According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Process Theology - "Divine Action, Indeterminacy, and Dipolarism"




Religion without science is confined; it fails to be completely open to reality.
Science without religion is incomplete; it fails to attain the deepest possible understanding.

- John C. Polkinghorne, Science and Creation:
The Search for Understanding, (Boston: New Science Library, 1989), 117.


"Of Being and Becoming" in the
Process World of Mediation and Experience

by R.E. Slater
May 19, 2012


Process theology is a way of viewing divine action. As such, would it be more correct to say that by divine action God would deny the universe its freedom to become? Or that through divine action the universe is allowed every opportunity to become? Or that God's divine action is of no importance whether the universe becomes or not. It is of no consequence and the universe simply runs on its own with or without God?

The first view is one of bleak pessimism and cosmic austerity. Or perhaps the competing view that the universe has already attained a completed state of fullness. As such, we are living out the remaining remnants of time caught within the impersonal machinery of cause-and-effect without regard to the ideas of meaning, of poetic evolvement, or of a future hope moving towards some thing, some idea or reason. The second view is the more common Christian view that sees present day processes as incomplete and unfulfilled. It is a more hopeful cosmic view of progress and evolvement. While the latter view is usually attributed to the atheistic view in bald denial of anything divine or holy. However, the agnostic would take no position at all and leave it as a running debate.

Ideally, science as an objective discipline and methodology, could be considered agnostic to these philosophical questions. And yet, if left in the hands of the theologian would see God in the process. Whereas science in the hands of a disbeliever would only see natural laws without a spark of divinity to be found anywhere at all. However, it would be fair to say that most scientists apply the agnostic methodology to their work; and it is imagined that both the theistic and atheistic scientist would likewise apply this more common perspective to their labor, and only afterwards import their personal reflections and philosophies upon the results. Or better yet, simply leave it to the theologian and philosopher to debate.

Hence, given these introductory views could one then assume freedom to be inherent at all levels of creation, or that there is no such freedom within creation and all is deterministic? In other words, is the universe lively with creative opportunity? Or is it a cold, dark, mechanistic machine ticking away on its own clock and rhythm? Curiously, this time around it is the theist who would claim that all is determined (sic, Calvinism's theological system of austere Sovereignty). But (agnostic) science has shown time-and-again that all has been indetermined, leaving the widest possible opportunity for anything to occur at any moment. Curiously, it is the theist this time that sees God, or His creation, as the machine, and the scientist who sees the universe lively with creative freedom.

But if we admit to a divine action that allows the universe a freedom to become, and if that freedom is inherently indetermined at all levels of creation, than does this mean that divine action can be regarded as insignificant? Or, significant? In other words, is it plausible to say that without divine action nothing can become. That all is deterministic. And that divine action is without effect? The non-theist would mostly shout, Aye! But to the process theologian this would not be the case.

For it is the premise of process theology that God, through divine action, provides the widest array of unique possibilities to the universe at each given moment on its journey towards becoming; that He will actively encourage those creational possibilities that align with His divine will and vision to be chosen; and that He responds accordingly depending on which possibility is chosen. Hence, divine action mediates over creational opportunities inherent within the creational process of becoming. It is indeterministic but wholly significant for the accomplishment of divine will and vision.

But neither does this infer that divine action may only act in one direction. Depending on the level of complexity of a specific actuality in creation, divine action may indeed reflect a basic determinism while at other levels (such as is found in evolution, or in the human consciousness) it may be highly indeterministic. Process thought affirms variable divine action on all levels.

And most importantly, process thought affirms that God's nature changes like everything else. And yet, the better question to ask is what do we mean by this? For the answer can only be both yes-and-no. And this is the famous dipolarism that is found in process theism for on the one pole God does, and will, change in response to the universe as it evolves (and resolves) towards His holy purposes. And as it changes so God Himself will change in His experiences with the changes that are occurring. This is no less different from our own experience as imaged in God's image... as our world changes about us, so do we change in our relationship with that world. Whether from the perspective of maturing from an infant to an adult. Or in our academic prowess and acumen educationally. Or in our experiences of love and death, suffering and pain, fairness and injustice. We respond to each and every experience as God's image bearers and we should expect no less of God whose very image responds to all the universe's livelihood to all that it contains.

