My latest article is written in conjunction with The Junia Project. So excited to be a part of their story. Follow this link for the article:
The streets of Sofia are uncharacteristically quiet this Good Friday morning. There is the occasional car, the steady whiz of a city bus, the sporadic pace of a pedestrian, but the city is walking this day in a reverent kind of hush. Even the bright and glorious Thursday sunshine has dimmed her brilliance to a somber sort of haze.
Bulgarians call this day Разпети Петък ‘Crucifixion Friday’. Continue reading “waiting”
Truthfully, you cannot nod your head as the US responds to blast a chemical plant in Syria without also recognizing that the reason Syrian people began to flee 2 years ago was a valid one. Perhaps now we understand a little better?
I met the kids you see pictured here in the distance during one of my visits to Idomeni on the Greek border. At its apex, there were 15,000 people living there in grossly inhumane conditions. Perhaps today, we begin to see how even that situation seemed more optimistic than staying.
As I journey through Lenten season, as I look ahead with expectation to a Sunday morning in the distance, as my family journeys next week back to our home in Bulgaria … my heart calls upon the Lord for those who are still stranded somewhere between tragedy and trauma and looking for home.
I do not know where these children are today. I suppose I will never know their destination until I cross my own border between earth and eternity. There are other children and families that have remained connected to us. They are my parish.
As you make your own journey towards hope this coming week, will you pray for Syria? Will you open your heart to the foreigner? Will you recognize your own reality as a refugee in their story of exile? We are all refugees, you see. We are all seeking sanctuary. We are all journeying towards home.
Come. Let us journey together.
She had just blazed through a list of reasons why she did not like the Church and, ‘did not like’ is perhaps too polite because the emotion of it was anchored in something deeper and stronger: She was not the first during that weekend to express anti-church and anti-God sentiments. In conversation after conversation it became evident that we were possibly the first living, breathing Christ-followers with whom these 70 students had ever authentically interacted. The majority of who or what they believed Christianity to be had been gathered from the media and sound-bites.
My current conversational partner described herself as a half Canadian and a half French human rights activist studying gender equality at a German university. The voice in my heart inserted itself, “Tell her.” I questioned the wisdom after her statements about the Church, but followed what I felt was the Lord’s prompting.
“What if I told you that I am an ordained minister?”
She literally stopped and I watched her weigh ‘church’ with ‘woman in spiritual leadership’. I watched her weigh ‘Christian’ with ‘concern for human rights’. I watched her weigh ‘minister’ with ‘woman’
“Hmmm. I’ve never heard of … well, that is quite intriguing. A woman as a minister in the Church? Is that possible? I like that. Yes – that does give me hope.”
WHEN WOMEN PREACH
And, it should give hope because women and men working together with equal authority in the kingdom is a life-giving, God-honoring, redemptive step forward in Christ’s reconciling plan for humanity. It is part of God’s will for us, his creation.
When women preach, the new kingdom is proclaimed – it is a kingdom where God’s spirit is poured out and both men and women prophesy. (Acts 2:17)
When women preach, the new kingdom, where we are baptized into Christ and clothed with Christ, where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female is proclaimed. (Galatians 3:28)
When women preach, the world sees a glimmer of the Christ kingdom breaking into today and we are able to prophetically imagine the shalom of the kingdom that is to come.
When women preach, we become the visible reality of Christ’s redemptive work bringing healing today to our broken systems.
BROKEN SYSTEMS – GENESIS 3
Eden is a marker in our story of what the kingdom we await once looked like. But, as Adam and Eve shouldered the crushing blows of their sinful choice, the walls that sin built became apparent. The Genesis 3 story is a descriptive, rather than a prescriptive, account of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin. After Eden:
- Intimacy with God in the garden in the way that they had known it ended.
- Work took on new and unpleasant characteristics.
- Woman’s desire became for a man and that gave him rule over her.
- Bringing life into the world was now filled with pain.
- Physical death became a new reality.
The results of the fall, seen here in Genesis 3, represent the reality of sin’s dreadful work. They describe sin’s consequences, but this is not God’s prescription for how men and women should relate to one another. It is a statement of sin’s distortion of the world, of nature, and of our relationships with one another and with God. The descriptive nature of Genesis 3:15 rather than the prescriptive nature of this passage is important to note.
Just as Genesis is the beginning of our story, Revelation gives us the end of our earthly story and it reveals to us our ultimate hope in Christ. Humanity is ever-journeying towards a return to the shalom of Eden – that Kingdom where earth and heaven exist together in and with Christ. However, we do not press on only for the hope of eternity, we believe that God’s redeeming grace transformatively affects our world today and in this very moment. Where hope can seem to be fleeting amidst the brokenness of our world, we join our voices with the prophet Amos and cry, ‘let justice roll on like a river.” (Amos 6:2)
In a world so broken and fractured by sin, our only real hope lies in God’s transformative work in us, in our broken systems, and in fact in all of his creation.
