Like the Sound of Many Waters — Jayber Crow Discussion (3)

As I write today, Houston is well into the long rebuilding that follows a hurricane and flooding, and Irma has raged through the Caribbean islands and through Florida, leaving a wake of destruction and death. In an odd sort of coincidence, those of us who are reading Jayber Crow according to the schedule have been following our protagonist’s progress through the flooded region that borders the Kentucky River on his journey toward home. Then, to add a third strand to these braided images, the patient husband and I have been reading in the book of Ezekiel these days, and we encountered this word picture in one of the wild-eyed prophet’s visions:

 “Afterward he brought me to the gate, the gate that faces toward the east.  And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east. His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory. (Ezekiel 43:1,2)

Calling and the Voice of God

Scripture portrays the voice of God as still and small; as fearsome and emanating from the midst of fire; as a commandment-carrying instrument which must be obeyed at all cost.  And God’s usual means of communicating to His people is through Scripture; however, God (being God) can speak to us in any way that pleases Him.

Whether it was the voice of God or the voice of his own longing for home rising up in his heart and finally being heard, one thing was certain:  the river flooded and it brought Jayber back to Port William. The River was rising on that January day in 1937 when Jayber packed up his belongings and left behind his first barbering job, the first room he’d “ever had in his own right,” along with his pursuit of making “a theoretical something of himself” through education. For him, at least at this point in life, his calling is all about leaving. It’s not until he reaches the bridge in Frankfort, Kentucky and is stopped from crossing by the policeman (and the raging flood waters) that his journey seems to turn toward something.

” . . . If that barn breaks loose and hits this bridge, she’s a goner, and you too if you’re on it.”

And then I said something that I had never thought of saying, that I didn’t even know was the truth until I remembered myself saying it. Right then I only felt all of a sudden so lonely and homesick I could barely talk. I said, “I’ve got to get to my people down the river.”

Of course, it does complicate things that none of Jayber’s “people” know he exists yet . . . but enter Burley Coulter, and suddenly Jayber is known. The un-naming that happened back at The Good Shepherd has been reversed and the calling and the blessing of life as a barber begins to unfold.

The Calling and the Being

” . . . I know I’ve been lucky. Beyond that, the question is if I have not been also blessed, as I believe I have — and, beyond that, even called. Surely I was called to be, for one thing, a barber. All my real opportunities have been to be a barber, as you’ll see, and being a barber has made other opportunities. I have had the life I have had because I kept on being a barber, you might say, in spite of my intentions to the contrary.”

I can’t resist asking this question:

What do you “keep on being” that has resulted in blessing — maybe in spite of yourself?

Another question that bubbled to the surface as I read was, “Who is this guy?”

On the one hand, he’s lived a solitary life since Aunt Cordie died. On the other hand, he risks life and limb to cross a bridge to get to his people (“as surely as if [he] had a home to be on the way to”) and then stands in the capitol building on his way out after having spent the night there, looking at all his fellow refugees and longing to “tiptoe around and just lay my hand on each one.” He seems capable of feeling more tenderness toward people he doesn’t know than people he knows. Wendell Berry has certainly crafted a character full of contradictions.

Looking Ahead

The rising of the waters, the guilty feeling that he wants to repay the $5 bill Sam Hanks gave him on the basis of a lie, and Burley Coulter’s rowboat all worked together to bring Jayber back home.  As chapter eight comes to a close we see the beginnings of Jayber’s future, and so does he, but his narrator’s voice on page 82 draws our attention to an unknown quantity that would, eventually, have a powerful influence in his life — an influence as powerful as a calling:

“But my future, as it turned out, proved to be elsewhere. I hadn’t even glimpsed it yet. I had imagined no future. Who she was who would have my heart to own I had not imagined.”

So after three stories completely ended, Jayber begins a new story in an old setting.

How has the voice of God come to you in the past?  And how are you hearing Him today?

Have you experienced any hair pin turns in your sense of calling? Does Jayber’s experience help you in thinking about vocation?

