Exile: Ash Wednesday, March 2 – The Marriage

Read:

It was possibly the biggest wedding ever planned. Yahweh had descended to the mountain. The people of Israel had consecrated themselves, preened for the ceremony. They had covenanted together and exchanged vows—but with a wrinkle. Because when God came down in his terrible glory, thunder and fire, voice like a trumpet, and power that made the mountain tremble, his bride cowered. They could not bear his voice. Instead, they sent the best man—Moses—on ahead to arrange things. They had said, “I do,” to one another with lengthy vows, done the equivalent of exchanging rings (the two stone tablets, a symbol of their covenant), and shared a meal. Then it was time for the big party. 

But first, God asked Moses to come up to him. Why not go ahead with the party? God was laying out plans for how he would literally pitch his tent among them so they could be together. They had to figure out the logistics of how this God—so good and but also so uniquely different (hear: holy)—could live with his people. No one had been near to God since before Adam and Eve had been exiled from his presence in Eden. But as God and Moses planned, all hell was breaking loose below them. 

Maybe their fidgeting was understandable. This wasn’t 40 minutes of picture-taking. They had been waiting on God and Moses for 40 days! Israel wouldn’t wait any longer; it was time to take things into their own hands. They begged Aaron to make a Yahweh for them. They would still love God . . . just, in their own way. So they spent all their money, all the wealth they had accumulated since God had rescued them from slavery down in Egypt, and Aaron used his talent to make an idol to represent Yahweh. “Here are the gods who rescued you from Egypt,” Aaron says. “Now let’s get this party started!” And then an orgy of eating, drinking, dancing and sex ensues as the people pleasure themselves without their husband.

On the mountain, Moses saw Yahweh’s eyes burn with wounded rage. He almost wiped them out that day. Moses managed to hold him back, remind him who he was and what he had promised (Ex 32:14). Even then, Yahweh couldn’t bring himself to go any further with his people who had so quickly and callously rejected him (33:3). Only, again, when Moses begged him, and said there was no point in them going to the land he had promised them if he wasn’t with them, did Yahweh agree to go (33:12-17). 

God carefully laid out two more stone tablets, like rings—the symbol of their commitment to one another. A commitment both he and Moses knew Israel would break. Yet he would still vow himself to Israel again. Then he reminded them why he would do it. He said, “I am Yahweh. I am an empathetic and gracious God, not with a quick temper, overflowing with loyal love and integrity, always loyally loving thousands upon thousands, and faithfully carrying away twistedness, betrayal, and failure. But I never fail to bring evildoers to justice, even if it takes generations” (Ex 34:6-7). 

Moses knelt before Him and cried, “Please, Yahweh, go with us! You’re right, they’re fickle people. Carry away our twistedness and our failure . . . and make us your own!”(34:9). 

It wasn’t going to be easy. They had hurt Yahweh, apparent by the fact that even after his tent was standing, and Yahweh entered the tent, no one was allowed to enter—not even Moses (40:35). 

We will get fidgety. We are still just as fickle. But as we start this journey through exile, let’s soak in this story, and remember God’s character, even after he is brutally betrayed: patient, loving, compassionate. He still makes a way to be with his people, even when they turn away from him. In a sea of instability, not least of which is our own affections, let’s never forget his integrity is our anchor. 

Watch: Bible Project video on Israel and the broken covenant

Listen: Exodus 32-34; also check out Psalm 106, where the songwriter reflects on Israel’s story of betraying Yahweh and His faithfulness toward them.

Exile: Some backgrounds and definitions

If y’all are anything like us, the exile part of Biblical history is the haziest. Even in our Bible story sets we love and use in our ministry in Madagascar, we basically jump from King David to Jesus, with a brief stop to hear how Isaiah predicts Jesus.

But in terms of Israel’s story–the story of the descendants of Abraham–exile is a critical epoch, a fulcrum. Much like how we view our own wars as Americans, or 9-11, or, now, COVID-19, the exile is a major historical event for Israel that divides her history into two parts: pre-exilic and post-exilic.

So, we want to give some brief background info and starting definitions as we try to dive deeper into the words of the prophets around exile. If you want to go further in your study, here are a couple of great resources to explore:

In the meantime, here are some ideas to get us started.