•God is transformatively moving all of creation forward back to the Garden where heaven and earth are perfectly held together in Christ. This is our final state of redemption and shalom.
•And, God’s presence and grace in this place at this moment is redemptively establishing the Christ kingdom now. It renders transformative change now. The kingdom is breaking into and redeeming systems of injustice and sin, it is healing broken people, it is redeeming all of creation … now.
Therefore, the Christ-follower journeys knowing that though I yet live outside of the garden, having been redeemed, I orient my heart, my mind, and my actions to the new kingdom’s principles. I am called to live today amidst the brokenness, amidst the pain, amidst the injustice, amidst the hopelessness in faith – clothed with the naked shalom of Eden – for the kingdom that is and the kingdom that is yet to come. This is the essence of Peter’s message in I Peter 2:11 – that having received mercy, we live as strangers and aliens in this world. This is a radical and intentional choice to live by faith for what we do not yet fully see but choose to believe, and as such, we journey through our life clothed for a kingdom, living by a kingdom code, and speaking of a kingdom that is not fully yet come.
This understanding of the Christ kingdom which is and is yet to come defines our interpersonal interactions with one another. It becomes the baseline for how I enter into the flow of Christ’s grace extended to all of creation and it becomes the lens for how I view the world. I can no longer say that because sin corrupted the balance between male and female, God’s redeeming power leaves this relational state untouched. Rather, I receive his gift as a new creature in Christ – the old has passed away and the new has come. Paul’s words here speak so clearly to this particular point.
‘So from now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view…‘ Why? Paul continues in verse 18, ‘All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:…‘ and in verse 20, Paul concludes, ‘We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us, …’ (2 Corinthians 5: 15-21)
When gender hierarchy stands as the ideal within society, or our relationships, or ministry in the church, we allow the stain of sin to continue to function where the power of Christ’s blood and resurrection would wash away the old system’s reign. Genesis 3:15 is not God’s plan, rather it is a consequence of sin. The resurrection of Christ restores that which sin distorted, makes us new creatures, and redefines how we relate to one another. ¹
THE TEXTUAL MEANING OF ‘HELPER’
Genesis gives us a clear understanding that Adam and Eve, as male and female, co-existed in beautiful harmony with God. They labored together in shared authority. When woman is introduced in Genesis 2, she is defined as an ‘ezer’ – a word used 21 times in the Old Testament. In 16 instances, this word is used as a reference to God as helper, which would not be understood as a subordinate or submissive role.
Neither the connotation nor the denotation of ezer is connected to subordination or subservience, rather the biblical texts where it is found use it as a reference to vital and significant help. An example of this would be in Psalm 33:20 where the Lord is ‘our help and our shield’ or Psalm 70:5, where God is ‘my help and my deliverer’. Auther Walter Kaizer uses Rabbi David Freedman’s treatment of ezer to suggest a more suitable translation for Genesis 2:18 to be, “I will make a power (or strength) corresponding (or equal) to man.”²
JESUS ESTABLISHED A KINGDOM PRINCIPLE REGARDING WOMEN
It is both our responsibility and our privilege to live as Christ followers in a sinful world with kingdom principles. Certainly, we see Jesus living out that kingdom principle
- as he welcomes women on the journey with him to the towns and the cities
- as he accepts their financial support of his ministry
- as he welcomes and affirms their right to be students of his rabbinical teaching (Luke 10:38-42)
- as he affirms a woman’s faith over and above that of his disciples (Matthew 15:24-28)
- as he engages in theological discussion with women (John 4:1-42)
- His first resurrected message is to a woman with the instructions to ‘Go and tell.’ (John 20:16)
Each of these actions, by themselves are already radical cultural shifts, but taken as a whole, it cannot be denied that Jesus is establishing a kingdom principal that challenges the gender barriers of the ancient world and that pushes the boundaries of his own Jewish culture. We must look to Jesus to define how we relate to one another in this world as we serve in his kingdom.
WHEN WOMEN AND MEN PREACH
When women preach, we become a proclamation of God’s gracious and mighty healing power for our societies – those that are fractured racially, ethnically, economically, politically, socially. But, to be completely accurate; when both women and men preach, serve, minister, and lead spiritually according to the call of God on their lives, it is then that we most fully proclaim Christ and the hope of his kingdom. As we give ourselves to Christ as his ambassadors, may the world see in us more than our gender of male or female. May they see the reflection of the Christ that dwells in us and swells out of us in waves of hope and love. Indeed, for the love of Christ, let us – all of us – Go and Tell.
¹I borrow here from Eugene Cho’s article in which he pulls from a portion of a larger document, Called and Gifted, produced by the Evangelical Covenant Church. Click here for Cho’s article. Click here to go to the download of Called and Gifted.
