Christian Paradox

Life_in_Tension_web“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live
to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When we think of sin, we normally think of sin against our neighbor rather than against God. In fact, the story of the tensions of faith over the past century have mostly focused on reconciliation with our neighbor, not God. The tensions over racial and ethnic equality, classism, and women’s rights, for example, are struggles over the sin of discrimination against our neighbor—a form of pride displayed at the expense of that neighbor. The Apostle Paul said it best over two thousand years ago:

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek [racial and ethnic equality], there is neither slave nor free [classism], there is no male and female [women’s rights], for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:27-28 ESV)

If our sin is against our neighbor, then what does that have to do with the atonement of Christ? Why would pursuing this righteousness lead to persecution?

In a strictly political sense, equality leads to instability. Why? Because no one is in charge. Everything is negotiated. Chaos is the natural outcome because personal and class interests are naturally in conflict and no one has the authority required to set rules and enforce law. Economists sometimes talk about competition as a transition to monopoly. Most people prefer security to equality—even if they think of themselves as democrats (small d). The more equality experienced, the greater the need for God!

In an unstable world, the swabbling would never stop. Revenge and counter-revenge have no natural end-point except death.

Jesus proposes specific alternatives:

  • “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39 ESV)
  • “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44 ESV).
  • “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matt. 5:41 ESV)
  • “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matt 7:1 ESV)
  • “…render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt. 22:21 ESV)

Refuse to defend your honor, even if you suffer shame. In other words, in all things be humble [1]. Instead of defending your honor, practice humility and pursue righteousness even at the expense of persecution and death. Evil is defeated on the cross because God himself has paid the penalty of our sin (1 Peter 2:24; 1 Cor 15:3). The resurrection vindicated the claim that Jesus is the Son of God [2].

In a context of humility, violence is avoided by refusing to pursue one’s rights and preferring to set a good example by being proactively righteous. This is not a strategy to dominant another person or for one group to dominant another, in part, because the other party (or parties) gets to choose whether or not to reciprocate. Quite the contrary, the other party (or parties) can simply chose to persecute or dominate. However, the possibility that an enemy will chose to become a friend is only logically possible if this strategy of humility is sincerely chosen.

Although Stephen was the first Christian martyr, many more followed. The only apostle that was not martyred was the Apostle John (Foxe 2001, 10). Outside of martyrdom, other Christians have given testimony through service at the risk of their own lives. For example, during a plague in Alexandria in the third century Christians refused to abandon the city preferring to remain and care for the sick. Have we followed their example?  (Kinnamen and Lyons 2007, 110).

Divine intervention is required to abandon one’s rights and live in service to others. While Christ’s resurrection points to his divinity, his life and his sacrifice point to God’s alternative. Dare we follow?

 

[1] Neyrey (1998) devotes his entire book to this subject.

[2] Jesus preferred to refer to himself as the Son of Man. Out of 189 verses in the Bible that use this term, 89 are found in Ezekiel which refer to the prophet himself. The term in Hebrew literally means “son of Adam” ( בֶּן־אָדָם (Ezek. 2:1 WTT)). In the more famous passage in Daniel 7:13, the Hebrew expression is the more familiar “son of man” (כְּבַ֥ר אֱנָ֖שׁ).

REFERENCES

Foxe, John and Harold J. Chadwick. 2001. The New Foxes’ Book of Martyrs (Orig Pub 1563). Gainsville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers.

Kinnaman, David with Gabe Lyons. 2007. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

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Jesus: Resolve Tension into Identity

Life_in_Tension_web“But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” (Ps. 37:11 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One way the tension in our life can be resolved is for it to become who were are—an aspect of our identity. When we accept the pain of life and refuse to yield to it, in some sense we come to wear it as a badge of honor.

The third beatitude is unique to Matthew: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5 ESV). What does it mean to be meek? Meek means to: “…not [be] overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate” (BDAG 6132). Meek is like applied humility (poor in spirit)—a character trait of being humble [1]. Three verses in Matthew suggest that Jesus was meek:

  1. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29 ESV)
  2. “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” (Matt. 21:5 ESV)
  3. “And the high priest stood up and said, Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you? But Jesus remained silent.” (Matt. 26:62-63 ESV)

These three events—Jesus’ invitation to discipleship (bear the burdens that I bear), his parade into Jerusalem, and his trial illustrate his meekness. The Apostle Paul explicitly described Jesus as meek (2 Cor 10:1). The writings of the Peter and James also echo this description [2].

