Review: Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow

I was sitting in a law school classroom when it first hit me. It was my third year, and I was taking a class titled Law and Literature. We would read a piece of literature and then come to class and discuss the great questions of life and humanity that the readings provoked, much like a college English class (which was bliss to me!). I was surprised when I saw multiple Old Testament readings on the list.

We were a class made up of believers and skeptics, atheists and agnostics, the dormant and the devout. And when I opened my Bible to read the passages, that fact was all I could think about. For the first time in my life, I was having a Bible study with people who hadn’t been taught to think the “right” way. They were from all over the country, from deeply varying backgrounds, and a lot of them were reading those passages for the first time. And suddenly, that was how I was reading the scripture, too. I was stripping away everything, all of my own preconceived notions, every sermon I had heard preached on the passage, and every point I had ever felt compelled to prove, and I was just…reading. Because I knew when I got to class the next day, absolutely no one in that room would carry the same lenses to the table. And that was when it finally struck me: this was what I should have been doing all along.

What does this have to do with Amanda Hope Haley’s latest book, Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow: How to Trust the Bible When Truth and Tradition Collide? Everything. God’s revelation to me that I was reading scripture with “lenses” set me on a course of laying aside everything and simply searching for His character in scripture. What I didn’t know was that my cousin (yes, cousin!) was writing a book on that very topic!

Amanda delves deep into the very structure of the Bible, exploring how the holy manuscripts were written, compiled, and translated and teaching us to cherish each passage for its unique literary structure and voice. That contribution alone would have been enough, because she lays out that complicated history in such an easy-to-understand format that the reader leaves enlightened rather than overwhelmed.

But she goes deeper, teaching us how to view science’s relationship with the Bible in a healthy manner (the passages on creation literally made me tear up!), how to look at scripture in context rather than “cherry-picking,” how to read slowly and carefully, and ultimately, how to strip everything away, everything you have ever heard, everything you are “supposed” to read into scripture, and just listen.

Particularly helpful, I thought, was the chapter entitled “Too Many Cookbooks in the Christian Kitchen,” which talks about the problem, not new to our generation, of preferring to follow a doctrine, or a denomination, or legalism, or a man, which is so easy for us to do, isn’t it? I think a lot of times these problems start as we try to boil our beliefs down into a teachable message to take out into the world. But we forget to fluff the stew back up again to learn God in the fullness of His glory. Amanda does a wonderful job reminding us of just how important it is to do that.

Her tone is conversational and easy-to-read. I found that the scripture she used as examples throughout was particularly well-chosen. You feel like you’re in a really fun classroom and she’s the teacher at the front with a blackboard breaking it all down into understandable language. And finally, I will add that what Amanda does is more than just teach hermeneutics (a word we learn in the last chapter!). She presents the beautiful, awe-inspiring picture of God’s plan. It seeps in when you least expect it, moving you to emotion and prodding you to reflect on what an awesome God we serve.

Highly recommended! Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow: How to Trust the Bible When Truth and Tradition Collide is now available! See below for a link to your favorite retailer.

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Hiding Your Light

All of my life I have been shy.  I would be asked, “Would you like to do this?”  My response: “Sure, I’d love to do any behind-the-scenes work you have! Cooking, cleaning, crafting – I’m on it!”  I never even imagined taking the lead – leading the Bible study, being the group President, deciding the angle for a case  in law school – even if I was the most qualified, the most capable, had the best vision.  It actually never crossed my mind.

Until I started to grow with God and He began to challenge me.  The first way was in baring my soul in a tell-all letter to the class a year junior to mine about my experience with growing with God during the period leading up to taking the bar exam.  The words began spilling out of me, raw and real, revealing long-held secrets and things kept private because I felt they were either embarrassing or shameful.  It felt wrong to be vocal.  It felt un-classy.  It felt like I had ripped my heart wide open and laid it on the table for all to see.  Only my conviction that God had called me to do it forced me to hand it over.  And of course, the response was overwhelming.  It helped people.  God had planned it.  It was meant to be.  And it made me wonder what else I had missed out on.  What other plans God had for me because I was an under-the-radar kind of gal.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with being quiet or doing behind-the-scenes work, and I’m certainly not advocating for pushiness.  I’m simply saying that there are certain gifts that God has given you, and that, at least in those areas, you are supposed to spread you wings and let the fullness of what He has given you, of what he has called you to be, take root, or so I am learning.

