Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ by Cynthia Long Westfall Dr. Westfall brings her incredible expertise in Greek to bear on the Pauline texts about gender and gender roles within the church. Thorough and scholarly yet readable, she makes a strong case for an egalitarian position. Worth a read if you’re interested in this area of debate.
The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather Continuing my read of Cather’s Great Plains Trilogy… a nice change of pace.
Say the names Jim and Elisabeth Elliot to anybody who grew up in the evangelical church and you’ll almost certainly get quick recognition of the story of missionaries trying to reach a remote Ecuadorian tribe, and of the five men who were killed by that tribe after initiating contact. Elisabeth Elliot’s account of their efforts in Through Gates of Splendor became a bestseller the year after their deaths.
In God in the Rainforest, Dr. Long (Professor Emerita of History at Wheaton College) gives a historian’s critical eye to the long story of missionary contact and involvement with the Huaorani people in Ecuador. She manages to be incredibly evenhanded, avoiding the hagiography of Through Gates of Splendor and its follow-ups and examining the effects (both positive and negative) of the introduction of Western culture and Christianity to a previously unreached people group.
This one got particularly interesting for me because my wife’s parents served for decades with one of the missions organizations involved there and know those people, to the point that at least one of the people named in the book attended our wedding.
Separating missions work from our Western impulse to colonialize is an ongoing struggle. God in the Rainforest gives a fair view of how that struggle played out in the jungles of Ecuador in the second half of the 20th century.
How to Forget: A Daughter’s Memoir by Kate Mulgrew I don’t remember who recommended this one. Turns out it was a short but not easy read. Mulgrew (probably best known as an actress for playing Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager) didn’t have a very happy childhood or very good relationship with her parents. Mulgrew uses uses the story of her parents’ final years to frame her reflections on her childhood and younger life, and grapples with how to deal with the realities of her youth as she looks back.
Richard Beck has a series going on an approach he calls “post-progressive Christianity”. I’ve appreciated it a lot as he works to identify the good things progressive strains of Christianity have to offer but also where they fall short. I found his recent post on Love to particularly hit the mark:
All that to say, progressive Christians, because they preach inclusion and tolerance, tend to see themselves as lovers in contrast to their more judgmental evangelical counterparts. And in the eyes of the world, yes, progressive Christians are more tolerant and inclusive, more likely to welcome the “sinners” who are shunned by evangelical churches.
And yet, when it comes to cruciform love, loving our enemies, progressive Christians are no more loving than evangelical Christians. That’s a hard thing to say, but are progressive Christians doing a better job at loving the people they consider wicked? As we are all well aware, there is an intolerance associated with tolerance, and this intolerance has left its mark upon how love is expressed with progressive Christianity, although many try valiantly to resist this influence. The sad irony is that an ideal of tolerance simply creates a new definition of “evil.” And once that “evil” group is identified, it becomes really hard to love them. In fact, it’s downright immoralto love them…
Brian Zahnd made a very similar point at the Water to Wine Gathering last month: when you hate the haters, hate wins. The challenge is to remain lovers, for the love of many will grow cold.
Whether we claim the label “progressive” or “conservative” or no label at all beside “Christian”, the distinguishing mark of cruciform (cross-shaped) Christianity is that of love, even (especially?) love for enemy.
I’ve spent a few hours now sitting down with my 13-year-old daughter to watch the two nights of Democratic debates. (Yay for a kid who is interested in politics!) And while it was interesting to see 20 people on stage, it’s definitely time to weed some candidates out.
Can we continue the race with just Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, and Julian Castro?
The other folks are mostly nice and all, but clearly don’t have what it’s going to take to lead a national campaign that can win. Sure, Biden and Bernie are polling well, but they’re so obviously old. It’s time for some younger candidates. (And yes, Elizabeth Warren is 70, and somehow I’m calling her a “younger” candidate.)
In the end of it all, at this moment my heart is with a Harris/Buttigieg ticket, with them finding some special policy czar spot for Elizabeth Warren. But it’s still a long way until the Iowa Caucuses.
