Living in the Economy of God

Unjust compensation is an ethical issue facing us at every socioeconomic rung today, even in nonprofit and religious organizations. The income gap in the U.S. narrowed following the Great Depression and continued to do so into the 1970s, but since then it has widened. In a ten-year period, beginning in 1979, after-tax income for the top 1 percent of households grew 275 percent, while for the bottom fifth it rose only 18 percent. By 2013, the federal government found that the poorer half of U.S. households held 1 percent of the total nation’s wealth, while the wealthiest 5 percent held 63 percent.[1] While all income must be received graciously and stewarded generously, we also have a duty as Christians to engage in business ethics when it comes to meting out compensation packages.

In Matthew 6:19-24, Jesus tells the crowd gathered at the mount that where their treasure is, their hearts will be also (v. 21). Jesus is reminding us of a very simple truth: what we invest in is what we value. When the Sadducees, Pharisees, and Herodians gang up to trick Jesus into betraying his allegiances, they use economic ethics (Mt 22:15-22, Mk 12:13-17; Lk 20:20-26). Asked the question, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus points to a denarius, with the face of the Roman Emperor imprinted on it. He replies, “Whose likeness, whose image is this?” The leaders respond resoundingly, “Caesar’s [of course].” Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s;” his second commandment forms the crux, or transforming initiative of the teaching, “give to God what is God’s.”

The reality is that we are far more concerned with Caesar’s kingdom than God’s. But in all infinite wisdom, the Creator formed us in the image of God. We are better than the portrait on a minted coin; we are living, breathing, speaking, active beings who have the Spirit of God poured into us. Our purpose is to live for God and advance the Kingdom’s reign on Earth. When we live for these immaterial riches, God is revealed in creation and we live off of God’s economy. This scripture is about the source of our identity and the constant human temptation to confuse our worth and purpose with our earthly treasure. Whose image are we bearing by the way we handle finances?

So what does it say about our values when we invest our money in individuals and corporations who hoard wealth and—in some cases—promote harmful and unethical business practices? Or what does it mean that our athletes and entertainers make multi-millions while our social workers, teachers, firefighters, and police officers who save lives make a pittance? A 2013 federal study found that the community and social services sector has one of the lowest paid average annual salaries ($44,710), dropping far below the averages of almost every other industry and lower than the national average ($46,440). Of these, religious workers are some of the lowest paid, making $33,520 ($16.11/hour). The average annual pay for healthcare assistants is $28,300—this is who takes care of our elderly, the mentally ill, the physically and mentally handicapped, and dying.

So should we value and compensate workers based on the skillfulness of their labor alone? This is the ethic that tries to justify exorbitant compensation of our nation’s CEOs. The top paid corporate executive in the U.S. makes over $141.9 million annually[2] and the average CEO at big U.S. companies makes between 204 and 357 times the average worker at the same company.[3] Companies like Walmart, Target, Walt Disney, Starbucks, Chipotle, Nike, and JC Penney make more than 600 times their average worker, including their other executives.[4] Data from The Nonprofit Times and Charity Navigator corroborate that the average nonprofit leader makes less than $120,000, compared to the $9.7 million median income for leaders of S&P 500 companies.[5]

In order to provide just compensation, one must take seriously a person’s skill and performance, but through the eyes of truth and love. Thus, human resource managers and board members need to determine compensation packages with the needs as well as the work ethic, experience, and performance of the employee in mind. Mott and Sider write that, “Justice demands that every person or family has access to the productive resources (land, money, knowledge) so they have the opportunity to earn a generous sufficiency of material necessities and be dignified, participating member of their community.”[6] Given that God’s universal destination of goods to be shared equitably among humankind, every household should have equal access and means to earn and maintain a stable life.

The complexity of this issue is what often deters us from engaging it: there is no one compensation package that fits all. Some individuals have more serious health needs, more dependents, higher education cost and debt, greater job responsibility or stress, etc. Thus, the federal government can hardly be expected to be the sole regulator of ethical compensation. But as individuals and as Christian leaders we can shape the ethical approach to compensation determination. Individuals should be cared for in the way they are paid, both in cash and benefits, with investment toward retirement, rest from their work, and provision for healthcare and well being. Performance should be only one determinant of compensation; workers should be given performance evaluations based on clear, measurable and agreed upon objectives and goals and given feedback and coaching to allow them ample opportunity for success (for guides on performance evaluations see the notes).[7] Personal need should be another factor in compensation; organizations need to show the values of love, justice, and worth of human life and dignity, when determining what is fair pay. Fair pay should not be the least amount acceptable for a service as determined by the government. Organizations should research data and compare salary figures across the field and geographic region. All attempts to close the earning gap between genders and races should be pursued. For profit and nonprofit executive boards alike need to be more diligent and just to carry out their fiduciary responsibilities to the public and the organization by setting less excessive and more responsible compensation packages for top executives.[8]

Christians today can live a Kingdom economic ethic by lobbying for caps on executive compensation and tax reform that prevents corporations from getting exorbitant tax breaks. We can also educate and advocate for ourselves and other workers’ rights. Some of us will even need to become board members who can provide ethical oversight to organizations navigating these turbulent financial waters. It all starts by living for God’s economy, serving the Lord rather than capital, and loving our neighbors as ourselves.


Kate is the managing editor for Tableaux and an anti-trafficking advocate. She is a third-year MDiv student at McAfee in the nonprofit dual-degree track. In her spare time, Kate loves cooking meals for friends, taking in the outdoors and drinking good joe.


[1] Esmè Deprez. “Income Inequality.”

[2] “2014 Equilar Top 200 Highest Paid CEO Rankings.” Equilar.

[3] Smith, Elliot, and Phil Kuntz. “Disclosed: The Pay Gap Between CEOs and Employees.” Bloomberg Business Week. (accessed October 20, 2014). Note: companies complain that Bloomberg’s average is skewed due to their inclusion of deferred compensation including benefits, retirement, and stock options, however, the AFL-CIO’s average does not include these non-cash benefits and actually reports higher disparate ratios

[4] Bloomberg. “Top CEO Pay Ratios.”