Exile

Exile connotes the loss of all that is familiar and comfortable. Emotionally, it is characterized by confusion. In the Bible, exile starts in the Garden of Eden, when humans decide to define what is good or bad on their own, without God. As a result, they can no longer live with God and they are cut off from him, Eden, and life itself. But God promised to bring them home and defeat their enemies through another person. 

God promised Abraham, one specific human, he would bless the world through him. Though he told Abraham to leave his home, he would give him another home in the Promised Land. Year after year, people waited for God to bring them home to this place. And though God continued to work through people (like Moses) and save Abraham’s people from death, slavery, etc., they never quite got back to the Garden. Eventually God did come to live with them. They finally made it into the Promised Land. They built a flourishing empire under some good kings—like King David that made people believe that perhaps everything was coming back together. But it wasn’t to be. 

God had already warned them that their people would continue to do things their own way, and it would lead to ruin. The one kingdom split into two, the Northern and Southern kingdoms, and people began worshiping everything but Yahweh their God. God continued to use people, prophets, to try and rescue the nation from itself. But eventually, both Israel and Judah were attacked, defeated, and exiled by other nations. And the hope became that, somehow, God would not only return them to their Promised Land but come to live with them and rule over them again.

The Divided Kingdom: North and South

Under King Saul, then David, and finally Solomon, the Hebrew people had been a united nation. However, due to bad leadership, buried tensions resurfaced and the nation split in two. The Northern Kingdom was known as Israel, as it comprised most tribes from Israel. The Southern Kingdom was primarily the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, with Jerusalem still as its capital and, importantly, the temple where God lived. The Southern Kingdom was called Judah. To centralize spiritual power, the kings of the Northern Kingdom made a new capital in the city of Samaria, and a new temple in the city of Bethel. The temple at Bethel was home to a golden calf idol that Northern Israelites worshiped as Yahweh. 

Israel’s capital, Samaria, was sacked in 922 BC by the Assyrians, and the people of the Northern kingdom were either enslaved back in Assyria, or culturally assimilated with others imported into the territory. Assyria tried to conquer the Southern Kingdom at this time as well, but God prevented it. 

Judah’s destruction was a slow burn. First, in 587 BC, the Babylonians forcibly removed all the most educated people and exiled them to Babylon (think of Daniel and his friends). Then, when Babylon’s new territory would not submit, they completely razed the city in 593 BC.

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The Prophets

Beginning with Moses, Israel needed a go-between. Moses is the prototypical prophet: speaking to God’s people on God’s behalf, but also empowered and used by God to deliver his people. In this way, prophets, and those of their ilk, are always a partial fulfillment of God’s promise to defeat evil through the “seed of the woman” (Gen 3:15). 

Later, Yahweh began the tradition of communicating with the nation of Israel through these prophets. Through men and women like these, God tried to pull the nation of Israel back from the brink. Perhaps the most important thing to remember about prophets, whether then or now, is that they were not officially part of either the ruling class or the religious class—they were not priests or kings. They could be anybody. They stood outside of these as a third eye of sorts, a way for God to hold his people, and especially their leaders, accountable. 

It’s also important to remember that although we know these people as true prophets today, they were not acknowledged as such during their lifetime. Prophets and messages of all kinds existed during this time, both good and bad, true and false. Often, the things they warned of happened after they were gone. In this way, prophets are usually honored—acknowledged, even listened to—in hindsight.

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Conclusion

America is not Israel. Yet, the story of Exile, as told through the pages of the Bible, is the story of how the mighty fall, how an entire nation, that had outwardly pledged allegiance to God, had actually always believed God pledged allegiance to them. It is the story of the corrosive effect of power, as rulers and religion do violence to the weakest in society. It is the story of how God will not leave the guilty unpunished, even through multiple generations, even those he had wanted to bless. 

But it is also the story of profound hope. Not the kind of hope that only glimmers when the sun is shining, but hope that radiates out when all is darkness. God is always calling his people back, sending them prophets to hold them accountable and remind them of his promises. Ultimately, the exile is how God prepared a nation for the Messiah, Jesus. You see, all God ever wanted was a human through whom he could bless the entire world. So eventually, Jesus comes to be that human, through whom God would start to bring everything back together. 

These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:11-13, NRSV).


