Why I Fasted For Families (by Marlena Graves)

Marlena Head Shot.jpg

Today I am thrilled to introduce you to Marlena Graves, a smart, thoughtful, and compassionate woman whose writing consistently reflects both her talent and her heart. Marlena received her M.Div. from Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York. She is a by-lined writer for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics Blog and Gifted For Leadership Blog. Her book, A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness (Brazos Press), will be out in July of 2014. She blogs at: marlenagraves.com.


There are nights when I lie awake wondering about what sort of Christian I really am.

I mean, there’s the Christian I think I am and then the kind I actually am. When push comes to shove, would I have supported Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal policy and the subsequent ethnic cleansing that occurred as we made our way from sea to shining sea? Would I have been an abolitionist, actively and publicly standing against slavery and then voicing strong opposition to the eminently wicked Jim Crow laws that ensued after the Civil War? Am I the type who would’ve hidden the Jews during the Holocaust? These nights I wonder if I would’ve labored for civil rights, standing in solidarity with Martin Luther King Jr. and my other brothers and sisters. Or would I take my cue from those in the church who opposed them? 

I’ve observed that loving our neighbors can be dangerous. Subversive. It can cost reputation, life, and limb. I’m often moved to think about whether I would have laid my life down for my neighbors, acknowledging with MLK that, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Or would I have stubbornly held on to my life, believing my action or inaction affected me alone? I can’t know for sure. I wasn’t around then. 

But I am here now.

A little over a month ago, Lisa Sharon Harper told me and others that she felt led to fast for comprehensive immigration reform. She, along with many other national leaders and social activists of different stripes, began fasting on November 12th while staked out in a tent on the National Mall in Washington D.C. They hoped to persuade political leaders, particularly House Speaker John Boehner, to move on the now stalled comprehensive immigration reform bill that passed with bi-partisan support nearly six months ago. Why FastForFamilies? In their own words:

By fasting, we hope to follow the examples of Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi to touch the compassion and sensibilities of our elected leaders to address the moral crisis of an immigration system that fails to comport with our national values, our creeds and belief in justice.

Those on the National Mall declared Dec.1-3 a national fast and asked Christians and others all over the nation to join them. As a Spanish-speaking Hispanic woman who has worked, and is currently working, with both documented and undocumented people, this call to D.C. resonated deeply with me. I thought to myself, “I can’t be in D.C., but I can fast and pray from home.” And so for five days I was on a nutrient-rich, liquid diet. I couldn’t go full throttle drinking only water because my blood sugar dips and leads to all sorts of physiological complications. 

'12112013 AD Immigraton Fast for Families  19542' photo (c) 2013, US Department of Education - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Whether it’s fasting to provoke political movement or something else entirely, there are times in all of our lives, and in each generation, when we have to decide whether or not we will stand against what we believe to be injustice or whether we’ll shrink back in fear. If we’re going to be faithful to the Jesus way, we must lovingly and non-violently take our positions against injustice though they render us unpopular. When I think of being unpopular, I think of William Wilberforce who fought for most of his life to free the slaves of the British Empire. Initially, his stance was politically inexpedient and unpopular with most church folk. 

Today, I believe that speaking up for comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship and being Jesus to those documented and undocumented immigrants around us is what God would have us do. I agree with John Perkins, founder of the Christian Community Development Association and long-time civil rights leader, who noted that immigration is the new civil rights issue.

Our own ancestors were once immigrants. Had we today’s immigration laws back then, most of our ancestors would’ve been prevented from entering this country. Moreover, immigrants, documented or undocumented, do not come from south of the border alone. As Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang note in their book, Welcoming the Stranger, a large number of undocumented immigrants are Asian students who’ve allowed their student visas to expire. And undocumented workers are far from a drain on our national economy. Economists agree that undocumented immigrants are a boon to our nation’s bottom line. And many pay into our Medicare and Social Security systems without receiving any benefits.  As is the case with many marginalized groups, we benefit at their expense.

I want my little girls and those who come after them to know that their parents and many others in the church did what is right despite strong opposition, that we stood in solidarity with the marginalized, the disempowered, and the stranger. And as I lay dying, I want to know that I did what was right in my time. For I am convinced that history will eventually vindicate this stance.