The way this has currently manifested itself in my life is that I am on the brink of publishing my first book and I didn’t even want to advertise.  I didn’t want anyone to know I write.  It almost kept me from pursuing publishing at all.  Bare my soul to the world, reveal my inmost thoughts- bah!  I had refused for years even to have a personal Instagram page and had recently deleted my personal Facebook page.  And then one night, as clear as anything, I felt that God wanted me to start an Instagram for my writing.  Puke.  It made me want to puke.  Me, promoting my blogs, sharing travel thoughts, literary musings, and news about my books?  Never, never, never.  Set aside the idea that if I could imagine something I would like to do with my time, it was precisely that.  It just wasn’t the way I was hard-wired.  But I did it.  And it has turned out really great.  I’m enjoying it, growing in confidence, and revealing my soul to the world one layer at a time.

After the gut-wrenching realization that I needed to post a picture of myself (and doing it, and surviving) the next thing was the decision about whether I would publish my book under my long-used pen name, Juliet Wilkes, or whether I would use my real name.

You see, there are certain advantages to using a pen name.  It’s cool, it’s secretive and…Mark Twain.  Need I say more?  Most writers struggle with being honest in their writing, and that’s a lot easier to do if no one’s ever going to know it’s you.  You can say whatever you like, slip under the radar, lead a secret life.

Only God didn’t want my life to be led in secret.  He didn’t want my talents to be hidden.  They’re not really mine, you see.  He gave them to me to use, for reasons, some of which I know, and some of which are still a mystery to me, but all of which are good.

One day the entire day through, that line from This Little Light of Mine kept playing in my head.  Why did I keep hearing “Don’t hide your light under a bushel” over and over in my head?  It was really helpful, and I found all sorts of ways it might be applicable to my life, but it never occurred to me until I was discussing the question of the day with my sister (whether to use my pen name) that it was directly applicable to that situation.

And so, as soon as realization struck, my decision was made.  The pen name was going to be more of a hindrance than a help, a way to hide when God wanted the piece of him which I can display through my writing to shine.

As for my shyness?  I’m just going to have to get over it.  And I am, with God’s help.  I grow bolder every day.  If you struggle similarly, the greatest help is the conviction that this is what He wants, if you feel it.  Because there’s no arguing with that feeling.  It’s like the adage a child might say: “Mom says.”  Once you accept that and put your trust in Him, it gets a little easier, day by day.

Here’s to letting God shine through us and never hiding who He wants us to be.



Rest is something we struggle with, isn’t it.  It seems to be one of those Earth-dweller conditions, like fighting sin and enduring suffering.  We always feel tired.

I thought when I got out of law school everything would normalize.  I’m less stressed, but I’m actually more tired.  An eight-to-five schedule plus a two hour daily commute with only three weeks’ vacation takes its toll.  I’m sure you can relate.  I hear it all the time, from students, teachers, factory workers, truck drivers, doctors, and parents: I’m tired.

There are lots of great books out there on this subject, and I won’t re-cover their ground. And I’m afraid I can’t give you a fix-all solution.  But I will show you what the Bible says and offer a few practical solutions that I’ve used in my own life to ease the struggle.

First, let’s go right to the source.  “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall have labor and do all of your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work…”  Exodus 20: 8-10.  I never realized until my most recent read-through of the Old Testament how many times God has to say, “REST!”  I think he knows that our tendency is to plow, to produce, to keep busy.

Conversely, and ironically, he knows that we long for rest.  He had to have felt the yearning in this Psalm: “…Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest.”  Psalm 55: 6.  It was almost, seemingly, in direct answer to this desire that Jesus spoke on so many occasions.  “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, and you will find rest in your souls.”  Matthew 11: 28-29.

There are two types of rest: physical rest and soul rest, and I think Jesus is speaking to both.  The physical reasons you need rest are obvious: pull up any medical article on the dangers of lack of sleep.  For the mental side of your health, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that if you don’t take the time to step back, the consequences can be dire.  Listen to your body.  Watch for signs that you need to slow down.  And of course, this is all intimately connected with spiritual rest.  If your soul is burdened, if something is weighing heavily on your heart, you can be exhausted and run-down in another way, one that is just as dangerous.  And that can spill over into the physical side.  And, to complete the circle, the physical side can easily spill over into the spiritual.  Happily, the consequences of resting are just as connected as those of not resting.  “For anyone who enters into God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.”  Hebrews 4:10.

God wants the best for us.  He wants us to be in an optimal condition to serve him and serve others.  He wants us to experience rest and utter peace.  And so he requires from us a Sabbath. Whatever that day may be, we need a day of rest and rejuvenation, mind, body, and soul.  Some of you may be thinking, “Oh, yes!  I go to church on Sunday morning and Sunday night and do a thousand acts of service!”  No, no, no.  That is no Sabbath.

