Category Archives: Justice

Women Are People Too

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of WomenSarah Bessey. (Howard Books, 2013) $14.99

Jesus-Feminist-Cover-copyIn recent years, there has been a backlash against egalitarianism and Christian Feminism emerging from what could be described as the “young, restless, and reformed” segment of the Church. Fortunately, the voices coming from the other side have been equally loud, calling for mutual submission in the household and full participation of women in ministry. In this conversation, Sarah Bessey’s book Jesus Feminist (2013) stands out. She addresses the Church’s treatment of women with the end goal of “exploring God’s radical notion that women are people too.” At first, I thought this subtitle seemed almost satirical, but in light of the more outspoken complementarians who have published recently, it is perhaps more warranted than my initial impression would have allowed.

Bessey’s gentle and humble tone sets her book apart. From the very first pages, it reads as a letter from a dear friend. In a debate which is fraught with conflict, mud-slinging, and name-calling, Bessey looks for the positive, encouraging women to live into their God-given potential. Rather than spending time debunking arguments on the other side (as many egalitarians do with Wayne Grudem and John Piper), Bessey spends most of the book talking about what women have done, and are currently doing in service to God, the Church, and the world. Her book reminds me of The Junia Project in that it seeks to equip and empower rather than to argue.

The core of Bessey’s argument is that her Feminism is a response to what she cares the most about—following Jesus. The best way for Christians to pursue women’s equality is for us to pursue Christ. “We must remember that all of those efforts are ultimately frustrating, sometimes even misguided, without Christ” (184). Moreover, Bessey makes the claim that “the Feminist Agenda” is, indeed, God’s agenda, because God cares about justice.

Nothing changes in a true, God-lasting way when we use people or push agendas or make finger-pointing arguments or accusations of heresy. The justice we are seeking is God’s justice—justice that leaves no one out, no one left behind. His justice breaks chains, rids the world of injustice, frees the oppressed, cancels debts (184).

As a young woman working for a church, Bessey’s writing speaks to me though I am perhaps not her intended audience, as she debunks the myth that church work is the ultimate calling. However, as a woman and a Christ-follower, I have wrestled with the questions that Bessey wrestles with in her pursuit of Jesus. As such, Bessey’s experiences and hopes resonated with me. The only thing I would change about this book would be to use gender-inclusive language for God. I understand that within the Christian world, understanding God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is our bread and butter but using masculine pronouns for God becomes a stumbling block for some Jesus Feminists as they seek to understand God at work in their lives.

More than anything, I hope that young and old women read this book and feel empowered to pursue God’s calling on their lives. I hope that my seminary professors, who have done so much to encourage my pursuit of ministry, read it and keep doing what they are doing. I hope that complementarians read it, and, at the very least, hear Bessey’s prophetic voice to begin reconsidering their positions.

Naomi Wilson is the Director of Christian Education at Faith Presbyterian Church of Valley Village, nestled between North Hollywood and Studio City in beautiful sunny Southern California. She loves coffee, sunshine, books, and running.

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Poem: “What is Open”

Though he abandoned his poetry following the cartel murder of his innocent 24-year-old son, Javier Sicilia’s mystic poetry remains an important fixture in contemporary Mexican poetry. His last book of poems, Desert Triptych, won the Aguascalientes Prize for Poetry in 2009, and features the prophetic voice that Sicilia has harnessed during his Caravan for Peace, now making its way through the United States (read “Bi-National Caravan for Peace,” by Ryan Bell and David Shook in The Huffington Post). Reflecting Sicilia’s lifelong commitment to socially engaged Catholicism—the poet was a close friend of Ivan Illich during his time in Cuernavaca—Desert Triptich echoes classic mystics like St. John of the Cross, emulates and reworks the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament, and converses with poets from Dante to Celan to Eliot. The following poem comes from the second section of the literary triptych, called The Night of What Is Open. —DS

What Is Open

To us, who walk upright,
as if the fate of our condition would be covered by that gesture,

not the animal that advances low to the ground toward what is Open,
a backwards and forwards in the happening of the infinite;
not the tree that rooted
—its mouth within the earth,
its sex against the wind—
inhabits the pure space of your immobility;
not the angel, too perfect in its beauty,
an essence made of space,
bird of light suspended in the eternal;
but we who advance gropingly
between heaven and earth, terrified of death,
hollowed with holes; 

to us, viatores,
—who yearn for both the earth and the heavenly
and aren’t at peace with ourselves—,
only love saves us from our anxious flight forward,
as if in the contours of what is loved what is Open would close
and the hollowness of flesh would find repose in what is created
and would not see its death,
but rather a proclaimed beyond,
contained within the limits of the body.