Neyrey (1998, 181-182) discusses honor in meekness in these terms:

“…It can indeed be understood as grounds for praise for refusing to be a victim…according to the choreography of honor challenges, the ‘meek’ person could be one who makes no honor claims (e.g. Matt 21:5), or, more likely, one who does not give a riposte [response] to challenges and does not respond in anger to insults. In this light, a ‘meek’ person disengages entirely from the typical honor games of the village…failure to seek revenge”.

The sermon on the Mount is full of allusions to meekness lived out. For example, Jesus said:

  1. “…everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matt. 5:22 ESV)
  2. “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matt. 5:37 ESV)
  3. “Do not resist the one who is evil [3]. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matt. 5:39-41 ESV)

In other words, when given an opportunity for vindication is possible through conflict, offer no response or make peace instead. The echo of identity is present here because by refusing to engage in a response, one remains true to one’s meekness rather than allowing the conflict to snatch it away.

Paraphrasing a pep talk by Jesus for the disciples, Ortberg (2012, 107) illustrates Jesus’ meekness:

“Here’s our strategy. We have no money, no clout, no status, no buildings, no soldiers…We will tell them [Jewish and Romans leaders, Zealots, collaborators, Essenes] all that they are on the wrong track…When they hate us—and a lot of them will…we won’t fight back, we won’t run away, and we won’t give in. We will just keep loving them…That’s my strategy.”

Meekness is not weakness. It steals the thunder from one’s adversary.

 

[1] “…there is little or no difference between the poor and the meek in the Psalms or Isaiah…” (Guelich 1982, 82)

[2] See for example: 1 Pet. 3:13-17 and James 1:21.

[3] Savage (1996, 57-61) offers an interesting application of this principle of not resisting evil which he refers to as “fogging”. When one is criticized, one responds by finding something in the criticism to agree with—even if only implied. This frustrates the attacker and keeps one from becoming defensive. Jesus employs a variation on this approach when asked about taxes (Matt 22:17-22).

REFERENCES

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Ortberg, John. 2012. Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Savage, John. 1996. Listening and Caring Skills: A Guide for Groups and Leaders. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

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Neyrey Explains Honor and Shame, Part 2

Honor_and_shame_02192015Jerome H. Neyrey.  1998.  Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press. (Go to part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Neyrey organizes his discussion of honor like an anthropologist into 7 categories:

  1. Definition of honor,
  2. Sources of honor,
  3. Conflict and honor,
  4. Display and recognition of honor,
  5. Collective honor, and
  6. Gender and honor (14-15).

Under sources of honor, for example, Neyrey notes that honor can be both ascribed as in being born into a well-known family or achieved as in earning special merit (15).

Shame, by contrast, is the opposite of honor—loss of respect, regard, worth, and value in the eyes of others.  A shameless person does not care what people think of them (30).  Because honor and shame are displayed publicly, our individualistic culture downplays both honor and shame.

Honor must, of course, be defended.  Neyrey notes 4 steps into challenges to honor and response—reposte:

  1. Claim to honor,
  2. Challenge to that claim,
  3. Riposte to the challenge, and
  4. Public verdict by onlookers (44).

Neyrey (51) sees many examples of challenge and riposte in Matthew.  For example in Matthew 9: 1-8 we see:

Claim to honor:  “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” [Divinity claim] (v 2)

Challenge:         “This man is blaspheming.” (v 3)

Riposte:             “Which is easier…Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” (vv 5-6)

Verdict:              “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid…” (v 8)

Much of Neyrey’s book focuses on the details of Matthew’s encomium of Jesus. For example, Matthew portrays Jesus as just in performing his duties to God, his parents, and the dead (109).  Jesus is faithful to God (his heavenly patron) even until death (Matt 26:39; 110).  He defended the rights of parents over traditions, like “korban” (Matt 15:5).  While Neyrey skips over the question of just for the dead, clearly Jesus’ teaching about eternal life would also honor the dead.