I look forward to reading your thoughts so be sure to share insights, blog posts, and stories from your own experience in the comment space below!

I’ll be here next Thursday (September 28) having read Chapters 9-11.

And just in case you missed the schedule I posted last week, here it is again:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion

SEPTEMBER 28………………CHAPTERS 9-11
OCTOBER 5……………………CHAPTERS 12-14
OCTOBER 12………………….CHAPTERS 15-17
OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 2…………………CHAPTERS 24-26
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

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3 Stories Completely Ended: Jayber Crow Discussion Group (2)

My faith unraveled at a Christian college. I know that’s not the way it’s supposed to happen, and I can remember wishing that a hostile, atheistic professor had bludgeoned me into my doubts with brilliantly irrefutable arguments.

It would make for a much better story.

Instead, the truth is I just got numb. The constant barrage of meaningless requirements that were, somehow, mysteriously related to Christianity: plowing through a three-inch thick commentary on Romans with no specific assignment in mind (other than to reach the back cover), fending off the desperate and over-bearing overtures of my “dorm mother” who wanted to befriend all “her girls,” and trying to stay awake while the combed-over, suited-up preacher-of-the-day got carried away and stole time from the class that followed our mandatory chapel.

One day it all got to be just too ridiculous.

Eventually, of course, I realized the problem was localized and what I had been objecting to was not “Christianity” itself, but a mindset that existed on a particular campus in a specific zip code.

Perhaps if Jayber Crow could have reached that conclusion a bit sooner, he would have been able to finish his education and then take his questions and his refreshing insights into ministry instead of just out the door and down the road with no clear destination in sight. Later in the book, we’ll see that he does eventually patch things up with organized religion, but even then, his musings about faith often sound as if they are coming from an outsider.

Living the Questions:  Calling

Since Jayber ended chapter three with the observation that Aunt Cordie’s death made him “the survivor already of two stories completely ended,” I’ll add that his departure from Pigeonville College made for number three.

This week’s discussion of Chapters 4-6 covers the bulk of the twelve year period in which Jayber lived away from Port William.  During those important growing-up years, the foundation was laid for Jayber’s understanding of what it means to be “called.” He starts out hedging his bets with a decision that it would be wiser to “accept  the call that had not come, just in case it had come and [he] had missed it.” I’ve heard it said no one should go into professional ministry if they can be happy doing anything else. Maybe that advice would have helped young Jayber with his sorting process, but Dr. Ardmire helps Jayber turn a corner with this wise and wonderful conversation:

“I had this feeling maybe I had been called.”

“And you may have been right. But not to what you thought. Not to what you think. You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out — perhaps a little at a time.”

“And how long is that going to take?”

“I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.”

“That could be a long time.”

“I will tell you a further mystery,” he said. “It may take longer.”

Maybe, like me, this conversation brought to mind Rainer Maria Rilke’s words about living the questions.  Just in case it did not, I’ll share it here:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. . . Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I think we will see that Jayber Crow gave the questions his best effort throughout the seventy-two years of his recorded ponderings.

Living the Questions:  Dualism

Unfortunately, The Good Shepherd with Brother Whitespade at the helm practiced a kind of dualism which gave the Apostle Paul plenty to write about 2,000 before, and which the church is still battling today. Jayber remembered it as a “divided world” with an “ideal world of order” there within the safe and secluded boundaries of the school and the “real world of disorder” which was forbidden . . . and therefore, very attractive to the students. His description of localized naughtiness brought an understanding smile to my face:  “They would not have been easy in their minds if there was something they could have got away with if they had not got away with it.”

(I think there’s a warning here for those of us who are parents and want to shelter our children from all the evils of this world.)

The same rift between body and soul showed up at Pigeonville College, but this time, Jayber recognized it for what it was.  Do you ever see this same contradiction in your own Christian circles?

“Everything bad was laid on the body, and everything good was credited to the soul. It scared me a little when I realized that I saw it the other way around. If the soul and body really were divided, then it seemed to me that all the worst sins –hatred and anger and self-righteousness and even greed and lust — came from the soul. But these preachers I’m talking about all thought that the soul could do no wrong, but always had its face washed and its pants on and was in agony over having to associate with the flesh and the world.  And yet these same people believed in the resurrection of the body.