Lovers know it,
those, so close to one another, who
look amazed into the Openness that their eyes discover in their eyes.
But neither one or the other cross into it
and they return to the world.
Could it perhaps be the fear of the infinite call
or the sweet nostalgia of forever residing in what is created
that never restrains them?
Or maybe that is our place,
the spot of the eternal that corresponds to us:
to contemplate and feel the infinite wrapped in the flesh,
in that mutual giving of one to the other,
while the slow flight toward what is Open allows us to inhabit the duration,
that already but not yet
that the lovers live at grazing skin;
that eternal presence
that makes us present in ungraspable time
like a tenuous crack
in the porcelain alb of the Open.

translated from the Spanish by David Shook

Poem © Javier Sicilia and Ediciones Era, 2011. Translation © David Shook, 2012.

Javier Sicilia was born in Mexico City in 1956. He is one of Mexico’s most important writers, and has won prizes for his fiction, poetry, and screenplays. He’s written columns for the progressive magazines Proceso!, Siempre!, and La Jornada Semanal. His most recent—and last—book of poetry, Desert Triptych, won the Aguascalientes Poetry Prize in 2009.

David Shook is a poet and translator who grew up in Mexico. His poems, translations, and essays appear widely. More at davidshook.net.

The Cross and the Lynching Tree

The Cross and the Lynching Tree, James H. Cone (Orbis) $28

As soon as I read the title of this book it was instantly obvious to me. Human beings have an uncanny ability to miss what is right in front of their eyes. Particular narratives frame reality and admit or reject certain truths based on those narratives which run, like software, in the background, unexamined. But when our imaginations are opened to a truth, it is impossible to go back; impossible to not see it.

Such is the case with The Cross and the Lynching Tree, the latest volume from renown black liberation theologian and Union Theological Seminary professor, James H. Cone.

In this brief and engaging read, Cone highlights the problem of an anemic theological and social imagination on the part of some of our best thinkers. Cone begins, in the introduction, with these words,

The cross and the lynching tree are separated by nearly 2,000 years. One is universal symbol of Christian faith; the other is the quintessential symbol of black oppression in America. Though both are symbols of death, one represents a message of hope and salvation, while the other signifies the negation of that message by white supremacy (xiii).

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Invisible People: An Interview with Christopher Chinn

It was…pretty hard to see how paintings of pretty people leisurely reclining on beautiful hardwood floors, saturated in sunlight, could be relevant when thousands were outside my door reclining in filth on the streets for years on end.

Christopher Chinn just completed a larger than life sculpture of a homeless man reclining on the sidewalk and installed it for one day in May. I sat down with Mr. Chinn to find out what inspired this sculpture, what kind of conversation he is hoping to engender and what his future plans are for his work.

You can make a tax-deductible contribution to the future of his project entitled Encounter, through a partnership with US Artists. Click  here to learn more and contribute!

You just completed a larger than life sculpture of a homeless man. What was the inspiration for this piece?

The idea for this work began in 2008 during a solo exhibition of paintings. The gallery director and I were discussing ways to bring the homeless who had modeled for the work to the gallery. We ultimately decided that while well intentioned it was largely misdirected. What really needed to happen was just the opposite, to move the artwork out of the gallery and onto the streets where it could be experienced by the homeless without barriers. My interest in this subject matter developed about ten years ago after I graduated from USC. My first studio after graduate school was just south of skid row in downtown Los Angeles. There were four homeless people living in the long walkway to our new front door when we moved in. It was very difficult to witness everyday the living conditions of those on the streets. I realized pretty quickly after moving there that it was something I was going to have to deal with. I came to the conclusion that the best way for me to do that was with my artwork. It was also pretty hard to see how paintings of pretty people leisurely reclining on beautiful hardwood floors, saturated in sunlight, could be relevant when thousands were outside my door reclining in filth on the streets for years on end. My previous painting lost all meaning for me, and I realized that I wanted my work to directly engage real social issues.

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Reconciling Congregations

Churches, Cultures & Leadership, Mark Lau Branson and Juan F. Martinez (IVP Academic) $25

For decades church growth gurus have taught conscientious pastors that one important key to the numerical growth of congregations is the “homogenous principle.” That is, churches grow best when they focus on one type of person. “Like attracts like,” goes the popular adage. Who can deny the truth of this? A church full of young families, for example, is undoubtedly attractive to many other young families. In social settings people feel more at ease when they can identify others like themselves.