[5] “2014 Nonprofit Salary And Benefits: Operating Budget And CEO Pay.” The NonProfit Times.

“2014 Charity CEO Compensation Study.” Charity Navigator.

[6] Glen Stassen and David Gushee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 421.

[7] Simone Joyaux. “Performance Appraisal Process for the CEO.” Joyaux Associates.

Vincent Hyman. “Evaluating the Executive Director.” First Nonprofit Foundation.

[8] “Executive Compensation Policies.” National Council for Nonprofits.


God is not Godot

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord

More than watchmen wait for the morning

More than watchmen wait for the morning

Psalm 130:5-6 (NIV)

By Rachel Freeny

Waiting is hard, especially when it seems like you are waiting for something or someone who will never come. Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, is the story of someone who never comes. The two main characters, Vladamir and Estragon, waste their lives waiting in vain hope that today will be the day Godot finally arrives.

Sometimes waiting for God feels a lot like waiting for Godot. Your soul longs for the Lord, to hear God’s voice, to taste the sweetness of redemption, to know the embrace of unfailing love. You make your desires known to God, crying out with all that is within you.

Then comes the waiting.

You incline your ear towards heaven, but all you hear is silence. You turn your eyes upon Jesus, but all you see is empty space. Timidly, you tap the mic and wonder aloud, “is this thing on?”

Waiting never looks the same. Sometimes waiting is simply sitting in God’s presence. “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still? Who has time to be still? With to-do lists that never seem to end, when is there time to wait?

Stop and wait. When faced with fear of the unknown that lies before you, be still. Watch and be amazed as God works out the impossible. Our flailing and desperate attempts to set things right through our own means will only make the mess worse. Stillness brings with it a new perspective, allowing us to see God working in ways we would otherwise have missed.

Sometimes waiting is more like walking, one foot in front of the other, trusting you’ll find your footing eventually. Even when the details are fuzzy and the answers unclear, we can know that walking in the path of the Lord’s glory is always the surest way to go.

Most of the time waiting looks like trust. Trusting that the promises God made in scripture weren’t a joke. Trusting that God is there even when you can’t feel, hear, or see God.

There’s nothing wrong with waiting. It’s a part of life and the life of faith. Waiting is a sweet reminder of the tension that we live in: the already and the not yet. We have hope as we wait because God will not abandon us in our waiting. God hears our cries and draws near to us in good times and in bad (Ps. 34:17-18).

On nights when sleep eludes us and our troubles close in around us, on days when the next step is unsure, we have this hope⎯that God who began a good work in us will not abandon God’s children. Though the waiting seems interminable, we hold tightly to this truth: God is not Godot.


Rachel Freeny is a graduate of Samford University with a degree in Journalism/Mass Communication. Originally from Nashville, she is a second year student on the Global Christianity track at McAfee. Rachel is excited to be a part of the Tableaux team because she loves to tell stories that matter. When she’s not studying, she enjoys exploring and eating her way through the South.


Feminicide in Ciudad Juarez: A Theological Challenge to the Church

By Kate Riney

The brutal sexual assault and murder of hundreds of young women near the Texas-Mexico border is an on-going perplexing crisis. In her essay, “Feminicide and the Reinvention of Religious Practice,” Nancy Pineda-Madrid names how gender-based violence in Ciudad Juárez is not only a social issue, a “Mexican problem,” or a crisis of criminal violence, but a critical theological issue for the church today.[1] Feminicide in Ciudad Juárez has prompted a prophetic public response, though largely unnoticed, that speaks to a new kind of soteriology we must take seriously.

Beginning in 1993, young women by the hundreds have gone missing from Juárez. Many corpses with signs of severe sexual torture have been dumped in public spaces; in all cases, the victims have been young, usually poor, brown women.[2] The criminals are unidentified, attacks are unrestrained and met with total impunity, allowing terror and chaos to govern Juárez, while also implicating the government’s complicity in the systemic violence.[3] Pineda-Madrid calls this misogyny acted upon women because they are women: “feminicide.” In short, these women are desecrated and executed because of the political, cultural, and global economic structures which normalize violence against women. Women are not valued for their inherent worth or seen as sacred life. Instead, they are resigned to the worth of their bodies, which are barbarically used “to mark territory and demonstrate power” when economically advantageous, politically expedient, or sexually rewarding for the conqueror.[4]

The Ni Una Más (Not One More death campaign) was organized by women in Ciudad Juárez in 2002 to publicly protest the violence and grieve the loss of their daughters, sisters, and friends. The movement consisted of  “organized marches, rituals, protests, and public memorial installations.”[5] In a prophetic act, protesters created a six-foot-tall cross from railroad ties, and carried it through the desert to the streets of Juárez; “they stood against ‘Pharaoh’s rule’ in challenging the imperial power of their circumstance—namely, local, state, and federal government authorities who have refused to take the ritualized sexual torture and widespread serial killing of women seriously.”[6] Through their exodus march they would be seen, they would be heard, and they would mark the loss of the women who had been counted as nothing. Soon, many protesters erected pink crosses at sites where bodies have been found with the name of the victim painted on the crossbar. Others painted telephone and electric poles pink with a black cross: “black for death and pink for the promise of life and youth.”[7]


Why the use of crosses? These pieces of wood were more than a Christian tombstone marker; the bright pink and black cross is a symbol of solidarity with Christ, both in his suffering and in the sacredness of his life. They mark the importance of Christ’s two thousand year-old crucifixion for the present day. For today, Juárez’s daughters are suffering mass crucifixion. These protesters experience crucifixion as gendered. They invoke God into the human story of on-going suffering and thus, prompt theological questions regarding resurrection and salvation. Juárez’s female protestors grasp and demonstrate a highly developed and embodied sense of redemption and soteriology.

Like the women at the empty tomb, these protestors’ actions witness to the final reality that God eclipses even the most tragic and unjust death and suffering. God secures hope for a future; the tomb is empty, the cross is bare! Their protest and demand for justice and love is a salvific process, through which they offer a picture of grace and the kingdom of God, while standing for truth and righteousness. They choose to “publicly cry out against death and to cry out for life.”[8] They attempt to prevail over the forces of evil at work, begging God to intervene in the process present in history. They are not developing theology that makes sense, normalcy, or memory of the past, but transforms and redeems it, creating a better future than even the imagination of the past.