A key hypothesis that Neyrey advances is to read the Sermon on the Mount as reforming the honor code of his society.  Neyrey writes:

“Jesus did not overthrow the honor code as such, but rather redefined what constitutes honor in his eyes and how his disciples should play the game…For example, he forbade his disciples to play the typical village honor game by forswearing honor claims (i.e. boasting), challenges (i.e. physical and sexual aggressiveness), and ripostes (i.e. seeking satisfaction and revenge). Moreover, he attempted to redefine whose acknowledge (i.e. grant of honor) truly counts…Jesus , then, changed the way the honor game was played and redefined the source of honor, name, acknowledgment by God, not by neighbor.” (164).

Most importantly in this respect, Neyrey suggests that the Greek words “makarios” and “ouai” be translated respectively as esteemed or honorable (not blessed or happy) and as shame on or disrespectable (165-166). In this way, Jesus is redefining the honor code that applies to his disciples.

Neyrey also sees Jesus redefining shame in the last “makario”.  This verse in Matthew reads:  “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute [drive out] you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matt 5:11 ESV)  Neyrey sees this verse addressing the problem of a son being disinherited for becoming Jesus’ disciple rather than being generally persecuted (169).  In other words, what society took as dishonorable, Jesus redefined as honorable[1].

Following Neyrey, the Sermon on the Mount can be read as Jesus offering more than your typical a pep talk to his disciples who needed reassurance.  He was commissioning them to a higher calling.  This calling was something worth dying for or, more importantly, something to live for.

Clearly, this reading is as important today as it was then.

Footnotes

[1]Neyrey reads Matthew as implying that:  “Discipleship often meant cross-generational conflict within families.” (227)  Today we see this dynamic when a Muslim or Jewish child converts to Christianity or when a child from a “good family” suddenly “gets religion” and drops out of college to pursue social ministry.

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Neyrey Explains Honor and Shame, Part 1

Jeremey Neyrey Honor and ShameJerome H. Neyrey.  1998.  Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press. (Go to part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

A frequent comment in the church today is the need to stop using all those “churchy” words. While the definition of “churchy” may be up for grabs, the focus of these comments is usually on words that have in the postmodern context lost their meaning. Verses, such as—“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…” (Rev 4:11 ESV)—almost certainly be classified as knee-deep in churchy words, because our buddy culture admits no one worthy of praise, glory or honor or of titles such as Lord and God.

Introduction

In his book, Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew, Jerome H. Neyrey states his objective plainly:  “This book focuses on the praise of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in narrative form by the evangelist Matthew.” (1)  Neyrey sees gospel as a type of ancient writing form called an encomium which is a structured biography designed to offer praise (2). The rules for writing such encomium were the subject of rhetorical handbooks, starting with Aristotle.  Neyrey (4) writes:

“Nothing in the exercise of praise was left to chance, for students were instructed concerning the form of speech of praise, as well as the specific content of each element in that form.  They learned to organize their praise according to the conventional manner of presenting a person’s life from birth to death and in light of specific rules for developing praise at each state of life.”

Honor (τιμη) is the “worth or value of persons both in their own eyes and in the eyes of the village or neighborhood”“concern for ‘honor’ as reputation and ‘good name’ was endemic to the ancient world…” (5)

An important, but questionable, assumption in some biblical interpretation is that honor and shame play a same role in our own culture as in biblical culture. Cultural anthropologist sometimes describe American culture today as a guilt-innocence culture where guilt is only triggered when a law has been transgressed and shame, if experienced at all, is trigger when a law is broken and publically exposed[1]. The shame and guilt so important in biblical culture has lost its meaning. Complaints about the meaninglessness of “churchy” words underscore an important cultural shift that renders aspects of the biblical witness out of reach[2].

Organization

Neyrey writes in 10 chapters divided into 3 parts:

Part One:  Matthew: In Other Words

  1. Honor and Shame in Cultural Perspective
  2. Reading Matthew in Cultural Perspective

Part Two:  Matthew and the Rhetoric of Praise

  1. The Rhetoric of Praise and Blame
  2. An Encomium for Jesus: Origins, Birth, Nurture, and Training
  3. An Encomium for Jesus: Accomplishments and Deeds
  4. An Encomium for Jesus: Deeds of the Body and Deeds of Fortune
  5. An Encomium for Jesus: A Noble Death

Part Three:  The Sermon on the Mount in Cultural Perspective

  1. Matthew 5:3-12—Honoring the Dishonored
  2. Matthew 5:21-28—Calling Off the Honor Game
  3. Matthew 6:1-18—Vacating the Playing Field (v).