Footnotes:

  1. https://i0.wp.com/faithelement.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/timeline-graphic.png

2. http://www.thebibleinitiative.com/daniel

Exile: A Lenten Study through the Prophets

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on March 2, 2022 (this week!). Throughout church history, Lent has been a time which many Christian faith traditions have set aside to fast, to pray, and to actively anticipate the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection at Easter.

For an exploration of the history and practices of Lent, and how they can encourage us especially during the challenging times these last few years have brought, listen to this interview with Esau McCauley. Tim Keller also has some extensive resources on Lent, and even the practice of Lent for Evangelicals in the Lent Project his ministry put out several years ago: some definitions, an exploration of grace in the practice of Lent, and other resources.

This year, we want to focus during the six weeks of Lent on God’s words to His people, the descendants of Abraham, through the prophets. The story of the descendants of Abraham climaxes in the fulfillment of God’s warnings to them through the prophets: that if they did not obey His commands, He would send them into exile, putting them at the mercy of other nations. These messages are accusations of sin, calls for righteousness, and finally, promises of hope in a future redemption after the time of exile.

That hope is ultimately fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. He is the plot twist that brings Israel’s exile to a close. His coming makes obedience possible for those who accept Him . . . and, conversely, also makes them exiles and misfits in their own families, nations, and cultures, as new members–first and foremost–of God’s new family in his eternal kingdom.

Please join us in studying God’s words through the prophets. As we reflect on the plight of the descendants of Abraham as exiles, may God teach us how to live as exiles in our world, awaiting a future hope of ultimate redemption when Jesus returns.

We will post 12 times over the next six weeks, starting with an introduction post this Tuesday. Each post will be a storied reflection on one of God’s messages through some of His prophets: Moses, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Malachi, and, finally, John the Baptist.

Each post will be organized into three sections: read, watch, and listen. First, you can read the storied reflection on the prophet’s message. Then, we’ll link a Bible project video to watch, which will provide an overview of that prophet or book of the Bible. Finally, we’ll share scripture passages from each prophet’s story and book of the Bible. We encourage you to listen to these passages–on your commute, while you’re washing dishes–throughout the week. Where we can, we will include other helpful resources, too.

We’re looking forward to taking this journey together!

Resource Spotlight: CRT

CRT became a must-read topic for us when the SBC seminary presidents issued a statement that announced CRT to be at odds with the SBC confession of faith. I read this book so that I could get a something more than a second-hand account of CRT (this book is not technically a primary source but a primer). 

This is not a book review. If you want to know more about CRT, I would suggest finding someone who ascribes to it or even reading this book to find more primary sources. Our evangelical tribe has shown an astounding ability to listen to one of our own dismantle CRT without a definition of it or having ever even listened to someone who actually holds that opinion.

If we don’t like people forming opinions about us before they’ve ever asked us a honest, open-ended question, then we can’t to the same to others. I think Jesus said something like that.

There are plenty of YouTube videos and blog posts nay-saying CRT and their proponents. They probably even have a point. But they are chemists and ministers. Are they smarter than me? I’m sure they are (another reason I’m not trying to review this book). But I’m not going to tell you why you shouldn’t embrace CRT or why it’s incompatible with Christianity. I’m just going to tell you what struck me and leave the Holy Spirit one less impersonator. You’re in good hands.

Based on reading this book that serves as an introduction to the topic, I’d have to suggest Derrick Bell as a good, first primary source as much as his name comes up.

What is CRT?

Consider this quote, “The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, setting, group and self-interest, and emotions and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law” (pg 3).

Two quick insights to glean from the above introduction to CRT: (1) CRT does a lot of historical work to set (especially legal) decisions and actions within their wider context, (2) CRT is not only not interested in status quo but is distinct from civil rights discourse because it deconstructs status quo in search of systemic answers. To me it’s as simple as this: if you were already convinced there were some big things that needed to change, you’re going to be open to CRT, because it is transparently trying to shake things up.