These women form a “praxis of salvation” in which human thought and action acts upon the conviction of God’s salvific work in the past, present, and future. The exodus and cross symbols enact and represent these realities.[9] While knowing and living through pain and tragedy, these women believe in and look to a resurrected future. Their salvation concept, Pineda-Madrid argues, is not solely personal, encompassing an individual salvation from the bondage of sin and evil, but a whole, social, communal deliverance that embraces the reign of God for the community as well as the individual.

Our task as the church today is to form such a practical and embodied salvific response to gender-based violence. Too often we leave the issues of gender equality, anti-violence, and sacredness of life to politicians, moral commentators, and the criminal justice system. Theologians, pastors, and laypeople alike have a calling–a responsibility–to speak and act on behalf of the preservation, protection, and flourishing of life, however, when confronted with such vast evil and injustice we feel overwhelmed and yield our theology to the secular meaning and culture-makers. Whether the response is political protest, pastoral care, or public commentary, the church has a prophetic voice to steward concerning gender-based violence. The women of Ciudad Juárez offer us an example of a hope and grace-filled response to utter despair that recognizes the immense potential of the cross and resurrection for our present and future. Today’s church needs to pick up its cross and follow these women to the empty tomb. Perhaps then we will find a theological response to match the needs of violated women hidden in all corners of the world.


  1. Nancy Pineda-Madrid. “Feminicide and the Reinvention of Religious Practices,” in Women, Wisdom, and Witness: Engaging Contexts in Conversation, 61-74. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2012.
  2. Ibid., 63.
  3. Ibid., 65.
  4. Ibid., 65.
  5. Ibid., 68.
  6. Ibid., 69.
  7. Ibid., 70.
  8. Ibid., 72.
  9. Ibid., 73.


Kate is the managing editor for Tableaux and an anti-trafficking advocate. She is a third-year MDiv student at McAfee in the nonprofit dual-degree track. In her spare time, Kate loves cooking meals for friends, taking in the outdoors and drinking good joe.

He for She event

Emma Watson, HeForShe, and the Church

By Rachel Freeny


Earlier this week actress Emma Watson gave a rousing speech on the gender equality movement at the United Nations Headquarters. Watson, of Harry Potter fame, was recently appointed Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women. Her speech was an incredible launch for the UN’s newest global campaign “HeForShe,” which seeks to engage members of all sexes in the gender equality movement.

It’s no secret that the word “feminism” sets off alarm bells in many people’s brains. “The more I’ve spoken about feminism, the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating” Watson said in her speech. “If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.”

Watson defines feminism as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” In order for true gender equality to be realized, she says it’s time for both genders to be invited into the conversation.

“How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?” she said. “Men, I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.”

Watson’s words are certainly important on a global scale. But do they matter for the church? How should we as Christians respond to her rallying cry?

From Division to Unity

If you want to start a heated conversation, walk into a church and ask people their beliefs about women in ministry. This single topic has the ability to simultaneously bring out the best and worst in people.

There are numerous reasons why we should support women in ministry but one of the most significant, in my opinion, is that by excluding women from ministry we are excluding half of the church. How can we expect to truly live out the gospel if only half of the church is considered authorized to do so?

Outside of the church, most people would argue for the equality of men and women. Why does equality get checked at the door the moment we step into a sanctuary?

In her book Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, Carolyn Custis James advocates for men and women to work together for the sake of the gospel.

“The twenty-first century is a time of unprecedented opportunity for the church to be a beacon of hope for women throughout the world,” Custis says. “This is a moment for us to put on display before a watching world the greatness and beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the radical difference he makes in relationships between men and women as we serve him together.”

Custis continues,“This is a time for us to value and foster the flourishing of women and girls and to join together in leading in global advocacy and activism on behalf of the widow, the trafficked, the marginalized, and oppressed.”

Jesus said in Luke 4 that he came to set the captives free and release the oppressed. Women around the world are oppressed, trafficked, assaulted and told that their gender makes them less than. The good news of Jesus is that all are welcomed and redeemed and called, no questions asked. The gospel gives women freedom and hope and equality, so why doesn’t the Church? Why do we remove one set of gender-based chains just to shackle them with another set?

When I was a freshman in college, I read an article about the dangers of the feminization of the church. The feminization in question was women stepping into leadership roles. In consequence, the article argued, men were being forced out of leadership roles, which is a violation of scripture. The primary motivation of the article was fear.

Unity between genders is not something to fear. It is something to celebrate. The gospel is inclusive, and a gospel-centered church should jump for joy to empower men and women to live out the calling God has given them.

But, wait, what does Emma Watson have to do with all of this again? The HeForShe campaign hits the nail on the head about what it will take for equality to become a no-brainer: all of us.

God didn’t create men and women to fight against each other. God created them to work together to show God’s glory to a hurting and broken world. If we want equality debates in the church to become a thing of the past, women can’t be the only advocates. We need you, men, to raise your voices as well. We want you, men, to stand with us.

The Church has an incredible opportunity to set the example for the rest of the world. Let’s not miss it.


Rachel Freeny is a graduate of Samford University with a degree in Journalism/Mass Communication. Originally from Nashville, she is a second year student on the Global Christianity track at McAfee. Rachel is excited to be a part of the Tableaux team because she loves to tell stories that matter. When she’s not studying, she enjoys exploring and eating her way through the South.

jy church

Covenant Fidelity

By Jordan Yeager

About a year ago, Don Miller wrote a blog about why he doesn’t go to church, and it went a little viral. I haven’t gone back and read it recently, but I remember him saying some things about the modern church being a business, aimed at getting more people in the door and giving them an experience as efficiently as possible. I very rarely attempt to disagree with Donald Miller on things, considering he’s the one with the successful career in ministry/writing/blogging/conference-leading and I’m the one sitting on my couch blogging on my old MacBook, but now that the rest of the world is done blasting him for that article, I have some things to say.

I don’t usually want to go to church.

