The Road to Emmaus

The Road to Emmaus

Yesterday I drummed up the courage to went to church. Both services.

It took a bit of courage because I was slated to speak briefly about my experience in the psalms. The Rabbi (Brian Morgan) was preaching from Luke 24, the story of Cleopas and his wife, Mary, arguing along the road to Emmaus as they try to make sense of the events that had taken place in Jerusalem just a few days before, the events we know of as the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. I wanted to share here what I shared there…

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I spent a year traveling through the first book of the Psalter, going one psalm at a time. In the early part of my year in the Psalms, it was like magic, like being in love. It was easy and every turn of the page, every line of poetry revealed something new about who God is and how He sees me. But the season turned, as all seasons must, and when it did it turned toward lament. I spent many months grieving – grieving wounds I didn’t even know I had, learning to let tears heal the past and make the present holy.

A funny thing happened there, deep in lament. As I learned to speak my truest self to God, I began to see in completely new ways the depth of my sin, my utter and complete inability to become the woman after God’s own heart. And so my journey took a new direction, now into the wilderness – but this was unlike any wilderness I had experienced before. Instead of shame there was feasting. Alone and bereft I discovered God’s presence to be more than enough for me.

At last I came to learn this was the destination of my psalms journey – the moment of awakening to an unearthly gratitude for God’s presence and the sure knowledge that the greatest gift He gives us is Himself and eyes wide open to see Him.

With the exception of those first few months in the psalms, what most characterized my psalms journey though was dissonance. Over and over I was ushered in to sacred space where there were precious few answers, where tension dominated, where God’s invitation to me was to loosen my grip, resist the need to pin it all down, practice holding the mystery of it all. I finally came to realize that the journey itself – the walking – was the thing. That the best part was the gaping, scary space that lies between starting and finishing.

It’s a place I would give almost anything to get back to, but God never takes us back does He? I can’t tell you how many times in the two years since I finished my book I have felt like the Pevensie children from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, grimly waiting for train in Paddington station but really what they are waiting for is the magical pull back to Narnia, back to Aslan, back to technicolor life.

So when Brian corralled me last weekend to see if I would stand in as Mary, Cleopas wife, I agreed because for me the Road to Emmaus is the road to Narnia, the road made by walking. I love the picture of these two people, arms and words flailing as they argue and debate and wonder, then joined by a stranger who sets their hearts on fire with a story so epic it simply has to be true because who could make up something like that?

I love the road to Emmaus. I love it so much I even wrote a poem about it.

When I wrote this poem two years ago, I was just beginning a new journey into trying to grasp the humanity of Jesus. I had realized in my psalms year that I related most of the time to Jesus as divine and grasped next to nothing of Jesus the human being. I couldn’t get past the idea that Jesus was like Superman, disguised as Clark Kent but really on the inside a superhero.

Like Thomas, I needed to put my hands on his scars. Not the ones from the crucifixion but the everyday scars that life had etched on his face – disappointment, frustration, discouragement, doubt, rejection, shame, heartbreak.

My Emmaus poem is written from the point of view of Jesus, which I realize is a bit presumptuous, but Jesus seems to like presumptuous women so I’m going to forge ahead here unapologetically.

It explores the place where the humanity of Jesus and the promise of the Road to Emmaus intersect — the place where one man with faith to trust God through the ebb and flow of the confusing, convoluted human experience gave birth to a whole new creation that will never again groan under the weight of death.

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The Road to Emmaus
Can you love whom you do not love
even crushed beneath the
weight of your own pain?

Can you swallow evil down
bile turning to acid yet
not vomit it out?

Can you hold rejection in your own hands
while it blisters and burns
trusting Me to heal the scars?

Can you let Me kill you with the hope
I’ll raise you from the grave
and not forget?

I think I knew from that first moment
Dove resting on My head
How it all would end
Not the horror of it, mind you
No one could have foreseen that.

Can you feel the welts rise on your back
from the lash that loves to
separate flesh from bone?

Can you hold your tongue amid snarls of accusation
when you know better
when you know all there is to know?

Can you face the man who thinks he is your enemy
grip the table as he strikes you in the face
see him convulsed in confusion and fear?

Can you let your tears mix freely with your blood
without needing to explain
from whence they came?

