Rhythms of Grace – deficiencies and sufficiencies

[Today’s guest post is from Gricel Medina.]

Since I was a child I have always suffered from a particular vitamin deficiency. My body would respond with symptoms that alerted my mom that it is was time to get my blood checked. As an adult I don’t always take time to listen to those signals and do some self-care. I drink vitamins, but often it doesn’t seem to completely raise the level to the point that it shows no deficiency. By the time I go to the doctor I am completely depleted and he has to give me a shot that will last me awhile, but is not a permanent solution.

It is a constant reminder that some things need our constant attention. I find the same deficiencies with hope and grace. We tend to lose sight of the importance hope has in our busy hurried lives until we crash into an intersection where the void inevitably and abruptly impedes our moving forward.

Seeing things from polarizing views can also cause deficiencies in our thinking. Let’s face it, things do not always work out like we plan. We do not have control over how others respond or think. We are fickle human beings that have an inclination to change our minds to fit the latest trend or remain like concrete walls that refuse to accept anything that might be contrary to our own thought process.

Sometimes I wonder if many of us are in a state of delusional thinking. A place of slumbering apathy and compulsive denial. It can happen more often than we care to admit.

Social media, self-importance and the redemptive language of truth

As fallen humans we have a propensity to become dogmatically persistent in aligning ourselves with agendas that perpetuate self-importance.

Social media can convert us into obsessive individuals inciting polarized viewpoints that keep us perpetually stuck in monologues while our world spins out of control in desperate need of redemptive dialogue.

We criticize the screamer while we turn around and belligerently raise our voices to others declaring our own partial truth. Experience has taught me that we only know in part.

We all have a vulnerability to be caught up in a warfare of words that often wound and distress those around us. It is disturbing that in many cases this has become the new norm of conversation. We criticize the critic, yet never realizing that the most fervent critic lives inside of us.

My abuelita once told me some people don’t want to face La Verdad, which means the truth. But the question is really, are we open to other viewpoints? Much of what we believe comes from many sources including social media, our denomination, our cultural upbringing, our own interpretation of the Bible, or our favorite theologians that we hide behind because they enforce what we want to hear. We rarely scrutinize our own biases that infiltrate our thinking on a daily basis.

Real truth is not about hearsay. Truth exposes things we would rather turn a blind eye and avoid. Truth spoken in love brings self-awareness, empowers, heals, and delivers us from false notions. I am so grateful for the people in my life that kindly showed me different perspectives. People who are perpetually learning from others.

The value of truth should never be underestimated. Truth is not always welcomed, but always needed. Jesus spoke truth to the religious leaders and they hated Him. In fact they crucified him for telling the truth.

He used parables to address the pervasive religiously ingrained racism. He taught the way to truly love your neighbor and gave us a panoramic view of a controversial parent who dared to run and embrace a prodigal son and then turned around and brought much needed self-awareness to a self-righteous son.

Truth is justice. It sets us free.
Truth heals the deep wounds of the soul.

So how do we advocate for the truth even if it hurts and even if it means we could be sincerely wrong?

What would happen if we honored the things we have in common rather than elevate our differences? What if we spoke with respect even to those who have opposing views?

I wonder what would happen if we the church found ways to build bridges instead of constructing thicker walls that further dehumanizes the very people created in God’s image?

My heart is deeply convicted by what I see demonstrated in social media. We must be so careful of utilizing cruel and abusive rhetoric towards those who disagree with our often high-speed train of thought. It is a fine line when we advocate for what is right and lose our witness by exemplifying the very things we despise.

We cannot make a significant difference when our lives are layered with hypocrisy and double standards. Never forget that as leaders trust is a process that often takes many years to earn and an instant to lose.

God’s justice, truth and love

Psalm 89:14 tells us that, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; mercy and truth go before Your face.”

No one is more familiar with justice and truth than God. When we are spiritually deficient in hope and grace we must remind ourselves that God is still on the Throne. Our greatest advocate is Jesus. We only need to look in the mirror and see the flaws of humanity. They must begin with us.

God help us to mix in hope and grace into our advocacy. Let our voices be prophetic, but never forget the power of love. Love never fails.

Let us not forget that in our righteous indignation over the present and past injustices exemplified by those in power we have also played a part by our silent indifference.

Let us not ignore our own sense of privilege, entitlement, and lust for power.