I’m not saying don’t serve your church.  I’m saying spend time in prayer about the things you’ve been called to do, about what God thinks you can handle physically and spiritually.  And ALWAYS remember that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  Mark 2:27.  Rest.  Your Sabbath is for your rest, for recharging your body, and aligning your soul with God.

We have come to a point where we seem to take how much we can do, how many boxes we can check, as a badge of honor.  If you’re having trouble fighting that feeling, think of how many times the Bible says for us to rest.  This is not a recommendation, like your mom saying, “Honey, you should really get some sleep.”  It is a commandment.  And we’re not supposed to break it.  Hebrews calls it disobedience if we do.

That’s not to say there are not times when we simply are not able to rest.  I’m not disregarding that.  I’m also not saying there won’t be times when the Spirit will prompt you to go a little further, do a little more.  An example is Jesus’s frustration when the disciples, obviously exhausted, couldn’t stay awake to keep watch with him just before his arrest.  That was a time to rise to the occasion, and there will be such times in all of our lives.

But I do know that a lot of things we call impossible are not.  We could set them aside if we truly wanted to.  We can say no.  I also know that Jesus promises that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.  He only asked one hour of his disciples that night.  He won’t ask more of you than you can physically, mentally, or spiritually bear.

So rest, my friends.  And go out and be the person God has called you to be.  Do it for yourself, do it for your family, and do it in obedience to a decree as old as time.


Connection Error

It’s been heavy on my heart recently that our world is much too connected. Instead of wondering all day who was that I saw in the home décor section at Target, I can grab my phone and search until I figure it out. It usually doesn’t take any time, but, while it seems convenient to an annoyed brain, it’s kind of creepy. And it’s actually not very healthy.

Social experiences have been forever altered by social media. Instead of letting friendships at work or church naturally progress, we know by our own countless scrolls through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. what our friends had for dinner, how sweet their husband was to bring them flowers, the items they didn’t find valuable enough to keep or use in their yard sale…

We keep up with the lives of ex-boyfriends, ex-best-friends, that girl who let us borrow a crayon every single day in kindergarten, friends from college and old jobs, neighbors, family members we’ve never met, and a few weirdos we still see too often in real life to delete.

It occurred to me that we are much too connected when the first response I had to a potential boyfriend was to check him out on social media. Make sure all the right boxed were checked and no red flags waved me down. Believe me, I understand the value of this. By this system, we are able to eliminate- for the most part- the creeps or the losers who post shirtless selfies. I only noticed something was fundamentally wrong with this system when all of my many boxes did check off and no flags snagged my attention. What’s a girl to do then?

I found that the guy I was deeply interested in didn’t have many things to tell me as we got to learn each other that I wasn’t already aware of. In under three minutes of social media searches I figured out his religious affiliation, who he backed in the 2016 Presidential election, his dog’s name, what kind of movies he liked, what his last girlfriend looked like, his sports record, and so much, too much more. Amazing, right? It’s like I should be a private investigator or something. But this isn’t a talent specific to me.

I realized that our lives were too interlocked with people we don’t really know when I had to unfollow a friend on Facebook because the constant reminder of their face and the updates of their life’s work stressed me out. I hadn’t seen this friend since elementary school. Why did I need to know the intimate details of their day?

If we were truly close, truly connected, wouldn’t we have more contact that the posts I inadvertently absorbed? It’s freaky that our minds process the things we see so much that this person made guest appearances in my dreams. Wakeup call: I needed to fill my eyes with something a bit more meaningful. I needed to work on myself. I needed to move forward, not dwell on people in the past who weren’t a part of my present.

We absorb so much of what we see on social media that it influences our perception of ourselves. Body image issues are hard enough to tackle without the constant reminder that Becky really does have better hair, or that girl you did cheerleading with as a child has obviously kept up her physique a little more than moi. Comparisons aren’t fair to our bodies.

I knew that connection error was a problem when my niece was born. My brother and sister-in-law refused to put any pictures of her on social media, and people freaked out. Full disclosure, both of them are darlings to all around them, and, naturally, everyone wanted to see their darling, too. They wanted instant gratification, almost like they deserved. But that’s weird, right? Like, come to the hospital or visit them at home. Don’t take the easy way out. It isn’t natural. Don’t expect real-life emotions to hit you the same from a screen. It isn’t fair to the people you love.

