"The moment the word 'why' crosses your lips, you are doing theology."
—When Life & Beliefs Collide                

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Anita Lustrea Re-Launched!

Anita Lustrea is not going away! 

After Moody Radio's disappointing cancellation of Midday Connection, she's launching an online podcast on October 5 that promises to be worth following.

This will be good news for a lot of former Midday Connection listeners and hopefully a expanding new audience.

All best wishes to Anita in this new venture! 

Here's the press release:

“Anita Lustrea Faith Conversations” Podcast Launches October 5 Anita Lustrea, Former Moody Radio Host, Announces New Weekly Program Chicago, IL –

For more than 15 years, Anita Lustrea hosted Moody Radio’s award-winning “Midday Connection” talk show and earned the loyalty of listeners across the U.S. who tuned in for authentic conversations on faith. The radio program concludes September 30, but Anita’s conversations with Christian thought leaders will continue online. Beginning October 5, Anita Lustrea will host and publish a new podcast, “Anita Lustrea Faith Conversations,” on a weekly basis. Anita and guests will explore how to care for our souls as we live out our faith and respond to life’s challenges. Listeners can follow the podcast at www.AnitaLustrea.com and via iTunes.
 “I am overjoyed to continue hosting faith conversations in this new format,” Anita comments. “Podcasting allows listeners to access the show on their own schedule, so I hope our ‘Midday Connection’ listeners will join me as we welcome new listeners, both men and women. I’m expanding the breadth of our discussions, and we’ll welcome a wider range of guests. My hope is that listeners feel encouraged and challenged to thoughtfully live out their faith.” 
“Anita Lustrea Faith Conversations” will publish new podcasts each Monday beginning October 5, with plans to publish new episodes twice weekly in 2016.

Guests confirmed for 2015 include author/speaker Beth Booram, speaker/author Nancy Ortberg, songwriter/author Andrew Peterson, author/speaker Elisa Morgan, author/blogger Ann Spangler and author/speaker/podcaster Lisa Anderson. Early sponsors of the podcast include Northern Seminary, InterVarsity Press and Tyndale House Publishers.

Anita Lustrea is a speaker, author, podcaster and spiritual director. She is the host of a new podcast, “Anita Lustrea Faith Conversations,” and the freshly appointed Director of Alumni and Church Relations at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL. Anita spent 31 years with Moody Radio, co-hosting the weekday “Midday Connection” radio program for the past 16 years. She is the author of What Women Tell Me: Finding Freedom from the Secrets We Keep and co-author of four other books: Shades of Mercy; Tending the Soul: 90 Days of Spiritual Nourishment; Daily Seeds from Women Who Walk in Faith; Come to Our Table: A Midday Connection Cookbook. Anita and husband Mike Murphy, a pastor, live in the Chicago suburbs and are the proud parents of John, Anita’s PhD student son.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Rethinking Gender Roles

Author, William Paul Young
"Didn't we settle this a long time ago?!"

The heated outburst came from an alarmed conservative Presbyterian pastor who, with a larger group of pastors, had gathered to discuss gender and the church. He was objecting to the need to reexamine something as basic as what it means to be male or female and attempting to shut the whole discussion down.

For some evangelicals, rethinking gender roles is terribly disconcerting. It seems to threaten the very foundations of Christian orthodoxy. 

Yet the issue isn’t going away. To the contrary, more and more Christian women and men are realizing that the church’s current discussion of gender is inadequate for the realities and contingencies we face in a fallen world. It tends to narrow what is properly a global discussion to focus on a predominately white, western, prosperous, educated, heterosexual demographic. It fails to affirm the diversity of human lives within that demographic or to acknowledge that the experiences of people of different economics, ethnicities, cultures, circumstances, or eras are not all the same. It doesn’t free us to embrace our circumstances, disappointments, gifting, and opportunities and to do wholeheartedly whatever God is calling us to do. The result is a set of conclusions presumed to be biblical that are simply unworkable for countless lives.

