Archive for January, 2016

How [not] to Read the Women of the Bible

4 comments Written on January 26th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Mandi Cherico is a third year M.Div student at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. Born on the East Coast and raised in the Midwest, her interests include feminism, aesthetics, and Beyonce.

MandiThe story of Rachel often gets hijacked. Most commonly she is cast as a sort of Hebrew Disney princess. Her ‘romantic encounter’ with Jacob (Genesis 29) lends itself to a fairy tale: a damsel in distress is swept off her feet by a chivalrous stranger at the well. He kisses her, cries, and proposes to her on the spot. It’s spontaneous. It’s dramatic. It’s a plot that moves quicker than a Lifetime Original movie.

Like in all love stories, we emphasize the fact that Rachel is beautiful. So gorgeous, in fact, that her father, Laban, uses her as bait to trick Jacob into marrying Leah, Rachel’s older sister. Jacob agrees to Laban’s shady plan and serves his father-in-law for a total of 14 years for Rachel’s hand in marriage. At the end of his labor of love, Jacob and Rachel – and Leah and Bilhah and Zilpah – live happily ever after…

Rachel often lives in the ‘magic hour’ of our mind, falling hopelessly in love with Jacob in the soft-lit countryside of Paddan Aram. We know Rachel’s story well – but only the version that we have doused with perfume and covered in floral print, all the while forgetting that she is a multidimensional human being. There’s nothing wrong with Rachel being beautiful, and there’s nothing wrong with a love story. The problem ensues when we trust the idealized version of Rachel over what the text actually says.

Nowhere do we find the description of Rachel as a blushing bride. In her day, she would have had little choice about who she could marry. The text itself says nothing about Rachel’s romantic feelings. Jacob is the one who kisses her, who falls deeply in love. He is the one given over to emotion, weeping at the well. For all we know, Jacob’s love could have been unrequited. In the following chapters we learn that Rachel is cunning, courageous and loyal, but she never fits the description of a star-crossed lover.

How is it that our common understandings of Rachel barely do justice to her true character? How do we come to regard Rachel only as Jacob’s trophy wife? We often confine women in the Bible to one-dimensional roles. Sexism doesn’t just affect how we treat women ; it affects how we read them. Bible reading, like any other human endeavor, is not immune to the disease of sexism. In our infected imaginations, we define Rachel only by her relation to men. By doing this, we reject her true spiritual legacy.

In her 2011 Covenant Companion article, here, Dr. Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom brings the true legacy of Rachel to light. In Jeremiah 31:15, Rachel advocates for Israel from beyond the grave. Here her most treasured role, the mother of a nation, is what gives her life even after she has passed. Refusing to be consoled, she gets the attention of God Almighty on behalf of her exiled people.

“Rachel is the name the scripture writers evoke when they want to contrast human lament while portraying God’s providence amidst the worst of times, and her lamentations are a sign of hope. She pleads for God’s deliverance. She cries out for mercy. She intercedes on behalf of her children…God blesses her postmortem struggle” (Relentless Compassion).

arab_shepherdess_with_sheepThe true Rachel shatters our ill-conceived notions, and emerges as a shepherd of Israel in her own right.

How we read scripture shapes our communities. We have an ethical obligation when we read the stories of women in the Bible, to imagine them as whole characters with complex stories, motivations and legacies. Only when we give space for the true identities of Biblical women, can we give space for the women in our midst to be who they are called to be.

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White Noise

4 comments Written on January 19th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories


Jones is the pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Stromsburg, NE. She earned an MDiv from North Park Theological Seminary in 2012. Abby is mom to Stella, Lucy, Mabel and Harper. Read more of Abby’s writing at

Looking back, I’m not sure how I survived the baby years. I’m just coming out of the throws of 24/7 caregiving after five years with three babies. My youngest is 18-months-old and all of the baby gear is officially gone. There are no more swaddles or swings, bouncers or binkis. There is just one item I’m hanging on to, because the sleep and sanity of our family depends on it. Each and every one of our babies required a sound machine to fall asleep at night. The crackling static, like a radio dial between stations, signals my brain that the day is winding down.