²I draw from Walter C. Kaizer, et al, in their book, Hard Sayings of the Bible. Kaizer sources Rabbi David Freedman for his treatment of the word ezer. Click here for an excerpt of the book dealing with this explanation.
I have the privilege of serving as an ordained minister along with an ethnically diverse group of Nazarene women and men from 12 countries across the Central Europe Nazarene field as well as many more across the EurAsia Region. Women serve as district superintendents, pastors, church planters, district advisory board members, presidents of theological colleges and educators right alongside their male counterparts. I am personally encouraged, indebted, and proud of the men in our larger denomination for being vocal and active advocates for the calling and inclusion of women at all levels of the church structure. Most personally, I am thankful for my husband, Dr. Jay Sunberg, who has encouraged, prayed for, and made space for women at the table of leadership and service on the Central Europe Field.
A special note of thanks to Dr. Dan Copp, Director of Clergy Development, and to the International Board of Education who are intentionally emphasizing the inclusion of women to all ministerial roles.
WHAT IS IN MY LIBRARY?
Why Not Women by Cunningham and Hamilton is my personal favorite for exegeting various passages in the Bible and a general, cohesive conversation regarding the topic.
Two Views on Women in Ministry by Beck and Gundry
Reclaiming Eve: The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God by Sunberg and Wright. Co-written by my sister-in-law, Dr. Carla Sunberg, who serves our denomination as president of Nazarene Theological Seminary.
Paul, Women, and Wives by Keener
As a Christian : As an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene : As an American who knows that her great-grandmother arrived on a boat from Denmark and her great-grandfather arrived from Ukraine : And as Jesus-follower : I appreciate the Nazarene manual’s clear guidance on living in relationship to and with the poor. And let us be clear on this point – poverty is more than the lack of finances. Poverty is also deemed voicelessness and/or powerlessness to protect/provide.
The Manual of the Church of the Nazarene
903.4. Responsibility to the Poor
The Church of the Nazarene believes that Jesus commanded His disciples to have a special relationship to the poor of this world; that Christ’s Church ought, first, to keep itself simple and free from an emphasis on wealth and extravagance and, second, to give itself to the care, feeding, clothing, and shelter of the poor. Throughout the Bible and in the life and example of Jesus, God identifies with and assists the poor, the oppressed, and those in society who cannot speak for themselves. In the same way, we, too, are called to identify with and to enter into solidarity with the poor and not simply to offer charity from positions of comfort. We hold that compassionate ministry to the poor includes acts of charity as well as a struggle to provide opportunity, equality, and justice for the poor. We further believe that the Christian responsibility to the poor is an essential aspect of the life of every believer who seeks a faith that works through love. Finally, we understand Christian holiness to be inseparable from ministry to the poor in that holiness compels the Christian beyond his or her own individual perfection and toward the creation of a more just an equitable society and world. Holiness, far from distancing believers from the desperate economic needs of people in our world, motivates us to place our means in the service of alleviating such need and to adjust our wants in accordance with the needs of others.
Shoes and Tuesday nights – I wish that I could just kick both of them into an unwanted and ignored corner where my soul would find peace because they are unexpected and unwelcome interruptions into my comfortable life. For one, I feel dislike. For the other, I feel desperation.
Tuesday nights are refugee response night and I don’t like Tuesday nights. We gather together from a multitude of geographic locations where we skype into our Hungarian kitchen to discuss the refugee situation across the Balkans. For me, it takes a supreme act of will and courage to sit my body down at that table and listen to those reports.
Covered in my warm blankets, in my cozy house, with a full stomach and girls tucked into corners with homework and a kitchen of dirty dishes waiting for their immersion of hot sudsy water, I experience a disonnance that I hate. From…
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Here on this cold Saturday morning, I’m scrolling through sunny June photos and remembering last summer’s fun days. Found this super cute memory of a tourist day in Thessaloniki with our friends and their sweet kiddos. Aren’t Lilly and Abe adorable? See the green tote that Abe is carrying? We had just given him that – it’s full of playdough fun. He loved it! In fact, his dad was just telling me recently that whenever they tell Abe to go get his suitcase, this is what he brings back – the green case that was a gift from us.
As I remember it though, there were tears right before this stroll – and, in fact, our destination in this photo is an icecream shop to sort of clear up Lilly’s tears. See, we brought Lilly a toy puppy that you could color on with markers. You can sort of see his feet sticking out from under her arm there in the photo. He was a basic white blank slate waiting to be decorated at her whim … but, she was much less impressed by his monotone skin tone. This gift exchange felt very unfair from her 5 year old persepctive and much to the embarrassment of her parents, she cried over her gift. Of course, we didn’t mind. As parents of 4 girls, we know that sometimes the honest response of a child can be unexpected. Sweet Lilly – she was simply being a 5 year-old child.