Let’s start here. I grew up going to a wonderful, vibrant, connected, growing, teaching church in Nashville that I still call home. My favorite place to be on Sundays (and any other time they let the youth group in) was church, and even when I struggled through my theology classes in undergrad I remained embedded in my church community. One time Micah asked me why I stayed there when my theological, exegetical, and ecclesial commitments began to differ. Why not go to a church that ordains women? Why not go to a church that emphasizes the experience of salvation over belief in doctrine? Etc., etc.

I stayed because my theology professor always told me to be reluctant to leave my theological and church “home.” It is better to stay than to run, he said. It is better to wrestle than to throw up your hands and seek out the next big thing, the exciting new place, the not-like-them place. Disagreements are hard. But the hard thing is often the best thing.

I became an official adult member of my church at a time when I didn’t agree with every word being preached or every lyric being sung. I decided it was better to fight it out arm-in-arm with my best and closest people than somewhere without them.

When I moved to Atlanta, lots of things had to change. A year later I’m settling into an Episcopal church, which sometimes makes me laugh and usually causes some eyebrow raising among my friends.  There are long and good reasons for my decision to settle here, but the point is that I finally found a church I manage to attend regularly where they know my name and I have an official nametag. It’s fun.

But I don’t usually want to go. I do it anyway.

This is where Don Miller is right about some things. We don’t all connect with God through singing hymns, and we can find community elsewhere, and churches sometimes run like corporations. But the Episcopal church tradition has taught me church isn’t supposed to be a night club or a movie theater. It’s not supposed to be the most fun you can have on a Sunday morning. It’s supposed to be a place where we go to tell the story we love to tell, in covenant fidelity with the people of God, as we remind ourselves of the Kingdom breaking in among us.

Believers have a story the rest of the world hasn’t yet read. We have thousands of years on our pages. We are the communities, the physical and spiritual spaces, where the peaceable, just Kingdom is being actualized. If we neglect to meet every week in our concrete expressions of unity, however incomplete and corrupt and insufficient they may be, we are not living into our story and we will forget it. We will forget about our actual, non-metaphorical sisters and brothers across the Eucharistic table, and we will forget our involvement in the story isphysical and earthy and real. We bring our bodies to the table, and we use our voices to sing the songs, and we pass the peace with firm handshakes because we know this is our story: Jesus came. And with him the Kingdom is coming. Our imperfect expressions of faith will make way for better ones, but the best thing we have right now is our commitment to each other across the communion table.

Church is about you, but not just you. We must give up the idea that we should be free of all duty and obligation in the Christian life. We are in covenant fidelity with the people of the story. Until the whole world hears, and then forevermore. And this is where we base our ethic, this is where we plant ourselves. Week after week after week.


Originally published on Idle and Blessed on September 19, 2014 and used by permission.


J.Lo, Latina Body Politics, and the Church

By Kate Riney

Michelle Gonzalez, in her essay, “The Jennifer Effect: Race, Religion, and the Body,” treats theological aesthetics and body politics through the pop culture phenomenon of Jennifer Lopez.[1] Gonzalez argues that Lopez is the most influential Hispanic entertainer in the world given her multi-industry participation including, music, film, television, fashion, and dance. As a result, Lopez is hotly debated by the media, but also by global feminist theologians who see her as either problematizing or liberating a Latin identity.

For this feminist theologian, the treatment of Jennifer Lopez in the media acutely problematizes the white American eroticization of Latina bodies as exotic and “other.” Deconstructed, commodified, and reduced to her body, and specifically her butt, Lopez stands as a glaring example of objectification of women as a theological issue.

Lopez is the first Latina actress to be paid over a million dollars.[2] Rising swiftly to fame in the 90s, Lopez has built a career on her artistic talents, business savvy, and ability to seamlessly crossover industries. Her most celebrated, albeit controversial role to date, is still that of Selena, in which she played the real-life Mexican-American pop singer. While Lopez, a Puerto Rican-American, argued that her Latin identity gave her enough in common to understand the role and represent Selena well, many criticized the casting of a non-Mexican Latina in the role of such a historical figure.

Lopez’s argument reflects “Latinidad,” a global perspective that blurs the distinctions between individual Latin ethnicities, cultures, and politics. This universalizing of the Latin identity prioritizes a focus on the arts, bilingualism, and a close connection or solidarity with the common people.[3] Still this blending of cultures does not have to equate homogenization or essentialism of ethnic identity. Others argue that this concept of a “Latinidad” offers a solution to the shared, if diverse, cultural self-understanding present in Latin culture due to multiple colonizations. Alicia Gaspar de Alba says, it “embodies the very cultural, linguistic, and racial affinities the historical realities of colonialism, mestizaje, linguistic terrorism, cultural schizophrenia, territorial displacement, and organic feminism.”[4]  Likewise, for Frances Aparicio, Latinidad is a “decolonial imaginary” that represents the organic development of widespread shared cultural experience due to colonization, immigration, and subjugation.[5]

An analysis of Jennifer Lopez’s part in the global imagination of Latino/as, has to consider the treatment of her body. Throughout the 1990s, Jennifer’s rejection of the Hollywood ideal body-type (Anglo, slender, and virtually androgynous), became not only a celebration, but a fetishizing of the curvaceous body-type. What is more, this shapely body was equated with people of color (further homogenizing ethnicity) and eroticized the butt.

Men of color were characterized as “ass men,” a construction we still see today with the advent of public figures like Kim Kardashian and revival of lyrics like “my anaconda don’t want none unless you have buns, hun.” Gonzalez says, “Lopez’s body is a public site where Latina sexuality and Latina bodies are constructed, exploited, and celebrated.”[6] Through the media’s portrayal of Lopez and the treatment of her butt, Latin women were homogenized and essentialized as “brown, voluptuous women.”[7] Conversely, Frances Negrón-Muntaner finds in the attention to butts the celebration of Latino/a culture, “it is a sign for the dark, incomprehensible excess of ‘Latino’ and other African diaspora cultures. Excess of food (unrestrained), excess of shitting (dirty), and excess of sex (heathen) are its three vital signs.” Risking imposing my opinion as an Anglo North American feminist theologian on others, I resolutely disagree with Negrón-Muntaner. Even a celebration of the “excesses” of colored culture is a gross over-simplification that sounds dangerously akin to stereotyping.