For centuries we have bypassed the entangled webs of bigotry, rape culture, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and the marginalized, disenfranchised of our world.

We have apathetically ignored the immigrant and forgotten that most of us have come from somewhere else. We must all take responsibility for the colossal mess we are in or we will continue to incite more hatred and divisions in and outside the church.

Lord knows we desperately need peace, but do we comprehend that peace must begin in our own lives, in our homes, in our communities, in our cities. Yes, we need peace, but it must and foremost start with us. This is my fervent prayer. Let it be our cry as we call out injustices wherever they have been allowed to grow, especially in our own hearts. God remind us to incorporate rhythms of grace, not just in our advocacy, but in everything we say and do.

***

Rev. Gricel Medina is an ordained pastor to Word and Sacrament with the Evangelical Covenant Church. She was the first Hispanic to be Chairperson of the ECC commission on Biblical Gender Equality (CBGE). In her role, she developed leadership development material, gave vision and implementation of a CBGE blog, and has contributed numerous writings on the affirmation of women in all areas of leadership within the church.

Pastor Medina has written for several widely distributed Spanish and English magazines, devotionals, and blogs, including Covenant Companion. She is a regular writer for the award winning magazine, Mutuality and Arise at CBE Internationa, and was a recent workshop and main speaker at the Christians for Biblical Equality International Conference in Orlando, Florida where she was awarded the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award for her advocacy for women at all levels of leadership in and outside the church. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

She has currently planted three churches and leads a prayer movement for the MidSouth Conference. She is a tenacious leadership and community developer. Her work has extended to public and Christian schools, court systems and Washington, D.C.. She was nominated in 2017 to serve a three year term on the board of reference with CBE International. Her next big event is the Courage Conference on October 19-20, 2018, in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Guardians, Adoption, Slavery and Freedom – the difference between law and grace

A couple weeks ago I covered some cases for another judge. It was the Friday guardianship and adoption calendar, an assignment I used to have in my own courtroom but hadn’t seen since I transferred back to a criminal assignment a couple years ago.

Guardianships concern kids – from babies to late teens – who need someone to care for them. Typically their parents are facing their own difficulties, whether illness or something else that keeps them from being able to provide for their children. The guardians are usually family members or close family friends who volunteer to take on the duties of a parent. A formal court-ordered guardianship allows the adult to carry out the responsibilities of a parent with the legal authority to make decisions in the best interests of the minor. With that authority comes annual court reviews to make sure the child is well cared for. Some guardianships last until the minor turns 18, while others are merely temporary until the parent is able to take the responsibility back and provide a home once again for their child.

Adoptions, on the other hand, are permanent placements. I’ve presided over adoptions of infants and teens and even a couple of adult adoptions. Sometimes the child’s biological parents are so unable to care for the child their parental rights have been terminated by earlier court proceedings. Sometimes the parents are dead. And sometimes a parent has relinquished their legal rights in order to allow another person to become the parent recognized by law for that child. In any case, when it comes to the child and the adopting family, these proceedings are filled with joy for the people in court. Family, friends, pictures afterward with the judge – there’s a lot of celebration going on.

Divinely Coinciding

There was a divine coincidence in taking those cases that Friday, found in the scripture passages I heard in the sermons over the next two weekends.

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith … .

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 3:23-26, 4:4-5.)

Paul’s analogy to guardianship doesn’t correlate directly to modern guardianships, and perhaps not even to those in his own time. Rather, he characterizes this as a guardianship of slavery: the law of Moses is a guardian for those who are slaves to sin, locking them up and holding them in custody, while true freedom is not found under that guardianship but in the later work of Jesus.

The result of this later work of Jesus is compared to an adoption proceeding, and the particular type of adoption proceeding identified by Paul is striking in its extremity. When he wrote “receive the adoption of sonship” he meant adoption into the highest family status imaginable. Paul’s language refers to a legal proceeding placing a child into the position of firstborn son, the child who inherits the largest share of a family’s estate.

In the eternal and spiritual sense, this is Jesus’ position. Yet we are somehow adopted into the same position as Jesus, God the Son? Yes.

So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:7.)

When writing to the Christians in Rome, Paul touched on the same truth of being adopted into God’s family:

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ … . (Romans 8:15-17.)

Being co-heirs with Jesus is the eternal reality for those who belong to God. There is no reason to turn back to a status of being under a mere guardianship. Rather, as Paul told the Galatians, embracing the law would indicate a desire to return to slavery.