Can you follow Me there
where theology fails and
evil plays every card?

Can you live without answers?
walk an untrod path?
die for a man’s choice to hate you?

Will you follow Me
there?

Then take My hand
end My loneliness
walk with Me
to the cross
the tomb
wait for Me
to rise
journey with Me
to Emmaus
hear it all explained
until the ground
beneath our feet
turns to gold
in the New Jerusalem.

Mary and Martha

Mary and Martha

A little lament poetry to get me back into blogging and kick off the week. Because for me, when starting over is the only next thing to do, you start with tears.

Mary and Martha

Mary and Martha
Evangelical memes,

The one approved by Jesus
But excluded by His disciples

Who love nothing more
Than their boys club

Whitewashed with welcome
But locked from the inside

Holy Writ glued to the door
Edited to read: “Equal but separate.”

Leaning heavy on hope she wonders
How long, Oh Lord? How long?

Why won’t Yeshua let me in?

The other rebuked by Jesus
But applauded by His disciples

Who love nothing more
Than the labor she provides

Conditional inclusion a
Faustian bargain:

Her soul exchanged for the
Promise to play by the rules

She kneels to separate lentils from ash
Wondering at an unnamed ache.

Yeshua isn’t even here.

When Privilege Is A Disability

When Privilege Is A Disability

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about privilege. About what the Kingdom of God is and what privilege has to do with it. How those of us in the affluent Christian West might actually enter the Kingdom of God, and why indeed we might want to.

It all started at the beginning of the summer when I read that pesky story in Luke 18 where a wealthy, powerful man comes to Jesus and respectfully — and quite correctly, I might add — implies that because he has kept Torah since his coming of age, his obedience to God ought to guarantee him entrance into heaven (eternal life). The traditional reading has Jesus suggesting that this man’s wealth is an idol that he worships instead of worshipping God, and the implication is that the man did not go to heaven when he died because he was not willing to follow Jesus without condition while he lived.

For most of my formative years in church I was taught directly and indirectly that this story functions as a simile in miniature. Just as Luke 18 tells the story of one man’s personal decision about Jesus and the impact to his eternal destiny, so too the broad sweep of Scripture primarily concerns personal, individual salvation: the Bible as a love letter from God about how to get to heaven when one dies.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve slowly learned a new way of reading the Scriptures that doesn’t trace a theme of personal salvation but instead watches for this spacetime thing Jesus calls “The Kingdom of God,” which the prophets foretold in mysterious and mystical terms and the Hebrews looked for with eyes squinting into the future. Certainly individual conversion is built into this Kingdom, but it demonstrated over the long haul by incarnational evidence of repentance: love for enemies, compassion rather than self-righteousness, an embrace of suffering on behalf of the Other, and so on. It is not merely a shifting of beliefs or a profession of orthodoxy. It is a changed life — and the nature of that changed life is that it now seeks the Kingdom of God where before it sought something else.

Which takes us back to Luke’s rich young ruler. As I sat there, reading the story not through the lens of personal salvation but instead through the lens of the Kingdom of God, an entirely new understanding jumped off the page. It felt a little like vertigo; I got kind of woozy, seriously.

What if Jesus isn’t talking to this powerful, wealthy man about how to get to Heaven when he dies? What if he’s inviting this powerful, wealthy man to drink deeply of Heaven while he yet lives?

Because Jesus tells us the Kingdom of God is at hand with his arrival. As the rabbi likes to say, God did with Jesus in the middle of history what the Jews expected God to do at the end of history. In the person of Jesus, God’s Kingdom has come. Emmanuel, theophany, God with us.

When Jesus suggests he sell all his possessions and distribute the yield to the poor, I don’t think Jesus is testing him to see if he idolizes money. He’s inviting him — genuinely inviting him! — to make his home, for the first time in his uber-religious life, in the Kingdom of God. The catch is that he can only find his way into that Kingdom as a person without — without wealth, without privilege, without a voice, without safety, without social standing. It does not belong to the religious elite nor to those whose social power comes from the color of their skin or their bank account. Not to the ones who keep themselves righteous by never embracing the dirty, diseased Other.

What this poor fellow could not do, then, is walk away from the privilege that his gender, wealth and social position gave him:

Political power
Social status
Slaves
Wives
A voice
Self-determination
Freedom
Safety

I’ve pondered this story all summer, you see because I am the rich young ruler.