Similarly, residing on the other ontological pole of God is His eternal character and divine vision that remains resolute providing to the universe the infinite possibilities of being and becoming. Of opportunities of aligning with His divine vision of full and uncharted freedom to become grounded in His eternal being. So that, on this half of the equation, God remains the same in His essence. He remains creative, loving, persuasive, redemptive, eternal in all that He is. But because of this dipolar arrangement, even God Himself is becoming like everything else in the universe and is no more static, nor no less dynamic, than creation itself.

And so we see instances of the variableness of God's mind to Moses as He repents of the destruction He would bring upon His people Israel. Or revokes, and then invokes, His covenant with Israel as they disobey at one moment and then repent at the next. Causing God to be angry one moment, while at the next He relents in response to Israel's rent heart at their sin and repentance laced with grief and pain. Like a loving parent, God acts and reacts to His children. He grows up with them as they mature in their faith, trust and hope. Each experiences the other in new ways unthought and unprecedented. From experiences of slavery to becoming a federated group of bonded tribes. From a promising nation-state to an impoverished exilic people. From the joys of liberation from the bonds of a conquering enemy to the remorseful renewal of covenantal faith. From the rejection of God's Son, Israel's hoped-for Messiah, to faith in the hope of salvation that God's Messiah brings. Dithering from experiences of oppression and persecution, to great joy and triumph. Even as the early church responded to God's salvation by its own experiences of great joy and spiritual redemption later attested by its historic charters, popular confessions and public admissions. At every moment God experiences the pangs and joys of His people (and, generally, of the world in the throes of sin and death, life and recreation).

Thus we should expect no less in our (post)modern times of civilization as societies from around the world are bound closer together in renewal of all that it means to be humanity. By accepting and embracing the turmoil that will come within the ever-expanding worlds of multi-ethnic globalism, the rich and variegated experiences of pluralism coupled with societal individualities, and the technological solidifications rapidly expanding globally throughout all the regions of the world.

Whether we admit this or not, the reality for the Christian is that there is a God. That He has not left us to ourselves. That there is a divine purpose in all things. Just as there is an inherent rebellion in all things towards His purposes because of sin and sin's darkness. That in the chaos there is order. That through chaos order is being restored even though it is similarly left in place. That we live in a uniquely free universe that is allowed choice at every level. A choice of freedom that is inherently indeterministic but following patterns of regularity-and-form within each of those same levels. That the eternal God who is Creator of this universe is likewise experiencing with us the chaotic renewal of divine purpose and plan within the creative order of blessing and shalom. A God  who is maximizing the potential for every discordant possibility to find eternal completion within His own eternal being, presence, and fellowship.

In part 2 we will examine process theology through the lens of science by examining quantum physics from a renowned physicist who states quite flatly that divine action is not needed in the functioning of the universe. That it has within itself its own order, freedom and inherent possibilities. That natural laws require no God. No divine action. No holy word from the divine. That all is set from within itself. And that humanity is the temporary beneficiary of a grand cosmogony started on its own, ending on its own, and transforming on its own. With no singular beginning. And with infinite possibilities of becoming through the infinite arrangement of simultaneous multi-universes. To that quantum world of being we'll travel. One that I look forward to thinking through and reviewing. Stay tuned....




Book Review: Kristof and WuDunn, "Half the Sky"


by rjs5
posted on May 8, 2012

I expect this post to be one of my least well-read posts of the year.