But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? (Galatians 4:9.)

Jesus fulfilled the law for you and embracing the grace of God indicates a better desire to enjoy God’s freedom from the law and sin.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1.)

The spiritual guardianship God provided for those under the law was not freedom. Freedom came through Jesus and our new relationship with God through him. You are a child of God, fully loved and fully included in his family.

Live in that freedom.

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Whose Money is it Anyway? Lessons from Finances, Anxiety and a Baby’s Birth

[Today’s guest post is from Megan Westra, a writer and speaker who also serves on the leadership team of a Milwaukee church. Here she writes of her growing understanding of money, faith, family and friends.]

The Anxiety of Financial Matters

I was in high school during the heyday of Drew Carey’s improv show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” With a six-year age gap between my brother and I, there weren’t many things that would prompt an enthusiastic family-wide gathering at that stage in life, but piling on to the couch to laugh ourselves silly over Carey’s show was one thing that would bring us together without fail. Each show would begin with Carey enthusiastically welcoming the audience to another episode, and the tagline: “the show where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.”

As a young adult I approached my finances with the same ideology: “everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.” I lived decidedly paycheck to paycheck carefully parsing out my bank account to the last dollar, and frequently checking my balance before heading to the mall or the grocery store just to make sure I had something in my account. I hated thinking about money. Creating a budget seemed so stodgy, actually following it even worse. I wanted to have the freedom to grab dinner or coffee or go shopping with my friends whenever I wanted, without having to first consult my budget.

Examining my finances was also anxiety inducing. If I sat down to plan how I would allocate my funds, then I would have to come to terms with how little money there actually was in my account. If I didn’t try to plan, then I could never come up short on cash for all the things I wanted to do.

It was only after encountering the work of Ron Sider, Gustavo Gutierrez, Shane Claiborne, Leonardo Boff and James Cone that I began to think about my money differently–namely that I needed to stop thinking of it as my money at all. These theologians and activists challenged my assumption that so long as I gave the 10% of my income commanded in Scripture, then I was honoring God with my money. A church kid among church kids, I had been tithing since I was in elementary school, faithfully dropping fifty cents of my allowance money in the brass plate as it passed by on Sunday mornings. As I encountered the work of liberationists like Gutierrez, Boff and Cone however, I started to think of giving in a different way. Sure, I still faithfully gave my 10% to the church as a young adult, but was God honored in the way I breezed past the woman experiencing homelessness on the street on my way to buy a $6 cup of coffee? The questions began to prick in my heart and mind, and I switched to Fair Trade coffee. After all, if I were going to spend that much money on a double shot, vanilla latte with extra foam, the person growing the coffee might as well be paid a livable wage.

A Baby’s Birth and a Mom’s Rebirth

My daughter was born in 2012, and that year I was reborn right along with her in so many ways, not the least of which was my view of money and resources, and what it means to be generous. We had been living intentionally in a low-income community for just over two years when Cadence was born. As we expected, people from our church gathered round to support our family with casseroles and baby clothes. Unexpectedly, our neighbors who often scarcely made ends meet, showed up on our doorstep with gifts and food to welcome the newest addition to the neighborhood. I was stunned. How did my neighbors, who had so little, find the means to be so generous?  I started to think of their generosity whenever I would rush past someone in need on my way to get coffee, or to pick up a new top for a special event. How was it that I never seemed to have the resources to be so generous?

The Philanthropy Roundtable’s findings on the demographics of generosity in the U.S. back up what I experienced first hand in my neighborhood: that while we may read headlines about what charitable efforts billionaires are making, the people who are the most generous are in fact the poorest Americans. In fact, people who make less than $20,000 per year give around 12% of their income as opposed to people who make above $125,000 per year who give only 2-3%. My husband and I shifted our thinking, what if rather than make up rules about “do we tithe on our take home or our gross?” we chose to ask instead “how would you like us to use our resources, Lord?”

We began to listen to the tugs on our heart, when we read about a tragedy in the news, or when a support letter arrived in the mail from a college friend. We listened to conversations on our front porch with neighbors. We listened to the stresses of coworkers and friends, and we began to think of ways to respond as though whatever we have is potentially the answer to someone else’s prayer. Taking our cues from the book of Acts, where the believers held things in common, our family dares to imagine the possibility that perhaps it is possible for there to be communities in which no one has need. Which means we choose to view the money and resources we have not as ours but as ours to steward. It also means that when we are in need, we are vulnerable enough to let others know, and to trust that God will provide somehow–often the act of expressing need is much harder than giving sacrificially to meet someone elses need.