Will I spend “life after life-after-death” in the Presence of God? Faith in the full testimony of Scripture tells me yes, and it’s a truth I have cast my entire life upon. But I’m not talking about that life — I’m talking about this one, and the older I get the more I realize just how right Jesus was. The Kingdom of God is hard to enter — perhaps not because we don’t want to but because our wealth and privilege turn us (wittingly or unwittingly so) into camels trying to squeeze through a needle’s eye.

I hate to break it to you, but we all are this rich young ruler. We, in the affluent Christian West, with our theology all neat and tidy saying who’s in and who’s out, with our political affiliations and our ability to isolate ourselves from global suffering and persecution, with our first world problems and our inbred materialism. And frankly, even if we all gave away our wealth, we’d still have a hard time — our privilege is so deeply engrained in how we think about and value ourselves that we are hard-pressed to actually hold real need, real weakness in our own two hands.

Men, apologies up front, but you have it worse than we women do — even when you don’t feel privileged because some other dude has more/better than you or some woman in your life outranks you, your voice still counts in this culture (particularly religious subcultures), your time produces more income, your seminary degree results in pastoral jobs and seats on elder boards, your life doesn’t bend quite so much around the needs of others because it is their lives that are required to bend around yours.

I wonder if this isn’t perhaps part of why women, it is observed, are more likely to be involved in church. Perhaps it’s not our “God-given nature” — a nice cop-out, gents, — but instead the fact that women as a class have less privilege and are thus that one small step closer to entering the Kingdom. It’s not enough though, which is in part why it is easier for me when I’m on a missions trip among the poor, with trafficking victims, or beside the bed of the diseased and dying.

I wonder too if perhaps this isn’t part of the case for having women, the differently-abled, the non-native speaker, the foreigner among us incorporated thoroughly and deeply into our liturgical practices, our pastoral staffs and elder boards, our doctrinal review meetings and our community outreach efforts. If in the Kingdom of God privilege is a disability, then those of us who have it ought to see the beauty in seeking out those without and bringing them in. Perhaps its time that I and any of you who are awaking to the deforming nature of your own privilege start listening and following the least of these.

I don’t know how, yet, to enter this Kingdom. I feel it beckoning and I feel elation because Jesus says “with God all things are possible.”

He will not leave me forever on the outside, nose pressed to the glass, looking in.

A “perverted attack”? A difference of opinion? Or a hill to die on?

A funny thing happened the other day.

OK, maybe not so funny, but it happened.

I wrote a post ruminating on what might be an underlying dynamic contributing to the sex abuse climate extant in the conservative evangelical church at the moment. My post got re-posted at the David C Cook Facebook page and folks started to comment, some positive (agreeing or furthering the discussion) some negative (disagreeing or trying to shut it down altogether). One comment in particular called me out with this:

I have never seen such a perverted attack on the complementarian view of gender and the biblical view of marriage.”

Negative comments don’t bother me. I worked professionally in high tech for 15 years and was on the receiving end of many a negative comment — usually from men because this was high tech 20 years ago and high tech was all men — and can I just say, I love men! I love men for lots of reasons, but one reason that has to be at the top of my list of “Reasons Men Are Awesome” is that they tend to be (and yes, I am making a sweeping generalization) direct, confrontational, emotional-in-the-moment, and volcanic, meaning they blow up, say their peace (or is it piece?) and when its all over, they readjust their clothing, smooth down their hair and quite innocently ask if you want to grab a sandwich. As If Nothing Happened.  Because nothing did. We disagreed, argued about it, moved on. No meta-communicating about the process, no grudges, no social punishment. Just sandwiches.

But, as usual, I digress.

I am quite sure the fellow commenting about my perversion and attack on the Bible loves Jesus as much as I do, submits to God’s word as much as I do, and was contending for the gospel as best he can. And so I got to thinking, what is he reacting to? Why the volcanic blow up (offers of sandwiches notwithstanding).  And I think at least part of what’s happening here is that he’s picturing complementarian theology at one end of a fairly broad spectrum, and I was addressing it at the other.