Living the Questions:  Power

I was disappointed with the way Brother Whitespade handled names at The Good Shepherd, effectively un-naming every student who walked through the door. Although his affection for Jayber was increased with Jayber’s “call,” even this is a form of un-naming him, for although Jayber had not changed a whit in his inclination to become a better student (or a deeper Christian), the notion of his calling was perfect camouflage for his lackluster performance and somehow made him more valuable or worthwhile in the headmaster’s estimation.

Living the Questions:  Home

Home is more than a place. It’s the people who live alongside us, and all this was lost for Jayber when Aunt Cordie passed away. He was made to feel the weight of his “homelessness” with continual reminders that he was counting on someone’s good graces to feed, clothe, and educate him at The Good Shepherd.

Isn’t it wonderful that Jayber felt at home in The Good Shepherd’s library?

Jayber held himself separate and “solitary” during his time at the school, and I wonder if his loyalty to “home” — even though it was a place that no longer existed for him — was what allowed him to retain his personhood in the midst of pressure to become a cookie cutter boy in the image of Brother Whitespade.

We’ll see as we continue reading that “place” is a huge influence in Jayber’s story.  But, then, it’s true for all of us, even though we are sojourners on this planet.  God’s story began in a garden, and one day it will end in a city, so just as our bodies are not incidental to our salvation (sorry, Brother Whitespade), place is not unimportant either.

And as God’s children, we are never homeless.

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I look forward to reading your thoughts so be sure to share insights, blog posts, and criticisms of my conclusions in the comment space below!

I’ll be here next Thursday (September 21) having read Chapters 7-8.

And just in case you missed the schedule I posted last week, here it is again:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion
SEPTEMBER 14………………CHAPTERS 4-6
SEPTEMBER 21………………CHAPTERS 7-8
SEPTEMBER 28………………CHAPTERS 9-11
OCTOBER 5……………………CHAPTERS 12-14
OCTOBER 12………………….CHAPTERS 15-17
OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 2…………………CHAPTERS 24-26
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

//

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“Laundry Is My Overflowing Inbox”: Working within the Home

Stuffing a ratty t-shirt into the washer’s maw, I try not to think about the fact that it was only yesterday that I hung this very same t-shirt on the clothesline.  The laundry is never done — even though we are down to a family of four these days.  How in the world did I survive eleven years of cloth diapers?  Apparently, somewhere along the way I have discovered that there is Glory in the Ordinary, that there is meaning to all the mundane tasks that are stuck on replay in this mothering life.  So when Courtney Reissig compared her laundry hamper to her husband’s overflowing inbox at work, I stopped and underlined, and nodded, “yes and amen.”

My soul resonated, too,  when she argued that in our ordinary chores and in the act of corralling chaos into order, we image God.

“You and I were created to work because God Himself works.  It is a function of being image bearers.”

Organizing a cluttered closet, mucking out a nasty refrigerator mess, distributing clean and folded laundry to the four corners of the house — these are all as quietly mundane as the work God does in our time to water His trees with rain or, in history, to arrange for the Exodus 16 manna that faithfully fed a generation of Israelites.

Go Back to the Purpose

Courtney’s personal illustrations and the vignettes shared from the lives of her friends encourage me to lift my eyes from the all-consuming “what” of my daily list and from the pervasive “how” (as in “how am I going to get all this done?”), and to fix my eyes on the one beautiful question:  “Why?”

Why do I do what I do every day in my home?  To love God and to love my neighbor.  And sometimes the hardest “neighbors” to love are the ones that share my last name and my DNA.

While Martin Luther made it clear that the works of our hands are not meritorious for our salvation, he wrote decisively that “one ought to live, speak, act, hear, suffer, and die in love and service for another, even one’s enemies.” (Kindle Location 871)  Loving others in our homes is more than a feeling, and it is likely to include the inconvenience of vacuuming the mud from their shoes, replacing the groceries they consume, and washing the dishes and the bedding they besmirch.