Among self-proclaimed influences they list:

  • critical legal studies and radical feminism
  • European philosophers such as Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida
  • American radicals such as Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, MLK Jr., Cesar Chavez
  • and the Black Power and Chianco movements

Now there’s probably at least one name on here that makes your heart race. But hang on. I don’t know how many times I have had people tell me “CRT goes straight back to Marxism!” But it at least made me stop and think to see the Americans on this list. Black, Christian prophets like Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and MLK Jr. are forerunners to CRT, and MLK Jr. was unfairly labeled a Marxist in his time. So let’s just remember, these brothers and sisters of ours, also all challenged the status quo and said our institutions were rife with and founded on sin. For crying out loud, Frederick Douglass (among a lot of other things) said American Christianity and Christianity proper were incompatible! (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, 94-95). I’ve gotta give credit where credit is due; CRT has Christian roots as well.

Does CRT have it out for “whites”?

What white people need to understand is that out of all racialized groups (of which whites were primarily the ones doing the racializing), people designated as white in the last 400 years have not been persecuted or oppressed, and definitely not in the same way as other racial groups by “white people.” I have heard people complain that acknowledging this reality brings division and only compares suffering. If we’re arguing about subjective suffering, I agree that can get tricky. But CRT, at least at this level, is just working from objective historical fact.

White people and white culture are definitely being singled out. But it’s not because of the color of our skin, or “reverse racism.” I believe we all still agree (but I may be going out on a limb here) it was clearly “white people” who invented the illusion of race and who were doing the oppressing in slavery, Jim Crow, and through the Civil Rights movement. So even if you want to exclude everything from the 1960’s to present, “white people” specifically deserve to be talked to about racism. Not because you as an individual are a racist, though I have certainly acted like one in my life, but because our ancestors built things to favor people that looked like them, and often on the backs of others.

Why don’t we just stick with the Bible? I would ask, does the Bible contain the history of world civilization from the last 400 years? No. So while it calls out supremacy, “don’t consider yourself more highly than you ought,” (Rom. 12:13) and makes God’s judgment against injustice and marginalization clear (Amos 5:10-24), it doesn’t specifically call out white supremacy. But if we still think the holocaust was evil and clearly against the teachings of scripture, then why would we not evaluate our own country’s white supremacy? Again, Jesus said something like that.

Why does CRT prioritize the voice of non-whites?

It is also true, even though they want to deconstruct generalities of identity, Crits (as CRT activists call themselves) hold to an “unique voice of color” because of our specific historical context. They explain, “because of their different histories and experiences with oppression, black, American Indian, Asian, and Latino writers and thinkers may (emphasis mine) be able to communicate to their white counterparts matters that the whites are unlikely to know. Minority status, in other words, brings with it a presumed competence to speak about race and racism” (pg 11).

I emphasized that “may” in the quote above because, as I read this primer, I was struck by the circumspection and honesty with which they introduce the reader to CRT. We are told that CRT has an internal tension between materialism and idealism, economics and identity, practice and theory, etc. We are told of the disagreements external and internal to this movement. The authors describe how not all people of color agree, and how people of color have even oppressed each other. They are attaching, for the reader’s benefit, the relevant court cases and decisions that have prompted these debates. You do not have to agree with them. They don’t all agree with each other. But they do a very good job, in my opinion, of giving the lay of the land.

However, people in our tribe have essentially said the voice of color doesn’t exist. We all have access to objective facts, so it doesn’t matter if it’s six white guys making a decision that primarily affects people of color. Only that’s not true, we don’t all have equal access to the truth. We all have blindspots. And, again, if you read Frederick Douglass (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, 31) it becomes apparent that white, Christian Americans spent a lot of effort blocking people of color access to the truth and the voice to express it.

Forgive me for a stupid illustration: if you love seafood, you may not be aware that you always try to take your wife to seafood restaurants. But your wife, you does not like seafood, is keenly aware of your blindspot, and is in a better position to let you know about it.

It’s up to us to listen to people who can see our own blindspots much more clearly.

Is CRT going to destroy our identity?

I have heard CRT described as a “trojan horse,” meaning once we let it infiltrate our institutions, it’s game over (i.e. we will lose what it means to be SBC, for example). I think it’s fair to point out you can’t really have a trojan horse when everyone rejects it out of hand because it makes them uncomfortable. CRT is more of a black sheep than a trojan horse for most of us.