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by a bibliography and indices.

Assessment

Neyrey is a tough read. Not only is it hard to follow the arguments, the arguments challenge important preconceptions that we hold in reading scripture. What happens if the “Jesus in our head” is not the Jesus of the bible?  What if our kids hear something different than what we do during the Sunday morning service? These are important questions which directly affect our interpretation of scripture and experience of church.  In Part 2 (look for the post on Monday, March 2), I will explore Neyrey’s arguments in more detail.

Footnotes

[1] http://www.knowledgeworkx.com/blogs/knowledgeworkx/item/141-three-colors-of-worldview.

[2] For example, read:  2 Corinthians 7: Godly Grief (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-Ba).

Neyrey Explains Honor and Shame, Part 1

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Prayer Day 9: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

God of all wonders. We praise you for Mary’s faithfulness and Jesus’ miraculous birth. Bridge the gaps of holiness, time, and space between us. Open our minds to the miracles that we experience daily but neglect to think about. Open our hearts to accept your will for our lives. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Dios de todas las maravillosas. Te alabamos por la fidelidad de María y el nacimiento milagroso de Jesús. Puente la brecha de santidad, tiempo, y espacio entre nosotros. Abre nuestra mentes a los milagrosos que experimentamos cotidiana pero se olvidan de considerar. Abre nuestros corazones a aceptar tu voluntad por nuestras vidas. En el nombre del Padre, el Hijo, y el Espíritu Santo, Amén.

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2 Corinthians 7: Godly Grief

My Grandparents' Tombstone
My Grandparents’ Tombstone

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The rapid pace of cultural change in our society can sometimes leave us speechless and unable to process some things that we observe.  For me, one of those moments occurred last week when I walked into my living room and saw my wife watching an episode of Dr. Phil.  On the show, a 16-year woman shamelessly recounted how she had been sexually intimate with several young men, one after the other, at a party.  Yet, she was upset on the show primarily because the whole incident was video-taped by others present [1].  By contrast, her mother’s response was more like mine—she was speechless and horrified.

A cultural anthropologist might describe this incident as an example of a response in a guilt-innocence culture where things not illegal trigger no internal feeling of shame—the individual feels no accountability to social norms (even on national television).  In an honor-shame culture, by contrast, the expected response would be to feel shame and attempt to hide the behavior to avoid sanctioning by the community [2].  My distress in observing this show suggests that one dimension of cultural change today is the shift from an honor-shame culture of most adults to a guilt-innocence culture among some youth today.

In chapter 5 of Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth clearly addresses the culture in Corinth as an honor-shame culture.  The idea of holiness expressed in verse 1, for example, talks about holiness as spiritual cleansing motivated by fear of God.  Holiness is a virtue or character trait focusing on separating oneself from evil practices—defilement (spiritual dirtiness) [3]—or to preserve the sacred nature of something.  Holiness is a character trait valued primarily in an honor-shame culture, not a guilt-innocence culture.

Paul observes in the Corinthian church experiencing Godly grief after they mistreated him.  Paul writes:

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death (vv 9-10).

In other words, Godly grief brings shame which leads to repentance and a turning to God, hence—salvation.  The young woman on Dr. Phil, by contrast, only grieved that she had been video-taped—she expressed no repentance.  The discipline which Paul practiced in Corinth and led to their salvation would have been pointless in the case of this young woman.

How does someone experience Godly grief in a guilt-innocence culture?  I fear that one can only outgrow a youth culture stuck in guilt-innocence mode [4], but I pray for God’s intervention.

 

[1] Dr. Phil, August 6, 2014, Not-So-Sweet 16: “My Daughter’s Dangerous Sex Life” (http://www.drphil.com/shows/show/2220).

[2] http://www.knowledgeworkx.com/blogs/knowledgeworkx/item/141-three-colors-of-worldview.

[3] μολυσμός (BDAG 4973) noun version of verb, μολύνω (BDAG  4972.1), meaning to “cause something to become dirty or soiled, stain”, soil  in a “in sacred and moral context”. 

[4] One could perhaps say that Rosaria Butterfield went through this process marrying at age 39.  No longer able to have children of her own, she and her husband adopted and raised orphans.   (The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  Pittsburgh:  Crown and Covenant Publications, 2012, page 108).