This is why I followed Lisa’s lead and fasted for families. 


Be sure to check out Marlena's blog and follow her on Twitter



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The Dark Stories (A Tribute to Victims of Violence)

'Hejaab' photo (c) 2006, Khashayar Elyassi - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I'm reposting this excerpt from A Year of Biblical Womanhood. 


"There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you."
—Maya Angelou

I’m glad I have a biblical name.

It’s a name as old as the storied shepherdess of Paddan Aram—a woman so captivating her husband pledged seven years of service in exchange for her hand, a woman whose determination to bear children sent her digging for mandrakes and bargaining with God, a woman brazen enough to steal her father’s idols and hide them in a camel saddle, a woman who took her last breath on the side of the road, giving birth, a woman whose tomb survived obscurity, conquest, earthquakes, and riots to become one of the most venerated and contested sites of the Holy Land.

Beautiful, impetuous, jealous Rachel. Rachel who fought to legitimize her existence the only way she knew how. Rachel who, though it killed her, won.

With Rachel, I notice the details. I absorb her stories as a child does, wide-eyed and attentive, the distance between long ago and yesterday as close as a memory. And like a child, I long for more, wishing at times that I could sit beneath Anita Diamant’s fictionalized Red Tent, where Dinah learned the history of her family from four mothers—Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah—who Dinah says “held my face between their hands and made me swear to remember.”

We recall with ease the narratives of Scripture that include a triumphant climax—a battle won, a giant slain, chariots swallowed by the sea. But for all of its glory and grandeur, the Bible contains a darkness you will only notice if you pay attention, for it is hidden in the details, whispered in the stories of women.

My quest for biblical womanhood led me to these stories late at night, long after Dan had gone to sleep, and I conducted my nightly research by his side in bed, stacks of Bibles and commentaries and legal pads threatening to swallow him should he roll over. The darkest of these stories mingled with my dreams, and I awoke the next morning startled as if I’d been told a terrible secret.

Perhaps the most troubling of the dark stories comes from the lawless period of Judges.

Jephthah was a mighty warrior of Gilead and the son of a prostitute. Banished from the city by Gilead’s legitimate sons, he took up with a gang of outlaws in the land of Tob. Jephthah must have earned a reputation as a valiant fighter because, years later, when the Gileadites faced war with the Ammonites, the elders summoned Jephthah and asked him to command their forces.

When Jephthah reminded them that they had expelled him from the city, they promised to make him their leader if he agreed. The opportunity to rule over those who once despised him proved too much for Jephthah to resist. As Jephthah charged into battle with his countrymen behind him, filled with “the Spirit of the Lord” (Judges 11:29), he made a promise to God: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering” (v. 30).

The text reports that God indeed gave victory to Jephthah. He and his troops devastated twenty Ammonite towns, thus deterring the Ammonite king from further attacks. When Jephthah returned home, glowing with sweat and triumph, “who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines” (v. 34). She was his only child. The Bible never reveals her name.

When he saw her, Jephthah tore his clothes and wept. Surely he had expected an animal to come wandering out of the first floor of his home where they would have been stabled, not his daughter. He told his daughter of his vow and said he could not break it. The young girl resolutely accepted her fate. She asked only that she be granted two months to roam the hills and weep with her friends over a life cut short.

Unlike the familiar story of Isaac, this one ends without divine intervention. Jephthah fulfilled his promise and killed his daughter in God’s name. No ram was heard bleating from the thicket. No protest was issued from the clouds. No tomb was erected to mark the place where she lay.

But the women of Israel remembered.

Wrote the narrator, “From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah” (vv. 39–40).

They could not protect her life, but they could protect her dignity by retelling her story—year after year, for four days, in a mysterious and subversive ceremony that perhaps led the women of Israel back to thesame hills in which Jephthah’s daughter wandered before her death. It was a tradition that appears to have continued through the writing of the book of Judges. But it is a tradition lost to the waxing and waning of time, no longer marked by the daughters of the Abrahamic faiths.