As I understood, (just reading a book, not an expert here), CRT is concerned with generalizations, but specifically racialized generalizations. Of course, they acknowledge that race has no scientific basis in fact. But the context of American history and European colonization reveals that, while fictional, race has been a very powerful generalization in our recent, global history. Even Intersectionality and antiessentialism, tenets or offshoots of the CRT discussion, are pushing back, or eliminating altogether, the generalities that constitute individual identities. So for instance, “I’m more than just Christian. I’m a Baptist, a Southern Baptist, actually. And a man, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like candles!” Even that is an example of how CRT is trying to get at what I am and what I’m not.

I would argue that, sure, if we started teaching CRT in our institutions, people will definitely continue (it’s already happening) questioning their identities. Now, I always thought the goal of higher education was to honestly question and evaluate all perspectives. And let’s not forget, on this day last year, a group of light-skinned Americans, many identifying themselves as Christians, stormed our nation’s Capitol. Surely our Christian identity in America is far too unexamined.

Conclusion . . .

This book provided a very helpful overview of CRT. It also helped me realize that our problem as white people and, especially in my tribe, is not understanding the wider context (race, economics, hegemonies, social dynamics, etc.) of our own history. The reason for this reticence is that to honestly investigate the wider context will implicate our socially-constructed group (white people) in oppression. An example of this would be how SBC history never evaluates the damning words of Frederick Douglass alongside the inception of the SBC (formed over sending slave-owners as missionaries), even though they are a mere month apart.

Now, CRT is absolutely open to the accusation that they deconstruct more than they construct. I do believe there is great potential for people in this movement to lose sight of the importance of an essential identity. As in, I can envision someone saying, “I’m not all the things you say I am,” but still left wondering, “Then what or who am I?”

I think Jesus, not majority culture, has an answer for that. I think it is inevitable these conversations will be taking place more and more, especially in the wider culture and especially as the world grows more diverse and less white. Christians have the opportunity to model a Christian essentialism that places Jesus at the center of their lives . . . while the world fights off the vestiges of white supremacy and builds a new tomorrow.

The Famine in Madagascar

For those who haven’t yet seen it, David Muir from ABC did a special on the famine in Madagascar. We can personally attest from our own experience the situation in Southern Madagascar has worsened throughout the last ten years. To hear it from the locals, rains were more frequent, dried-up rivers still running, and fields much more productive 20 to 30 years ago. Something has changed. What ABC captured is not just “political.” It also isn’t recent. Obviously it’s getting publicity because of the recent UN summit, but because this situation has been building for a while, the solution will also not be solved by bandaid aide or ideas.

In 2018, we had two days of rain in the South. Two days! Crops have failed year after year when the Malagasy plant their fields after the first rain only for them to burn up in the withering sun with no follow-up rains. COVID-19 just made things worse. The villages we know in the South had already come to depend on the supplemental food handed out by World Food Program, USAid, Red Cross, and many others working in Southern Madagascar. But as soon as COVID-19 hit, those Non-Profits pulled out. Only one or two returned. So, at the same time COVID-19 lockdowns restricted access to shipped-in food, the organizations who have been handing it out haven’t been handing out as much, leaving many, many villages to flounder.

We are not in any way experts in weather or climate change. From what we’ve seen, this is absolutely driven by deforestation and sudden weather changes in the past 10 years. The foreign food aide has helped, but it misses the need for water that only massive infrastructure development could help offset. Unfortunately, the reality of this drastic situation is that any solution will only be a drop in the bucket.

People are suffering and dying in Southern Madagascar, and no matter which way you slice it, we have a responsibility as humans, first, and especially as Christians, to do something about it.

Please pray for the Malagasy, especially the Mahafaly and Tandroy tribes that are most heavily affected by the drought and famine. Learn more about what caused this famine and how to help. Pray for the efforts of local, Malagasy churches who are working to get food to their churches in the middle of all this (one trip is scheduled for next week). And let’s ask God what our drop in the bucket should be.

Resource Spotlight: Black History Month

Chyella is still loving her French preschool! And we love it too–we love that she can make friends with children from many different places, and that she can learn a new language too! We also really enjoy doing “worksheeps” together at home on off-days, so this month we’re supplementing with some Black history month resources! If you have ideas or resources, please share as well!

Here are some fun animated Black History Stories as videos for preschool age. They’re from Goose Goose Duck YouTube channel, and it seems they have lots of fun videos I want to check out!