Here’s where it gets sticky and I ask for help, and friends, this is a genuine inquiry. I’m not trying to advance an agenda, I am trying to understand something and need some help from thoughtful people no matter where on the issue they land today.

Is it fair to put complementarian theology on a spectrum from uber-conservative (let’s say Christian Patriarchy) to fairly liberal? What would exemplify the progressive endpoint of the spectrum? Conversely, does egalitarian theology also exist on a spectrum? If so, what might its end points be?

I and others toy with comparing the current debate about women’s roles in the home and church to the centuries-past debate about slavery, where the Bible was used on both sides of the divide toward dramatically different ends. Ultimately, the liberal/progressive reading of Scripture won.

The thing is, in hindsight, trying to make a Biblical case for a spectrum of possibility concerning enslaving Africans (from the uber-conservative “God approves of African slavery because Ham” to the arguably more progressive end, “benign imperialism in the form of compassionate slavery can be good”) is horribly offensive and so clearly an egregious use of Scripture that I can hardly stomach it.

But here I am, asking if the idea that women are subordinate to men by virtue of a Divine edict of beneficent hierarchy, can be put on a spectrum and patiently waited out while the debates rage and the dust settles.

In other words, is there a Biblically-meaningful difference between The Gospel Coalition vs Christians for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood vs the Christian Patriarchs?

I like to think that had I been a contemporary of famed William Wilberforce, I would not have needed a trip to the slave boats to become an abolitionist, I would not have been someone who politely conceded there are “differences of interpretation and we all mean well,” and turned away while African men, women and children were abused in the name of God. I tend to see the call for women’s full equality in church and home in the same terms. I don’t see nuance, I admit that.

That said, I am also quite aware that using slavery as an exemplar leads to conclusions of this kind.  So I ask, what alternate/other/better/more useful metaphors, historical or otherwise, can we employ in our pursuit of a robust theology of gender?

Thoughts?

How does a Christian magazine end up posting a letter defending statutory rape?

A week ago, the Christianity Today (CT) imprint, Leadership Journal (LJ), published a letter written by a man in jail for statutory rape of a teenage girl in his youth group.

It was published as a cautionary tale for pastors and other (male) church leaders lest they too “fall into sin” which, in this case, was positioned as an extra-marital affair between consenting adults. Only at the end of the letter does the reader learn with horror that the female participant was in middle school when the abuse began.

Within hours of the article being posted, a huge — and I mean huge — backlash walloped CT and the Journal, and after an appalling 5 days (the editors’ first instinct was simply to delete all negative comments), the letter was replaced with a genuinely awesome apology and retraction (it is included in the link above) demonstrating that finally, after countless emails, blog posts, comments and tweets, the publishers understood just how warped their point of view was that allowed them to publish a rape apologia couched in Christian vernacular and supported with Bible stories.

A number of bloggers have written about the ordeal — some of them sexual abuse survivors themselves, others who have grasped the consequence of gender discrimination in the church and the ways in which warped theology contributes to a climate wherein abuse thrives. One blogger in particular caught my attention and it is to her ideas that I wish to add.

She unmasks the nuance that had the predator/prey relationship been between an adult male and a teenage boy, CT and LJ would never have published the letter. It would have been so obviously despicable, unrepentant and narcissistic. The same holds true had the rapist been an adult female pastor, teacher or coach and her victim a teenage girl (or boy). We are crystal clear in these scenarios that these are not “extramarital affairs” or “consensual relationships.” We are crystal clear that one person is a target of sexual deviance and the other a predator who manipulates others for their own gratification.

So why — how — did the editors at CT/LJ miss this?  Why could they not see the same dynamic in this situation?

Surely a part of the answer is that in many Christian circles, a relationship between a dominant male and a submissive female is normative. It is proffered as the ideal model for marriage and the operating model for church governance.

When I was growing up, I picked up the message that the “ideal” Christian wife was younger than her husband, less educated, less professionally accomplished, embraced her calling to be submissive, and above all desired to be shaped by her husband’s wishes, ideas and leadership. The “ideal” Christian husband was the exact opposite: he was older than his wife, well-educated, had professional or pastoral aspirations and above all desired to be the spiritual authority and leader in his home. Authentic partnership and mutual submission were nowhere in the story line, although looking back I find it funny how few of us actually lived out this leader/follower narrative. Either we were terrible church-goers or God was particularly merciful. I’m thinking it was a combination of both.