Retro Radio

When I turn the dial, it begins to drown out the to-do list, the projects and responsibilities until I drift off to sleep. White noise is great at distracting me from the things that matter. And I’ve come to realize that the sound machine isn’t the only thing feeding me white noise. During the day there’s a constant static drowning out the sounds that matter. It’s the vibrating of my phone with a new text, voicemail, phone call or email. It’s the dinging of a new tweet, pic or notification. It’s the alert of a new post, article or comment. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I’m being fed everything from political controversy to fashion trends, global conflict to religious memes. All of it is covertly informing my identity.

There’s no escaping the GoogleAds that know what I’m lacking. I’ve read countless articles about how Facebook has made us sadder and less satisfied. But all of this discontentment didn’t begin with the advent of the internet. Genesis 3 tells us that the curse of sin is that woman will look to her husband and her husband to his work to inform their identity.

This creates a dependency on someone or something other than God. For most of human history the value of a woman has been based on her role as mother, and of course the man she depends on to fulfill this role. As for men, their value has been wrapped up in their ability to provide for their families. Their success, their worth, their identity was in what they accomplish outside of the home. And it will never be good enough, until they finally die and return to the ground.

Women looked to men. Men looked to work. And we wonder why our lives sound more like noise than songs. For generations we’ve heard that this is the right way to do things. It wasn’t too many years ago that a woman would introduce herself as “Mrs. Jeff Jones”. And to this day, one of the first questions that man gets asked by a new acquaintance is “What do you do for a living?”. A woman, in God’s eyes is not valuable because of her husband. A man, in God’s eyes is not valuable because of his labor.

We’re in-between stations.

Twist to the left and you can tune into creation. In the beginning, God’s hands created and formed the beautiful and wonderful and majestic world, and God made man and woman imago dei (Latin for “image of God”). They were created to be co-workers, caring for God’s masterpiece hand in hand. But sin cracked this image. There were no gender roles. There was no division of work. There was only the role of image bearer and the work of stewarding creation.

Twist the dial to the right and you can tune into the reality of God’s Kingdom. It’s the music of God’s restorative justice making all things new. Returning the creation back to it’s intended state. In this Kingdom, where God rules over all of creation, the image of God is not only repaired, but renewed.

We were made adequate to do all of the work God made us to do at creation. We’ll be remade to do all of the work God made us to do in the Kingdom. But in the middle, we squabble about who should be able to do what work. We’ve muted what is beautiful in the beginning and at the end, causing confusion about our purpose and our identity. We end up taking our identity from soundbites in the form of buzzes, dings and tweets. Everything here in the middle is subject to the noise.

 After listening to the white noise all of these years, when I’m quiet and listening to it at the end of the day, sometimes I can make out music in the background. Sometimes it startles me, and sometimes it’s subtle. But it’s there. There’s a song breaking through the noise. We just have to listen for it.

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Introducing a Deborah

6 comments Written on January 11th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Nilwona Nowlin currently serves as the Administrative Specialist for Governance for the ECC and is an active member of the Christian Community Development Association. In her “spare time,” she teaches workshops about living successfully as an introvert. Nilwona also randomly blogs about random things at thedreamerspeaks and is a member of the launch team for Kingdom Covenant Church (Chicago).

Last year, the CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) held its first ever Women of Color Retreat. During the retreat, I had a few “fangirl” moments during interactions with Christina Cleveland and Rahiel Tesfamariam. I later discovered that a new friend was having her own fangirl moment after meeting me. This revelation made me pause and consider the voice and influence that I possess. I recognize that this is a gift from God, and I want to be sure that I am a good steward of it. As I was reflecting on this, I was reminded of the Commission on BGE’s Develop a Deborah initiative. Throughout my journey to becoming a leader in ministry, I have certainly had help from people who have walked alongside me and/or used their own voice/influence for my benefit. I believe that, in order to truly be a good steward of my voice and influence, I must use it for the benefit of others. So I would like to use this space to introduce you to a “Deborah.”

Nadine2Nadine Bitar is a friend of the Covenant by way of North Park University. I met her in 2012 during a joint undergraduate/seminary course at North Park. I had minimal interactions with Nadine during the course, and it wasn’t until we worked together on a group project that I had a chance to get to know her a little better. Nadine is a Palestinian Christian, and crossing paths with her greatly impacted my understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During a recent trip to the Middle East, I had a chance to visit with Nadine in her hometown, the Old City in Jerusalem. During our conversations, she shared that she was planning to return to North Park, this time to pursue a seminary degree.