(For the record, my daughter declares her preferred candidates are Warren, Harris, Booker, Biden, and Buttigieg, and that she’s disappointed she isn’t old enough to vote in this election. )
In reply to a tweet thread the other day, I posed a question that’s been on my mind lately:
The responses to my tweet asked and presumed that this was a rhetorical question. And while it could sound that way, I didn’t really intend it that way, and I’d like to toss the question around a little bit more. Because I know and love and worship with a bunch of complementarians, and it would be uncharitable and unrealistic to presume that those who hold complementarian views do so for bad reasons.
Now, I’ve given away my own position with the question. I think there’s more than just room for the egalitarian position – I have come to see it as the position that most fully magnifies Christ’s work of reconciliation and restoration. In addition, fully embracing women serving in any role to which God has gifted them, including leadership roles, brings many practical benefits to the church. So if scripturally we could go either way, and the result is beneficial, why wouldn’t we go that route?
I suspect most of my evangelical complementarian friends would start from a different premise. While I would favor a Wesleyan interpretative framework that incorporates reason and experience along with Scripture and tradition, they would lean exclusively on Scripture. Then they would say that the clear position from Scripture is complementarian. And that would basically be that. And while some of the hard line complementarians would elevate it to a gospel-level issue – Denny Burk saying that the “egalitarian hermeneutic has the potential to undermine… the gospel itself” – most of the complementarians I personally know would acknowledge it as a secondary issue.
I’ve seen enough bad behavior online the past days (weeks, months, years) to believe that there is some subset of complementarians who are by their actions revealing that they are motivated by power and control more than by a particular Scripture hermeneutic. But I think it’s worth saying plainly that I don’t believe that’s common to all complementarians.
I have recently really benefitted from Bruxy Cavey’s teaching on egalitarianism from an Anabaptist perspective. But even further than that I appreciate and want to adopt his attitude that those who disagree with my egalitarian views are still my dearly beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. I just believe they’re wrong on this issue!
Trying to not get my book lists get so backed up this time. Here’s what I’ve been reading recently:
Golden State by Ben H. Winters This one underwhelmed me a bit – interesting concept of a society where everything is logged and speaking falsehood is against the law, but execution wasn’t so interesting.
Mission Critical by Mark Greaney Sometimes you just need a spy thriller. But maybe not this spy thriller.
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather I’ve never read Cather’s novels before, and felt some midwestern hankering for Nebraska-based writing. Now I need to get through the other two in the trilogy.
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien Richards and O’Brien are trying to help us understand that some of the texts that we so easily read and interpret through a 21st century American framework can have some significantly different meanings when seen through the cultural framework of the original audience. Worth a read, though not quite as earth-shattering as some of the reviews had led me to believe.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman whose cells were taken as a medical sample when she was in the hospital for cancer treatment. Those cells proved remarkably resilient and have become the base cell samples for medical experiments around the world to this day. Henrietta’s story itself is a rather slim part of the book; it revolves far more around race and poverty and its impact on the family she left behind.
Talent by Juliet Lapidos This was a random selection from the library shelf that didn’t live up to its blurbs. Claimed to be a “deliciously funny” novel grappling with the source of creative inspiration and talent. Meh.
This Life or the Next by Demian Vitanza A novel written as a first-person account of a Pakistani Muslim immigrant to Norway who went to fight with ISIS in Syria. Fiction, but based on accounts given to the author by a man currently serving time in a Norwegian prison for terrorism. Challenging to see an “enemy” through his own eyes.
The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore An account of an early workplace safety issue and court case where young women worked painting radium onto watches to make the faces luminescent. It’s an unsurprising story in most ways: a workplace hazard that, once understood by the corporation, was denied and covered up in order to maintain profits. The continual and vivid descriptions of the horrible effects of radium poisoning on these women’s bodies may have felt necessary to the author to raise the stakes of the story, but they were so vivid and plentiful that I just about put the book down because I could take any more talk of rotting jawbones and gushing pus.