Lest you think this mentality has gone the way of all flesh, look no further than the embarrassingly popular Duck Dynasty patriarch and his encouraging of child marriage to see this idea alive and well. The clear message from Phil is that a man should marry a girl — 14, 15, 16 tops — so that he can mold her into a well-trained, subservient wife. Her humanity and the giftedness and calling of God on her life are irrelevant at best, and more likely simply non-existent. She exists solely for him, the argument goes, because Genesis says so. He is entitled to her.

(As an aside, are you aware that the Duck Dynasty patriarchs are putting out a Bible? Yep. Thomas Nelson is publishing a new King James version with commentary from Phil and his son Alan. Words fail). DC FF Bible

As sex scandals continue to rock the conservative evangelical world, comparisons are being made to the Catholic abuse scandal of years past. I am convinced that part of the reason we all reacted so vehemently to the news of widespread sexual abuse of altar boys by priests was precisely because we could all understand deep in our bones just how powerless, how un-equal, how un-consenting these boys were. We didn’t have to be told that a teenage boy does not willingly, naturally become a sexual submissive to an adult male for the purpose of that man’s pleasure. But we have to be told this very thing when a man’s victim is a girl. Especially if she is a teenager.

So here’s where it hurts: we could see the horror of male clergy abuse of boys clearly because it violated our worldview, wherein boys are agents in their lives and have full and unfettered rights to their bodies. When they are made powerless (we even have a word for that: emasculated) we can see straight away that something is horribly, egregiously wrong.

But girls, in this worldview, are powerless by design, by divine edict. Their bodies belong to their male protectors, the men who are entitled to them. It is their God-given role to be powerless, to require male leadership in order to thrive, and so when girls are victimized, we don’t recognize it as such. At first blush it looks normal, maybe slightly off but only slightly. The man was a little too old for her. She was maybe a little too young. Things will even out eventually. 

(Interestingly, there is no equivalent word for what happens to a girl or woman when she is robbed of agency or power — linguistic relativity would argue that this is both a reflection and a cause of female powerlessness).

I am not the only person to wonder if this horrible rape-apology letter would not have been published had there been women on the CT/LJ editorial board. Strong, opinionated, educated women, women who were viewed by their male peers as equals, whose voices were weighted equally in shaping editorial decisions.

For me, this week-long decent into a necessary yet excruciating discussion of sexual abuse in the Church that I love so much has reminded me again why I am a proponent of women’s full equality in marriage and church. The Bible I read says God made men and women to complement each other (no, I am not a “complementarian”). We are not the same. We see differently, experience differently. We are shaped by different forces in our culture, by our biology and the ways we were nurtured. Equality does not imply sameness. To the contrary, it is our difference that is our strength. We need each other — in marriage, in friendship, in church governance, in ministry.

In our equality, in our diversity, as peers, in partnership, we bear God’s image and accomplish God’s first, formative call on our shared humanity:

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

I Am Probably Wrong

I am probably wrong — if not in entirety, then at least in some portion, about everything that matters to me.

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About who God is.

About how to read the Bible.

About what it means for Jesus to be a human being.

About politics — and history too while I’m at it, and oh heck, eschatology too.

About raising my daughters and the assumptions and decisions I make for them.

About your motivations and the ways your wounds have shaped you.

About my own story and how I’ve made sense of it.

About your story too and how I judge it.

About All Those People and what I “discern” about them.

About what is actually happening in the world, and even about how the world actually came to be.

About …

About …

About …

I have this experience, all the time if I’m honest, where I am Trying So Hard to get it right, whatever “it” is — and it is usually more than one thing. And deep down I know I’m getting it wrong. I know I don’t have all the facts, all the information, the circumstances are too complex, the possible outcomes infinite and unpredictable. I am overwhelmed with the imagined voices and faces of the witnesses that have gone before me who understood God, the Scriptures, the world and their place in it differently than I do. I see myself in contrast as small and hanging on for dear life, shaped in mysterious ways by my affluence, my education, my family, my historical moment, my personality, my church, my DNA.

And I picture myself finally, in that first moment, just after my last living breath, standing there before God and realizing all at once how wrong I was about all sorts of things that mattered, how I didn’t see clearly and how dim that mirror really was as I stared into it all the while thinking I had it all figured out.