Mother’s Little Helpers

The whole family is invited to experience the “glory in the ordinary” that comes with the work of home — not only because of the “many hands make light work” principle, but because of the soul-shaping nature of chores and collaborative effort.  With sweet reasonableness, Courtney shares this gracious logic (Kindle Location 923):

“The home we all live in is for us all, and therefore, requires that we all contribute to it.”

She traces the history of housework through the the subtle transition in terminology from “housewife” to “stay-at-home mum,” and examines the impact of cultural context on the believer’s theology of work.  For instance, missionary and author Gloria Furman is a mum and keeper at home in a middle-eastern, community-oriented culture, while those of us in the West tend to have a go-it-alone mentality which can lead to the isolation, loneliness, and burn out that has given motherhood a bad reputation.

Toward a Sound Theology of Home

Since God is relational Himself, and since He ordained (Genesis 2:18) that his creatures would fare better in company with others, even the introverts of the world (I’m looking in the mirror here), need to consider what part community should be playing in our work at home.  Hannah Anderson says it well:

“God did not intend for families to be islands; they are part of the continent.  This is why multi-generational communities are so important to the work of home.”

I enjoy covering the nursery in church these days so that young mums can get a break from little children, but I am on the receiving end when a dear friend in her eighties washes all my dishes whenever she attends a big gathering in my home.

“Home here on earth is a microcosm of the heavenly reality that awaits us, [and] so is the church.”  (Kindle Location 1134-1143) Good theology and its practical application should lead to a connectivity and a “my life for yours” mentality as we serve one another.  This glorious truth gets lived out whenever Titus 2-truth sees daylight in a discipleship relationship between older and younger women or whenever men and women of “grandparent age” step into a situation where are there are no grandparents nearby to help and encourage.

“Community done among women commends the gospel to a world that breathes isolation and loneliness.” (Kindle Location 1151)

The God-Designed Gift of Rest

If God rested (and He did), if Adam and Eve in their perfect prelapsarian bodies needed rest, it stands to reason that my own post-Genesis 3 life will be better if I submit to a pattern of work followed by Sabbath.  J.I. Packer speaks wisdom into this subject (Kindle Location 1276):

We need to be aware of our limitations and to let this awareness work in us humility and self-distrust, and a realization of our helplessness on our own.  Thus we may learn our need to depend on Christ, our Savior and Lord, at every turn of the road . . .”

Our prideful rearing up against the rest we need and the fact that work exhausts, depletes, and frustrates us are both factors attributable to our fallen-ness.  So is the idolatry that makes work into a god and permits it to supersede in importance even the people we are called to love and to serve.

When my children were all small (in the pre-homeschooling days), I gave myself the weekend off from cooking by preparing meals ahead every Friday.  Courtney shares an idea from a friend who depends on leftovers and PB&J for the weekend.  Regardless of how we accomplish it, we ensure that the Sabbath is honored in our homes by “working hard at rest,” investing the effort up front and employing some carefully chosen “no’s.”

 Enter into the Joy

The job description driving the work of home is an unwieldy thing, shifting daily and expanding and changing as our families grow.  While this is unavoidable, we can lighten our own load with some purposeful choices and a Christ-shaped mindset such as steering clear of comparison; resisting the urge to audition for the role of Super Mum; and encouraging our husbands to fulfill their own God-ordained roles as workers at home — without feeling threatened or “less than” because we are unable to shoulder the work of two single-handed.

Mired in the here and now, we forget that the work of home is the work of spreading God’s glory throughout the world.  By entering into the reality of that today, we leave a mark on those we serve and prepare our hearts for a future of greater work and greater joy when we will see that there has never been a mundane task without purpose in God’s incredible universe in which nothing goes to waste.  Every little task, every intentional act of service points back to the God who made us and forward to an eternity in which the connection between worship and work will be forever eliminated.

