looking for answers. The claim from the African American community that injustice lives on sounds strange to fair-skinned Americans whose personal experience offers no pertinent examples. Sure, life’s not fair. We all get a raw deal sometimes. No need to get so bent out of shape over it. Of course black lives matter. All lives do. 

America is still so segregated that it’s possible to live one’s whole life without a friend of another color. As a result, we can be puzzled by public protests or cries for justice.

I wanted to understand. I wanted to see the world through the eyes of someone who grew up wearing different skin. In my quest for answers over the past year or two, I've done some reading:
Ta-Nahesi Coates, Between the World and Me 
John M. Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down 
Sharon Draper, Stella by Starlight
Mildred D. Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
Daniel Hill, White Awake
These books gave me answers – loud and clear – a whole legacy of injustice that is far from over, a monstrosity that has been codified in law (in some cases) and petrified in our systems of criminal “justice.”  Racial inequality is not a thing of the past. It is heart-sickeningly present today. In the coming weeks, I’d like to share what I learned. If you’re looking for examples, you are invited to start right here.

It’s not enough to celebrate what was accomplished in the 1960’s. Let’s take a hard look at 2018 and see what remains to be done.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Navigating the Valley of Disappointment

May 11, 2017

When I arrived on campus two days ago, the door to the faculty lounge was closed. On it a sign was posted, "Interview in progress. Do not disturb." 

A punch to the gut.

I retreated to my shared office and closed the door. Most days I am gregarious, eager to connect with colleagues. But not today. Not the day of closed doors. I had planned to join others for lunch, but instead I sit alone at my desk. I am not safe today. I cannot predict what I might say. I cannot produce a genuine smile. My love for these colleagues is no less than before. I am not angry. I am bereft.

I should be on the other side of that closed door being interviewed, but instead I am here, burying this dream in the valley of disappointment.

Sorrow is a strange companion.

Just last week, when I learned the news that silenced hope, a great heaviness fell over me that I could not shake for a whole day and then some.

But then, just as suddenly, the heaviness flew away and I was flooded with a joy I could not explain. I remembered then that sorrow and joy are not opposites. They walk hand in hand. Grief opens up the deepest parts of us, but the raw ache that takes our breath away also expands our capacity for joy.

Disappointment strips us, laying bare our vulnerable selves. As the chimera of what might have been fades, the solid reality of what is comes into view.

I am loved.
God is working out all things for good.
The door my Lord opens, no one can shut.
Jesus has good works planned for me to do.
I am called and equipped.
I am not alone.

Why do I tell you this? Why hang my innermost thoughts in plain view for all to see and read and know? Because you, too, have walked the valley of disappointment, and you will walk it again. This way we can walk it together.

Ruth Haley Barton says "what is most personal is, indeed, most universal" (Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, 223). The more honestly I share my own journey, the more we both stand to gain. 

I shared my disappointment with my students last week. They grieved with me. And one wrote me the next morning, thanking me for my words. He, too, is in the valley of disappointment, but my story gave him the strength to carry on.

We do not grieve as those who have no hope.
But we do grieve, friends.
We do grieve.

Just yesterday I read these words, penned by Paul Pastor, but spoken as God's word to every one of us: "Give me your heart today, and again tomorrow—your whole heart, beating and full" (The Listening Day, 10).

Whether my heart is aching with hurt or swelling with hope, I am invited—you are invited—to offer it up in prayer. And here I offer it to you, too.


January 14, 2018: Today I discovered this unpublished draft in my blog archives. I wrote it 8 months ago, but apparently thought better of posting it right away (or was I going to take a picture first of the sign on the door?). It still brings tears to my eyes to re-live this major disappointment, but that sorrow lives alongside the deep joy I have found in the door that God opened for me just weeks after that disappointment. Our heavenly Father does not promise that all our dreams will come true, but he promises to be with us all the way. What more could we possibly need?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Best Blog Posts of 2017

I was startled to discover that I only wrote 13 posts over the past year. However, thanks to friends who read and share what I write, this was far and away the best year yet in terms of reaching a wider audience. (Sharing older posts on Facebook also helped). My blog has now had over 100,000 views. Here's what made a splash in 2017:

