Review: Defiant by Kelley Nikondeha

Before I begin, I want to give a full disclosure: Kelley is a dear friend – one with whom I chat every day (sometimes several times a day!) I had the honor of reading the very first draft of Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach Us about Freedom back when it was loosely called Exodus Strong. She and I finally met in person last October in the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Our week toodling around Israel-Palestine cemented an already wonderful friendship.

I say this because there is no way I can write an impartial review of Defiant. But I will say, Kelley was one of my favorite theologians, long before we became friends. I had followed her essays over at SheLoves Magazine and then was on the launch team for her first book, Adopted where I tried not to fan-girl… too much!

Beyond our friendship, Kelley’s ability to research a passage in the Old Testament and then use that knowledge mixed with her sanctified imagination to bring to life the stories of the twelve women of Exodus is awe-inspiring. From known women like Jochabed and Miriam to naming and filling in the stories of the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah and diving into the Seven Sisters of Midian, we are introduced to a world of women whose stories were sidelined for centuries. Kelley weaves into the biblical narratives modern women who defy Pharonic Forces, from Emily Schindler to Ahed Tamini and Bree Newsome.

Defiant is a book written to give home in perilous times and I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate season for its launch. I know we’re all looking to freshen our bookshelves in this season of quarantine and social distancing. Do yourself a favor and order it now, before Amazon demotes books to nonessential delivery schedules.

Life is a Narrative Story, Not a Report

One of the best outcomes of this practice of blogging has been learning the art of storytelling. My goal with each essay is to take a life experience and weave a greater thought that can be applied beyond my story at this moment. It’s been a good practice as I reflect on this phase of parenting. Some days are hard. What’s a bigger lesson I can learn from it?

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Image source: Falco on Pixabay

Part of embracing storytelling is letting go of journalism. I have no recording devices in our house to go back and make sure our conversations are accurately fact-checked. Sometimes I embellish things to make a point. It’s never as deep or complex as real life. In fact, it’s always funny talking with real-life friends about blog posts because they see so much more than is written. (It’s equally funny talking with people who read the blog but who I don’t see often in person. There are a lot of gaps between the written story and the lived story!)

I’m reading through Exodus right now and reflecting on the ways in which we read this text. Some read it in a journalistic style: Each of the elements of this story actually happened in the timeline stated. We read it literally and draw our conclusions based on that. Others believe it’s complete metaphor, leading us toward a bigger story. None of this happened but it helps give us a history and journey as a culture. Many are in the middle: The exodus probably happened, though probably not exactly the way the text states. It’s storytelling and the narrator will embellish certain aspects to make a greater point.

This is what we do. As Americans, we’ve created a narrative about scrappy underdog Colonists fighting the big business of Great Britain. It’s a cultural narrative that lives to this day. I was talking with a friend who said that even though the Confederacy lost the Civil War, they won the narrative. We still revere antebellum culture, architecture, and memorials in ways that usually doesn’t happen to the losers.

We all do this, whether its written or a story we’ve told again and again over beers with old friends. The more we tell it, the more exaggerated it becomes. The bigger our audience, the more we need to think about how our stories can apply to more people. I write from a perspective of motherhood, but I try not to make my stories about motherhood.

I’ve been thinking about this as we interpret laws in our country that are over two hundred years old. We have created a cultural narrative around them, making them something that they weren’t originally. The problem is that my cultural narrative around a particular phrase in the Constitution is going to be skewed differently than someone’s from a different region or background. We all bring our own lens personally as well as within an overarching societal telling.

I’m wondering how to dig in deeper. When I meet with friends in real life and we talk about our journeys, they get a more dynamic story than the one on this blog. They know more sides, more nuances, more of our journey. How do I apply this to the news and current events? How do I step into the discussion and recognize that I’m reading the news and our laws through my own cultural lens?

I don’t have any answers or books to read. I suppose my next steps are simply being aware that I don’t have the whole story – none of us do. How do we interpret and process with this idea of not knowing? Will that help us break our steeped perspectives toward moving forward?

How do you step back and shift your thinking? What are ways you recognize your cultural lens in order to see things in a new way? Any helpful resources?

41P-7PjUPDL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Recommended Resources: Chapter 3: “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?” from We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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