Review: Undaunted

Author and speaker Christine Caine, founder of the A21 campaign to end human trafficking
Author and speaker Christine Caine, founder of the A21 campaign to end human trafficking

Undaunted: Daring to Do What God Calls You to Do by Christine Caine [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012; Zondervan audiobook read by Tess Masters, 2012]

I first heard Christine Caine deliver a sermon at Willow Creek Community Church the weekend of April 17, 2016. Her sermon was so good, I made up my mind on the spot to read every book she has written; sadly, I was rather slow to fulfill that promise until I figured out how to fit audiobooks into my life more regularly. I think I settled in on Undaunted among all of her other books because it was the one my local library had, though I didn’t finish the paper copy in May as planned. Now, armed with the audiobook copy on Hoopla Digital, I was finally able to “read” it.

Undaunted is a thoroughly enjoyable, at times painful, almost semi-autobiographical book that details how Caine founded the A21 Campaign to abolish human trafficking. The book begins with a very daunting bit of theodicy wherein a group of recently freed sex trafficking victims question how God could be real after everything they had been through and why someone like Christine Caine hadn’t shown up to help them sooner (her answer, a very honest, “I don’t know, but I’m here now”). The narrative then segues into different events in Caine’s life and the lessons about God that Caine drew from each, with the overarching message being that we should not be daunted in doing what God calls us to do.

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Review: After You Believe

After You Believe -- N. T. WrightAfter You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N. T. Wright [New York, N. Y.: HarperOne, 2010; HarperAudio audiobook read by Anthony Ferguson, 2010]

If C. S. Lewis had been in favor of women’s ordination and a Bible scholar (two things which naturally belong together ;-)), he would have been N. T. Wright. They were/are both Anglican, English, taught at Oxford, and have/had a preponderance of fondness for being known by their initials. Wright also, like Lewis, possesses a keen ability to reason from the Scriptures in a simple yet logical manner and a creative command of useful metaphors and analogies to bring his points to life. His Simply Christian (which I haven’t read) has been compared to Lewis’s Mere Christianity, with obvious similarities in the titles. No word on whether or not Wright shares in Lewis’s fondness for cigars, but I digress.

After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters is a sequel to Simply Christian, but I can attest that you don’t have to read the first to understand and be edified by the second. As the subtitle suggests, After You Believe is about the development of character and what that means, a call for Christians to return to the pursuit of virtue. Central to Wright’s message is a breakdown of what the “Royal Priesthood” is: that Christians are meant to be both rulers and priests, and that this life is but the small opening part of a much longer existence (there are echoes of deification in this theology, although Wright does not use that term). The pursuit of virtue is not a matter of salvation, Wright is clear, but something we should seek earnestly in anticipation of and preparation for what God means for us to be. Wright makes the case that virtue is not something we are automatically given by the indwelling of the Spirit, but something that we must make a conscious effort to build up and pursue—with the Spirit’s help, of course.

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Finding healing in walking away

DepressionIn college I was intense. I don’t believe I ever took less than 16 credits, and usually took closer to 18. I was enrolled in three foreign languages at once, an officer in several clubs, and an enthusiastic participant in martial arts, self-defense, flexibility, and dance classes. I played guitar (though probably not very well) and sang in my church’s choir. I was as close to a Renaissance woman as I was ever going to be. The worst grade I got in anything was a B-; I had a 4.0 GPA or nearly a 4.0 GPA on a number of semesters. I had not started school with any academic scholarships, but began receiving them every year after my first full year at BYU.

Two things happened in 2003. I got married, and I decided to cram in a second minor in history in preparation for pursuing an American history master’s degree. It was too late to switch my major or add a second major and still graduate by 2005, but the minor would be enough to curry favor with graduate schools and show that I was serious about history.

My marriage became my undoing. I don’t want to go into all of the reasons why; let’s just say that duties and responsibilities that are supposed to be jointly shared within a marriage fell heavily and disproportionately on me. There was very little partnership. Instead, I found myself almost exclusively responsible for the well-being of two adult lives instead of one, to my exhaustion. Things got worse when my then-husband suddenly asked for a divorce in 2004, less than a year after our wedding. There had been no warning, and he did not want to even try to do therapy or work things out. He told me I was such a horrible person that I didn’t deserve any kind of a second chance with him, that he just wanted out of the marriage and away from me as soon as possible. Though we eventually reconciled, his gaslighting had an immeasurable impact on my psyche. I spent years walking on eggshells, believing that I had done something mysterious and terrible to drive him away in 2004. After our divorce in 2014, my former college roommates approached me to say he had been cheating on me shortly after we got married and they hadn’t known how to break it to me. The sudden and earnest request for divorce back in 2004 suddenly made sense. I believe he only reconciled with me because the Other Woman broke up with him.

With all of this going on, I finally lost my intensity. For the first time since high school, I began failing classes. (more…)

On Hope

Harley with a Funko POP of her namesake, age 10
Harley with a Funko POP of her namesake, age 10

Last Friday I recorded a podcast on the theology of hope with Dan Wotherspoon for Mormon Matters (available now). The other guests were Brian Hauglid of the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and Patrick Q. Mason of Claremont. Though the podcast was by Mormons for Mormons, I had a lot to say about traditional Christian views on hope and eschatology.