We need to be asking new and deeper questions—beyond roles and rules and who leads and who follows. Probably no discussion is more urgent in the twenty-first century than the question of what it means to live as male and female in God’s world. The stakes are high in our willingness to engage—for women and for men, as well as for the mission of the church.

That pastor’s protest was an early warning that the questions I was raising in my ministry and writings were going to encounter resistance.

So I was not a little surprised to discover an ally in author Paul Young, best known for his NYTimes bestseller The ShackIn a bold article entitled, "Why We Need to Rethink Gender Roles," Young introduces his latest novel, Eve, by venturing into this perilous zone.

Young begins by rejecting the categories that for decades have dominated the church’s discussion over male/female roles. He argues that these warring camps—complementarian and egalitarian—employ “the language of power, of either/or, of polarity and division, of categorization and conscription” and that winning this kind of debate is actually "among the largest of losses." 

He believes we’ve been asking the wrong question.
“We need to start with a different one, beyond what it means to be a man or a woman.  
What does it mean to be human?"
This by no means obliterates or blurs the differences between men and women as some fear.  He writes,
“. . . men and women are different. Obviously. But so is one woman from another woman or one man from another. The distinctions between the average man and woman are small compared to the spectrum that exists in either femininity or masculinity. . . . I believe the entire conversation has to be challenged and re-framed . . .”
Although I have yet to read Young's latest novel, I hope his thesis gains traction with readers. A lot is riding our willingness to engage an issue that profoundly impacts every one of us—including the protesting pastor.

Failure to re-open the discussion—to ask the new hard and unsettling questions and move the discussion into the global arena—is for the church to abdicate her prophetic voice in a world that is searching for answers and where other voices are speaking powerfully into that void.

This is the challenge I’m raising in my work—most recently for men and boys in Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World and prior to that for women and girls in Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women.  

Young isn't overstating things or talking fiction when he warns that this is where we “must go if we have hope to survive together as a human race.” 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Midday Disconnected

Clockwise from top: Anita Lustrea, Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira,
Melinda Correa Schmidt, and Lori Neff

Yesterday, a stunned Midday Connection radio audience learned that Moody Radio has cancelled this popular broadcast. Moody Radio Vice President Colin Lambert made the announcement. He spoke of a "change of seasons" and "the need to address seismic shifts in our culture."

I find that explanation a bit strange, given the fact that Midday has been doing that very thing—thoughtfully, even fearlessly, engaging a wide range of seismic cultural changes and issues that impact their listeners. It will be interesting to see what lands in this programming slot.

As someone who has been privileged on numerous occasions to be interviewed by Anita and Melinda, both in studio and by phone, I appreciate the depth of their interviews and am personally grateful for the excellent work they've all done. (The latest was July 8 on Malestrom.) Over time, we've developed good friendships, so I share the deep sense of loss that loyal listeners are feeling.

Melinda and Caryn departed in June. After ten years together, Anita and Lori will wrap things up next Friday (September 18). They'll be talking about their departure in today's broadcast.

Yesterday Anita posted this on FaceBook:
As you can well imagine the past three and a half months have been very emotional. In May we found out Midday was ending. In June both Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira and Melinda Correa Schmidt left. They just weren't colleagues they were dear friends. Now Lori Neff and I are bidding adieu. 
A week from tomorrow [Sept 18] will be our final goodbye to the Midday Connection family. And it was a family. We laughed together. We cried together. We wrestled with tough issues together. There were those who didn't care for our style nor our substance but they were in the minority. The others of you cared deeply about what we were trying to do and build to the glory of God. 
All of us will embark on a new leg on our journey soon. Friend us on Facebook so you can journey with us. Right now, though, I just want to say thank you for the outpouring of love and affection. I can't tell you what it means to know that we helped make a difference in your lives. Please know you've made a difference in ours. Keep all of us in your prayers. 
Please tune in tomorrow [Sept 11] for a very special final Millrose Club program!
Knowing what I do of these four incredible women, I feel confident in saying, "We haven't heard the last of them!" And that is only a good thing. 