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This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Regular readers will recognize that the theme resonating throughout Glory in the Ordinary has shown up in these parts quite a bit in recent days.  I recently reviewed Jen Pollock Michel’s excellent book (Keeping Place) that also touches on the work of home.  Click here for part one of my review which deals with a theology of home.  Part two parallels Courtney’s thoughts and gives additional perspective on the work of home.

Melissa Kruger blogs for The Gospel Coalition and has interviewed Courtney at their website.  Click here for further insights behind the scenes of Glory in the Ordinary.

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And . . .

. . . stay tuned for details and a reading schedule for Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I’m looking forward to a discussion here each Thursday from September 7 through November 16.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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Living in the Wide Open Spaces

Life has a way of expanding to fill the available space.

Little League games used to occupy Saturday mornings with hours of sunshine (and mosquitoes) and with chatting on the bleachers with other mums. However, a quick glance around my house reveals  our family has aged out of that particular American institution.  We’ve moved on, but even so, Saturday mornings are still booked. These days, though, I’m not a spectator.  I’m experiencing the great outdoors from the seat of a lawn mower.

If your goal in life is to live small and safe, beware the family business!  With its shifting parameters and employees who double as offspring and then have the audacity to grow up and move on to their own lucrative pursuits, our mowing business is challenging all my known boundaries.  Going from “I don’t do complicated machinery” to driving a zero-turn has been a harrowing experience, and one best accomplished in a wide-open field – for the safety of everyone!

There, with the startled butterflies rising along with the scent of fresh-cut grass, I’m gathered into the wildness of open sky alongside the coziness of trampled grasses where a deer bedded down the night before.

There, everything becomes an invitation:

See the wispy clouds, faithfully tending to their job of breaking up the stunning blue.
See the flock of hungry birds ransacking the honeysuckle bush.
See the honey bees, clearly all Threes on the Enneagram, hauling the makings for a flourishing life back to their far-away hive.

From my seat on the mower, inspiration is everywhere.  I have a job to do:  halt the advance of the Maine wilderness in this one location for this one season.

This I can do.
What a relief.

Capture

I’d love it if you would continue to read this story of how driving a lawn mower is impacting my sense of vocation and my conviction that God is active and present in my crazy, in-between life.  Click on over to SheLoves Magazine for more on the truth that even when our circumstances are shifting and the future seems unclear, we can step through God’s open door and find the wide-open field of His calling.

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If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Women in Ministry: What God Wants You to Know

We were greeted with warm handshakes and pleasantries, an outline of the morning service, and then a startling announcement:  “We assumed that your wife would want to take the children.”  In the early days of our marriage when my husband was the area director of a children’s ministry, I used to travel with him to his weekend engagements.  However, in those days, I had a full-time job, no children yet, and no — I did not carry a Bible lesson around in my back pocket. (Given the same situation today?  I’d probably go for it!  Why not?)

Ministry wives are often subject to assumptions and misconceptions, and it is with this audience in mind that Kay Warren has written Sacred Privilege.  However, her words are relevant to all women in ministry, with or without husbands.  She writes from the perspective of a life-long “church girl,” the daughter of a pastor, wife to Rick Warren of Saddleback Church and Purpose Driven Life fame, and also as the mother to a pastor’s wife.  The book is a distillation of wisdom gained from an entire life lived in the fish bowl of ministry — not from the viewpoint of “perfect wife,” but as messenger and strong survivor, as one who has taken strength from God for a very specific calling and now wants to pass that encouragement on to others who share that call.

If you are a woman in ministry, here’s what God wants you to know:

1.  “You need to embrace your own story — all of it — for the glory of God and the good of His kingdom.” (31)

Kay’s story includes a brush with a porn addiction and a rocky start to her marriage.  It includes a struggle with depression and the mental illness and ultimate suicide of her son. She assesses this terrain and concludes that the life she has lived is the exact price required for becoming who she is today.

2.  “There is no greater heritage than for children to see that ministry is not just for dads but also for moms and brothers and sisters.”  (50)

Sharing a ministry focus as a couple and also as a family protects everyone from resentment and eases the claustrophobia of the glass house that can plague ministry families.  Kay defines “thriving” over the long haul  as the ability to share a God-given dream and points to Ephesians 2:10 to affirm that God is the architect of that dream.