In their new book, Churches, Cultures & Leadership, Fuller Theological Seminary professors Mark Lau Branson and Juan F. Martinez, challenge this conventional wisdom, arguing that church leaders need to take a fresh look the role of churches in God’s reconciling mission.

[C]entral to this book [is the question], what is the call of the gospel on churches? How can churches model gospel reconciliation and be agents of reconciliation and justice in our cities and in our nation? We believe that God’s grace calls us beyond racism and ethnocentrism. The question is how to express the new reality of the gospel in ways that both celebrates our differences and draws us toward unity in Jesus Christ (17).

They approach their subject with academic rigor, pastoral concern for the church as well as a deep awareness of their own ethnic narratives and experiences. They have both served many years in multi-cultural congregations and now co-teach seminary students.

The book aims at an ambitious target: to outline a practical theology of intercultural, congregational leadership. Any one of those themes would be challenging enough, but here, Branson and Martinez work at integration. In the end, this is a work of practical theology.

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Year of Plenty

Year of Plenty (Sparkhouse Press) $12.95

With poignancy and wit, Craig Goodwin relates his family’s year of living locally in the new book, Year of Plenty: One Suburban Family, Four Rules, and 365 Days of Homegrown Adventure in Pursuit of Christian Living. Frustrated after one more Christmas of buying gifts that they didn’t like and didn’t need, Craig and his wife, Nancy, decide to do what seems so rare these days: they changed their way of life. Five rules, hatched hastily over dinner one night shaped the next year of their family’s consumption: local, used, homegrown, homemade and Thailand (you’ll just have to read the book to understand that last one).

In spite of a growing genre of books about families and individuals spending a year eating locally, this book, and the Goodwin family’s experiment, is not about jumping on a cultural bandwagon. Goodwin’s experience brings a fresh perspective to the growing conversation about environmentalism and sustainable living, which is captured in the subtitle. Theirs is an “adventure in pursuit of Christian living.” Arguing that Christian faith has been largely colonized by the modernist narrative of consumption and unlimited growth, the Goodwin family deliberate steps off the treadmill and dares to ask whether there is something deeply amiss about our “normal” way of life. In a play on Wendell Berry’s well-known phrase, “eating is an agricultural act,” Goodwin declares, “eating is a theological act” (195). He goes on to explain,

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Occupation of the Territories

Occupation of the Territories (Breaking the Silence)

Since 2004, Breaking the Silence – a non-profit organization founded by Israeli military veterans – has been collecting testimonies of soldiers as they patrol the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Their most recent publication, The Occupation of the Territories: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies 2000-2010, is made up of testimonies from 101 soldiers, both male and female, who served in the Territories since the beginning of the Second Intifada.

The book is organized into four chapters, built around four terms – “Prevention”, “Separation”, “Fabric of Life”, and “Law Enforcement” – which are used by the Israeli military to describe their role in the Occupied Territories. In the introduction, the editors write, “instead of explaining Israeli policy, those terms conceal it by wrapping it in defensive terminology whose connection to reality is weak at best” (21).

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Hineni

Hineni. Doni Silver Simons (acrylic, canvas strips, felt tip pens; 3 paintings; each 4 x 4, 2009-2011)

Doni Silver Simons, Hineni, 2009-2011

Artist Doni Silver Simons presented her latest work, entitled Hineni, at the opening reception of the Jewish World Watch event, “Global Soul.” The event, held February 1 at Sinai Temple in Westwood (Los Angeles, CA), honored Jewish World Watch Co-Founder and President, Janice Kamenir-Reznick, for her lifetime of activism and innovation. It was through the long friendship between Kamenir-Reznick and Silver Simons that the commission came about. The “marking” – four parallels and a diagonal – that is common in much of Silver Simon’s work reminded Kamenir-Reznick of the counting of bodies; a way of remembering the victims of genocide around the world.

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Climate Refugees

© The MIT Press

Climate Refugees, Collectif Argos (The MIT Press) $29.95

Collectif Argos brings together a team of ten journalist and photographers to capture the stories of communities engaged in losing battles with their local environments. They call these people—and have so entitled their book—climate refugees.  First hand accounts of sand storms in China and the increasing disappearance of Lake Chad (which authors tell us was once bordered by three countries and now by only two) are almost as riveting as accompanying photographs—brilliant both in their portrayal of human experience and in their artistry.