That alone is an indictment of our church today – and of its leadership, as most of the people who read Jesus Creed are leaders in some form in the church. It isn’t an indictment because women’s issues should be of prime importance – but because compassion and care should be. We debate heady issues – doctrine and theology and sexuality and evolution and Adam … but I know from experience that issues of compassion and care receive less than 10% the views and reads of such posts.

I post this anyway, knowing it will send my numbers plunging … because some things are that important.

Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn is a powerful book that explores the oppression of women worldwide, from rape, sex-trafficking, and maternal mortality to domestic violence, “cutting” and infanticide. They describe the problems in often graphic and heart-wrenching detail. They introduce real people in harsh situations and use their stories to give a face to the problems that exist and an example of hope that can be found. They examine the kinds of efforts for relief and reform that work, don’t work, and sometimes work or partially work to overcome the underlying economic and cultural factors that give rise to the oppression of women. They are honest about the messiness inherent in human societies and motivations. There is no magic bullet to be found in this book. But their book is an unabashed a call for action (as is their organization).
So was it cultural imperialism for Westerners to criticize foot-binding and female infanticide? Perhaps. But it was also the right thing to do. If we believe firmly in certain values, such as the equality of all human beings regardless of color or gender, then we should not be afraid to stand up to them; it would be feckless to defer to slavery, torture, foot-binding, honor killings, or genital cutting just because we believe in respecting other faiths and cultures. (p. 207)
Because the book is intended as a call for action – and designed for persuasion it consists primarily of stories. Stories inspire action in a way that facts, figures, and propositions simply do not. Facts, even accurate and overwhelming statistics, inhibit compassion. According to Kristof and WuDunn:
Social psychologists argue that all this reflects the way our consciences and ethical systems are based on individual stories and are distinct from the part of our brains concerned with logic and rationality. Indeed, when subjects in experiments are first asked to solve math problems, thus putting in play the parts of the brain that govern logic, afterwards they are less generous to the needy. (p. 100)
A point that is rather interesting in light of the article Scot linked last Thursday, Analytical Thinking and Faith (and here are links to the Science write-up and article).

How many who read this blog have heard of Half the Sky? How many have read it?

How many of the men have read it (or intend to)?

Does the power of story motivate?

The book has been having something of an impact in Christian churches (a group in our church has been inspired to take action through the power of the book). The May/June issue of Books and Culture has a review, Hard Truths by Amy E. Black, that considers both Half the Sky and a recent book Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James that claims some inspiration from Kristof and WuDunn. James’s book looks primarily at women in the bible, is directed at an audience of Christian women – but makes connections with some of the issues raised by Kristof and WuDunn, drawing in part on the work of Amy Carmichael in India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

But this highlights a problem … Half the Sky is, it seems to me, having some impact in the church, but as a “women’s issue” or a women’s ministry project – and that is a crying shame. (You can correct me if I’m wrong here.) But Half the Sky is a book well worth reading (and acting on) for everyone, male and female. It provides a number of important lessons that span a wide variety of issues. The deep need and deep evil that permeates so much of our world. The tyranny of strong over weak … and the ever present temptation to rationalize strength as an intrinsic value. In Half the Sky the tyranny is primarily, but not solely, male over female; but on a much more fundamental level the tyranny is strong or powerful over the weak.

In a tale of Zoya Najabi
“Not only my husband, but his brother, his mother, and his sister – they all beat me,” Zoya recalled indignantly, speaking at a shelter in Kabul. … The worst moment came when Zoya’s mother-in-law was beating her and Zoya unthinkingly kicked back. Resisting a mother-in-law is an outrageous sin. First, Zoya’s husband dug out an electrical cable and flogged his wife until she fell unconscious. (p. 68-69)
But even worse is the deep culture of violence in these hierarchical relationships. Zoya talked about the reasons behind beatings in general – not just her situation.
“But it also happens that the wife is not taking care of her husband or is not obedient. Then it is appropriate to beat the wife....