I was also able to download free printable coloring pages highlighting famous African-Americans on ScribbleFun. Looking forward to learning with Chyella many of these historical Americans’ stories this month! There are many other great resources–here’s a link to lots of ideas–but most of these are for older kids than preschool.

Our organization has also created an app to share new initiatives and current stories of what God is doing around the world. This app has been promoted through many of our SBC churches–feel free to download it here. A few months ago, our organization partnered with Barna Research Group to do a study on the Future of Missions. Barna and others then shared much of what was learned through the app. This month, starting February 7th, our organization is highlighting many stories of African-American missionaries who have served around the world and throughout history, including some children’s resources! Check out these stories through the app!

We’re so grateful for these initiatives and look forward to learning a lot this month–both with Chyella and ourselves as adults! At the same time, as a couple, we have also learned a lot this past year about the racism in our history in the SBC, and, honestly, in our own hearts. We absolutely want to celebrate the contributions of African-Americans to our denomination and organization, and any progress we are making toward greater racial equity. But we also want to acknowledge that we still have a long way to go. This Christianity Today article talks about the low numbers of African-American and other minorities serving as missionaries with our organization, compared to the numbers of those minorities in our Southern Baptist churches. This IMB.org article discusses why it matters–the great loss to our organization and its impact around the world without more minority voices and leaders.

For our awareness and learning in this area, two books have also been very helpful in the last year: Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise, and this collection of Southern Baptist pastors and professors writing specifically about the SBC’s history, Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention.

We have a lot to learn!

Resource Spotlight: Learning in 2021

Happy New Year! We Bakers are starting this year off with high hopes for lots of reading and learning . . . we’ll see how we feel a few months in!

For us, 2020 was extremely eye-opening. It seems that many things we had been oblivious to were revealed. We still have a lot to learn.

We’d love to hear from you what you learned in 2020, and what you’re hoping to learn in 2021. Any book recommendations or reading goals? Any new podcasts we should check out?

For our resources spotlight this month, we want to share our Bible reading plan and our reading lists for 2021. Remember, it’s January 4, so our reading list is . . . ambitious . . . to say the least. Again, ask us how we’re doing a few months in!

Last year we did Bible Project’s yearly reading plan. We loved it, and we love Bible Project and the fantastic Scripture resources they have available–check them out! This year, we wanted to try a chronological plan–where if a prophet is talking to a king, you’ll read that portion mixed into reading 1 and 2 Kings, for example. Here’s the one we found that we’re going to try. Feel free to join us and share your thoughts!

Here’s some of the books on our reading list–would love to hear your thoughts and recommendations and what you’re reading too!

Tom Steffan’s and William Bjoraker’s The Return of Oral Hermeneutics: As Good Today as it was for the Hebrew Bible and First-Century Christianity: We work with oral-preference learners here, and we have so much to learn about how oral people learn and think. We are so used to only reading to learn that we’re constantly having to re-examine our efforts here where the majority of people don’t read–which is a good thing! We’ve seen people grow deep in their knowledge of God and His Word, and their obedience to it, through storying. Still, when we talk about things like seminary education the impulse is always to do more and more reading. We’re hoping this book (ironic to read a book about oral methods!) can continue to challenge our thinking and help us learn tools that will better serve our people.

Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.’s Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul: One thing we’ve learned this past year is that not everyone thinks the same way we have about America, about race in our country, about our history. That includes the local believers and pastors we work with here! We have a lot to learn. We as a couple have been remiss in assuming that we understood our history and the current racial landscape when we’ve only ever really heard about these topics from one perspective. This year we’ve intentionally listened to African-Americans and other minorities on race in America, and we have learned so much–but only scratched the surface. Looking forward to learning what this book has added to the conversation.

John Owen’s On Sin and Temptation: I confess I started this one in April of last year and haven’t finished!! I got pretty bogged down. A sweet friend and I were reading a whole series of books on spiritual formation, but I didn’t make it any farther than April! Oh dear. My plan this year is to keep plugging away at this one all year 🙂

Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah’s Unsettling Truths: The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery: We work in a country that was colonized by our European neighbors–even possibly ancestors. We can see evidence of this all around us–of the ongoing effects on life here for Malagasy people. Our presence here as missionaries does not exist in a vacuum from this fairly recent history of colonization. We have a lot to learn about how this history affects even faith and religious practice here. Martin Meredith’s The Fate of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence is in this category as well, and is also on our list.