Follow them on FaceBook to find out what comes next.

Update:  On the September 11 broadcast, both Anita and Lori announced that, after leaving Midday Connection, they will each be doing their own podcasts.  

Thursday, September 3, 2015

It's another Ezer!

At 7:00pm Monday, August 24, Avery Elizabeth James-Rodrigeuz made her grand entrance into the world—all 8 lbs 1 oz of her! 

Of course, Frank and I were there in Orlando (in the August heat!) to celebrate, help out, and find our hearts completely captured once again by another baby girl. 

Avery landed in occupied territory—preceded by her one-year-old "big" sister Arden, who is in "Gentleness Training" and catching on. Arden's radar is already tuned in to her baby sister. When Avery cries, Arden hears and points like a tiny traffic cop signaling for someone to go. 

Mother and babies are doing fine. Alli is already diving back into her studies. She and Tony are a great parenting team—and need to be with two wee ones and work and classes. 

It's great to be back home again, although it was tough to leave them all. Classes have started at BTS for Frank. Writing projects and speaking engagements are on my agenda. 

Hard to believe Fall is here already!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Future of Faith in America: Evangelicalism

This article was first published on Patheos.com as part of their Public Square on the Future of American Evangelicalism. Patheos asked a variety of Evangelical leaders to discuss what they think that future will be. This is my response. It is republished here with permission.

Generational Divide in American Evangelicalism
Millennials will win in the end

Nineteenth-century critic, satirist, and novelist, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, may have captured the essence of contemporary American Evangelicalism in his famous epigram: "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

American evangelicals are encountering change at an ever-accelerating pace. What was unimaginable a mere decade ago is happening now. The SCOTUS ruling to legalize same-sex marriage illustrates how dramatically the American cultural landscape is changing. Advances for women and girls inspired Tom Brokaw to predict that the 21st century will become known as the "Century of Women." Postmodernism has created significant distrust of traditional evangelical values. Globalization reminds us we are not the center of the universe and have much to learn from others. Christianity is now sharing space on American soil with Islam and Buddhism.

Complicating everything is a generational divide between evangelical stalwarts resisting change and Millennials who live out their faith by engaging change and finding their voices on the internet.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

American Evangelicalism is no monolith (and never has been). Evangelicals do not share the same values, politics, or even the same understanding of Jesus' Gospel. Whatever one may say about American Evangelicalism must be severely nuanced. The old Bebbington Quadrilateral that has historically defined evangelicalism (authority of scripture, salvation through the cross of Jesus, conversion, evangelism) probably needs renovation.

With these caveats, here are some of my expectations for the immediate future of American Evangelicalism.

The traditional American evangelical church may continue to decline, but will find fresh expressions. In May 2015, a Pew Research Center survey reported the decline of Christians in America, and the increase of adults who do not identify with any organized religion ("Nones"). A major exodus is taking place in the church as Millennials — born and raised in the evangelical church — are heading for the exit.

Many departing Millennials will tell you they still love Jesus, but not the church. They can't reconcile Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount — his care for the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the poor, and the sick — with the infighting, abuse, and hypocrisy they've witnessed in the church. They don't connect Christianity with right-wing politics. They're passionate about social justice — poverty, women's rights, human trafficking, immigration, HIV/AIDS, and ending the death penalty. They are committed to an embodied faith. So they are leaving a moribund church, but they live out their faith in demonstrable ways. Although the majority of disenchanted evangelicals are Millennials, they increasingly will be joined by some of their elders.