... Zoya smiled a bit when she saw the shock on our faces. She smiled patiently: “I should not have been beaten, because I was always obedient and did what my husband said. But if the wife is truly disobedient, then of course her husband has to beat her.” (p. 69)
This attitude is not limited to Islamic cultures and does not characterize all Islamic cultures. Similar examples can be found in Christian cultures in Africa and in cultures that are neither Christian nor Muslim. There is a strong cultural element largely separable from religion that justifies continuing violence and oppression.

The God Gulf. Kristof and WuDunn have some rather interesting comments on faith and compassion.
Religious conservatives have fought against condom distribution and battled funding for UNFPA, but they have also saved lives in vast numbers by underwriting and operating clinics in some of the neediest parts of Africa and Asia. When you travel in the poorest countries in Africa, you repeatedly find diplomats, UN staff, and aid organizations in the capitals or big cities. And then you go to the remote villages and towns where Western help is most needed, and the aid workers are suddenly scarce. Doctors Without Borders works heroically in remote areas, and so do some other secular groups. But the people you almost inevitably encounter are the missionary doctors and church-sponsored aid workers.

… Aid workers and diplomats come and go, but missionaries burrow into society, learn the local language, send their children to local schools, sometimes stay for life. True, some missionaries are hypocritical or sanctimonious – just like any group of people – but many others are like Harper McConnell at the hospital in Congo, struggling to act on a gospel of social justice as well as individual morality. (pp. 141-143)
I am not so sure it is a gospel of social justice as much as it is a gospel that embodies the call to love one’s neighbor, even halfway around the world. I fear though that this influence is vanishing from the church. I grew up in an era where missionary week and tales of missionary doctors, nurses, and teachers around the world were highlighted (pastors were there too – but never alone). This simply does not seem a priority emphasis any longer.

I could pick out more pieces from this book, there were a number that moved me or caused me to think. Social insights into western thinking of both conservatives and liberals … and the reasons for the success and failure of various humanitarian efforts – the pieces that capture the interest of my analytical brain (I am, after all, a scientist). More importantly the deep needs that exist and the power of the stories Half the Sky contains.

But I’ll stop here and simply recommend that this book should be required reading – and that as we debate the heady issues of theology and science we should also remember that our faith is shaped and lived out by intuitive thinking as well. Our faith must have a heart.

My challenge to everyone, make and female, and especially to leaders is simple … read the book and think deeply about the issues.

What do you think? What role should faith based compassion have in our church?

Is this the kind of book that should move the church?

If you read the book – what struck you most deeply?


If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.
If you have comments please visit Half the Sky and the Power of Story at Jesus Creed.




N.T. Wright, Scripture & the Authority of God - "Enlightenment, Postmodernism, and Misreading Scripture"





N.T. Wright on the Enlightenment, postmodernism, and common misreadings of scripture
May 14, 2012

It’s Monday, which means it’s time to continue series on learning to love the Bible for what it is, not what we want it to be.

As part of the series, we’re working our way through several books, and have already discussed The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith. Up next up is Inspiration and Incarnation, by Peter Enns. But currently, we’re discussing Scripture and the Authority of God by N.T. Wright, and today I want to address Chapter 6, entitled “The Challenge of the Enlightenment,” and Chapter 7, entitled, “Misreadings of Scripture.”

Chapter 6

I confess I checked-out few times while plowing through Chapter 6, which explores the effect of the Enlightenment on biblical interpretation and scriptural authority. Because this is just the sort of stuff you bring up at parties to make friends.

Here Wright notes that “much of what has been written about the Bible in the last two hundred years has either been following through the Enlightenment’s program, or reacting to it, or negotiating some kind of halfway house in between.” And so Christians need to be aware of which Enlightenment assertions “must be politely denied, which of its challenges may be taken up and by what means, and which of its accomplishments must be welcomed and enhanced.”