Nadine with flagAfter completing her undergraduate studies in Youth Ministry, Nadine returned home to Jerusalem, where she is serving as the Program Coordinator at Terra Sancta Schools Central Office. She works with 15 schools in the Holy Land, Jordan, Cyprus and Argentina. Her tasks include leading Bible study, teaching Sunday school and preaching the gospel any chance she gets. The number of Christians in the Holy Land has greatly declined because of the conflict, and Nadine has been grieved by this as well as the number of young Palestinian Christians turning away from God because “they are not seeing his presence in this awful political situation.” The Christians who live in the Holy Land are often referred to as living stones; Nadine believes that these living stones are integral to the Holy Land and make its communities strong and faithful.

Nadine’s time at North Park as an undergraduate helped her shape her identity and caused her to become more committed to her culture and faith. She has chosen to return to North Park for seminary because she wants to better understand her faith and further equip herself to do ministry. She wants to learn not just for her sake but for the purpose of educating her Group photo w Nadinecommunity and helping them come closer to God. Nadine’s vision is “to see the Christian community speaking out and expressing our faith openly to the world. Our presence in the Holy Land is very important for all Christians around the world. The land of Jesus needs its people to be present in the places where the word of God became flesh.” Her desire is that Christians around the world would stand with their sisters and brothers in the Holy Land.

Nadine Bitar is an amazing young woman with a prophetic voice. More importantly, she is my sister-in-Christ. If ever there was someone who was close to being a literal Deborah, it’s her. She is set to start seminary in Fall 2016 and is currently in the process of fund raising. I have committed to do what I can to develop this Deborah, and I hope that some of you who are reading this will be inspired to do so as well.


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Why Are You So Angry?

3 comments Written on January 8th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories

Veronica Gilliard is a member of New Life Covenant Church in Atlanta, Georgia. She also serves as secretary of the Southeast Conference Women Ministries Executive Board. She is also currently a student, pursuing her PhD in Educational Leadership with a specialization in Higher Education. In her spare time she enjoys cooking, bowling, and reading.

lamentLast month I was able to attend a conference with an unofficial theme: lament. The idea of this particular collective of individuals was to allow us a time and space to come together, in light of the nation’s multiple recent tragic events and deliberate injustices, and to encourage and challenge each other. In light of all that happened, we came together with an unspoken acknowledgement that we were all broken, yet willing to press onward, not necessarily toward change, but more importantly toward conviction.

We often like to describe wrestling with this brokenness as “processing” when we should be lamenting. Processing is important, but rather useless if we never move on into lamentation.

As a woman, I struggle with the principle of lament. I am expected to weep, wail, grieve, and display sorrow, particularly over things others see as trivial. This expectation is reinforced daily as you hear bigoted, sexist remarks such as:

Spoken: He throws like a girl.
Unspoken: Girls are weak.

Spoken: Stop crying like a little girl.
Unspoken: Girls are emotional.

Spoken: That girl needs a man.
Unspoken: Girls rarely get the decency of being referred to as women. A women’s agency and value are inextricably tied to her relationship status with a man.

So on and so forth. In a lot of ways I find myself resisting the displays of emotion that are expected of me, for fear of confirming a stereotype that I know to be unfair and inaccurate. Yet at the same time, my heart breaks for so many groups right now: refugees, immigrants, students, parents and families of disabled children, disabled adults, teachers and professors, the poor, those in leadership, etc. Yet, try as I might to hold all that in, there are times when I need to express my emotions, and the emotion that I choose is lament.

Interestingly enough, the more I have chosen to lament for the broken nature of this world, the more I am asked the following question: Why are you so angry?

Anger? No, lament! Immediately I feel stereotyped again, questioning the way I expressed my grief; second guessing the decision to depict my sorrow. Scatterbrained, I find myself trying to justify my weeping.

Today, I encourage you to resist the need to justify your lament. Christ did not call us to stoic, politically correct, and agreeable lifestyles. As we lament, let us be unashamed of our voices, using them to acknowledge both tragic events and deliberate injustices, and to encourage and challenge each other while praying earnestly for change.

For example, I lament the sociocultural oppression that inhibits my ability to lament without being stereotyped as an angry black woman.

What do you lament?

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