3.  “Success in ministry is not about numerical results or recognition but about thriving, flourishing, and growing strong in one’s calling and in one’s character.” (58)

This does not mean that women in ministry will meet everyone’s expectations.  On the flip side, it also does not mean that we will always be free to do the thing we love the most.  When it comes to defining success in ministry, the most important voice in the room is God’s.

4.  “You have a story that is worth telling.”  (125)

Sharing God’s redemption process in your life is risky because your weaknesses come out of hiding.  However, in the process, others are drawn into the Light, and true friendships can be formed that will endure for the long haul.  Life in community — knowing others and being known — is so much safer and more comfortable than life on a pedestal.

5.  “No one will take care of you but you.” (139)

That sounds cynical, doesn’t it?  And it’s not to say that God, your husband, and/or your loving church family are all out to exploit you and suck you dry, but there are some aspects of self-care that are completely in your court:  eating, sleeping, and moving every day are your responsibility.  My favorite of Kay’s aphorisms applies here:

“Control the controllable and leave the uncontrollable to God.”

Nourishing the inner life and stepping away from ministry for Sabbath rest may require some adjusting.  Cultivating this flexibility is a discipline that is well worth it in the end.

6.  “Accept the loss of privacy with God’s grace.”  (180)

Gail MacDonald and Edith Schaeffer have blazed a gracious trail for ministry wives (and all women) with their writing, and Edith is eloquently accurate on this subject of boundaries:

“A family is a door that has hinges and a lock.  The hinges should be well-oiled to swing the door open during certain times, but the lock should be firm enough to let people know that the family needs to be alone part of the time, just to be a family.”  (183)

7.  “Live with transparency and work hard to do what is right in the sight of God and others.”  (194)

Because ministry is a “sacred privilege,” God-honoring integrity is key, particularly in the crucial areas of sex, money, and power.  Kay and her husband maintain a “warnings” file with details about well-known pastors who have left the ministry because of moral failure — just to remind them of their own vulnerability.

8.  Maintain an eternal perspective.

Practicing radical forgiveness will make the battle scars earned in church conflict more bearable — and will even speed healing!  Franςois Fénelon offers wise counsel:

“Don’t be so upset when things are said about you.  Let the world talk; just seek to do the will of God.  You will never be able to entirely satisfy people and it isn’t worth the painful effort.”  (215)

The shared dreams and plans, the sacrifices and the adjustments required of women in ministry can be viewed alongside Paul’s metaphor of the Christian life as a race.  We run toward a finish line that is difficult to see, and the noise of the crowd — whether cheering or jeering — can be a distraction.  Making it “our aim to please” God is the mindset that will foster self-acceptance, a thriving family, and the ability to live out God’s calling on our lives with integrity and joy.

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This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

For more information about Kay’s writing and ministry check out her website here.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

A Different Kind of Woman

A favorite Elisabeth Elliot quote comes to mind whenever I overhear fragments of the ongoing row about the role of women in the church:

“I am not a different kind of Christian because I am a woman, but I am, most certainly, a different kind of woman because I am a Christian.”

Since ten of the twenty-seven believers commended by Paul for faithfulness in the early church at Rome were women, it is no surprise that women continued to fulfill roles of influence and responsibility throughout church history, whether recognized and appreciated — or overlooked and unsung.  The individuals featured in Michael Haykin’s Eight Women of Faith span nearly three hundred of those years (1537-1817),  and each of his subjects faced and overcame significant cultural obstacles.  In his eight vignettes, Michael chronicles the way in which significant cultural changes in the 18th century impacted women of faith.  Some were able to leave their own record of faith in their own words, while others are known to us only because they have been lauded in the writings of others.