In Matthew 25 the evangelist recounts an exchange when Jesus tells his disciples that whatever they do for the hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned and outsider they do to him as well. I wonder what would happen if we took this piece of Scripture seriously? That every meal shared, and every person embraced would be representative of Jesus in our midst. That every cup of water or vial of medicine isn’t to be doled out in amounts which meet the 10% quota, rather they are held with open hands, gifts given to me for this moment so that I might have something to give to another in their time of need. Because at the end of the day, it’s not my money anyway.

***

Megan Westra serves on the pastoral staff team at Transformation City Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is a dynamic and passionate writer, public speaker and worship leader, and is currently pursuing her Master of Divinity at Northern Seminary. She lives in Milwaukee with her husband of eight years, Ben, and their six- year-old daughter, Cadence. She enjoys coffee, fitness and cooking, and has a habit of starting to read more books than she could ever hope to finish. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter, where she describes herself as the Hermione Granger of theology.

 

 

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Taking My Dad to Concerts and the ER

Back in the 70s when I was still a teen, my Dad would take me to concerts. These weren’t concerts I wanted to go to and he’d drive. These were concerts he wanted to go to and – after I got my license – I’d drive.

Usually these were singers he’d heard on the radio. We saw Freddie Fender, Mel Tillis, Anne Murray, people like that. Then there was the time he bought tickets for someone he’d never heard sing. I had, though, and loved her songs. Finally, a concert I wanted to go to. Still, I wondered why he wanted to go. I found out when we got there.

High Energy Concert

We sat down a few minutes before the show and Dad started a conversation, as he often does, with the people in front of us. They were all dressed up and excited to be there, and asked Dad if he was a fan.

“I don’t know much about her, but I really enjoyed listening to her father so I thought I’d come.”

“You’re going to love her,” the young couple told him.

“The style is different,” I added, “but she’s great.”

“And she puts on a great show,” they said.

So we sat back and watched Natalie Cole positively kill it on stage at the Circle Star Theater. They were right. Great show.

That night came to mind when “This Will Be” came on the radio on the drive to work this morning.

Low-key Emergency Room

The phone rang a few minutes before 8:00 the other night. It was a police officer asking me to review a request for an emergency protective order. While listening to the brief statement of facts, the phone beeped to tell me another call was coming in. The display said it was Dad. He rarely calls that late. He usually always calls me at 5:15 to catch me on my drive home from work and to catch up on how things are going.

I called him back at his assisted living apartment and he sounded like he was speaking through a nose full of tissues. It turns out he was.

“The person here is working on my nose. It won’t stop bleeding.”

“Did you give them your nose clamp?” That’s the little plastic spring clamp the emergency room triage nurse gave Dad when he had a nose bleed that wouldn’t stop a couple months ago.

“No. I don’t know where it is. Do you want to talk to her?”

I talked to her and she said they were calling for an ambulance to come by to check him out. I told her I was on my way. By the time I got there ten minutes later the ambulance driver had already checked out Dad. The bleeding was stopped by then, but she recommended Dad be seen at the ER.

We drove across town to the hospital and signed in. The place was crowded. It took about a half hour to be seen by the intake nurse, another 90 minutes to be taken to a tiny curtained off portion of the emergency room, and another half hour for the doctor to come by.

I’d heard him helping other patients, each time introducing himself and then apologizing for the long wait. Dad kept saying he hoped it would only be a matter of being looked at and then they’d tell us to go home.

That’s how it turned out. The doctor came by, apologized for the long wait, checked Dad out, and said that once the bleeding had stopped there was really no reason to be seen at all. I mentioned the concern of the ambulance driver and the doctor said, “Yeah, well, you know …” or something like that. He also gave some insights on cause, so I said I’d follow up with Dad’s primary care doctor the next day.

We got out of there after 12:30, drove back across town where I walked Dad up to his apartment and then dropped off his discharge paperwork with the medical staff, and finally made it back home to shower (I always feel like I have to shower after trips to the ER) and go to sleep a little after 1:00. Getting up for work later that morning was an interesting endeavor.