Does the subversion of the white gaze, drawing the Latina gaze, constitute a form of empowerment? I do not see a liberating aspect to the objectification of any person, regardless of ethnicity. Whether empowering to Latin identity or not, Lopez’s body becomes reduced to the male sexual gaze. She is trivialized and her body takes the shape of a container. The package is worshipped, while the contents, however appealing or entertaining, become accessories to the main event: the sexualized body. Who cares what Jennifer Lopez sings about as long as her butt looks good?

Female body commodification, women’s bodies objectified as commodities for sexual use and economic gain, is an issue in virtually every culture, none more so than in the economically robust U.S., however, for immigrant populations like Latino/as, their aesthetic differences are most easily harnessed, exported, and appropriated for sale of goods (if not sex itself), due to their perceived exoticism, and their extreme marginalization.

As residents who often lack political voice, communication abilities due to a language barrier, and diminished economic opportunity, immigrant Latino/as of all ethnicities in the U.S. are reduced to the capabilities of their bodies. For men this often looks like forced or underpaid manual labor, for women this is also often the case, however, even more often Latinas’ bodies are appropriated for sex. Their body(ies) stand as a symbol of eroticism for popular Anglo culture and a container for both white and colored men’s penises.

This is only further demonstrated by the fetishizing of the large/round butt—yet another avenue for men’s sexual pleasure. Jennifer Lopez’s body is not sensationalized for dark hair, espresso complexion, pleasing facial features, a delicate collarbone, “thick” thighs, muscular arms, a shapely back, or even wide hips. No, the obsession remains squarely with her ass-et. Would Jennifer Lopez be as famous without the sexualization of her body? Certainly not, but many Latinas would not have to struggle under the gender oppression of body politics in such gruesome ways if not for her butt’s singular significance.

Gonzalez reflects on Christianity’s response to body politics, noting that, “it is ironic that a religion that emphasizes the importance of the historical embodiment of its savior is so ambiguous about women’s bodies.”[8] Thus the theological task remains to restore a right understanding of the physical and material, including embodiment. Still, a far broader witness is required in our U.S. Christian context. The first task requires recognition of the sacredness of life and human worth. The second is to develop a right celebration of embodiment, particularly with respect to women, in which our bodies are equally reflective of the image of God and a part of the incarnation. Third, we must name and denounce the myriad of ways we see women of color, particularly our Latina sisters being commodified.

The signs and stories of Latina oppression and objectification are present in the news, media, history books, our neighborhoods and pews. As pastors, preachers, and theologians we need to use our influence and prophetic witness to call out this evil, minister to the wounds of the oppressed, and transform our culture through rejection of fetishized bodies and an acceptance of a healthy theology of embodiment.


  1. Michelle Gonzalez. “The Jennifer Effect: Race, Religion, and the Body,” in She Who Imagines: Feminist Theological Aesthetics, 87-101. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2012.
  2. Ibid., 88.
  3. Ibid., 90.
  4. Ibid., 91.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 92.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., 100.

The Missing Witness

By Paul Knowlton

About ten years into my law practice despite both legal and business successes, I started to sense that something was missing from both. Something big and transcendent that I couldn’t put my finger on, the absence of which created a tension in my otherwise fulfilled career. At first I considered it some amorphous lack of enjoyment so I tried to placate it, usually by upgrading to a faster motorcycle. But that proved too naïve a solution. Rather, the sense was akin to the frustration of knowing there is an evasive eyewitness to the proximate cause of my client’s injury, but until I identify, locate and produce that witness the jury will be unable to resolve the questions of fact and decide the case in my favor.

I also began to understand that I was not alone in my tension; my lawyer friends could not identify, much less locate and produce our evasive witness. I tried putting words to that which we couldn’t identify, but to no avail. Several attorney friends, all older, leaned into the space separating us to offer clues and encouragement designed to propel me further into the quest for our mutually evasive witness.

And search I did. I began with the usual path for a lawyer looking to do more in the name of justice and career satisfaction: volunteering for pro bono work and lots of it. I began with being a guardian ad litem and quickly grew that to include family matters, landlord tenant disputes, wrongful termination, wrongful foreclosure, immigration, and criminal defense, all with an eye toward finding the mother lode of fulfillment through working for justice.

One difficult week, after mediating one pro bono client’s third divorce and defending another’s fourth drug charge, I began to think about the relationship between the law and the business of the law in a different way. Perhaps, I thought, there was fulfillment and a sustainable business model in being more than just the damage control guy a client needs in crisis. What if I could work upstream of a crisis by counseling a client away from the self-destructive thinking and behaviors that led him or her to court? In other words, what might it look like to wear the counselor-at-law hat to deal with a client’s litigation yet be able to put on the licensed professional counselor hat to help clients avoid future conflicts and crises that inevitably led them to litigation? My experience suggested to me a market opportunity for lawyers willing to broaden their practice with a complimentary skill set.

But did I really want to return to graduate school for a master’s in counseling just to test a market hunch? Could I afford the risk of reducing my practice while pursuing another degree program? Even confident that I would excel in the coursework, did I really want to cram and sit for another round of day-long licensing exams? To each of these questions my response was an honest, “No, not really.” Nevertheless, after completing my due diligence, and with the support of both a patient spouse and faithful friends at the firm of Hope Baldauff – who worked with me to dial back but continue my intellectual property practice, I began the Fall 2011 semester as a master’s degree candidate at Mercer University’s Atlanta campus.

Several months into the program, between the assignments due at Mercer and work product due at the firm, I somehow found time to read an interview of Chief Justice Hunstein. There she quoted a famous maxim I’d read before, but this time it profoundly resonated with me. “The practice of law is one of the three great professions: theology for preservation of the spirit, medicine for preservation of the body, and law for preservation of civilization.” What resonated so profoundly with me was that I finally noticed theology was listed first. (Note: the word ‘theology’ is used, not the word ‘religion’ and the distinction shouldn’t be glossed over or the words carelessly exchanged.) I do not read this maxim as necessarily placing theology above the others, but I do read it as placing theology before the others.