James Cone’s Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian: Even theologically, the sources we’ve taken in over the years have come from an extremely limited perspective. I don’t think I’ve ever read a theology book by an African-American Christian, or an Asian Christian, or a Native American Christian . . . much less an African Christian (other than Athenasius and Augustine, of course). And yet I think I can contextualize theology to Malagasy Christians much further from me culturally? Whew. I have a lot to learn. Here’s to a start.

Eugene Nida’s Message and Mission: The Communication of the Christian Faith: We read another book by Nida (who has some foundational works on Bible translation) that gave us new frameworks for understanding aspects of what we would call a concrete (not abstract) culture here in Madagascar. Hoping this book can add to those types of frameworks in a helpful way.

Dean Fleming’s Contextualization in the New Testament: Contextualization–how truths are understood and expressed in different cultures and languages–is a big part of our life and work here. The reality is, as Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah point out in their book (Nathan started it this week! 🙂 all of us are living in a contextualized Christianity, as no human currently on earth shares the specific context of the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament. Understanding how the first Christians contextualized, we hope, will help us recognize contextual decisions our own culture has made, and help us learn from local Malagasy believers as they contextualize Scripture and the Gospel in their own culture.

Michael Gurian’s The Wonder of Boys: I’ve got no brothers and now a son! 🙂 I have a lot to learn about the ways boys communicate and learn. What a challenging moment for children we’re in, where discussions around gender and sexuality have become so complex. I believe that God’s Word provides answers to gender and sexuality questions–but honestly I’m not even sure what questions people are asking, and so certainly can’t answer them effectively. Looking to read a lot more on this topic. We welcome suggestions! Hopefully this will be a good start.

Richard Delgado’s and Jean Stefancic’s Critical Race Theory: An Introduction: The topic of Critical Race Theory has gotten a lot of attention recently in evangelical circles. At this point, we as a couple don’t even know enough about it to explain it to someone or form any kind of statement on it, so we’d like to learn about it from the primary sources first–thanks to Dr. Christina Edmondson for her encouragement to do this on the Be the Bridge Podcast!

Resource Spotlight: Preschool Fun from home!

Tessa here, with a few fun preschool resources that have been a lifesaver for us during this time! Chyella was loving her French preschool here in Toliara, and thankfully has been back in school for the month of October! During the “confinement” as we have called it here, we found these great websites for educational worksheets and videos! These links work for me here in Madagascar, but may not work for you if you’re in the USA—sorry about that! Just Google the names and that should work, and let me know if you have trouble 🙂

Thanks to my friend Jodie’s recommendation, we used Talking Letter Factory and Talking Word Factory videos to introduce basic alphabet and reading skills—Chyella watched these repeatedly last December and learned her letters–woohoo!

We worked through this “Letter of the Day” worksheet series from Preschool Mom twice! 

Great “Read the Alphabet” curriculum from This Reading Mama. We haven’t really tapped into all the resources here, but our favorite worksheets in this reading series are the “Color by Sight Word.”

And speaking of sight words, this whole series of “Meet the Sight Words” videos from the Preschool Prep Company has helped Chyella a ton with learning the blends and lots of new words.

We also have some favorite books—the Jesus Storybook Bible of course, and God’s Very Good Idea. This last one is a new addition and Chyella loves it!

Also, here’s a fun shot of Chyella trying a sidewalk chalk obstacle course we did–thanks to a friend, Caroline, for this idea on Facebook! 🙂

Resource Spotlight: Undivided

If you’re part of the SBC you may be aware of the recent decisions of some to start calling themselves Great Commission Baptists. If you’re asking yourself, “Where did that come from?” or are just puzzled by the current cultural climate, particularly in the church, then I have some resources for you.

NAMB: Undivided

A friend just recently made me aware of an SBC effort to talk through several issues disturbing our society. As an international missionary constantly engaging in cultural issues here in Madagascar, I was stoked to hear that NAMB (our national baptist missionary sending branch) is trying to help people be on mission in American culture in this moment. I’ve found it really helpful just to hear the different voices as people seek to address what ails us from a biblical perspective. There are several sessions covering multiple topics but focusing on race and social engagement. Check out the trailer below.