Dad’s doctor and I spoke the next day, she made a change in his meds, and the hope is this will take care of the nose bleed issues.

Living Somewhere Between Pop Concerts and Emergency Rooms

Dad and I haven’t gone to a concert together in decades. Nowadays our trips out are either for medical appointments or sitting in a coffee shop and just visiting. In fact, most Saturday mornings you’ll find us at one of the small coffee shops that fill our college town. Dad always insists on paying for the drinks – hot chocolate or iced tea for him, coffee or chai for me – just like he paid for the concert tickets when I was a teen.

I’m at an age when I’d rather sit together over coffee than go to a concert, and driving to scheduled medical appointments is certainly much better than getting a nighttime call for a trip to the ER. Dad is at an age where most people would be happy simply to still be around, yet he’s able to live in his own apartment and enjoy trips, good food, and days filled with activities from exercise classes to movies in the theater room to musicians and singers coming in a couple afternoons a week.

So I guess Dad still gets to go to concerts.

***

Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:32.)

Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. (Proverbs 23:22.)

I hope I show respect to Dad not only in my actions and words, but in my thoughts as well. I don’t have the opportunity to do the same for Mom. She died when I was 14. What life might have been like if she had been with us for these past four and a half decades is a recurring thought for me.

***

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God’s Got Your Name (and It’s Not a Bad Thing Either)

My friend Julian knew the name of the capital city of every country in the world. Every single one. Julian was an older student at the University of Sussex, where we wound up in the same building of on-campus housing back in 1983, and had lived a bit before taking on university studies.

One of his jobs had been as an overseas operator for British Telecom, the phone company, on the night shift. He took requests all night long from local operators for connections to overseas telephone exchanges, and he had to know the capital cities of every country on earth in order to get the call through.

Julian said he eventually had them all memorized. We challenged him on it one night over a bottle of 12 year old Scotch, starting with the countries most familiar to us.

“New Zealand.”

“Wellington.”

“South Korea.”

“Seoul.”

“Finland.”

“Helsinki.”

We moved to some that we thought would stump him.

“Nicaragua.”

“Managua.”

“Cambodia.”

“Phnom Penh.”

“Kenya.”

“Nairobi.”

We kept trying but Julian was rattling them off like he was reciting the alphabet. I decided to dig deep for a country he might never have placed a call to.

“Belize.”

“Belmopan.”

“Djibouti.”

“Djibouti.”

”Zimbabwe.”

“Ah yes, now that’s a fairly recent one, since the country changed its name from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe-Rhodesia and finally in 1980 to Zimbabwe. You’re trying to trip me up on the capital, though, Tim; it used to be called Salisbury but in 1982 they changed it to Harare.”

We gave up.

Knowing Names Counts

Julian may have known the names of the capital cities for every country in the world but God knows the name of every person ever. The Bible says that God knows us so well, he knows us from the first moment in the womb.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13.)

He calls us by name because he knows us.

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. … I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me … .” (John 10:3, 14.)

And he has a new name picked out for you, one he has chosen just for you.

I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17.)

I kind of get to see this at work. I don’t see people I’ve known from the womb. That would be weird. I’m not God. But I do see people whose names are important. That would be everybody.

When someone appears in court – a witness, an attorney, one of the litigants – I want to get their names right. If I need help, I ask for it, telling them that I think names are important and I would like them to make sure I say it the way they do. Some people are taken aback. Maybe they thought judges don’t care much who is in court. Maybe they’ve never had any authority figure show an interest in getting their name right. I do, because I think names are important. I think it’s a Godly thing to be concerned about.

I also get to see people who show up with one name and leave with another. Name-change petitions are filed often in court, and a judge makes the decision whether to grant the petition or not. Basically, as long as it’s not for a nefarious purpose and meets the basic requirements, there’s no problem. (Check out the young boy and his parents, for example.) Starting the hearing by calling people by the original name and ending it by addressing them by their new name usually brings a smile to their faces. I like the name change hearings because they remind me of God and the new names he has for us.

I may never get all the names of all the capitals of all the countries right, but I do get the importance of knowing names.

After all, making sure a person is called by the right name is important to God.

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Living the Christian Life Is Not About You

What it takes to live the Christian life:

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Jesus Perplexes Me, and Someone’s Got Some Explaining to Do

Some stories about Jesus perplex me, like this one where Jesus asks a question that in a sense makes no sense.