I weighed and reflected over that maxim for some weeks, particularly in light of my recent coursework and training. As a lawyer I knew crises causally reside upstream of litigation. My recent training taught me mental health counseling preemptively resides upstream of crises. Through the lens of the maxim and similar recent training I then turned a corner to understand that theology is preemptive even of counseling. Logically, of course, this means theology likewise resides upstream of both crises and litigation.

Soon I began to wrestle with whether theology was that big and transcendent but absent something that initiated this search. What an odd twist to my quest, I thought, to find the missing witness hiding front and center of a famous maxim. I researched, discussed, and tested the possibility that theology – a sound theology that both guides and supports balanced justice – is the real upstream solution to both my clients’ crises and my quest. That was not an easy realization for me. Neither was the switch to pursue an M.Div from Mercer’s McAfee School of Theology instead of a counseling degree, as I remained confident about the market opportunity for an attorney who is also a licensed professional counselor.

Surprisingly, I was one of three lawyers in my class of theologians at McAfee and a meaningful number had graduated before us. I was encouraged to know I was not alone in my quest. More surprisingly, I am grateful for the switch to studying theology. As I prepare for the last semester of this program, I have to ask myself and honestly respond whether the deep dive into theology was worth the painstaking effort and sacrifice. The brief answer is: absolutely. I now understand the exploration of one’s theology as a sure route to fill the void or ease the tension that most of us attorneys live with daily. I propose theology provides a preemptive solution to crises, litigation, and counseling. It is the “missing witness.”

I suspect my deep dive into theology is just the beginning of a journey that if nurtured will be lifelong. Since coming to understand the role of theology vis-à-vis the law, and putting theology in its proper position ahead of both the law and the business of the law, I find fulfillment in both. There are a number of additional benefits to practicing this new perspective. The most glaring may be a strengthened love of a good law or judicial decision, a deepened appreciation for a well-run law firm, and a renewed faith in the grand potential of lawyers that lead with sound theology. I recommend the quest for one’s theology to every lawyer desiring to fill the void and ease the tension. Take the risk to explore, even if you are comfortable with your present theology—no, especially if you are comfortable with your present theology.


Paul Knowlton is a lawyer and M.Div candidate in the Pastoral Care track at McAfee. He and his wife Amy live in Decatur. This is Paul’s last semester and like most graduates is in search of the right career move upon graduation.


Why I Still Use the “F” Word

By Kali Freels

In my theological schooling, I have learned much about mindfulness. We are taught to be mindful of others’ emotions, aware of others’ hurts, and considerate of others’ journeys. This consideration of our brothers and sisters involves an openness to their story. It is a discipline that requires patience, practice, and compassion.

One of the biggest components of mindfulness is how we refer to God. Progressive seminaries overflow with conversations on gender-inclusive or gender-neutral language about God. We are reminded that God is not a man, and that God created humans, male and female, in God’s image. God will not be restricted to any limitations we try to give God, including gender.

I am thankful for these conversations. In a world full of gifs and blogs about seminarians’ frustrations when people only refer to God with masculine pronouns, however, I think there has been an overcorrection. While I believe we need to act upon our convictions that God is indeed not a man, I think we need to find a balance. We need to teach people that God is above gender labels, that it is okay to call God Father or Mother.

In his book The Shack, Paul Young illustrates God’s diversity. On an intuitive notion, Mackenzie goes to the shack where his daughter was murdered to try to make peace with God. While there, he has a dream in which he meets the Trinity in forms much unexpected: Jesus the Middle-Eastern carpenter, Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) the whimsical Asian girl, and Papa (God) the large black woman. Surprised, Mackenzie asks Papa why she chose to be a black woman. God’s response was Mackenzie did not have a good father figure as a boy and resented the title “father”. For Papa to relate to Mackenzie, she had to be something he was more comfortable with: a woman.

When I read this book, I was ecstatic. This book demonstrates the kind of mindfulness we are taught in seminary. God can be whatever that person needs to feel connected to God. So, whether God is a man or a black woman named Papa, it does not matter. Either, or any, portrayal of God helps individuals grow closer to God.

While I think it is important for Christians to recognize and be comfortable with the truth that God is outside the limits of gender, we need to take this conversation one step farther. We cannot stop at, “It’s ok to call God He or She,” or, “Just call God ‘God’ to avoid any hullabaloo”. To serve better others and to recognize better the vastness of God in our own lives, we need to teach one more thing: redemption.

I identify with Mackenzie. As someone who did not have a good father and had no father during some of the most formative years of my life, I understand Mackenzie’s disdain for the word “father”. For the longest time, that word rolled off my lips like poison every time I spoke it. How could I use that word to describe my holy, loving God? This, I know, is the story of many other wounded souls.

As I grew older, I continued to use the term “father” for God. Some may read this and think, “Poor girl! If only she knew it was okay to call God ‘Mother’ it would have saved her so much heartache!” I knew intuitively that God is not a man, but I didn’t know what else to call God. As I continued to call God “Father,” God began a healing process that only He could instigate. Much more quickly than I would have on my own, I came to peace with the term “father”. God became the Father I did not have and the fact that I still have a Father restored a normalcy and balance my life lacked. It was only after that process of redemption I could start trusting men and forgiving my dad. God redeemed the “F” word for me.

Papa redeemed the “F” word for Mackenzie, too. During his vision, Mackenzie was able to forgive his father for the pain in his life. After that moment of reconciliation, Papa became a man to Mackenzie, an example of what a father should be.

So how should we encourage people to talk about God? Tell them God’s not a man. Please, for heaven’s sake, tell them God’s not white. Tell them it is okay to call God He or She. Most importantly, tell them there is redemption in calling God Mother or Father. Remind them that our God is the God of healing. He will heal any wounds associated with whatever title you are afraid to call Him, even the “F” word.

Young, Paul Wm. The Shack. Newberry Park: Windblown Media, 2007.