I wanted to do something to bring this ceremony back, so I invited my friend Kristine over to help me honor the victims of the Bible’s “texts of terror.”

…We prepared for the ceremony for weeks—Kristine with wood and paint, I with poetry and prose. Finally, just before Christmas, while the tree was lit and paper snowflakes hung from the windows, Kristine came over with a heavy paper bag in her arms. We sat on the living room floor with the coffee table between us and began the ceremony.

We started with the daughter of Jephthah, whose legacy inspired me to honor her the way Israel’s daughters once did. I read her story from Judges 11, followed by a short poem by Phyllis Trible recounting the young girl’s tragic end. Kristine lit a tall, white taper candle on the coffee table, and together we said, “We remember the daughter of Jephthah.”

Then Kristine read the story of the concubine from Judges 19 who was thrown to a mob by her husband, gang-raped, killed, and dismembered. I lit a tiny tea candle, and together we said, “We remember the unnamed concubine.”

Next we honored Hagar, whose banishment from the house of Abraham nearly cost her life. I read her story from Genesis 21 and a poem by Tamam Kahn titled “No Less Than the Prophets, Hagar Speaks.” For Hagar, we set aside a damask votive, which we lit before saying together, “We remember Hagar.”

Finally, we remembered the Tamar of the Davidic narrative, whose rape in the king’s house left her desolate and without a future. A heartbreaking poem from Nicola Slee pulled each of the stories together and connected them to the silent victims of misogyny from around the world. We resolved as Slee had to “listen, however painful the hearing . . . until there is not one last woman remaining who is a victim of violence.” We lit a white pillar candle and said together, “We remember Tamar.”

Then Kristine unveiled her diorama. Constructed of a small pinewood box turned on its side, the diorama featured five faceless wooden figures, huddled together beneath a ring of barbed wire. Nails jutted out from all sides, with bloodred paint splattered across the scene. Glued to the backboard was a perfect reflection of the five feminine silhouettes cut from the pages of a book. Around this Kristine had painted a red crown of thorns to correspond with the circle of barbed wire. Across the top were printed the words of Christ—“As you have done unto the least of these, so you have done to me.”



Kristine and I talked for a while after the ceremony was over—about our doubts, about our fears, and about how sometimes taking the Bible seriously means confronting the parts we don’t like or understand and sitting with them for a while, perhaps even a lifetime. Ours was a simple ceremony, but I think it honored these women well.

Those who seek to glorify biblical womanhood have forgotten the dark stories. They have forgotten that the concubine of Bethlehem, the raped princess of David’s house, the daughter of Jephthah, and the countless unnamed women who lived and died between the lines of Scripture exploited, neglected, ravaged, and crushed at the hand of patriarchy are as much a part of our shared narrative as Deborah, Esther, Rebekah, and Ruth.

We may not have a ceremony through which to grieve them, but it is our responsibility as women of faith to guard the dark stories for our own daughters, and when they are old enough, to hold their faces between our hands and make them promise to remember.


From A Year of Biblical Womanhood. 



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What Would Jesus Do (With His Enemy)?


Preston Sprinkle, who is perhaps best known for co-authoring the bestselling book, Erasing Hell, with Francis Chan, has recently published a new book advocating Christian nonviolence which I think many of you will find quite challenging and thought-provoking. The following post is adapted Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013). Enjoy! 


Everyone in America knows the catchy slogan: What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)?

Of all the Christian memorabilia donned by the church, these bracelets and T-shirts have remained at the top of the list for quite sometime. For only $5.99, you too can show the world that you follow in the footsteps of Jesus, to do what Jesus would do when faced with temptation.

The apostles too asked the question “What Would Jesus Do?” only they answered it quite differently than many Americans do. The apostles didn’t appeal to Jesus’s life to encourage believers to read their Bibles, do their devotions, or abstain from sexual temptation—all virtuous things, mind you. Instead, they pervasively and unashamedly drew upon Jesus’s nonviolent response to evil as a model for believers to follow. 

More than any other character trait of Jesus, His suffering by the hands of evil people became the central feature of cross-bearing Christians because it was the heartbeat of our cross-bearing Lord. 