Luke tells of a healing, and an impressive one at that. Jesus healed ten people at once, transforming them from pariah status and restoring all of them to their communities with the simplest of commands.

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19.)

Why did they stand at a distance? The law required them to keep their distance from people not infected with skin diseases.

Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp. (Leviticus 13:45-46.)

The fact they called out to Jesus – loudly asking for his pity rather than warning him off with cries of “Unclean! Unclean!” – showed they expected him to be able to do something. They might not have expected his chosen response, though. He didn’t touch them as he did another person with skin disease (Matthew 8:1-4); he didn’t pronounce forgiveness of sins as he healed (Mark 2:1-12); he didn’t proclaim the power of God in the healing. (Matthew 9:1-7.)

He just told them to go to the priests for inspection.

The Healing of Ten Lepers, James Tissot ca. 1886-1894 (Wikipedia)

This too was in keeping with the law. A healed person would be pronounced clean and able to rejoin society. (Leviticus 13:12-17.) But they were not yet healed when he told them to go. He just told them to go. In their faith they did, not knowing what would happen but trusting Jesus and doing what he said. The story said they were healed on the way.

Next comes the familiar part of this story for most people who have heard sermons and Sunday school lessons on the passage. The Samaritan returns to thank Jesus while the others don’t, which on first read is a surprising turn. Jesus’ companions must have been flabbergasted, “For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.” (John 4:9.) Suffice to say that Samaritans and Jews had (among other differences) conflicting views of proper worship that kept them from one another.

That’s not the surprising twist for me, though. It’s what Jesus says to the man.

“Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Interesting questions, mostly because of the further questions they raise in my mind..

First, the story says they were all healed. If the Samaritan man’s healing was by faith, how were the others healed? The suggestion in the opening of the story is that they all called out to Jesus in an expression of trust and reliance on him. That sounds like an expression of faith for all of them.

Second, in asking where the others are I would expect the answer to be that they were doing as Jesus commanded: they were on the way to present themselves to the priests. They needed a priestly pronouncement of being found clean in order to then be allowed to reenter the village and return to their homes, families, and friends.

Third, the reason the Samaritan man stood alone is because he left the group and turned back. Why would he not obey Jesus in presenting himself to the priests? Because he was a Samaritan and did not fall under the priests’ jurisdiction. Considering the antipathy Jews had for Samaritans, it’s likely the priest might not have even given him a once-over let alone pronounced him clean. After all, Samaritans were unclean in their eyes even if not infected by a skin disease.

Luke never tells us the rest of the story for the other nine. Did the priests ever declare them clean? Did they perhaps offer sacrifices of thanksgiving in the Temple in Jerusalem? These are possible, and these are also prohibited to the Samaritan.

Don’t take me wrong. This is not a criticism. It is me being perplexed. There is something going on that I don’t understand. I don’t understand what the deal is concerning the other nine.

I do understand that the Samaritan man’s faith is a model for people then and now, as is his gratitude for God’s grace and mercy. I get why Luke put this in his gospel of Jesus’ life. I just want to ask him some day what the deal is with the faith and healing of the other nine.

Then again, I have a lot of questions when I read the Bible. It’s a great book for making me think.

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Mail and Female: Women, the Post Office, and Church

Women in the Post Office

Angela Serratore’s 2012 article on 19th Century women and the rise of modern postal service sheds light on a world foreign to people who use modern electronic communications with ease and from the privacy of their own smartphone.

As she notes in Post Secrets, in the mid-1800s New York City established its first post office, causing public concern over the implications for women. For the first time, women who had formerly relied on parents, husbands, or even servants to retrieve their personal mail could now retrieve it themselves.

 Suddenly, wide swaths of women had access to two dangerous things—the mail and the post office. Anthony Trollope’s 1852 invention of the pillar-box had given British girls a chance to subvert the authority of their scandalized parents by mailing letters in secret, but their New York counterparts who visited the post office could both send and receive mail almost entirely unmonitored by those who might want to regulate their epistolary lives.”

ef=”https://timfall.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/womens-postal-window.jpg”> The sign above the small window reads: “Gentlemen not allowed at this window. For Ladies exclusively.” (New York Public Library collection.)[/cap

Ladies’ Windows were common, with some offices even having separate entrances for women where they would not rub shoulders with men at all. A number of contemporary writers warned of the dire consequences of women mailing and receiving letters free of the watchful eye of their husband or parents. One moralist even claimed to have evidence that the practice led to women taking up prostitution because of the danger inherent in “clandestine correspondence with unprincipled men.” (George Ellington, The Women of New York, p. 477, cited in Serratore’s article.)