The authors claim that our experience with climate change varies vastly based on our location. And it’s true, for those of us who can afford safe, clean homes in cities where we can fulfill our basic needs, understanding and preventing global warming is ancillary. But for the Kigiqtaamuit of Shishmaref, Alaska the problem is much more immediate. Their homes are literally falling into the ocean as icy coastlines creep closer and closer to their front doorsteps. The thinning ice has also hindered their ability to hunt effectively for their traditional food, seals. They fear that, along with the loss of their land and livelihood, their traditional culture (which includes sharing food and other resources with the sick and elderly of the community) will soon sink into that of ever-seductive North American mainstream. They’ve seen it happen to other villages.

Climate Refugees presents a compelling portrait of the first to be affected by climate change, a call to action for those of us fortunate to not be affected—yet.

SS

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Our Enemy is Our Ignorance: An Interview with Dr Abuelaish

A Palestinian born in the Jabalia refugee camp of the Gaza Strip, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish overcame tremendous odds to earn his MD. As an OBGYN he practiced in both Palestine and Israel, frequently commuting between the two countries. In January 2009, during a three-week long war, an Israeli tank fired two shells into the doctor’s home, killing three of his daughters and his niece. Dr. Abuelaish was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of his commitment to Israeli/Palestinian reconciliation. He is the founder of Daughters for Peace an organization that provides university scholarships as well as leadership programs on health and education to young women in the Middle East. On January 12 we sat down with Dr. Abuelaish after his public lecture about his new bestselling book, I Shall Not Hate, at the Los Angeles Public Library – a part of their ALOUD series. For further coverage of this conversation and Abuelaish’s bestselling book, you can access Ryan Bell’s piece in the Huffington Post.

—The Editors

Your book came out in Canada in the Spring. Has it been selling well? How has the reception been so far?

I didn’t expect the positive response of the book. It was released April 27th. It’s a best seller and was among the influential books in 2010 in Canada. The people who read the book—it made a difference in their life, in their attitude, in a positive way. And the people, as you see in today’s event, they said it’s full of hope. It inspired them. And when they read the book it finds a receptive ground. The people are thirsty. And I think there is hope in that. And also, it has been translated into about 15 languages: English (worldwide, by Bloomsbury United States and UK), French (worldwide), German, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Turkish, Portuguese, Finnish, Arabic, Hebrew, and Indonesian.

I am satisfied that the message can reach the hands and the minds and hearts of people and that through that we can make a difference and create a momentum we can build on.

You tell this amazing story in the book about a Jewish lawyer named Stephen Flatow and how he tried to have you removed from a panel. Since then you’ve eaten in his home. Are you still in touch with him?

Yes. And this is the message: he judged me without knowing me, just on perception and stereotype. This strengthens my belief that our enemy is our ignorance. We don’t know each other. So we need to communicate in order to know each other. And not to know just the name or the faces, we need to know the deep elements of what we call the other—to engage.

It’s the personal stories, it seems, that break through.

Yes, to engage with your heart. In our lives when I say to you, I know this person, be careful. This means I know him deeply. Don’t tell me about him, I know him well. I know the way he thinks, the way he eats, the way he behaves. So that’s what we need to know each other.

You must have many experiences like the one you had with Stephen Flatow. Does that happen fairly often?

I can say to you, in Palestinian-Israeli relationships, there are many good stories. You can see Israelis who met with Palestinians and Palestinians who met with Israelis. I know a friend of mine who never met a Palestinian. He had stereotypes about Palestinians, but once he met a Palestinian he realized that this guy is similar to him.

What is it about you or about what you believe that makes you the kind of person that leaves the safety of what you know to go out and know someone else who is different from you? Because I know a lot of people who don’t want to leave their area, they don’t want to leave the people they know already?

I’m not preoccupied with this feeling. This morning when someone said to me, Izzeldin, you must be careful of Ryan. Why? I meet with you with open heart. I am confident in what I believe. I am honest with myself. I am coming to meet with you from goodwill, for the good cause. And it’s important for both of us to do that.

So there was a trust that was somehow planted in your heart early on—to trust someone who is different from you?

Always. Because if I want to be trusted I must trust others.

Your father was this way? Your mother?

This is the human feeling. If I started to meet with you and I was suspicious of you, how can you trust me? I want to meet with others and place my trust in them because if you want to be trusted you must trust others.

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