Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Gospel of Ruth

I hate shopping.  I really do.  I have friends who look at my wardrobe and just shake their head.  Sometimes, I shake my head, too, because the entire thing just looks utterly ridiculous to me most days.  


For those who know me, there is one thing that I will spend hours and hours shopping for...

Put me in a bookstore, and I will stay for a long time.  

Put me in a used bookstore, and well, a search party may be necessary to get me out.  

Needless to say, children don't make my book shopping the easiest activity (which may be a good thing).  But, Matt and I have Kindles, so I frequent the virtual bookstore almost daily, scouring Amazon for whatever deals may be present.  

So, I download a lot of free books.  Here's the cool thing about Christian literature.  I guess it's for publicity's sake, but a lot of times, you can find some pretty good Christian lit for free.  And I download these books.  And they sit, 

and sit

and sit

on my Kindle.  

Waiting to be read.  

Because like anyone who loves shopping for a good deal, it's more the thrill of getting a good deal that makes the shopping so fun, not actually using the purchased item for its intended purpose.  

Anyway, I say all that because I downloaded this book called "The Gospel of Ruth".  It looked kind of cool, and it was free, and there it sat on my Kindle.  

Well, then after Matt's first church history class this semester, he says, "So, my professor's wife is an academic, too.  She wrote a book.  It's about Ruth."  

And me, being the information storehouse that I am, asked, "What's your professor's last name again?"  

And Matt's like, "James."  


Flash forward to today.  I'm 3/4 of the way through the book, and let me tell you, Carolyn Custis James has some quite insightful things to highlight in terms of the book of Ruth.  

I'm just going to bullet point through a few of these for you all (and for me).  I hope that it not only encourages you all to pick up this very approachable scholarly work, but that it also spurs us to critically think about the framework we use to approach the book of Ruth.  

1.  Quote 1:  "Furthermore, my husband, while believing that his work and mine were deeply intertwined, never believed his profession was the answer to questions I was asking about God's calling for me.  So did I have a calling?"  

James writes this in the introduction.  Call it deep entrenchment in gender roles or insecurity or something else entirely, but THIS right is at the crux of my personal struggle of internalizing God's personal call upon my life.  I have lived my entire life thinking of myself as an addendum to someone else (whoever or whatever may be closest to me at the time).  And it's strange, because I don't believe this mentality was actively foisted upon me, but for some strange reason, I have this propensity to have absolutely no passion, drive, or vision of what God could possibly want for my life.  

Now, I personally eschew the idea that God has some exciting adventure planned out for us all and that he's just waiting for us to just hop on board; I think God most deeply works through the mundane.  So I don't think that God hasn't been working through me, or that I've been out of God's will.  But I've always thought it strange that I have no desire to pursue ANYTHING.  Like, that's weird, right?  

Here's the funny thing.  I do believe (to a certain extent-but that's not the point of this post) in gender roles.  But what this quote made me realize like a slap in the face was that I had been hiding behind gender roles to excuse myself from exploring what I genuinely enjoy and how God has uniquely gifted me.

It kind of looks like this: 

"I don't need to really worry about me because we just need to get Matt through his Master's.  We can worry about me later."  

"It just seems logical that I'll stay at home with my kids, because they're young and it's best for our family."

As I write all of this, I think there are two reasons deeply engrained in the core of who I am as to why I do this.  
      1)  Pursuing something specific means that I must face rejection or failure.  I hate both of those things.  
     2)  I hate both of these things because I so deeply define myself by my successes and being accepted by others.  

Well.  This is a problem on so many levels it isn't even funny.  

It shows for one that I have yet to internalize that God has accepted me into his Kingdom regardless of what successes I have under my belt.  

It also shows that I'm paralyzed by fear concerning anything that will show that I'm either not successful or not acceptable because that's how I define my value.  

Oh dear.  This is not the way that Jesus has called us to live.  This is far far far from Sermon on the Mount living.  

So can I just meditate on this truth for a few decades and really internalize the fact that God loves me and likes me just because I'm me?!  If I got this, it would be a good start.