And just so the last words in my blog post aren’t “gushing pus”, let me note that I’m still working on Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. It’s just gonna take me a while.
With today’s announcement by Montana governor Steve Bullock that he is throwing his hat in the ring for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, we now have 23 nationally recognized candidates running. With the field wide open and a troubled incumbent, this is to an extent understandable.
However, (and I’m by no means the first to observe this,) if the Democrats want to make lasting changes to the direction Trump and McConnell have taken the country since 2016, they need not only the White House – they need a Senate majority. So, here’s my run-down of the current presidential candidates and where I think they should be running for Senate instead. (Candidates listed alphabetically, direct from the relevant Wikipedia article.)
Michael Bennet – Bennet is currently a Democratic senator from Colorado, and his term doesn’t expire until 2022. He isn’t hurting the Dems’ chances at the Senate by running.
Joe Biden – While Biden had a long and distinguished career in the Senate, he’s not likely to run again after serving as VP for two terms. And Delaware’s two senators are already Democrats. Joe can stay in.
Cory Booker – Booker’s Senate term is up in 2020. Somebody’s gonna have to fill that hole. My 10-second Google search didn’t turn up anybody announced yet to run to fill his spot, but New Jersey is a fairly safe state for Democrats, seeing as they keep re-electing even the highly corrupt Bob Menendez.
Steve Bullock – Bullock is touting his ability to have won statewide office in a majority Republican state as a qualification for his presidential campaign. But Montana has a Republican senator up for re-election in 2020, and if Bullock really has such skills, he should turn them toward defeating Steve Daines to turn the second Montana Senate seat blue.
Pete Buttigieg – Mayor Pete might be at some point a worthy Democratic Senate candidate from Indiana. However, Indiana doesn’t have a Senate seat up in 2020. Mayor Pete can keep running. He might make somebody a good Vice President.
Julián Castro – Castro would need to do a little bit of coordinating here with Beto O’Rourke. Both are from Texas, and Texas has a Senate seat up in 2020. O’Rourke almost knocked off Ted Cruz in 2018; Castro could surely put up a strong state-wide campaign if he took up the torch. One of these guys should be challenging John Cornyn next year.
John Delaney – Who is this guy again? Maryland already has two Democratic senators and neither are up for re-election in 2020. Delaney is welcome to keep tilting at windmills as long as his funding holds out.
Tulsi Gabbard – In pretty much the same spot as Delaney. She’s not going to challenge one of Hawaii’s existing Democratic senators, so why not run for President?
Kirsten Gillibrand – Gillibrand is already a Senator and just got re-elected in 2018. If she doesn’t take the White House, she’ll stay in the Capitol. No impact.
Mike Gravel – LOL.
Kamala Harris – Harris has two years left on her term in the Senate, so she’s safe either way.
John Hickenlooper – Here’s another guy who should reconsider. Cory Gardner (who I always seem to get confused with Cory Booker for some reason) is up for re-election in 2020. Hickenlooper has been popular as a governor in Colorado. If he could oust Gardner that’d turn another Senate seat blue. It’d be worth a shot.
Jay Inslee – Inslee is currently Governor of Washington, a state that already has two Democratic senators. No harm in him running.
Amy Klobuchar – Klobuchar just won re-election to the Senate in 2018 so she’s safe either way. Fortunately for her it’s almost done snowing in Minnesota for the season, so her campaigning will get a little bit easier.
Wayne Messam – If you’re saying “who is that again?”, a reminder that Messam is currently the mayor of Miramar, Florida. Which, to be fair I guess, is about the same size as South Bend, Indiana. Florida doesn’t have any Senate seats up in 2020, though.
Seth Moulton – I had to look this guy up to remember who he is. (He’s a member of the House from Massachusetts.) Ed Markey is up for re-election in Massachusetts but surely he’ll run again, so Moulton is left out in the cold.
Beto O’Rourke – As I wrote above, he’s gotta get w/ Julián Castro and figure out which one of them is gonna take out John Cornyn.