I wish that you could meet Lilly and Abe … and now they have a new little sister, Nora. Ohhh, talk about squishy – that chubby baby stage – with chipmunk cheeks that you’re just dying to squeeeeze – don’t you just LOVE it?
Honestly, these three kiddos have been through so much in their young lives – a huge tragedy in which they narrowly escaped being killed … and when I say narrowly, I mean that a few feet separated these two munchkins from certain death. They are fortunate to be alive. Walking miracles, I might even say.
Which is why I feel compelled to speak about our Christian response to immigrants. Please note that I’m not speaking to the government, I am speaking to us as the Church.
I failed to mention that in this photo Jay and I are sharing the sidewalk with Abe and Lilly’s parents who are Muslim background people. They are refugees. They are from Syria. They are good people. They are our friends.
They are the kind of good people that you want to stroll down a street with and talk about parenting with and with whom you share the funny, eye-rolling, exasperating things that your kids do. They are the kind of good people that you can’t wait to see next time. The kind of good people that are great parents and intelligent, caring, and peaceful humans with excellent work ethics.
They are the kind of good people that are hurt by a ban on an individual who is Syrian, who is refugee, and who identifies himself/herself as Muslim background. By those merits alone, people become classified as dangerous and potential terrorists – people like Abe and Lilly and Nora and their parents.
When we see someone first as a label, as a stereotype, we can rarely see them for who they really are. Truthfully, I westernized their Syrian names in this post so that you would receive them as children first. I wonder, did you sense a change in your attitude when you discovered their identity?
I am not opposed to a reasonable vetting process for immigration, but in a recent post, Madeline Albright, former US Secretary of State, called the current US process ‘robust and thorough.’ Additionally, the reasonability of the process should also be humane, fair, dignifying, timely and respectful of the people moving through that process.
I am saying that for the Christian community, the Bible is clear about our responsiblity to our neighbor, to the foreigner, to the voiceless. Let us be clear: As Christians, God gives us the freedom to choose to NOT respond in accordance with the Biblical guideline. But, we DO NOT have the authority to re-define what is a Biblical and Christian response to the refugee and the foreigner. The Bible defines, and quite clearly, the Christian response. (See the end of the post for a list of verses.)
I am saying that to be authentically pro-life means that our Christian imperative to protect life extends from the womb and encompasses the lives of baby Nora, Lilly, Abe, and their parents. A Muslim, Syrian, refugee fetus has just as much right to life as any other unborn baby or any other human for that matter. #wholelife
I am saying that here in the pause between Christmas morning and Eastern morning, our own Jesus story most clearly identifies with baby Nora’s in its aspects of context and circumstance.
The parents of baby Jesus, who were from what we call the Middle East, fled their country of origin fearing for their lives. They became refugees in the land of Egypt. God communicated to them in a dream, which is a very Middle Eastern facet of narrative – even in the stories that we hear today. Jesus was a refugee. Baby Nora, who was born in Greece 2 weeks after we snapped this photo, has no country of origin or identity other than ‘refugee’. Nora is a refugee. The story of baby Jesus and the story of baby Nora are so similar that I fail to understand how we can ignore the fact that one story informs us of the other. If we root for baby Jesus, we must root for baby Nora.
As I think about the truth of Jesus as a refugee, I find that we really know nothing about those 3 years in Egypt. I find myself wondering who helped Mary and Joseph and Jesus? Who welcomed them? Did extending hospitality endanger them too, since the family was running from an empire that sought to kill them? And, if we expect that the doors of a home in Egypt were thrown open in hospitality for the baby Jesus, how can we not feel the weight of that same expectation on our own shoulders?
We are foolish to think that Jesus is anything but passionate for the plight of people who have been forced into the role of refugee.
Jesus and his family spent 3 years in exhile. Current UNHCR statistics show that 17 years is the average length of time for a refugee to live as a displaced person in transition.
In other words, statistically, Abe and Lilly and Nora will actually graduate from college before they have a place that they can call ‘home’ – at least ‘home’ in the sense that you and I, from our privileged positions, understand the word ‘home’. I wonder if any of us can fully appreciate either the irony or the tragedy of that truth?
Baby Nora, the Syrian refugee born in exhile in Greece will be stateless until she turns 18. In a world where ‘Middle Eastern refugee’ automatically communicates a potential threat as a terrorist – someone to be feared, someone who poses a danger – well, I’m just wondering how that will work out for sweet, chubby cheeked little Nora.
Its funny and troubling and uncomfortable on this Saturday before entering our Sunday sanctuary in this long pause between Christmas morning and Easter morning to look back through photos of Abe and Lilly and wonder … well, wonder how to be Jesus to them and what that means for his body here on earth. May God give us all wisdom and courage for the journey.