Serratore notes that eventually public concerns about women visiting the post office without supervision “were mitigated upon the construction of a new, more spatially regulated post office near City Hall, and upon the widespread introduction of home delivery by the Postal Service”.  The original post office was located in a rough part of town that was no place for a lady, and personal servants or private couriers often delivered mail to individual households.

I don’t think the initiation of post office counters just for women was born of altruistic intent. I think it had to do with the economics of letter writing. Women wrote letters and that meant women needed to buy postage. The more letters women could send and receive, the more stamps they bought. The more stamps they bought, the more revenue that came in to the post office.

The effect, though, was a promotion of equal access to communication and speech. Women could now write to friends, put ideas down on paper and send them to magazine editors, coordinate social and political causes with like-minded people far away. No law stopped them. Of course, the law didn’t stop them before these postal services became available. But the prior practices showed how a neutrally written law could be applied so as to keep women from engaging in free speech.

  • Before: incoming letters passed through the hands of parents or husbands before reaching a woman’s hand, and outgoing mail the same.
  • After: women had access to the post without scrutiny, enriching communication for everyone.

Which brings me to the connection between 19th Century postal services and the gospel.

Women in the Church

The Bible says that women have the same standing with God that men do.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28.)

Everyone being clothed in Christ means whatever differences existed before no longer matter in your spiritual standing with God. That standing is defined as Jesus – not as being from one place or another, one social status or another, one sex or another – but as Jesus.

It’s like the post office today. The person at the counter no longer considers whether you are a woman or man. All they consider is whether you have a letter to send and the money to buy a stamp.

In God’s kingdom, too, it’s not a matter of whether you are a woman or a man. It’s a matter of whether or not you belong to Jesus. If you do, your place in that kingdom is defined by who Jesus is, not who or what you are.

This is the gospel truth. You can put a stamp on it. It’s ready for delivery.

***

[This is slightly updated from a guest post I wrote for The Junia Project in 2016.]

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Clarity Can Be Elusive When Serving God – Even for a Writer

[Today’s guest post is from Sarahbeth Caplin.]

Some people have a clear idea of how God will “use” them, especially if they came to faith from a struggle like drinking, drugs, or some kind of abuse. They know exactly who their audience is. The words come naturally and with ease.

I follow lots of bloggers who treat their writing as their “ministry,” which is how I approached my book and blog at one point. It seemed pretty obvious: I was a Jewish girl yearning for a deeper spiritual life that I couldn’t find within the spiritual community that raised me. And so, controversially, I came to Christ, and eventually, to the Episcopal Church.

Over the years, I’ve been pigeonholed into the role of “the Jew who found Jesus,” which never sat well with me. Even if that’s technically true, I never intended for my story to be some kind of universal example. I couldn’t make myself see my people as “lost” and needing to be saved.

Despite yearning for a personal God in the flesh that is expressly forbidden in traditional Judaism, I still recognized the richness of my traditions and the insights of my ancestral sages. It hurt me to see all that denigrated as worthless because Jesus wasn’t part of it.

I didn’t want to angle my writing to change anyone. Rather, I wanted people to find the fulfillment and hope that I had found. I still want that – and that’s what I wish to communicate to anyone who reads my memoir, Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter, be they Jewish, Christian, or something else altogether.

Honestly, I think I have more to say to my fellow Christians at this point than I do to the Jewish community. I want Christians to understand that Judaism is more than the prequel to Christianity. I want Christians to understand that their attempts to host Jewish holidays can come off as exploitive. I want them to understand that Jewish interpretations of Hebrew Scripture still matter and are still relevant, even if the two faiths disagree about who the messiah is.

I write with those thoughts in mind, but I also write for those who feel like they don’t fully belong in any one tradition. This may include Jewish converts, but it doesn’t have to. My greatest influencers aren’t those who feel they have all the answers, but ones who are humble enough to admit when they don’t.

What is my “ministry”? I’m confident that it’s writing. Storytelling. Whatever it needs to be.

