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the story of Ruth: over and above

The biblical story of Ruth is brutal and brilliant. It is brutal because it reveals how suffering becomes compounded when you are part of a vulnerable sector of society. But it is brilliant because this context becomes the backdrop for an astounding and unexpected display of hesed.

The story goes like this: there is a famine in Judah so Elimelech and his family (Naomi and two sons) go to nearby Moab so they won’t starve. While there, Elimelech dies, leaving his wife and sons on their own. The sons marry Moabite women and after ten years, both sons, Malon and Kilion, also die. This leaves Naomi with no husband, no sons, and two foreign daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah.
It is important to note that in the patriarchal context of the time, a woman’s value was linked to the males in the culture, be it a father, a husband, or sons. Without any attachment to a man, a woman was nothing, what Carolyn Custis James call "a zero." A woman on her own (or with another woman) had no means …
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book review: Finding God in the Margins

Finding God in the Margins: The Book of Ruth by Carolyn Custis James. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018. 116 pages.

I first heard Carolyn Custis James speak about the book of Ruth on a podcast (Seminary Dropout) and I immediately wanted to know more. More about Ruth. More about the cultural backdrop. More about what Custis James has learned in her many years of studying the text. This highly readable book did all of those things. It is meant to be used for personal or group study and includes reflection questions at the end of each chapter.

Custis James has done her homework; she provides important cultural and historical information, points out easily overlooked connections and contrasts, and makes an effort to relate the story to our contemporary context. The book has many good qualities. It is accessible as well as spiritually profound and informative without being overly academic or pedantic. She invites the reader to fill in the gaps of the story in an imaginative way, pulling u…


There are a lot of stories in the Bible which feature the number forty. In Genesis 7, forty days and nights of rain lead to a disastrous flood. After Moses killed a man, he fled Egypt and spent forty years in the wilderness of Moab tending flocks (Exodus 2, Acts 7) before his encounter with a burning bush. Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights before he received the decalogue (Exodus 24). When Moses descended from Mount Sinai, he found the people worshipping a golden calf. Moses then interceded on Israel's behalf for forty days and nights, pleading with YHWH to give them another chance (Deuteronomy 9).

When the Israelites arrived on the border of Canaan, looking for a new home, they sent twelve men to check out the land. The men's reconnaissance mission lasted forty days and nights (Numbers 13). Subsequently, the Israelites spent forty years camping in the wilderness before they finally settled in Canaan (Judges 13). Goliath, a giant warrior, taunted Saul's a…

prayer: 3 characters

Praying can be a challenge. Sometimes my words seem inadequate, limp and deflated as soon as they hit the air, never fully able to carry the whole of my heart and mind and body. This week, I came across a few stories which gave me a fresh outlook on prayer. Maybe they will do the same for you. Here is the first one.

Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, an organization which provides support and training for former gang members, tells the story of Andres, a young man who was abandoned by his mother when he was nine. Andres was homeless for two years and then entered foster care, after which came gang involvement and detention. Finally, Andres showed up at Homeboy Industries and entered their program. Andres began to meet regularly with a therapist and one Monday, the therapist brought in a box of crackers for the young man who was always complaining about being hungry. Andres was stunned.
"You mean ... you think of me ... when you're not here?"
The therapist nod…


As I write this, I am sitting in my office which is now also my bedroom, my closet, and a storage space for various musical instruments, all my throw rugs, and two extra mattresses. We are renovating our upstairs bathroom, so my household is in upheaval. Furniture is pushed into corners, huddled in tight clusters. The living room has sheets of drywall leaning against the wall. The floors are covered in brown paper. There is a plastic curtain surrounding the construction site. Bare wires, naked plumbing pipes, exposed insulation, skeletal wood framing, and rough sub-floors are all part of the decor. Along with a scattering of power tools. There is also noise, plenty of noise, all day long. And workmen regularly interrupt me to inquire about the main water valve, the breaker panel, access to the garage, size of fittings, moving something to another location, or getting a glass of water. They also like to parade past my desk to carry in construction materials or deposit waste on the bac…

praying with Jesus

When you search for images of someone praying, you see a lot of this: person with hands folded, head bowed, eyes closed, on their knees, with a Bible. Interestingly, their mouths are usually closed. However, conversing with the Creator is so much more than the standard pictures suggest.

I recently finished Eugene Peterson's book, Tell It Slant. In the latter half of the volume, he deals with the prayers of Jesus. As I was reading, I realized that for much of my life, I have seen prayer as a task, a responsibility, a job, a burden, a required discipline for all who claim to follow Jesus. But Jesus never presents prayer like that. When his disciples make the request, "Teach us to pray," Jesus starts off with, "Our Father..." He makes use of the inclusive pronouns "us" and "we." Instead of giving the disciples a task, Jesus invites them to join him in what he is doing: communing with the Father. Perhaps prayer is not so much a spiritual discip…