2.  Quote 2:
"Somehow we've convinced ourselves that the more mature we become as Christians-and both Naomi and Job were seasoned believers-the thicker our spiritual skin will become.  We'll be resilient in adversity.  It's a sign of spiritual failure (so we tell ourselves) when suffering gets the better of us and our faith in God gets shaky.  Such notions (which aren't supported by Scripture, certainly not by the legacies of NAomi and Job) get in the way of our spiritual growth and block us from engaging the God who pursues us in our pain.  To tell the truth, when the full force of our sufferings hit us, no matter how long we've walked with God or how much theology we've mastered, faith in God can take an awful beating"

Can we just sit there for a second?  This is so profound.  I think I knew this, but James puts it so plainly.  What in the world does it look like when a church does THIS, instead of awkwardly trying to explain things away?  What does this look like 3, 4, 5 years down the road after someone experiences tragedy and it's still so real and raw for them but we've all but moved on?  I don't know the answer to those questions, but I do know that I want the answer to be framed around the spirit of this idea.  

3.  Quote 3: 
"He [God] isn't interested in tinkering with the existing system of human values so we can say we're doing things "better" than others.  The gospel completely overhauls the human soul and introduces us to a radically new dimension of human relationships."

Sometimes, I feel like Christianity is just a cleaned up way of living.  And I think in high school and college, it's easy to look at Christianity in terms like that.  I felt like Christianity was mainly about the moral decisions I made.  And I thought that by making certain moral choices, I was better.  But as I sit here today, more than ever I'm convinced that while cleaning up my lifestyle has value, the problem still lies within myself.  As Jesus said, the inside of the cup is still dirty.  

This quote for me highlights how far from the truth it is to believe that Christianity is just cleaning up your lifestyle.  It's a complete overhaul from the inside out.  

4.  Quote 4:
"The Sermon on the Mount knocked down the walls that religious living had constructed around God's law and pointed to a way of living that goes beyond the letter of the law to the spirit.  Formal religion only takes us so far-for it is both safe and doable.  Love, however, knows no limits, takes costly risks, and looks for ways to give more."  


"The letter of the law says, 'Let them glean.'  The spirit of the law says, 'Feed them.' Two entirely different concepts.  Ruth's bold proposal [to Boaz for her to glean in his field] exposes the difference."

I seriously get chills every time I read the second quote listed here.  I almost cry every stinking time.  If you're not aware of ancient Israel gleaning laws, the basic idea is that if you had land, you were supposed to leave what fell to the ground and not harvest the corners of your property so that the poor would have food to eat.  The purpose was so that none would go hungry.  

But then it became more and more technical.  How big is a corner?  How much should I leave on the ground for the poor?  And as the law became more and more technical, the spirit of it was lost.  

How often do I feel proud of myself because I'm following the law that modern Christianity has given me today while others go hungry both physically and spiritually?  

How often do I allow myself to be blind to needs around me because I'm so focused on following law to a T?  

5.  Her chapters on the widow and the barren woman

James does a fantastic job of highlighting the role of the barren woman and the widow throughout scripture.  I felt like a complete idiot for never putting all of this together, but it was absolutely fascinating to see the role of the widow and the barren woman throughout the Bible.  What was even more fascinating was the way God invited them into his purposes.  

James not only highlights the implications of being barren and/or a widow in ancient Near Eastern times, but she beautifully ties in the implications for today's modern widows and barren women.  It seriously is some of the better scholarly work I've seen on the study of the widow and the barren woman, and the best part is that it's completely accessible to all of us non-academics out there.  

Those two chapters framed the book of Ruth in a way that I really hadn't seen before.  I was guilty for having glazed over the tragedy of both Naomi and Ruth and the triumph of what God was doing in their lives.  

So seriously, I don't know why this book was ever free.  But it was.  I'd gladly provide a link to it, but I don't do all that coding stuff.  It freaks me out.  But you could type in "The Gospel of Ruth" on the Amazon search engine and buy the book.  It's totally worth it.  

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