On Cell Phone Addiction:
Confronting Modern Day Slavery: It's Closer Than You Think (974 views)
"How did we get here? How did this tiny computer manage to become the only thing that matters? The only thing alluring enough to capture our attention? Why have we let it fragment our focus into smaller and smaller pieces until we can no longer remember what it means to sit in silence and listen? When is the last time we have sat across from someone and looked into their eyes?"
On Our Surprising Move to Canada:  
Trust Without Borders (284 views)
"At the tail end of May, when hope in Oregon had dried up and we were buckling in for the long roller-coaster ahead, a job was posted at Prairie College in Three Hills, Alberta. Their need was urgent. They wanted to have an Old Testament professor in place by July 1st. Gulp."
Blueberries and Trust (256 views)
"The same God who provided blueberries arranged for my Canadian citizenship 40 years before anyone knew I would need it. That's impressive. The LORD promises neither a rose garden nor a blueberry bush, but he does promise to be with us always. Ultimately, that's all we need."
On Dying Well:
Christmas in October (4393 views!!!)
"It's mid October, but in a certain corner of Bend, Oregon, it's already Christmas. The whole neighborhood has put up Christmas lights. You may see carolers drop by. The mail carrier has delivered handfuls of Christmas cards. God is totally on board. He even sent snow this weekend."
On My New Book:
Practicing Biblical Hebrew the Fun Way (956 views)
"Each volume includes the unabridged Hebrew or Greek text of Scripture embedded in lively illustrations by Keith Neely. At the bottom of each page is a fresh English translation that follows the word order of the original text as closely as possible so that readers can easily locate a gloss for unfamiliar words."
On Church Attendance:
Church -- Why Bother? (783 views)
"When I invest weekly in corporate worship with a relatively healthy community, I join with others in declaring where ultimate truth and value lie. Each week my heart is re-calibrated in tiny ways that keep me facing Jesus rather than drifting in another direction." 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Church -- Why Bother?

Alberta Sunrise (Photo: C Imes)
It's Sunday morning. I sit by the gas fireplace snuggled up in a warm blanket, relishing the quiet. Before long, the rest of the family will stir. The sleepy house will bustle with activity as we get ready to go to church. But why bother? Why not enjoy a leisurely morning at home, letting the kids sleep as long as they will? Why shatter the peace of the weekend by entering a crowded building, exchanging shallow greetings, singing muffled songs, and being told what to think and what to do? Why clutter the rest of the week with small groups and committee meetings and rehearsals?

No doubt you've seen the classic Christmas movie, It's a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart plays the lead character, George Bailey, a decent guy who leads an average life and tries to be a good neighbor to those in his small town of Bedford Falls and prevent the greedy Mr. Potter from gobbling up their land. On one particularly dark day, George faces the loss of everything he's worked to achieve. He wishes he had never been born. That's when the magic happens: an angel appears and accompanies George on a virtual tour of Bedford-Falls-without-George-Bailey. He has the chance to see what life would be like if he did not exist. It's a sobering picture. Bedford Falls is now Pottersville; its main street lined with clubs, its neighborhoods crowded with cheap rental houses, its residents suspicious and snarky.

What if the church, like George Bailey in his suicidal funk, did not exist? What if we could have a George-Bailey-style personal tour of a churchless world? What would we see? What if faith was purely a personal matter and we ceased gathering weekly for worship?

We need to look no further than a recent sociological study for such a tour. In groundbreaking research at the University of North Carolina, Robert Woodberry made the following discovery, under the direction of his doctoral supervisor, Christian Smith:
"Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations." (For the full article in Christianity Today, click here.)
It is one of the great mysteries of the faith how a rag-tag gathering of individuals can have such a transformative effect on the world. But according to Robert Woodberry and his team of researchers, the results are quantifiable.

But what about me? Why not let the church do its thing and opt out myself? My fireplace is warm and cozy. I'm a well-educated, theologically grounded individual. It's unlikely that I'll learn anything new at church this morning. I could crank up the worship tunes at home and sing solo. Sure the church makes a difference for others but that doesn't obligate me to go, right?

Here's the deal: I am not my own, but belong body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ (Heidelberg Catechism, Answer 1). I belong not only to him, but to his means of grace in the world, the church. My absence diminishes what Christ can accomplish in and through the church, while my presence is a tangible means of participation in the kingdom. Ultimately, it's not about "what I get out of it." It's an act of surrender.