Dan asked us at the end of the podcast if we could answer the call of 1 Peter 3:15 and “give a reason for the hope that is within [us].” I have given a personal testimony here, but I wanted to repeat here what I said on the podcast:

My daughter was born in 2006 at the end of a healthy pregnancy in which I’d had every reason to expect a healthy baby. As I looked down at her resting in my arms for the first time, a horrible thought came into my head. I felt like I was being silly, but in that moment my fear and dread were all-consuming. I had to say it. “Does my baby have a cleft palate?”

The doctor and the nurse exchanged confused glances and looked at me like I was CrazyMom. I thrust my daughter back at them, made the nurse take her to check her palate. I’m sure she was expecting to say, “No, CrazyMom, your baby does not have a cleft palate. Please stop acting crazy now.” Instead, she called out, “Actually, doctor, can you come and take a look at this? I think there’s something here…”

It was the beginning. (more…)

Review: Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life

Leave_a_Cheater_Gain_a_LifeLeave a Cheater, Gain a Life: The Chump Lady’s Survival Guide by Tracy Schorn [Philadelphia, Penn.: Running Press, May 2016]

These days, self-help books are a dime a dozen and so often seem to be filled with myopic, impractical “advice” rife with wishful thinking on the part of their authors, it’s become both shocking and refreshing to run into a self-help book that actually helps.

It has been a little shy of two years since I read the original self-published version of this book. I read it in the wake of having discovered that my husband had secretly gotten back together with his mistress. He had responded to my discovery of his affair by treating the Other Woman to adultery prom night and posting pictures of their fabulous night out together all over Facebook (where our daughter had access to them). I was in shambles and my emotions were raw. To cap it off, my husband was engaging in some classic abuser behavior, acting like he hadn’t done anything wrong and we could still be friends. I didn’t know how to handle the faux-amiable attempts to chat me up about the latest season of Arrow or his mistress’ fabulous hair; after all, wasn’t he being nice? Shouldn’t I be nice back? I felt like I was going insane. This crazy-making behavior is called “gaslighting” and it’s what abusers do.

The beauty of Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life is that it calls infidelity what it is: abuse. Truth-telling has become a dying art in our society and cheaters (and those who sympathize with them) despise being told this, but Schorn pulls no punches. (more…)

Did Luther really say women shouldn’t be wise?

Luther_Found_GodIn searching for the Martin Luther quote that had troubled me in my youth, I came across a quote on a number of sites critical of Christianity, usually on “look at these misogynist things famous Christians said!” shock lists.

“No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise.”

The problem: it isn’t clear that Martin Luther ever said this.

I’m no expert on Luther–the focus of my MA was American church history, not Reformation history–but I did do a class on Luther and the Reformation, and this quote seemed “off” to me. Luther was certainly against the ordination of women (and you know what I think about that) but beyond that, most of his problematic statements on women were rooted in his attempts to valorize marriage and childbirth as part of his polemics against Roman Catholic celibacy, and there is a sort of logic to them. That doesn’t make him any less wrong, but there was more going on than unbridled contempt for women. I can’t say the same for any number of Christian theologians who came before him, especially amongst the early church fathers.

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Then I knew God calls women

“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” – 1 Corinthians 14:34 NIV

“Even though [women] grow weary and wear themselves out with child-bearing, it does not matter; let them go on bearing children till they die, that is what they are there for.” – Martin Luther [1]

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Those were just some of the words about women blinking at me from my computer screen that day. I was 16 years old and arguing with a skeptical friend. He had sent me a list of negative quotes about women from the Bible and famous Christian theologians, and I felt horrified.

Holy_WomanI’m not sure you could say I was any kind of a feminist at the time, at least not an intentional one. I had always been taught that I could be anything and do anything, that my gender was no hindrance to dreams, but that attitude within me was void and without form. I had been wild-hearted and tomboyish in my Alaskan childhood, had played on the edges of the wilderness with three brothers before I had a sister, had shot BB guns and pretended I was a Ninja Turtle and done just about every stupid thing that adults told me not to do, for the sake of being contrary and adventurous. The self-selected nickname I had begun sporting in my 16th year, “Jack,” flaunted my disregard for gender norms. “Is ‘Jack’ short for anything?” people would ask me uncomfortably, hoping to learn my real name was “Jacquelyn.” “Yes, it’s short for ‘Bridget,'” I would quip.

The ordination of women had never come up in the two denominations I had attended with regularity (Church of the Nazarene and Presbyterian Church USA) since youth. Those churches had no female pastors, although I had noticed female elders and deacons at the PCUSA. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis had articulated a hierarchical view of marriage that I accepted at the time, as much out of love for Lewis as anything, but it didn’t affect me because I wasn’t married and wouldn’t be getting married anytime soon, so I gave the matter little thought.

And then I had these words blinking at me from my computer screen. Horrible words about women in my own Bible and from Christian leaders I was supposed to revere. I didn’t know who God was anymore.

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