Throughout His ministry, Jesus never retaliates and always loves His enemies even when He is violently attacked. When He is unjustly accused of treason, His accusers “spit in his face,” “struck him” and “slapped him” (Matt. 26:67). No retaliation; only love. Moments later, Roman soldiers spit on Him and pound His head with a stick (27:30). Still no retaliation; only forgiveness. 

Jesus therefore models His own command to not “resist evil … but turn the other cheek.” He could call down a legion of angels to deliver Him, but He refuses to confront violence with violence (26:53). While on the cross He prays for his oppressors: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus’s life is peppered with violent attacks, yet He never responds with violence. He embraces suffering, not because He is weak, not because He can’t do anything about it, but because suffering is the God-ordained pathway to resurrection glory. 

Now, you may think, Yes, but the reason Jesus doesn’t resist His death is because He has to die for the sin of the world. This is correct. There is uniqueness to the atoning value of the cross. His nonresistance is a theological necessity: He has to die for the sin of the world. 

But that’s not all that’s going on. Jesus’s nonviolent, non-retaliatory journey to the cross is also a pattern for us to imitate. 


When Jesus talks about His suffering on the cross, He commands His followers to do the same: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). When Jesus washes His disciples’ feet—even the feet of His betrayer—He tells His followers to do the same: “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15). Again, just after He predicts His crucifixion, He tells His followers, “Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:44). We are slaves of all. Jesus rebukes James and John for their thirst for violent retaliation (Luke 9:51–56), encourages His followers to endure patiently when violently attacked (Mark 13:9–13), and disarms Peter when he violently resists evil by hacking off the ear of a man trying to arrest Jesus (Matt. 26:52).

Nonviolence is the upside down rhythm of Christianity, the direction of the river that flows in Eden. 

And the New Testament highlights Jesus’s nonviolent response to violence as a pattern to follow more than any other aspect of His ministry. Read Romans 12, 1 Peter 2-3 (or all of 1 Peter, actually), Hebrews 10-12, or the book of Revelation in its entirety. Believers who desire to Do What Jesus Would Do don’t conquer their enemies with swords, guns, or drones, but with non-retaliation and love. The apostolic witness is pervasive and clear. 

Let’s put this in the perspective of WWJD. Paul celebrates the gift of celibacy, arguing that a celibate person can be hugely effective for the kingdom (1 Cor. 7). But Paul does not use Jesus’s celibate life as an example to follow. Jesus threw him a softball but Paul doesn’t swing. Again, Paul says that he could refrain from working and be supported by the ministry (1 Cor. 9:6–12), but again he doesn’t appeal to Jesus, who did the same (Luke 8:1–3). Also, Jesus was a man of prayer and often stole away time to pray, and yet Paul—in all his talk on prayer—never appeals to Jesus as a model for praying. This is fascinating: the “what would Jesus do” cliché is rarely echoed by the New Testament writers. 

Rarely but not never. Because when it comes to enemy-love and our response to evil, the New Testament writers race to the life and teaching of Christ as the pattern for believers to imitate.

The New Testament is ubiquitously clear: don’t retaliate with evil for evil; do good to those who hate you; embrace your enemy with a cross-shaped, unyielding divine love. Such a rich and pervasive trajectory—from Jesus’s Sermon, modeled through His life, commended to His disciples, taken up by the apostles, and demanded of the early church—shows that non-retaliation and enemy-love are not some insignificant whisper lingering on the edge of Jesus’s ethical landscape. And if American Evangelicals are not readily known for such enemy-love (that includes you, Al-Qaeda), then they are not Doing What Jesus Did. If there are exceptions to this—assassinating Hitler, for instance—these exceptions must be seen as deviating from the dominant rhythm of Christianity. 


So, what do you think? Should nonviolence factor into our consideration of what Jesus would do? Why doesn't it more often? What are some obstacles in the way of a more consistent nonviolent Christian ethic?  

Be sure to check out Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. You can read the first chapter for free on your iPad or iPhone. Be sure to follow Preston on Twitter or check out his Web site. 




Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.