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2 Corintios 7: Piadosa Pena

Como tenemos estas promesas, queridos hermanos, purifiquémonos de todo lo que contamina el cuerpo y el espíritu, para completar en el temor de Dios la obra de nuestra santificación. (2 Corintios 7:1 NVI)

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

El rápido ritmo de cambio cultural en nuestra sociedad a veces nos puede dejar sin habla e incapaz de procesar algunas cosas que observamos. Para mí, uno de esos momentos se produjo la semana pasada cuando entré en mi sala de estar y vi a mi esposa viendo un episodio de Dr. Phil. En el programa, una mujer de 16 años sin vergüenza relató cómo había sido sexualmente íntima con varios jóvenes, uno tras otro, en una fiesta. Sin embargo, ella estaba molesta en el programa sobre todo porque todo el incidente fue grabado en vídeo por los demás presentes[1].  Por el contrario, la respuesta de su madre fue más como el mío—ella se quedó mudo y horrorizado.

Un antropólogo cultural podría describir este incidente como un ejemplo de una respuesta en una cultura de culpa-inocencia donde las cosas no trigger ilegal ningún sentimiento interno de la vergüenza—el individuo no siente ninguna responsabilidad ante las normas sociales (incluso en la televisión nacional). En una cultura de honor-vergüenza, por el contrario, la respuesta esperada sería de sentir vergüenza y tratar de ocultar el comportamiento para evitar la sanción por la comunidad[2].  Mi angustia en la observación de este espectáculo sugiere que una dimensión del cambio cultural hoy en día es el cambio de una cultura de honor-vergüenza de la mayoría de los adultos a una cultura de culpa-inocencia entre algunos jóvenes de hoy.

En el capítulo 5 de la segunda carta de Pablo a la iglesia en Corinto aborda claramente la cultura en Corinto como una cultura de honor-vergüenza. La idea de la santidad expresada en el versículo 1, por ejemplo, habla de la santidad como la limpieza espiritual motivado por el temor de Dios. La santidad es una virtud o rasgo de carácter se centra en separarse de las prácticas mal—contaminación (suciedad espiritual)[3]— o para preservar la naturaleza sagrada de algo. La santidad es un rasgo de carácter valorado principalmente en una cultura de honor-vergüenza, no una cultura culpabilidad-inocencia.

Pablo observa en la iglesia de Corinto experimentar dolor piadoso después de que lo maltrataron. Pablo escribe:

Si bien los entristecí con mi carta, no me pesa. Es verdad que antes me pesó, porque me di cuenta de que por un tiempo mi carta los había entristecido. Sin embargo, ahora me alegro, no porque se hayan entristecido sino porque su tristeza los llevó al arrepentimiento. Ustedes se entristecieron tal como Dios lo quiere, de modo que nosotros de ninguna manera los hemos perjudicado (vv 9-10).

En otras palabras, el dolor proviene de Dios produce vergüenza que lleva al arrepentimiento y una conversión a Dios, por lo tanto—la salvación. La mujer joven en el Dr. Phil, por el contrario, sólo lamentaba que había sido grabada en video—ella expresó ningún arrepentimiento. La disciplina que Pablo practicó en Corinto, lo cual a su salvación habría sido inútil en el caso de esta joven.

¿Cómo puede alguien experimentar dolor según Dios en una cultura de culpa-inocencia? Me temo que sólo se puede superar una cultura juvenil pegado en modo culpabilidad-inocencia[4], pero rezo por la intervención de Dios.

[1]Dr. Phil, August 6, 2014, Not-So-Sweet 16: “My Daughter’s Dangerous Sex Life” (http://www.drphil.com/shows/show/2220).

[2]http://www.knowledgeworkx.com/blogs/knowledgeworkx/item/141-three-colors-of-worldview.

[3] μολυσμός (BDAG 4973) noun version of verb, μολύνω (BDAG  4972.1), meaning to “cause something to become dirty or soiled, stain”, soil  in a “in sacred and moral context”. 

[4]Rosaria Butterfield went through this process marrying at age 39.  No longer able to have children of her own, she and her husband adopted and raised orphans.   (The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  Pittsburgh:  Crown and Covenant Publications, 2012, page 108).

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