The generational breach over LGBT acceptance will press evangelicals to find ways to disagree gracefully. Demographic studies show that younger Christians are accepting of their homosexual friends. For Millennials, the issue is about loyalty and friendship. Theological hair-splitting and proof-texting hold little value for evangelicals under the age of thirty-five. They won't abandon their gay friends. When Bible-thumping pastors rage against homosexuality, Millennials will simply let their feet do the talking.

Ultimately, American evangelicals will face a more rigorous challenge when same-sex marriage involves someone they love — a son or daughter, brother or sister. How will Christians respond when a same-sex married couple with children moves in next door or arrives as a family at church? I suspect relationships will ultimately prevail.

Debate over the role of women will continue in the church, but become increasingly irrelevant. For women, moving between the public sector and the church is an exercise in cultural schizophrenia. While traditional and progressive evangelicals continue lobbing proof texts at one another, many women have stopped listening and will be charting their own course. Practical realities will lead growing numbers of Christian couples to decide the stay-at-home dad and breadwinning mom works best for their family. Women desiring ordination for ministry know which denominations or churches to join.

New voices within Evangelicalism are questioning whether the Bible really teaches patriarchy. Practical necessity, societal changes, and hermeneutical developments will generate growing advocacy for cultivating stronger partnerships between men and women.

Despite the travails of the evangelical American church, hope prevails. Whatever struggles plague the American evangelical church, this much we all know: God has taken it upon himself to sort out the mess we're in. Jesus' kingdom has launched. His Holy Spirit is still in the business of changing us into people who truly follow Jesus and become agents of his love and grace to a hurting world. And at some point in time Jesus will come and, in the words of N.T. Wright from Simply Christian, he will "put everything to rights."

Things will change and they will not stay the same. 


To read other perspectives in this Patheos series, go to:  Evangelicalism: The Future of Faith in America

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Skirting the Issues

Sometimes reading a book can completely disrupt your sleeping habits.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide did that to me and to a lot of my friends. Sex trafficking, honor killings, child marriages, FGM, rape as a weapon of war. Instead of shrugging my shoulders with relief that “none of those problems” affect me, I was shaken to my core to learn how women and girls are suffering both here and abroad and was determined to do something. Even on the best of days, I am dogged by a nagging awareness of the terrible suffering and atrocities being inflicted in the lives of other women and girls. It makes it hard to sleep, as well it should. 

Researching Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World had a similar effect on me. It’s hard to rest easy, knowing the relentless downward drag that the fall brings to bear on men and boys, the destructive effects of patriarchy on all of them, and the suffering, violence, injustices, and deep wounds that result. So I was mystified when Jonathan Parnell, a Christian brother who is also a pastor and a father of sons, read Malestrom and remained unconcerned, asserting, “I have no dog in this fight.” 

Even though in his review of Malestrom for The Gospel Coalition, Parnell concedes agreement with Malestrom on two major points—that patriarchy is “horrible” and that Jesus as the perfect imago dei embodies true manhood/humanity as God intended—he parts company with a lot of complementarians by disassociating his complementarian views from patriarchy. He writes, 
I have no attachment to the term. In fact, because of all the baggage, I would recommend it not be used in reference to God’s vision for men as expressed in Christian complementarity. Even if some proponents of its use envision a “kinder, gentler” version, as James recognizes, it’s not a term worth salvaging. Malestrom convinced me of this all over again, and therefore, her repeated jabs at “patriarchy” left me unscathed. I even shared her disgust for what she described. 
His stance is not unique among complementarians. In fact the very name "complementarian" was chosen by the formulators of complementarianism to put distance between themselves and patriarchy. But denying their patriarchal foundations, puts Parnell and others at odds with fellow complementarians, such as Russell D. Moore, a complementarian stalwart and President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. While Moore distinguishes and rejects “secular patriarchy” that abuses and objectifies women, in an article entitled “After Patriarchy, What? Why Egalitarians are Winning the Gender Debate,” he goes on record insisting that “Christianity is undergirded by a vision of patriarchy” (573) and that reclaiming “authentic biblical patriarchy is necessary” (574) for the movement to survive. 