The Queen – “Faith Only Justifieth”  

The great niece of Henry VIII, Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554) was Queen of England for a little over a week, and she also did time in the Tower of London like so many of her royal relatives of that era.  Condemned to death for her Protestantism by her devoutly Catholic cousin, Mary I (with the less-flattering name, “Bloody Mary”), Jane stood firm in her belief that faith alone justifies, and this along with her view of the Lord’s Supper show that she had clearly embraced the doctrines of the Reformation.  A Woman of the Word to the end, she owned a Greek New Testament and recited Psalm 51 from memory before being executed.

The Wife – “Ruled by Her Prudent Love in Many Things”

Surprisingly, many of the church fathers held a very low and utilitarian view of marriage.  The Reformers and the Puritans did their bit to put an end to that by their example and by their words, and we find in the writings of Richard Baxter a glowing report of the blessings of marriage.  His wife, Margaret Charlton Baxter (1636-1681), was clearly the one to whom he opened his mind and communicated his concerns.  Although they were childless, they were comrades in ministry during a turbulent period of English history under Charles I in which, for a time, Richard was banned from preaching or leading worship because of his Puritan views. In a faith formed by persecution, Margaret’s influence was formative for her husband and marked a turning point in the recognition that “a husband and wife must take delight in the love, and company, and converse of each other.”

The Theologian – “The Glory of God, and the Good of Souls”

Disregard for female authors persisted well into the eighteenth century. Therefore, Anne Dutton (1692-1765) would naturally have felt that it was necessary to defend herself whenever she shared her gift in the form of books, tracts, treatises, and poems.  In spite of her critics, she was the most prolific female Baptist author of her time, reminding her readers that she wrote only for the glory of God.  At the same time, she boldly critiqued the theology of John Wesley (among others) in their view that it was possible to live without sin on this planet.  Like Lady Jane Grey, Anne also pondered the nature of the elements in communion, beautifully expositing Calvin’s view by describing the Supper as  “communication.”  The Lord “gives Himself . . .  with all the benefits of his death, to the worthy receivers,” and so He is indeed present at the celebration of His Supper.  Anne wrote and taught about her Lord until her death.

The Friend of Revival – “A Wonderful Sweetness”

A key figure in the First Great Awakening of the 18th century in the United States, Jonathan Edwards addressed the topic of revival from various angles.  In an era that minimized the input of women, he, nonetheless, shared (anonymously) the account of his wife, Sarah Edwards’s (1710-1758), spiritual experience so that, although she was not a writer, we have rich insight into her life both from her husband and in the writings of Samuel Hopkins (who was tutored by Jonathan Edwards and lived in their home).  Living with eleven children in the fishbowl of ministry during seasons of financial stress and her husband’s professional ups and downs, Sarah experienced an encounter with God that Jonathan recorded as “the soul . . . being swallowed up with light and love,” accompanied by “an extraordinary sense of the awful majesty and greatness of God” in which she lost all bodily strength.  As a faithful wife and mother, Sarah had the additional honor of becoming a model of what a “true revival personality looks like.”

The Hymnist – “The Tuneful Tongue that Sang Her Great Redeemer’s Praise”

Described as “the Baptist equivalent of Isaac Watts,” Anne Steele (1717-1778) began writing hymns simply to express her personal devotion to God.  As the daughter of a pastor, her creations soon found their way into worship services, and eventually were included in a hymnal.   “Father of Mercies, in Thy Word” is still in use today, and beautifully expresses the rich theology and high view of Scripture that sustained her through a life of continual suffering from various illnesses.

 Father of mercies, in Thy word
What endless glory shines!
For ever be thy name adored
For these celestial lines.

The Daughter – “One of the Best Helps to Keep Up Religion in the Soul”

Recently, reading in the book of I Chronicles, I found a treasure in the midst of the lists.  Hushai the Arkite was immortalized in the pages of Scripture because he was “the king’s friend,” (I Chron. 27:33 NIV).  We don’t value friendship in that way today, but the Bible provides glorious examples of deep friendship, and church history is also a rich source of illustrations.  Esther Edward Burr (1732-1758), daughter of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, grew up during the Great Awakening and married a minister with the same “evangelical cast of mind” as her father.  Homesick for New England, she began a correspondence with Sarah Prince which chronicles their deep devotion to one another, but, more importantly, serves as a record of a spiritual conversation from which we can learn much about Esther’s commitment to God.  Thanks be to God that Jonathan Edwards saw the importance of educating his daughters!

