Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Publishers Weekly Starred Review

When my publisher notified me that Publishers Weekly issued a starred review for Half the Church, I wasn't sure of the significance.  All of the reviews on Amazon come with stars—even the negative ones are starred.  So what's all the fuss about?

According to slate.com, Publishers Weekly "reviews . . . influence which books get noticed, bought, and promoted in the media" and are "read by everyone in publishing." So here's PW's review of Half the Church and a second review by the Library Journal.

Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women
Carolyn Custis James. Zondervan, $18.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-310-32556-7
Author (When Life and Beliefs Collide) and conference speaker James takes on the church's historical stance on women who enthusiastically embrace their God-given role as "ezer-warriors" (ezer is the Hebrew word for "helper"). James's previous works form the foundation for this important study, which could appropriately be thought of as the Christian companion to the groundbreaking Half the Sky, with its clarion call to activism. James challenges all women to step up and get busy doing the hard work of righting wrongs, influencing their communities, and laboring right alongside their male counterparts to effect powerful and positive change worldwide. James draws liberally from the Bible to underscore that God's plan is for men and women to work with each other as essential components of a "Blessed Alliance." The author's compelling message and passionate voice are amplified by the skill with which she presents this information in volatile, dangerous times. (Apr.)
Permalink: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-310-32556-7 (978-0-310-32556-7)

James, Carolyn Custis. Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women. Zondervan. Apr. 2011. c.206p. ISBN 9780310325567. $18.99. REL

James (founder, Synergy Women’s Network; The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough To Break the Rules), a popular speaker in evangelical circles, tackles the thorny questions that surround women in evangelical Christianity and broadens her scope to include the fate and destiny of women around the world today. James sees men and women as potentially bound in a powerful partnership for good that does not oppress or belittle women—not easy positions for a woman to take in the heavily patriarchal world of conservative Protestantism.

VERDICT James’s potentially transformative work, a wake-up call for women in America’s Protestant churches, is ideally suited for church groups and pastors.

“Let them eat cake!"

What sounds like an unimaginative idea for a birthday party or a standard option for a wedding reception is actually the appallingly insensitive remark historically attributed to Marie Antoinette on hearing that the poor in France were without bread.

The princess’ inability to think beyond her own lavish lifestyle and abundant resources to contemplate the realities of famine and the resultant suffering of her people boggle the mind. History has given us distance from the dire conditions plaguing France during her time, and we make light of her heartless remark without realizing we have detected a speck in someone else’s eye, when we are guilty of a similar blindness.

It wasn’t until 9/11 tore apart a curtain that comfortably sealed us off from the rest of the world and we began to see the images of women concealed by sky-blue burkas, that I began to realize our localized discussions (and sometimes heated debates) over God’s calling on the lives of his daughters is taking place in isolation from the rest of the world and depriving countless women and girls of meaning and purpose the gospel intends for them no matter where or how their lives are playing out. What is worse, our isolation is causing us to set in stone a theology of women that doesn’t hold up in the lives of many women here and is irrelevant elsewhere in the world where situations aren’t as favorable as those we enjoy.

The difference between prosperity and deprivation is one thing. The desperate plight of women and girls in the world opens up a whole new dimension of existence that is wholly is missing from this discussion. Read Half the Church, if you wonder what I mean. When we ask what is the Bible’s message for us, do we include the girl who has been trafficked, the widow who has been cast out by her family to beg for a living, or the woman who has been gang raped? Does the message we embrace offer them just as much hope, redemption, and purpose as we seek for ourselves? Or are they too broken, too damaged to enjoy the blessings we savor to answer the calling God places on the lives of all his daughters? Are we settling for a prosperity gospel for women, when the gospel offers all women so much more?

What may surprise is that by opening our discussion of the Bible’s message for women and girls to include every woman and girl, bar none, we will discover the Bible’s message for us is richer, stronger, and more empowering for all of us than what we’ve been willing to accept. No matter how well life is going for us at the moment, none of us can count on answers for ourselves that collapse under the weight of other women’s lives or of an unexpected change in our own circumstances.

We need a whole lot more than cake to live with hope in a fallen world.

To explore this discussion further, read Half the Church to see how this larger global conversation helps us recapture God's global vision for women and gives us an indestructible identity and purpose no matter how our stories play out.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bold Reading

Last night, Frank and I went to the showing of a film on sex trafficking at Gordon-Conwell. My heart is heavy this morning with a fresh awareness of the serial horrors women and girls are suffering around the world as I write and with a renewed sense of urgency to raise awareness of this global crisis destroying the lives and the dignity of countless women and girls. Nice for the film to portray a rescue, but the ending of the film didn't give any of us the slightest sense of relief. No one is searching for most who are caught in the web of human trafficking and some have been sold there by those who should protect them.

Once again, I want to urge the reading of Half the Sky, by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof. This book gives new meaning to the expression "must-read" and every Christian should read it.

Sheryl was at Synergy2011, and it was a privilege for us to hear her. Since then I've heard two different responses: first, a renewed and passionate desire on the part of those who attended to live out the fullness of the gospel in new ways and a willingness not only to explore how to get involved themselves but also to mobilize others. Second, I'm hearing a reluctance to read Sheryl's book because some don't want those images in their minds.

May God multiply the first group and help us never to let up so long as one person is held in the clutches of another. Learn about organizations in your area who are addressing sex trafficking locally and volunteer yourself and your resources to help.

If you are among those who are holding back, let me offer a word of encouragement.  I do understand your reluctance. I don't want those images in my mind either. But I'm convinced (I've seen this in myself) that we will not care in the same way, much less act, if we hold at arms length the brutal realities women and girls are suffering and shield ourselves from the truth. By way of encouragement, you should know this is both a disturbing and a hopeful read. You will be heartened and inspired by the incredible stories of ezers-warriors who are fighting back, freeing themselves against hopeless odds, and then returning to free others. But they need lots of help that we have the power, the resources, and the divine mandate to give. 

So brace yourself and get reading. And when you finish reading WuDunn's book, I hope you'll also read my book, Half the Church to find out why Christians belong on the forefront of this humanitarian crisis.