Kali is a first year M.Div student in the Global Christianity track at McAfee, a tutor, and an anti-trafficking volunteer for a local ministry. In her spare time, Kali likes to read, play clarinet, and watch Friends reruns.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 10.50.58 AM

Travel as Pilgrimage: Dwelling in the Mystery

Photo by David Garber

An excerpt from Sharlyn Menard’s project, entitled: Travel as Pilgrimage


“Leaving my comfortable home to go thousands of miles away and immerse myself in a culture vastly different from my own, I asked myself an important question. Why travel to distant lands unfamiliar and filled with unknowns? Where is the logic in it? Why not read or watch a film about the place to learn its history? After all, how different can it be?

The untraveled road, however, beckoned me to venture its mysteries and explore its surprises in person. To risk real change and experience otherness is to be a pilgrim on a journey, open to the possibilities presented along the way. Traveling with the Mercer Mission Immersion group to India confronted and expanded my heart and mind as I learned as much about myself as I learned about the culture.”

For a reflection project, Sharlyn composed a digital journal that seamlessly weaves photos, psalms, and original poems together based on various stages of  pilgrimage as she experienced it in India. pilgrimage. In Stage 3 of the pilgrimage, which is titled, “Gratitude” Sharlyn quotes the Buddha saying, “You cannot travel the path until you have become the path.”

A Song of Ascents

Happy are all who fear the Lord, who follow His ways.

You shall enjoy the fruit of your labors; you shall be happy and you shall prosper.

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons, like olive saplings around your table.

So shall the man who fears the Lord be blessed.

May the Lord bless you from Zion;

may you share the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life, and live to see your children’s children.

May all be will with Israel!

Psalm 128

Dwelling in the Mystery

Responding to Psalm 128

There is pleasure in solely being in God’s creation

Celebrating the simple beauties of being alive.

So the pilgrim trusting in God’s provision spends her day

Learning to see the essence of this place

Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary, continuing along the path.

Our lives are filled with many moments, large and small.

Discovering the beauty in small details

Gives us a new perspective on grace over merit…

Intuition morphs into an awakening of where we need to be next in our life.

Our Divine blessing, in turn, leads us to be a blessing to the world.

You can view the whole pilgrimage poetry journal here.


Temple Gates

Photo by Kelsey Stillwell

A poem by Alyssa Aldape

They’re dead
They’re not divine
They’re not alive they’re just cement and plaster with lead paint.
I believed it because
The unfamiliarity of idol worship is familiar and safe.
At a distance.
Behind their temple gates.

They’re blue and have elephant heads and multiple limbs
God doesn’t need those things
They have it all wrong
We should pray for them and their souls.
Pray that God saves them.

I feel at home around the idols.
They are dead I’ve always known this.
It’s never phased me.

“You must remove your shoes in this holy place.”
It’s not strange- I do this all the time.
Except this time is different.

The marble is just as hot
The hum of holy chants and smell of cheap incense
Loud and pungent as usual.

But then we turn the corner.
To see the room of sacrifice.
The blood of a sacrifice paints the white marble
In hopes of healing and redemption.

My feet just touched the blood.
How gross and barbaric.
But then I can’t help but hum
“Nothing but the blood of goat- um Jesus…”

The  blood of a goat/lamb- not so different.
The God in the Hebrew Bible required atonement.
Required a sacrifice.
This isn’t that different anymore.
The unfamiliar becomes familiar

People lying on the hot marble shout for food and a drink of water!
Worshippers scurry pass
With eyes tightly shut in “meditation.”
In hopes of no eye contact.
Why doesn’t anyone help them?
But then I realize this isn’t so different
From the places of worship in America.

No, the people may not always lay on the church steps and cry out
But we ignore the cries and close our eyes tight in prayer
Pleading to the God of social justice
Yet we plead and rarely act.

It’s not so different.
The mystery hiding behind the temple gates all these years.
I finally see it and what I see is not satanic or wrong.
What I see is something familiar.

Now the unfamiliar is familiar
No longer at a distance or hidden behind rickety gates.
Their images don’t look dead to me anymore.


Poem inspired by a McAfee Mission Immersion trip to India in Spring 2014.


This Mysterious Search for God

A Poem By Rebecca White

The scent of curry and the noise of chatter in the air,

The men straightly sitting on the left, facing the altar,

The women robed in saris and Western wear on the right,

The children, kneeling in front,

All watching and waiting.


If they can just worship,

by singing familiar tunes in unfamiliar tongues,

by preaching through patient pauses, making room for the translator’s skill,

by dancing vibrantly before and for God.


If they can just worship,

God will see them.


They yearn to meet God, to know God, to be a part of God’s Kingdom.


If only they can worship,

in this lively search for God.


The feel of the warm air blowing flags of many colors,

Many people moving quietly, sitting silently,

Dogs meandering through garden pathways,

Chipmunks scurrying across grass and stones,

Monks moving in postures of prayer, up and down, kneeling, lying, standing.


If they can just pray,

in silence and in solitude,

in kneeling rows of colorful robes,

in motion, sweat dripping from their faces.


If they can just pray,

the Buddha will grant them peace.


They long for calm and focus, for themselves and for all the world’s people.


If only they can pray,

in this tranquil search for God.


The thick heat, sweat on skin and hanging in the air,

Crowds pushing inward, tighter, closer,

Loud voices talking, crying, shouting!

All are eager, watchful, urgent in their pressing,

They must get inside, they must get a peek!


If they can just offer a sacrifice,

the bright red of freshly spilt goat’s blood,

the cooling freshness of a coconut’s milk,

the brightness of the spring blossoms.


If they can just offer a sacrifice,

Kali will help them.


They cry for, long for, must have help, for themselves, for family, for country.


If only they can offer a sacrifice,

in this frantic search for God.


The feel of a ceiling fan against dewy skin,

The whisper of a mosquito net,

The smell of freshly cut mangoes mingling with the stench of sewage,

The sound of laughter on a bumpy bus ride.

They need comfort.


If they can just find God,

in the face and heart of a Christian Indian guide,

in the unseeing eyes of an orphaned toddler,

in the kindness of strangers, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Muslim, and Christian,

in the hearts and voices of fellow travelers sharing stories, sharing faith, sharing life.


If they can just find God here,

they will feel at home, they will be alright.


They long for rest, for the familiar, for something Christ-like.