But in that same moment — last living breath, first eternal breath — recognizing Jesus.

Recognizing Jesus because I have known him all my life, imperfectly for sure, but I know the sound of his voice when he speaks my name, the cadence of his speech when he describes what he sees, the marks on his hands and feet and forehead.

In the face of the overwhelming complexity of modern, or really post-modern life, I sometimes think, why, really, am I a Christian? Is it because I believe the Bible, prayed the sinners prayer and had a conversion experience? Is it because I grew up in a Christian home and an evangelical community instead of a Muslim family and Islamic community or some other religious or secular equivalent? Is it because I am afraid to walk away from ancient religious beliefs or too delusional to see the truth of our material existence? I have friends who would — who have — pointed to every one of these possibilities as the cause celebre of my faith.

This is why: I am a Christian because of the unbelievable grace of God who loves me, knowing fully well my human frame, knowing fully well I cannot, will not Get It Right. I am a Christian because God did everything I could not do, moving heaven and earth to make a way for me to belong, once again with Him. And as if that were not enough, God then condescends to accompany me on my journey even now in this liminal space of a now-and-not-yet Kingdom. Here, faith and doubt open up the widest road possible, a journey of shadows as well as light.

I find it breathtaking that in the midst of my deepest doubts, awash in the most excruciating tensions of daily life, the Person I most want to talk about it all with … is God.

 

 

Reblogging from Mimi Haddad– The Bait & Switch of Complementarians

This is so good I am reblogging it, originally posted at Christians for Biblical Equality.

Love this most of all:bait-and-switch

Please do not tell girls or women that they share equally in God’s image; that they are equal at the foot of the cross; that they are equal in the kingdom of God, that they should cultivate their minds equally, unless you are prepared to give them equal authority to use the gifts God has given them. To do otherwise is to bait girls and women with the truth of Scripture as it points to their inheritance in Christ, and then to switch—to deny them the opportunities to walk in newness of life—in using their God-given gifts with equality authority. To advocate for the education of females based on the aims of Christian discipleship is inseparable from God’s aims for men and women created in God’s image—where both shared authority in Eden (Genesis 1:26- 28); and as recreated in the image of Christ who extends equal authority to his disciples, both male and female (John 20:18-23).

Read the full post here: http://blog.cbeinternational.org/2014/05/the-bait-switch-of-complementarians/

Reblogged: “Me ‘n NT” by Bronwyn Lea

I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE HERE.

But life conspired against me and instead of spending an evening learning about the Psalms from the inimitable N.T. Wright (“Tom” when he’s being a man of the people), I spent the evening pushing my kids to do the homework they Simply Cannot Do Anymore. OMG, when is this school year going to end? WHEN!!??

Anyway, the next best thing to actually being there? Getting this recap on the evening by my new and fabulous friend, blogger Bronwyn Lea. Give it a read and see what Tom Wright had to say at his San Francisco presentation on the Psalms.

Me ‘n NT.

Thanks Bron for the write up!

-k

God’s Got Your Back?

keep-calm-god-s-got-your-back

I love the “Keep Calm” meme but this particular instance has Got To Go.

I keep seeing and hearing this. It shows up in Facebook posts and on Christian radio, in Internet memes and bromides of every sort.

This little saying, “God’s Got Your Back” is meant to encourage us by reminding us that God is concerned with the circumstances of our lives, and while life looks to be spinning out of control, God is there in the background, sovereign and everything, and is going to make everything work out OK (we usually spiritualize this by quoting Romans 8:28). You can rest, dear Christian, because your happy ending is just around the corner and if you have faith to see that, you will also have peace and can relax knowing that Everything Is Going To Be OK.

Because Jesus.

It really would be nice if shutting our eyes to the realities of life somehow caused our faith to thrive. It really would be nice. But it doesn’t.

I might be the voice of one crying in the wilderness here but in my right-now-more-angry-than-humble-point-of-view, this is horrible theology.

God does not have your back. God doesn’t have mine either.

Try telling Job “God’s got your back” as he sits there in the ashes, scraping at boils with a potshard and staring at the shrouded bodies of his ten dead children. Were they lined up in a neat row from youngest to oldest or do their bodies lie crumpled at the scene of the crime?