History (American, Church, and otherwise)

So much of what I’m currently learning as pertains to current American moment comes back to not simply race, but history. We have Black History month as if that is somehow segregated from the rest of American history. It’s not. What some of us conceive of as one country is, as one of my black brothers pointed out, not United States but several “countries” of people with different versions of history. As a missionary, I would say we have to know these different versions of the story if we are going to engage people with the best story of Jesus.

Unfortunately, there is a version of the story that is pretty uncomfortable for the “American Church.” I put that in quotes, because what I have learned is that what I think of as the “American Church” is really a predominantly white church. I have been helped greatly by Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise. He does an admirable job of condensing the American Church’s timeline into an historical survey that brings out the heavy silence from the church on racism. Historically speaking, there would be no Black Churches, Asian Church, Hispanic Churches, etc. if it were not for white Christians who would not accept their brothers and sisters who did not look like them as equals.

If you doubt that, or think of the Church’s role in things like slavery as just an unfortunate incident, then please read the Appendix to the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. I am thankful I was taught to view Douglass as a heroic figure. Yet, I was never aware of his scalding words on the “American Church” and our version of Christianity:

. . . between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels.

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, 95.

He goes on, and I would encourage you to read it. From the very beginning of American history and therefore the history of the church in America, we have been a double-minded and divided people.

I hope that resources like Undivided can help us course correct. But if we don’t engage with other resources like The Color of Compromise or aren’t aware of our own complicated history of complicity, there’s no way we’ll be able to talk to each other, let alone understand one another.

Resource Spotlight: Politics

Yep, be very afraid, we’re dipping into politics. We know we’re all thinking about it. How can we not with social media lit up with opinions and ire and a presidential election around the corner? I’m not looking to fan any fires: if anything I’d like to recommend a couple of resources that I hope will if anything dampen our sound and fury while helping us discern our role as Christians in this time.

Jonathan Leeman @ Downtown Church

Jonathan Leeman from Capital Hill Baptist and 9Marks ministries has four sessions on the Church and Politics. He covers the Church’s distinct perspective on politics as people who follow King Jesus. The church is an explicitly political organization because we follow a king, not a party, platform, or president . . . the king of kings. He also discusses how to get along as church members with differing political views and gives some advice on thinking through voting as part of our role in American politics.

We do not agree with everything Leeman says. In fact, though Leeman is very thoughtful, helpful, and non-incendiary, it struck me how very unfair it is for me to expect one voice (be that a person, pastor, pundit, organization, church, etc.) to give me all that I need to be faithful to God in the political arena or even just the upcoming election.

I am very grateful for how Leeman deals with both his political agency and authority in his local church with the appropriate gravitas and humility. What struck me, however, is how little we have these discussions around politics together as Christians. One man, like Leeman, cannot possibly educate us and give us enough discernment for the job of political engagement. We talk about the great gift and responsibility of voting. But if it’s such an honor, why don’t we do a better job of educating ourselves on how to do it well together as Christians?

I think that’s the unique contribution of the next organization I want to recommend . . .

The (&) Campaign

The (&) Campaign is a non-partisan political movement designed to clarify the Church’s voice in politics. That I am aware of, they have a website, a podcast, and a book (below) that just came out. I’m reading through the book right now and I have found it very practical. It’s called Compassion and Conviction because they are trying to bridge the partisan political gap between a lack of compassion from political conservatives in the Church and a lack of conviction from political progressives in the Church. The faithful way of political engagement for Christians, they argue, is both compassion and conviction, a middle way . . . or perhaps a politic that looks radically different than any current, partisan options.

For people in the States, they also have local chapters people can join to discuss and mobilize for political action. We are not in the States; we’re only able to learn from afar through the podcast and book. Still, I’m extremely grateful for a para-church organization doing just that: gathering and organizing churches to give us a forum for political discussion and action. Trying to address what ails our nation is so much bigger than just voting in November. The Church cannot be part of the solution until we listen to each other (especially those with very different perspectives) and mobilize in our local communities. Voting is a big part of that; but it’s so much more. I hope these resources help us work together to become the alternative society God has brought us together to be.