And, because they looked for God,

through lively worship,

in the tranquil prayer,

among the frantic sacrifice,

within themselves and each other,


They found the Presence,

in this beautiful, mysterious search for God.


I Can Do More: A Lament

August 2014 is a bad month. People are angry. Humans are dying. Cultures are dividing.

These are the talking points we have to discuss:  Depression is a disease. Ukraine is in turmoil. ISIS just beheaded an American journalist. Refugee children are detained at the U.S. border. Airlines stopped their Liberian flights. Ferguson, MO feels more like 1960s Birmingham. Thousands of Palestinians have limited food and water. Police aren’t soldiers. Entire planes go missing. Gay Christians still aren’t accepted. Suicide is all too common. Race is still a divide.

Lately I’ve stood in the pulpit thinking about who we are and what we’re doing, and I hear God saying,

I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:21-24)

In other words, I’m standing in the pulpit wondering, “Is God satisfied with our worship?” Then I think, “How could God be? I’m not satisfied with it.”

I’m not satisfied with the space I’ve created for parishioners to lean close to the Divine in a month that’s brought so much death, so much separation, so much destruction and pain. I’m not satisfied with my response (or lack thereof) to Robin Williams, Ukraine, ISIS, Malaysia, Refugee children, Ebola, Ferguson, Gaza, Gay Marriage or Racial Profiling.

My response has been yet another solemn assembly, yet another noisy song that does little to alleviate the brokenness we all feel. It’s just a business-as-usual worship service.

It’s like I believe God honors loyalty over anything else, so I keep showing up each Sunday thinking God will be pleased with me.  But who am I kidding? Worship should make others feel the rolling waters of justice and the righteousness of an ever-flowing stream.

Yet our worship is similar to the ancient Israelites’, and our lack of intentionality incubates the world’s brokenness even more.

Worship must be better. It must be built around the things that matter. It must listen to the spirit of God in the midst of the brokenness. It must move us to action. But how?

Rachel Held Evans said in a recent Sojourners blog that we should 1) Lament 2) Listen and Learn 3) Loose the chains of injustice. This is a good start. Our worship needs to grieve the plight of the world. Our worship needs to create space for the spirit to move. Our worship needs to address the craziness in the world.

My soul can’t facilitate another worship service that turns a blind eye to the pains and sufferings in the world. My soul can’t pretend that God’s anything more than frustrated with how I’ve worshiped. My soul can’t read another blog or see another news story and compartmentalize it as if it were a Netflix Original Series, gripping but insignificant to my daily routine.

So I offer this blog as a lament. My Lord and my God, I’m sorry. I can do more. We can do more. You need us doing more.

This article was originally published for ABP/RH Blog.

carol814 088

Fumbling the Bread of Life

By Brett Younger

When you go to a new place you hope that the new people will think you are smarter than you are—or at least smarter than the people at the old place think you are.  Moving is a chance to leave behind every time you dropped something you needed to hold on to, tripped over your shoestrings, or forgot what you were supposed to remember.

Carol and I recently began serving as interim ministers at Santiago Community Church in Santiago, Chile, more than 4,000 miles from any of our old places.  This international, interdenominational congregation is made up of gracious Christians who have never been to a Baptist church—or even wanted to!

I went to worship the first Sunday hoping that our new congregation will think that I am smarter than I really am.  I was concerned about the details of the Lord’s Supper in this Anglican/Presbyterian/Methodist/just-about-everything-but-Baptist church.  After the sermon (which they keep telling me is shorter in Chile) the minister walks to the front, receives the offering plates, holds up the money, says a prayer, calls for the passing of the peace, walks to the table, leads the Great Thanksgiving, recites the words of institution, eats the bread, drinks the wine that is not Welch’s, moves along the railing sharing the bread, circles the choir, along the rail, and around the choir several more times.  I did almost none of this when I was pastor of Mother Neff Baptist Church in Moody, Texas.

The service is going as planned.  I receive the offering (pesos weigh more than you think) and the congregation willingly passes the peace.  But when it comes time to share the bread, I walk towards the railing, stumble just a little, and fumble several pieces of the body of Christ.  If this was a Roman Catholic congregation I would have been on the next plane back to Georgia.

I kneel to pick up the bread of life and hide those pieces under my thumb.  I stand and say, “This is the body of Christ,” and hear the sacred response, “Your shoe is untied.”  This is not what I expect, but it is accurate and explains why communion wafers have hit the floor.  I kneel on the other side of the choir to tie my shoe, a skill that most master as a child.

Then I remember that I was supposed to take communion first.  I am now the loser with his shoe untied who dropped the bread and took communion at the wrong time.  I wanted them to think of me as the kind of minister who keeps his shoes tied, holds on to the body of Christ, and takes communion at the right time, but that is not going to happen.

Most of us want the people at church to think we are better than we are.  We would like to be admired, but communion is for people who are not always impressive.  The Lord’s Supper does not depend on us doing it perfectly, because communion is about the forgiveness God gives in the bread of life and cup of grace.  One of the requirements for coming to the table is admitting that we are not as smart as we wish.  We are part of the church because we are imperfect.

Christ’s table is for those who need a place to go when they do something wrong.  We tell a seemingly insignificant lie that threatens to poison everything.  We speak a careless word that haunts us.  We betray someone we love.  We wish our mistakes would fade away, but they keep showing up to remind us that we are not all we hope to be.

We need the church because we need a place to go when we feel empty.  We bend under the weight of unfulfilling routines.  The glories of motherhood give way to baby-related chores that must be repeated with nauseating monotony.  The subject we loved in college becomes a dull job we must keep to pay the bills.  The retirement we looked forward to for twenty years shows up five years too late to be enjoyed the way a fifty-year-old imagines retirement.

The hope of the Christian faith is not that we will get it right, but that God loves us in spite of our foolish ways.  The gospel is not “Be good, kind, and friendly.”  The gospel is not “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  The gospel is “We fumble the bread of life, and God loves us anyway.”

You and I need the Lord’s Supper because sometimes we trip.  We drop things.  We forget what we should have remembered.  We need a place where we can join with others who, like us, need God’s grace.

This blog was originally written for and published by Baptists Today.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.