Without casting Enlightenment rationalism as categorically evil, Wright details some of the problematic consequences of Enlightenment assumptions regarding the biblical text:

  • false claims to absolute objectivity,
  • the elevation of “reason” (“not as an insistence that exegesis must make sense with an overall view of God and the wider world,” Wright notes, “but as a separate ‘source’ in its own right”),
  • reductive and skeptical readings of scripture that cast Christianity as out-of-date and irrelevant,
  • a human-based eschatology that fosters a “we-know-better-now” attitude toward the text,
  • a reframing of the problem of evil as a mere failure to be rational,
  • the reduction of the act of God in Jesus Christ to a mere moral teacher, etc.

Wright then discusses how the rise of historical biblical scholarship has both helped and hurt the Church, arguing for something of a middle-way between anti-intellectualism on the one hand and the glorification of it on the other.

According to Wright, “to affirm ‘the authority of scripture’ is precisely not to say, ‘We know what scripture means and don’t need to raise any more questions. It is always a way of saying that the church in each generation must make fresh and rejuvenated efforts to understand scripture more fully and live by it more thoroughly, even if that means cutting across cherished traditions.”

And I especially like this:

“Not all who try to follow the Bible in detail - as well as [in broad] outline - are fundamentalists,” says Wright, “nor are they all guilty of those cultural, intellectual, and moral failings which North American (and other) liberals perceive in North American (and other) conservatives.

Equally, not all who question some elements of New Testament teaching, or its applicability to the present day, are ‘liberals’ in the sense pejoratively intended by North American conservatives or traditionalists.”

Wright urges Christians to avoid plugging their ears and refusing to acknowledge the insights that can be gleaned from historical criticism on the one hand, and accepting historical criticism wholesale on the other.

“There is a great gulf fixed between those who want to prove the historicity of everything reported in the Bible in order to demonstrate that the Bible is ‘true after all, and those who, committed to living under the authority of scripture, remain open to what scripture itself actually teaches and emphasizes,” he says.

As the chapter continues, Wright tackles postmodern scholarship, which he believes has offered some helpful critiques of Enlightenment assumptions while providing useful analyses of how certain texts might be received by particular groups, but which tends to veer into the complete dismissal of large portions of the biblical text.

And so Wright sees postmodernity’s effect on contemporary Western readings of Scripture as “essentially negative.”

“Postmodernity agress with modernity in scorning both the eschatological claim of Christianity and its solution to the problem of evil, but without putting any alternatives in place,” he says. “ All we can do with the Bible, if postmodernity is left in charge, is to play with such texts as give us pleasure, and issue warnings against those that give pain to ourselves or to others who attract our (usually selective) sympathy.”

Wright’s solution is “a narratival and critical realist reading of scripture,” which he doesn’t flesh out in this chapter, but will in future ones...which is good, seeing as how I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about.

Chapter 7

[This] gets a little more interesting because Wright lists common misreading of Scripture—by the religious right and the religious left.

His list of misreadings on the right includes:

- the rapture

- the prosperity gospel

- the support of slavery (so I guess he’s referring to readings both past and present)

- undifferentiated reading of the Old and New Testament

- an arbitrary pick-and-choose approach to Scripture, complete with an implicit canon-within-the-canon, which, for example, is tough on sexual offenses but says nothing about the regular biblical prohibitions against usury

- support of the death penalty

- “discovery of ‘religious’ meanings and exclusion of ‘political’ ones, thus often tacitly supporting the social status quo”

- readings of Paul that leave out the Jewish dimension through which his letters make the most sense

- attempted “biblical” support for the modern state of Israel as the fulfillment of scriptural prophesy - an overall failure to pay attention to context and hermeneutics....

[I can think of plenty more, starting with the idea that the Bible presents us with a singular picture of “biblical womanhood” that more closely resembles the June Cleaver culture of pre-feminist America than the familial norms of biblical times - not that I’m biased on that one or anything. :-) ]

His list of misreading on the left includes:

- claims to objective or neutral readings of the text

- claims that modern history/science “disprove” the Bible or render it irrelevant or unbelievable

- the cultural relativity argument which assumes that “the Bible is an old book from a different culture, so we can’t take it seriously in the modern world.”