This internal struggle within complementarianism is one they’ll have to sort out for themselves. But so long as complementarianism embraces classic elements of patriarchy—male authority and female submission, and man as Impregnator-Protector-Provider and polar opposite of woman—the old adage applies: “A rose by any other name is still a rose.” 

This is, however, not what troubles me most about Parnell’s review. I think he’s skirting the real issues. I will mention two. 

The first concerns his discussion of the biblical narratives presented in Malestrom. Despite his agreements, Parnell rejects and at time even ridicules the use of biblical narratives discussed in Malestrom, describing them as “slanted caricatures of biblical figures,” a statement he bolsters by caricaturing them himself when he lifts statements out of context that create misperceptions of the power and richness of these redemptive stories. For example, he trivializes the father wound as “daddy issues.” That remark undoubtedly strikes close to home, for the intense and sometimes debilitating struggles plenty of men (women too) suffer because of a distant, missing, or abusive father is undoubtedly present in surprising numbers within the congregation he pastors. 

But more concerning is his statement that “The preoccupation with character-studies, in my opinion, is risky in any case. It can often lead the writer (or speaker) to go beyond the biblical text to emphasize minute details and speculations that the biblical author didn’t intend.” 

Are biblical narratives an unreliable source of instruction and good theology? Is any part of scripture more “risky” and subject to “speculations” than any other? Didn’t the great Apostle Paul himself point us to biblical narratives when he wrote that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)? “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Indeed, evangelical scholars everywhere acknowledge that Paul is specifically referring to the OT scriptures which, as it turns out, are rather full of narrative stories. Narratives are a valuable literary vehicle that God deemed good and wise for his divine revelation. Surely Rev. Parnell still preaches from the OT. The challenge for narrative, as well as poetry and epistles, is rightly to interpret them. 

The real problem with these narratives is not that they are risky or subject to speculation but that they challenge our thinking about what it means to be a man. That makes us uncomfortable. They raise the prospect that Jesus didn’t come to endorse any social or political system, but to establish his kingdom which is “not of this world.” That means we have ground to gain, more to learn, and changes to make. All of us do. 

The radical changes that take place in the lives of Abraham, Judah, Barak, Boaz, Mathew, Joseph, and Paul go against the grain of patriarchy and of their own human fallenness. Their stories challenge flawed conclusions we’ve all drawn about gender—conclusions that lock us in an endless gender debate or that create gender roles for men that many of their lives don’t and can’t fit. We need these stories. They are freeing and empowering and they give men a larger vision of how God can and will work through them. 

The second dodge completely baffles me. How can anyone read about what is happening to men and boys in today’s world—the appalling levels of violence and warfare, staggering rates of the human trafficking of men and boys, wildly disproportionate incarceration rates in American prisons, illiteracy, poverty, sexual abuse, discrimination, racism, injustice, marginalization—and have the audacity to say, “I don’t have a dog in this fight”? 

A lot is at stake with what is happening to men and boys globally and right under our noses here in the states. These are life and death matters. Sociologists identify an insidious link between masculinity and violence that fuels many of the wars that rage across our world. Experts on ISIS tell us that young men are being radicalized and drawn into the ranks of ISIS because they are searching for identity, meaning and purpose. Isn’t this a battle Jesus calls us to engage? Don’t we have more to offer men and boys than a kinder gentler patriarchy or some toss-up between complementarians and egalitarians? I’m convinced we do. And I’ve written about in Malestrom

One can only hope that for his own sake, as well as the sake of his sons and the men and boys in his congregation, Parnell would rethink his rash assertion and realize that as a follower of Jesus he does “have a dog in this fight.” If that happens, I suspect he'll be joining the ranks of those who are finding it hard to sleep at night.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Seminary Dropout & Malestrom

It isn't every day that I hang out with a seminary dropout. In fact, the main guy I hang out with (namely my husband) is a "seminary-lifer." He was a student when we met. Persevered through two doctorates. Then launched his career as a professor and seminary president. 