St. Barnabas Anglican Church at Sunrise (Photo: C Imes)
According to James K. A. Smith in his recent book, You Are What You Love (Brazos, 2016), this act of surrender has consequences that may be imperceptible now, but add up to something significant. Our habitual acts shape our loves and therefore who we become. Smith says that in order to cultivate virtue we must immerse ourselves in practices that inscribe them in our heart over time. He insists, "counterformative Christian worship doesn't just dispense information; rather, it is a Christ-centered imagination station where we regularly undergo a ritual cleansing of the symbolic universes we absorb elsewhere. Christian worship doesn't just teach us how to think; it teaches us how to love, and it does so by inviting us into the biblical story and implanting that story in our bones" (You Are What You Love, 85).

With this in mind, here are four reasons I choose to keep going to church:

1. Weekly fellowship in a church body orients my loves.

Of course, if I'm not vigilant, it can breed bitterness as well. No church is perfect, and there will always be things that merit complaint. In rare cases, the damage inflicted by a particular local church may even outweigh its benefit. But when I invest weekly in corporate worship with a relatively healthy community, I join with others in declaring where ultimate truth and value lie. Each week my heart is re-calibrated in tiny ways that keep me facing Jesus rather than drifting in another direction.

2. Weekly fellowship in a church body recognizes that following Jesus means joining God's family.

When I signed on as a Christian, it was not a transaction designed primarily to secure my eternal destiny. Becoming a Christian means becoming part of God's family and changing how I live here and now. Spending week after week with these people, sharing this experience, eventually adds up to a network of caring relationships. It doesn't happen overnight, but as we do life together, we lend support to each other on our faith journeys.

3. Weekly fellowship in a church body enables me to participate in God's work of grace in others.

The fact that I show up affirms the value of corporate worship for all those in attendance. It upholds the ministry of my church leaders. My smile and my handshake and my voice lifted in praise manifest the Spirit's presence to others who have come. I am not my own. I am a member of something bigger than myself -- Christ's body on earth.

4. Weekly fellowship in a church body is a means of declaring allegiance to the kingdom of God.

On the outside, the church may not seem like the "going thing." It may seem weak. But the truth is that the church is a visible witness to the unseen reality of God's kingdom. Being present each week testifies to this. It acknowledges that God's invisible kingdom is more substantial and more lasting than the other concrete institutions in my community. It will outlast the postal service, local businesses, schools, and politicians and their offices. My participation ensures this. It testifies to that greater and lasting kingdom.

So, for these and other reasons, I keep going. Whether I feel excited about it or not (and usually I do!), the church is my family, and I cannot be who I am meant to be without it

Friday, November 24, 2017

Practicing Biblical Hebrew the Fun Way

I'm excited to introduce you to a new set of resources from GlossaHouse publishers: The Illustrated Hebrew Bible and The Illustrated Greek Bible.

Each volume includes the unabridged Hebrew or Greek text of Scripture embedded in lively illustrations by Keith Neely. At the bottom of each page is a fresh English translation that follows the word order of the original text as closely as possible so that readers can easily locate a gloss for unfamiliar words.

To date, the published volumes include Genesis, Exodus, Mark, and a single volume that includes the Hebrew short stories of Ruth, Jonah, and Esther.

I'm personally invested in this project, having spent dozens of hours preparing the Exodus volume. It was a tangible way for me to commemorate 6 years working on the Decalogue (a.k.a. Ten Commandments). I believe my GlossaHouse English translation is the first to reflect the natural reading of the Hebrew in Exodus 20:7 that recognizes its metaphorical underpinnings: "You shall not bear the name of YHWH, your God, in vain." For the 200-page justification of this translation, you can pre-order my published dissertation. But in the meantime you can get your hands on this beautiful volume with my English translation for yourself.

These volumes would make fantastic Christmas gifts for the Language nerds in your life. They would also work well for . . .

  • Hebrew or Greek Reading Courses - Professors could require or encourage students to buy these editions to more rapidly increase fluency. Visual cues make reading more natural.
  • Hebrew or Greek Exegesis Courses - Students can opt to use these instead of BHS for class because they include the entire Hebrew or Greek text of Scripture.
  • Individuals wanting to retain biblical languages or increase reading fluency - A page or more a day would be a great way to keep up your languages!
  • Homeschool families - Children studying biblical languages at home will love these books!
  • Jewish families raising their children to read and speak Hebrew and know the Hebrew Bible.
Other volumes currently in production include Judges, Samuel, Job, John, and 1,2,3 John, plus Latin versions of Genesis and Mark. All the copies at the GlossaHouse booth at SBL sold out by the second day, so you'll want to order your copies before they disappear!