Well, since I’ve been using social media less, one of the benefits has been an increase in reading and studying. Here are four of my favorites (which all happen to be stories of grace and mercy) from the past few weeks and months… it all started with a guy named James, who just happened to be known as one of Jesus’ brothers.
James: Mercy Triumphs > A few months ago I wrote about feeling lonely and unconnected. Being invited to join a women’s small group — and the subsequent sense of community that formed — was a significant piece of what changed that. The study itself — Beth Moore’s in-depth teaching on the book of James — was the other big part. James is a pretty short book in the Bible, so much so that I’d read it countless times before. But that didn’t keep me from feeling like I had never even seen it prior to Beth’s lessons.
It’s easy to tell that Beth does an extensive amount of research before teaching. The history she shares is invaluable in terms of understanding the context of the words and the relationships of the characters. I learned so much and was challenged in ways I hadn’t expected to be. Make no mistake: James calls his readers to task on a variety of topics (especially on the way we speak to each other, oh man is he tough!). But my perception shifted after considering that James was probably an unbeliever! during his brother’s life, and that he only changed his mind through Christ’ resurrection. Can you imagine how he might have felt upon realizing the true identity of someone he knew so well? I found myself cheering along with James as he reminded us that, thankfully, mercy triumphs above all else.
A Lineage of Grace > After spending so much time with James, I decided to read about a few key women from Biblical times. In her book, Francine Rivers takes five women from the lineage of Jesus and retells their stories with a bit of her own ideas added in. Like Beth Moore, Francine spends a ton of time researching the history and context of the Biblical accounts, and then reads “in between the lines” to create an historically-accurate, but nevertheless fictional, story about each woman.
Once again, I learned a ton. Take Tamar for example. Here’s a woman who essentially dressed up like a prostitute and then slept with her father-in-law, um HELLO?!, to get pregnant (refer to Genesis 38 for the whole account). I must admit that even though she is Jesus’ family line, I haven’t really given her much thought, let alone credit or appreciation. The mere concept of doing what she did makes me pretty much throw up in my mouth (no offense to my father-in-law). But Francine is able to somehow weave a story that causes me to not only identify with her situation, but even respect her actions. (Did I just say that?)
The other four stories cover the lives of Rahab (another prostitute who becomes a spy for God), Ruth (I always loved Ruth and this story only enhanced my admiration while deepening my understanding), Bathsheba (who seduced King David, need I say more?), and Mary (it was awesome to read this right before Christmas!).
A Year of Biblical Womanhood > Oh man, anyone who talked to me while I was reading this book knows it challenged me deeply. I stumbled across it on the $1.99 racks at Amazon — those who remember my strong aversion to buying books (how I miss my public library!) know I do love a good Kindle deal. Anyway, I had just finished reading about a bunch of prostitutes and the mother of Jesus, so why not follow it up with the account of a “liberated woman who found herself sitting on her roof, covering her head, and calling her husband master.”
Rachel Held Evans spent a year researching what it means to be a woman follower of Christ. Others have done that, but few seem to have approached the topic with such passion. Her investigation into Old Testament customs about women, in particular, prompted me to research the Jewish culture more than ever before (which ultimately led to me telling my family I wanted to have a Seder meal, but that’s another topic). She’s quite funny and a bit crazy (you’d pretty much have to be in order to follow the Biblical patterns for handling your period these days… right down to sleeping in a tent on her front lawn and carrying around a stadium pillow so as not to “defile” any chair in which she sat). Plenty of people consider some of her statements to be quite controversial, and while I didn’t agree with everything she said (nor do I need to), I felt she backed up her discussions quite well with history and scripture.
Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times > Whew! After some pretty challenging material, I moved on to what I thought would be a bit more lighthearted. This book was up for discussion in January for my book club here in Nicaragua. My mom brought two copies for us to share, and I quickly devoured the story. When a friend’s husband saw I was reading it, he kindly suggested, “You know you don’t have to read that, because they made it into a TV show. You can just watch it on Netflix.” Ha! I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jennifer Worth’s retelling of her encounters as a midwife during the mid 1950s, even if it wasn’t as “mindless” as I first pictured.
The author began her career as a midwife when most babies were born at home. She worked in an extremely poor area of London, which meant there wasn’t much access to our idea of sanitary conditions in which to live, let alone birth a baby. In addition to the sometimes deplorable environment, racial tensions, unemployment, and gender inequality left many women barely hanging on. I was shocked by some of the tales of maternal deaths and abuse, but encouraged by the accounts of hope amidst overwhelming tragedy.
Through it all, Jennifer’s growing Christian faith — which is based not on religious rhetoric but rather personal conviction after watching the lives of the nuns with whom she worked — serves as an important testament to the healing power of grace. Although I hadn’t expected Call the Midwife to contain any sort of connection to the three stories I had just read, I couldn’t ignore the threads that seemed to be woven through all four books. Perhaps Rachel Held Evans said it best when she reminded us: “What makes the Gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in.” Over the past few months, the books I’ve read have not only caused me to reconsider my opinions of Biblical women — from Rahab and Mary to midwives and everyone with two x-chromosomes throughout history — but also to focus on just how deep and how wide is the grace of God… for all women (OK, and men too).
“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” — Hebrews 12:15