Try telling David “God’s got your back” as he takes the humiliating descent from Jerusalem into a wilderness of his own making, the messianic throne hanging in the balance, while his favorite son, Absalom, rapes ten women on a rooftop as a way of proving to David he has been dethroned.

While you are at it, how about saying it to the women on the rooftop, the nameless ones, the ones we would today call sex trafficking victims. Did God have their backs? Did anyone?

Want a more immediate example? How about the 230 Nigerian school girls stolen from school by the worst sort of cowards, men petrified by the idea of an educated, empowered female? Look these schoolgirls in the eyes as they endure rape and torture, as their rapes are negated by the “virtue” of marriage (that is so profane I can barely type it), as they watch powerlessly while their friends and sisters are emotionally, sexually and physically abused — look them in the eye and tell them God’s got their back.

I hate this saying because it smacks of faith in faith, not faith in God, a God who does not answer us with explanation or even necessarily with provision but with theophany, with Presence.

I hate this saying because it only really works with our first world problems. As those brave Nigerian girls remind me, their lives cannot be reduced to a bromide and if not theirs, then not mine either. This is a desecration of all that is holy, a denial of the tension of life in God, a shutting our eyes to what is real in the world and to what is God’s part in it all.

I hate this saying because we don’t have a beat on what God is up to. We are merely projecting our wishful thinking and calling it Christian faith. Nope. We simply don’t know looking forward at people’s experiences whether they are going to come through unscathed or whether they will be wounded for life. We cannot know if the illness will lead to life or to death, if the child will thrive or be crushed beneath the weight of disability. We pray. We hope. We come alongside the ones who weep and we weep too. But for the love of God, we don’t tell them God’s got their back.

I hate this saying because it trivializes suffering, and friends, God does not trivialize human suffering. To the contrary, God so honors suffering that He shows up in the midst of it to bear witness, to absorb our grief and pain and confusion into His very own self and hold it there, to hold time eternally still so we can take all the time in the world and in our lives to process our grief. We wish God would just intervene, end the suffering, punish the evildoers. Someday God will. I believe that. I do.

Lastly, I hate this saying because it relieves us of duty. I mean, really, if God’s got your back, I don’t really have to, now do I? But we are the body of Christ on Earth. It is our job to have each others’ backs. To stand against evil even if it costs us our lives. To take our place alongside our brothers, our sisters, and defend them from all manner of arrows, those slung by outrageous fortune as much as those that originate in the pit of hell.

There is so much more to be said on this topic, so many nuances and angles to this idea of God having our backs. We didn’t even touch on the way this idea centers our theology on us (personal salvation and sanctification) rather than on God’s Kingdom agenda, that shalom pervade earth as it does in heaven, and our role in that epic story.

Maybe that’s a post for another day.

 

 

 

 

 

Servant-Leadership is Unbiblical

[Today’s guest post is by my long-time friend, Tim Fall, who blogs at http://timfall.wordpress.com/. I hung out with Tim when I was a student at UC Davis in the late 80s, and then we lost touch for too many years. About a year ago, I kept seeing this guy, “Tim” commenting on all the sites and blogs I was visiting, and I really liked what he had to say.  I finally decided to figure out who he was, and to my surprise, it was my old friend, and I am delighted to have him here today. Here’s his take on “servant leadership.”]

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Tim Fall, blogger, judge, husband, dad — a genuinely awesome guy!

Servant leader? The Bible talks of servant servants – that is, servants who serve other servants.

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:33-35.)

When I read or hear someone speak of servant-leadership it usually comes across more as an emphasis on the fact the person is the leader, and less of an elevation of a humble servant. Jesus’ teaching in Mark 9 focuses on the latter while his disciples were arguing about the former.

That’s why I am convinced that servant-leadership is unbiblical. Servant-servanthood is what Jesus taught:

  • Stoop down to meet someone else’s need, like Jesus did when he washed his friends’ feet. (John 13:12-17.)
  • Give yourself up for others, just as Jesus gave himself as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:25-28.)
  • Refrain from using your own power to overcome adversaries, even as Jesus did when he allowed himself to be arrested. (Matthew 26:52-54.)

This is what true servanthood looks like. It looks like Jesus.