Shades of Gray

The rythmic pump of oxygen is there. It’s faint, but it comes on the 5 or 6 count – unexpectedly and quietly. It’s a gentle breeze puffed into the century-old body. 100 years of life that began in 1916. Imagine that. And I steal a few moments to sit with him and draw out the golden details of years lived long. I’m looking for those silken threads amdist a haystack of memories because we all want to know how to live. And if we are vulnerably honest, maybe we want to know if we want to live that long. Is the view that close to glory worth the wait or is it too bittersweet to taste the sweet? I’m still not sure.

There’s two puffs of oxygen and a remnant of mischief in the half smile before he answers my plea for 10 decades of wisdom, “God will take care of you. Let him.”

That goes down smooth, like that first sip of dark Peruvian coffee on a crisp Autumn morning. They are simple words. But as I savor them, I realize that they are complicated. If honesty is what we are pouring tonight, then I find it difficult to be honest about aging. It doesn’t go down smooth.  I find it difficult to find my way through the switchbacks of a body forming lines of history that are unwelcome highways on my skin. I’m not ready for their stories to be so boldly proclaimed on the surfaces of my being – defining me, describing me.

FIST-FULLS OF GOLDEN NUGGETS

I started wrestling with age in my thirties – looking down the road for women that were wearing their decades and shades of gray as garments of praise. Women that could inspire the fashioning of my own tapestry of time.  It is an easy thing to look back and say, “I wish my body still looked like 14.” It is an entirely different journey to look ahead and embrace where my body is going. This is honesty that is hard to speak within a culture that glorifies youth so that they can market it in boxes and potions and sell it at premium prices. Our cultural narrative screams that aging is neither natural nor beautiful. But, what if aging is the precious silver produced from pain and experience and the mistakes mixed with laughter and love and the growing of marriage and family and frienship? What if our years are the currency that forms and informs the journey of the next generation? We sew a tragic flaw into the fabric of a culture that robs itself of this treasure chest of wisdom.

Bob and Annie picked through their stories over watermelon and cherries at the church potluck and I savored their sweetness. Eighty years of life and the crop is plentiful. Fifty-five grand-children, 44 great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren. They are more than 100 souls when they gather in one room. He, a pastor turned truck-driver and she, an assembly-line supervisor that formed the black-boxes that string moments into information in jet-liners that still track the details of how we criss-cross our globe. There is treasure in the depths of their charted journeys where Bob’s tragedy led to rebellion and broken marriages and Annie bore the heartbreak of one husband buried before finding her Bob. By the time they became one body, Bob had sewn his seeds of rough living and found his way home to Jesus. They were in their fifties.

“In twenty-four years, we have never had a fight,” Bob says and I like how the light in his eyes reflects love and joy.  Annie’s short, white-as-the-clouds hair bobs in a pixie cut and my eyes don’t want to leave her spritely face. I’m captivated by the beauty of their strands and the depth of their stories, and the laughter and the compassion that boils under the time-lines written upon their faces. I don’t want to leave this table. Like a miner, I am digging. I am digging for treasure here and surfacing with fist-fulls of golden nuggets.

We talk about redemption – not just the saving of our souls, but God’s power to redeem us, our mistakes, even the wounds that our choices inflict upon our children. These are precious pearls of honesty and you don’t buy that in a box. This is earned treasure – the sweat and tears and pain of wrestling our selfish, self-serving flesh for the glory that lies beyond instant gratification.

BREATHE

Our polarized culture needs the birthing of this gracious discourse across the differences of years and the perspectives of politics and dogma. We are gasping for the un-siloing of the generations – a flow of oxygen to fill us and revive us. There are younger people than I who will echo my cry:  Throw open the windows of your soul and unleash your voice of wisdom here. Testify your years as a tapestry of experience, and lessons-learned, and love-lost and love-won.

My ears long to hear you wear your decades with honesty, and humor and dignity.  Show me how to live this procession of time with grace and let me trace with my fingers its story upon the canvas of your face. Speak to me of how to embrace and to welcome the years instead of resenting them or fearing them.

As I look at the silver strands beginning to believe that they belong amidst my own brunette treasure, I ask Jesus to breathe his grace into this piece of my journey, but maybe it is courage and vision that I really need. Courage to put the flesh and the bone of my shoulder against this door of culture and push with the same guttural force that bore 4 screaming infant-women into this world. And, vision to see what my soul whispers as truth. That as these bodies swell to birth children and then bend toward the dust from which they were formed, our souls are revealed – towers of strength and courage sinewed with the muscle and tendons of a fierce faith.

MIGHTY WARRIORS

This is a call to my mighty tribe – to women of all ages and shades of gray – push with me. Like an African warrior, let the lines of the years upon our face be the tattood stories that we bear upon our brow. They are gifts to the world around us – outer markings that reveal warrior-souls steadied for battle.

Raise your voice and roar with me, “Cast your eyes here and find the markers of Jesus – his faithfulness, his lessons, his correction, his mercy.”  This is the grace that breathed songs of mighty victory out of Deborah.

Women, we were fashioned to be fierce and strong and wise. Time will take our youth but it will not silence our testimony. My sisters, covenant with me to let the years stretch out from our 14 year-old curves as the garments of a fierce and unwavering faith.

This is a call to my brothers as well. We stand best, we stand strongest, we do battle as a mighty force for our cultures when we stand together as equals. Men of integrity, raise your sinewed arms and let the strength of decades feed our souls with courage.

Let it not be the curves of our genders that define our worth for the kingdom. Our ancient story tells us that at 14, her girlish curves bosomed the heartbeat of a Savior. His muscled legs woke in the night and carried them to safety. Both of us are called, like them, to bear a Savior – to be a sanctuary, a mighty fortress for our cultures, for our families, for the vulnerable who seek shelter within our gates.

Nor should our shades of gray and the tatoos of time determine whether we battle as one body. Let us battle together, you and I, to build a fortress of faith that forces open wide the arms of hospitality and hospital to the wounded of every nation and every age. Our battle cry bears witness that neither the glistened glow of our youthful bodies nor the textured format of our aging ones will be the chattle for a culture that sells sex. No. We are not for sale.

Our shades of gray, our curves, our tendons and tissue, our tattoos of time – all of this beautiful skin in all of its seasons of life enflesh a warrior’s soul that will not be purchased. So strain. Push. Bear down. Birth life.

Who will stand with me?

Who will flank my right and my left so that together as a mighty force, we fulfill our call to change nations and to birth hope with the varied generations that battle by our side and those that will come behind?

Rise up warriors. Wear your shades of gray with me. Do battle and fight well.

Listen. Do you hear it?

It’s on the 5 or 6 count that the truth rides in on a wisp of oxygen. “It’s worth the climb – worth the battle, worth the blood, the sweat, and the tears.” Here at the top, with our bodies bent low, and our souls standing strong and straight as warriors – the air is sweet. In the end, it’s sweet up here.

 

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A God Who Calls Women to Pastor

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:

http://juniaproject.com/god-who-calls-women-pastor/

waiting

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”

seeking sanctuary

seeking sanctuary

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.

when women preach

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.

EARLY CHURCH 

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. 

CITATIONS

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.

AUTHOR NOTE

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

Towards Understanding Our Christian Responsiblity Today

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. 

#iamanazarene #weareimmigrants

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.

torn shoes and tuesday nights

torn shoes and tuesday nights

Across Cultures

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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