Tim Ryan – No Senate seats open in Ohio in 2020, so Ryan can be another nondescript white Midwestern guy running for President.
Bernie Sanders – Bernie just won re-election in 2018. His seat is safe until old age catches up with him.
Eric Swalwell – Again, who? Another non-descript Midwestern boy (he was born in Iowa, even if he’s currently a Californian) who doesn’t have a Senate seat to run for.
Elizabeth Warren – Just won re-election in Massachusetts in 2018.
Marianne Williamson – LOL. (From California. See Swalwell above.)
Andrew Yang – Also LOL. From New York. Not gonna challenge Schumer or Gillibrand even if they were up in 2020.
So, let’s review.
Which Democrats should run for Senate instead of President? Bullock in Montana. Castro or O’Rourke in Texas. Hickenlooper in Colorado. Then Stacey Abrams should challenge Perdue in Georgia.
Then we need a strong Democrat to run against Joni Ernst in Iowa, but the Iowa Democrats haven’t managed to field a strong candidate for anything in a while. (J. D. Scholten might have a better luck running state-wide against Ernst than he did running against Steve King for the House…)
And can North Carolina get enough voting rights back to unseat Thom Tillis? They get to undo some gerrymanders but that won’t affect a statewide race like the Senate.
In short: there are some opportunities for Democrats to make gains and possibly take an outright majority in the Senate in 2020. But they need to spend their energy running for those seats instead of having all their strong candidates running in a giant knock-out race for President. If 2020 is really about our Republic’s survival after four years of Trump and McConnell destroying all governing norms, Democrats need to treat it that way and make a cooperative concerted effort to win both the White House and the Senate.
I have lived abroad often enough to be conscious of the flaws in various nations’ social democratic systems. But I know too that those systems usually make possible something closer to a just and charitable society than ours has ever been.
One need not idealize any of these nations or ignore the ways in which they differ in balancing public and private financing of civic services. But all of them are, broadly speaking, places where — without any unsustainable burden on the national economy — the cost of health care per capita is far lower than it is here and yet coverage is universal, where life spans are longer, where working people are not made destitute by serious illnesses, where a choice between food or pharmaceuticals need never be made, where the poor cannot be denied treatments by insurance adjusters, where pre-existing health conditions could never be denied coverage, where most people have far more savings and much lower levels of debt than is the case here, where very few families live only a paycheck away from total poverty, where wages generally keep pace with inflation, where every worker has decent vacation time each year, where suicide and opioid addiction are not the default lifestyle of the working poor, where homelessness is exceedingly rare, where retirement care is humane and comprehensive and where the schools are immeasurably better than ours are.
Americans, however, recoil in horror from these intolerable impositions on personal liberty.
People don’t just wake up one day to suddenly and brazenly espouse a heresy. In my experience, you end up a heretic because there’s a gnawing theological issue that’s keeping you up at night. The burden and size of this issue often grows and grows until a lack of progress in its resolution becomes intellectually and emotionally intolerable…
…many people at this point do something very heroic and commendable. They become heretics.
It’s heroic and commendable because faith isn’t being jettisoned. A herculean effort is made to keep and secure faith. Sure, the price is believing in some rather contested, controversial stuff, but the win is keeping you in the orbit of God, the Bible, and the church.
All that to say, heresy might be wrong, but it can be awfully therapeutic. The mind settles and the heart calms and you can get on with the real business of following Jesus in your day to day life. Some people just need to believe in weird, quirky stuff to make the puzzle fit together.
Beck’s reasoning has validity, too, when it comes to beliefs that aren’t heresy but that are outside the theological mainstream of whatever community you’re in.
Our salvation is blessedly not on the basis of mentally embracing exactly perfect doctrine. I’m comfortable, as I think Beck is here, to trust that God knows the hearts and desires of those people seeking Him, and that if He sees it needful to bring my heart around to embrace some belief that I just can’t stomach today, He can do that.
As Beck says at the end of his piece, “a little bit of empathy, understanding and compassion around these issues would do everyone a great deal of good.” Amen.