***

Sarahbeth Caplin has a bachelor’s degree in English from Kent State University, and a master’s degree in creative nonfiction from Colorado State University. Her memoir, Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter, was an Amazon bestseller in the “personal growth” category. Her work has appeared in Sojourners, Huffington Post, and Christians for Biblical Equality, among other places. Beth lives in northern Colorado with her husband and fur kids, and blogs at www.sbethcaplin.com. You can connect with her on Twitter too.

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Sex and Getting Stoned – a Woman Meets Jesus

He came to the Temple early to teach, so I stayed in the courtyard to hear him before I had to move on. I wanted to listen to him all day, but my master would not be pleased if I was not there to clean his shop before his customers arrived. I had only moments before I would need to move on.

He didn’t get to teach long. A crowd – Pharisees and scribes and a loud collection of men – surged at him. One of the religious leaders motioned for the men to part. In that crowd of men was a solitary woman. Two of the larger men held her in their grips, thrust her forward, and then melted back into the mob.

I knew that woman.

We’d grown up in the same village, a poor and insignificant gathering of huts and shacks, and both came to Jerusalem desparate to seek work. Sarah left our village a year before me. I had only recently arrived in Jerusalem and felt blessed to find a man who needed a laborer for lifting and moving his heavy wares, to clean, and to stand watch over the shop whenever he left. It was not the type of work I’d hoped for, but it was work I could do and it put food in my stomach.

My master was not harsh, but he was also not kind. I was reminded of that when I saw him in that crowd of men. He caught my eye and I knew I would hear of this, of my tarrying in the Temple courts.

What was Sarah doing with all those men?

One of the religious leaders motioned for quiet and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

Adultery? Sarah? She must have married after leaving our little village, and to someone as desperate as she if they’d married so quickly. But was she still so desperate as to now take up with another man? We all waited for the teacher to speak, but he remained silent.

The teacher’s failure to respond alarmed me. Did he have no answer? And did he have no question for them either? I did. I wanted to know where the man she’d committed adultery with was. The man and woman both were supposed to be brought in for judgment according to the Law of Moses, the law these teachers said they were so concerned about.

The teacher stooped down and there, before everyone, started drawing his finger through the dust on the stone floor of the courtyard. He was writing something but I couldn’t make it out from my vantage looking at the letters upside down. The Pharisees and Scribes kept hammering him with questions, the men at their backs shouting encouragement, yet he remained stooped down, tracing with his finger.

He gave no answer. He gave no indication he was concerned with them at all. Finally their questions ceased, the mob-driven strength with which they’d entered the courtyard spent.

Sarah stood there, alone, separated from the mob by the barest of distances, head down, shoulders bowed under the weight of their accusing hatred. Then the teacher stood, closer to her than to the religious leaders. Sarah looked up at him as he spoke to the mob.

Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.

The crowd silenced. Sarah turned from them, her back bowed as if waiting for that first stone to strike. And the teacher? He stooped down and resumed writing in the dust.

If anyone was struck you’d have thought it was the Pharisee who had spoken first. His gray beard swept across his shoulder as he looked at the hushed men behind him. Gathering his robes, he turned his body and strode out the gate to the streets of the city.

All of the elders soon followed, some by one gate and some by another. Then the younger ones – the hotheads, I’d say, who were looking for excitement even if it meant blood – saw there was nothing left to do or say. They too turned and left.

Then the teacher stood again, this time looking directly at Sarah. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” he declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The teacher did not condemn Sarah even though the law said she deserved death!

He was letting her go, and telling her to not get herself into this trouble again. My head swam at the thought of such grace, and my heart melted for Sarah. Then a voice broke through my thoughts.

“Come. We must return to the store.” My master stood at my side. “I must tend to my own business.” He looked back at the teacher and Sarah. “And I must consider these words of forgiveness.”

We walked across the courtyard toward the street.

“Do you think it is possible to leave a life of sin?” I asked him.

“I do not know. That teacher seems to think so.”

“Sarah … that is, the woman … uh, she’s from my village … she’s sitting at the teacher’s feet, listening with the others circled around him.”

My master stopped at the gate and looked back. “Yes, so she is. How odd that he allows women to sit and listen as he teaches the men.”

“I’ve learned that he teaches all who will listen, any woman or man who has ‘ears to hear’ as he puts it.”

“Do you think he would teach me?” my master asked.

“You have ears.” I took his hand. “Let us both go and listen.”

And I led him to the circle, where we both sat by Sarah and listened to the true Master.

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