Marriage to Frank comes with a lot of interesting conversations with him and with other seminary professors, students, and graduates. 

I thrive on those conversations.

Hanging out with Shane Blackshear, an unapologetic "seminary dropout," to discuss Malestrom was a lot like that.

Like a true seminarian, Shane Blackshear does his homework. He reads a lot of books including the ones he features in interviews. (Evidently old seminary habits die hard.) The upside is that he asks thoughtful well-informed questions that give an interviewee plenty of opportunity to get their ideas on the table. Our discussion of Malestrom is a perfect example. He also has plenty of interesting things to say himself.

To listen to our discussion and gain a good sense of what Malestrom is all about, go to:  http://www.shaneblackshear.com/carolyncustisjames/

If you haven't yet purchased your copy of Malestrom or want to order extras, Amazon is offering a special price of $11.64 for the hardcover! 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Natasha Sistrunk Robinson on Malestrom

Perhaps the primary deception of the human race since the fall is the belief that any one 'type' of human being has dominion or power 'over' another human being. This incorrect narrative has played itself out in various forms of sin throughout history, including genocide, gender-based violence, slavery, human trafficking, sexual and other forms of abuse. The author challenges the reader to consider that although a society and culture of patriarchy is the backdrop in which God has chosen to present his drama of scripture, patriarchy is not God’s plan for his human creation. God’s plan is presented in Genesis 1, where it is clear that both men and women are created in the image or likeness of God, with the authority to cultivate or cause all things on earth to grow and flourish. In this work and for this purpose, God designed Adam and Eve to labor together.
—Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

Today, Gifted for Leadership is featuring Natasha Sistrunk Robinson's review of Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World. 

Natasha is a blogger you should know. She blogs regularly and is becoming an important voice at A Sista's Journey. You can also find her weighing in on major topics that concern all Christians on other blogs as well, such as Her.meneutics and Missio Alliance.

Read her entire review here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Teaching Boys a Different Kind of Manhood

“We have got to show our sons a new definition of manhood. Now the definition of manhood is already turning upside down. You’ve read about how the new economy is changing the roles of caregiver and wage-earner and throwing it up in the air. So our sons are going to have to find a new way of adapting to this—a new relationships with each other. I think we really have to show them and model for them how a real man is someone who trusts his sisters and respects them and wants to be on their team and stands up against the real bad guys who are the men who want to abuse the women. . . . . to seek out the heroines who are there who show real courage, who bring people together, and to nudge our sons to identify with those heroines and to say, 'I want to be on their team.' Because they’re going to be on their team.”
—Colin Stokes

Colin Stokes has tapped into a serious issue. False views of manhood start early and are often wrongly portrayed as an aspiration to pursue, a prize to win or a milestone down the road—not as the high identity and calling God invests in every man-child at birth and that trumps every other definition of what it means to be a man. And cultural changes are shaking up categories that seemed fixed for many in previous generations.

The church belongs in this important discussion—not to offer boys a kinder-gentler patriarchy that pales in comparison to other voices they're hearing and doesn't reflect the message of the Bible. 

We have something infinitely better to offer them—an identity and purpose that endures no matter what life throws at them.

What are we teaching young boys? How are we summoning them to embrace God's indestructible, life-long, exalted calling on his sons—to bear his image and do his work in the world

The malestrom is the impact of the fall on men and boys that causes them to lose sight of God's high calling on them as men and to settle for something far less.  Malestrom unpacks God's unrivaled calling on men and boys. It features the stories of overlooked men in the Bible who courageously battle the malestrom and emerge to display a radical brand of manhood that reflects the "not-of-this world" Kingdom of Jesus. 

Continue this important discussion and take it deeper by reading Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World  If for no other reason, do it for your sons, grandsons, brothers, nephews, and other boys in your life.