- caricaturing biblical teaching on some topics in order to be able to set aside its teaching on other topics

- “discovery of ‘political’ meanings to the exclusion of ‘religious’ ones” [a reverse of the right's misreading]

- the proposal that the New Testament used the Old Testament in an arbitrary and unwarranted fashion

- the claim that New Testament writers did not think they were writing ‘scripture,’ so appealing to their work does them violence

- “a skin-deep-only appeal to ‘contextual readings,’ as though by murmuring the magic word ‘context’ one is allowed ot hold the meaning and relevance of the text at arm’s length."

- reducing “truth” to scientific statements on the one hand, or to deconstruct it altogether on the other.

Wright believes a critical realist reading of the text is something of a third way between two extremes, one that can “take the postmodern critique fully on board and still come back with a strong case for a genuinely historical understanding.”

He argues that we do have serious and academic methods by which we can “say definitively that some readings of ancient texts are historically preferable to others,” and that those should be employed thoughtfully and humbly by the Church.

In chapter eight, “How to Get Back on Track,” Wright will propose a five-part recommendation for approaching scripture today.

Good.

It's all getting a little theoretical to me.


* * * * * * * * * * * *


So, did any of that make sense to you?

What do you think of Wright’s assessment of the Enlightenment and of postmodernism?

What would you add to the list of biblical misreadings—on either the right or left?


* * * * * * * * * * * *


continue to -

N.T. Wright, Scripture & the Authority of God

American Consumerism Asks, "Are You Woman Enough?

'City Java magazine rack' photo (c) 2011, Ken Hawkins - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Enough: Or, why we should all be laughing hysterically in the magazine aisle

by Rachel Held Evans
May 16, 2012

I can’t for the life of me recall what book I read it in, but I remember an author saying once that he raised his children to be wary of consumerism by teaching them to laugh at commercials.

Like, the whole family would sit around the TV together and bust out laughing when someone from LG asked, “Is it a washer? Or something better?”

(It’s just a washer.)

I’ve decided I like this idea, particularly as a woman, who most advertisers seem to take for a complete idiot.

Case in point: Last night, Eva Longoria winked at me from the TV screen and, with a gold-colored tube of mascara between her fingers, said, “Don’t just volumize your lashes! Millionize them!”

Okay, first of all, Eva, neither “volumize” nor “millionize” are words.

Second of all, even if it were scientifically possible to “millionize” my lashes, would that really be safe? (I’m getting a creepy vision of Animal in a Muppet Special.

Millionize your lashes!

And third of all, if L’Oreal wants to join the feminist movement for real, how about they begin by not perpetuating the stereotype that girls are so bad at math and science that they’ll go out and buy a product that promises to “millionize” their eyelashes.? I mean, what’s next? A “trillionizer?” A “gazillionizer”? When you start with “millionize,” there’s nowhere else to go but crazy town.

It reminds me of the text on the back of my shampoo bottle, which promises that all my dry, frizzy hair needs is a little “fortified fruit science” and all will be well.

Fortified fruit science.

Because that’s a thing.

You gotta laugh at this stuff to keep from crying.

Same goes for the magazine aisle. Strategically placed near the checkout line at the grocery store, where, after a frustrating hour of decision-making, calorie counting, list checking, and child-bribing, women would otherwise be forced to stop, wait, and ask themselves a few questions about the meaning of their existence, the magazine aisle dazzles us with photoshopped images of super-skinny models, next to impeccably arranged place settings, next to actresses praised for losing their baby weight in five minutes, next to Martha Stewart holding a perfectly frosted chocolate cake.

As if all of those scenarios are possible at once.

The headlines say things about “10 Ways to Snag a Man” and “4 Recipes Your Family Will Love” and “29 Ways To Lose Weight And Still Eat a Donut Every Day,” but what we really read is:

Are you pretty enough?