The Missionary – “Truth Compelled Us”

Adoniram and Ann Judson (1789-1826), pioneer missionaries to Burma, were a key source of inspiration for the modern missionary movement.  In addition to their stalwart service in a field that yielded much trouble and little fruit, the record of their commitment to expressing the truth of Scripture is inspiring.  Ann’s letters document the struggle to learn Burmese, and her testimony of faithfulness ends with her final words on this earth begin spoken in Burmese.

The Novelist – “The Value of that Holy Religion”

With her books being made into movies, Jane Austen (1775-1817) has become a well-known literary figure, but few have documented the deep Christian convictions that lay behind her creative work.  With a father, two brothers, and various other relatives employed as ministers, she was uniquely qualified to write with humor about the ridiculous Rev. Collins and to put words of wisdom about pastoral ministry into the mouth of Edmund of Mansfield Park who asserts that a minister:

“has the charge of all that is of the first importance to mankind . . .”

Jane did not consider herself an evangelical and was uncomfortable with overt displays of religion that characterized the ministry of Hannah More.  Her private but sincere faith was expressed in written prayers and in the Christian virtues that were lauded by the characters in her novels.

No matter what role women choose today — with all our glorious freedom of choice and our comfortable lifestyle to make it so — there is inspiration in Eight Women of Faith.  In her foreword, Karen Swallow Prior describes Haykin’s eight portraits as a demonstration of “how their faith informed, shaped, and fulfilled their earthly callings.”

Women of Faith, may it be so of us today!

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This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

For my recommendations of more biographies of Christian women, check out these reviews:

Seven Women and the Secret of their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

Fifty Women Every Christian Should Know by Michelle DeRusha

Fierce Convictions – The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More by Karen Swallow Prior

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I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Fabulous and Full of Life!

Everyday, the townspeople of Thrim would ask, “Hey, Yoj, how are you today?”

And everyday, Yoj would answer, “I am fabulous and full of life!”

And why shouldn’t he be?  Yoj was the happy doll maker who awoke each day with a song on his lips and dinner invitations almost every night — until one day a mysterious stranger from the Shadowland arrived with promises of influence and wealth.

Without a thought or a prayer, Yoj followed the stranger to a gray land of small dreams and regret.  Is his happy life in the Kingdom of Thrim forever lost?  Is there hope of joy for the other residents of Shadowland?

Journey through The Kingdom of Thrim with author/illustrator Janis Cox where young readers will learn that you just can’t put a price tag on joy.  When all the color goes out of Yoj’s world, he learns that the path to fulfillment and peace comes through using the unique gifts that God has given.

Opportunities for Family Discussion

The imaginary Kingdom of Thrim comes under the jurisdiction of the God of heaven, which opens the way for conversations about gifting and true happiness.  Yoj’s predicament reminded me of the story of the Gibeonites with whom Joshua threw in his lot without first consulting with God through prayer.  Reading this account as a family is a good follow up to the story.  How are Joshua’s and Yoj’s situations similar?  How are they different?

A number of good biographies have been  written about the life of Eric Liddell, Olympic runner and disciple of Jesus Christ.  He knew all about the joy that comes from doing what God had designed him to do, and is famous for having said, “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.” After having read both stories, help your children to reach a conclusion about what Yoj would have said, “God made me _____________, and when I __________________, I feel His pleasure.”   Test their awareness of their own unique gifting by asking, “How would you fill in the blanks?”  Be prepared to share your own answers as well!

It’s clear that Yoj and his friends from the Shadowland learned the glorious secret of Colossians 3:23,24:

23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

The Kingdom of Thrim is the true home of all who put their whole heart and soul into doing what God has designed them to do.

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This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Be sure to visit author Janis Cox’s website for more information about her and her books!

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.