Are you crafty enough?

Are you sexy enough?

Are you stylish enough?

Are you domestic enough?

Are you enough?

Too often, we forget to laugh at the absurdity of these questions, and instead find ourselves grabbing a magazine from the rack, flipping through its pages, desperately looking for something that might make us “enough”— fortified fruit science, perhaps?

Well, last week, TIME Magazine skipped past all the subtleties and came right out with it. Next to the now infamous picture of a thin, provocatively posed, bombshell of a mother, defiantly breastfeeding her nearly four-year-old son, were printed the words:

Are you mom enough?

The cover sparked a flurry of responses as women around the world issued a collective, “WTF, TIME?”

There has to be a way to write a compelling cover story on attachment parenting without exploiting every woman’s deepest insecurities, pitting mothers against one another, and making this poor kid’s future college life a nightmare!

But the way I see it, TIME gave us a something of a gift. By stripping that cover of all pretense, it revealed in plain language the lie behind so much of the media’s messages for women: If you aren’t a sexy, put-together, powerful, super-mom, who breastfeeds her kids until they’re four while baking apple pies, making crayon art, and investing in a successful career, then you’re a failure. You will always fall short. You will never be enough.

Such an idea is so absurd, it should elicit laughter, not groans. It’s like millionized lashes and fortified fruit science—too stupid to take seriously!

And yet a small part of us believes it.

Why?

This whole idea of the “ideal woman” is one reason I decided to take on my year of biblical womanhood project.

I hated how well-intentioned pastors and leaders were taking the Bible I loved so much and turning into yet another magazine cover that asks: “Are you biblical enough?”

And by “biblical,” most pointed to a glamorized, westernized version of the Proverbs 31 Woman, who rises before dawn each day, provides food for her family, trades fine linens for a profit, invests in real estate, and works late into the night weaving and sewing. Christian books and conferences tend to perpetuate the idea that a woman’s worth should be measured by the details, rather than the message, of Proverbs 31, and like the magazines in the checkout line, often focus on fitness, domesticity, beauty, and success as ways of earning the favor of God and men.

But here’s the thing.

The poetic figure found in Proverbs 31 is not the only woman in the Bible to receive the high praise of,eshet chayil!” or “woman of valor!

So did Ruth.

And Ruth could not be more opposite than the Proverbs 31 Woman.

Ruth was a Moabite (a big no-no back then; men were forbidden from marrying foreign wives).

Ruth was childless.

Ruth, was a widow— “damaged goods” in those days.

Ruth was dirt poor.

Rather than exchanging fine linens with the merchants to bring home a profit to her husband and children, Ruth spent her days gleaning leftovers from the workers in the fields so she and her mother-in-law could simply survive!

And yet, despite looking nothing like the ancient near Eastern version of a magazine cover, Ruth is bestowed with the highest honor. She is called a woman of valor. Eshet chayil!

She is called a woman of valor before she marries Boaz, before she has a child with him for Naomi, before she becomes a wealthy and influential woman.

Because in God’s eyes, she was already enough.

The brave women of Scripture—from Ruth to Deborah to Mary Magdalene to Mary of Bethany—remind me that there’s no one right way to be a woman, and that these images of perfection with which we are confronted every day are laughable to those of us who are in on the big secret: We are already enough.

We are enough because God is enough, and God can turn even the smallest acts of valor—letting go of a grudge, cleaning puke out of a kid’s hair, inviting the homeless guy to dinner, listening to someone else’s story— into something great.

Proverbs 31:25 says the wise woman “laughs at the days to come.”

I don’t think the Proverbs 31 Woman laughs because she has it all together.

I think she laughs because she knows the secret about being enough.

And so my big act of valor this week will be simple: I’m going to pick up the first magazine I see in the grocery store, point to the cover, and laugh like a maniac, right in front of God and everybody.

....Let’s just hope it’s not something sophisticated like The Atlantic, cause then I would look like an idiot.