It occurred to me that we are much too connected when I found out through social media that a cousin of mine got engaged. Let me rephrase that, when I watched my cousin get engaged because they shared the proposal video. I haven’t seen or talked to my cousin in five years. I have never met his fiancée. But I know his proposal story. I have a visual of the pretty setting, the nervous energy, the sweet reactions, the sizable ring, all of it. Too much of it. This isn’t natural, is it?

I knew that our connectedness was a problem when on a recent vacation I was more concerned with getting the right lighting for a picture of a live oak tree in Savannah than putting my phone down long enough to watch the Spanish moss sway. The Lord’s beautiful landscape, and I didn’t think to thank Him. I used his creation for my own purposes, and that’s pretty selfish. I know I’m not the only one.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been guilty of this. Every summer, fellow Tea & Rebellion author Juliet Wilkes and I take a girls trip to enjoy a bit of history, the ocean, fabulous food, our favorite books, brainstorm story ideas, hopefully find some nice tea, and recap our personal growth from the previous year (really, everything our blog presents you with). We try to take as many pictures as we can for references and for you, fellow rebellious tea enthusiast.

I often fuss at Juliet for always catching me at my worst moments. You know the ones: triple neck out, cheeks overstuffed with food, bad angles of my backside, etc. Inaccurate representations, obviously (hopefully), but social media has influenced me so much that I can’t even laugh at myself or see how pleased I was with the food in front of me in the photo.

We live in a very ME-centered world, and while we may think that sharing the highlights of our trips and lives with all our friends isn’t self-interested, it is. Listen to me, it is. Maybe you’re not like me, but doesn’t it bother you if your posts don’t get any likes? Maybe even if someone specifically doesn’t recognize it, because maybe that’s proof that they don’t recognize your worth.

That brings me to the bigger point. Why have we let the convenience of technology consume every aspect of our lives? We’re never truly unplugged. It’s a crazy horse, an addiction we can’t stop. But why? I am so connected to my phone. It’s the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing I see before I fall asleep. I replace meaningfulness with mindlessness. If you’re like me, you need to work on some gaping hole in your life that you’re filling with this time. Connectedness is the iceberg lettuce of your life. It’s a filler meal with surprisingly little nutritional value.

I’m not suggesting you give up social media accounts or even your smartphone. I understand that these technologies are part of the fabric of our modern society. I understand that it’s hard not to answer your phone immediately or check it every time it buzzes. But I challenge you to be less connected to the outside world and grow yourself and spend quality time with the people you love, not the ones you look at all the time on a screen.

Any progress in this area has been hard for me, and believe me, there are setbacks. It’s such a habit now to click the icons on my phone and connect with everyone else. Is this healthy? Nope. The only way I’ve seen any headway in my progress is to take Sundays off from my phone. I will still answer calls in case someone truly needs me, but otherwise, I have been trying to dedicate this time to rest. A recent Bible study has motivated me to remember that Sundays are meant for worship and rejuvenation, and I challenge you to try it by giving up your connectedness. If you’re like me, Facebook won’t be so enjoyable come Monday morning when you return to it.

Juliet has deleted the apps from her phone as a way of avoiding idle social media scrolls. I took a week off from my accounts during Lent, and I wish I had continued the whole period. It’s freeing. It refreshes your spirit. You’ll see that you have more time for other things, and you might be able to finish that book that’s been lying around or start a new miniseries on Netflix with your family. Maybe even more realistically, you can start a load of laundry.

I get it. You’re tired after a long day. You don’t want to talk or cook or clean just yet. All you want to do is flip on the tv and rest a minute. What’s so wrong with getting on your phone then? You’ve definitely earned the right to do what you want with your time. But, remember, the iceberg lettuce of your life is just a filler. You’re not getting any more rest looking at your phone than you would be doing something else. You’re not improving your mind or your relationships with those you love. You’re not going to get relaxed getting briefed on your neighbor’s cat’s first trip to the vet. Pick up some new habits. Maybe even close your eyes for a minute. Enjoy some peace. You deserve it.

Don’t feel guilty about unplugging. Don’t worry about missing something or offending someone. People will get in touch when they need to. Human interaction is a natural thing, and something we should get back to. Enjoy natural, honest-to-goodness reactions. Be surprised when that date tells you he likes Bruno Mars too. Let your cousin be the one to tell you he’s engaged. Visit a newborn baby in the hospital.

Get out there and enjoy the world around you. Take pictures to remember, not to impress. But always, always take pictures. Go outside and hike without chronicling your friends with every step. Or for girls like me, stay in under a cozy blanket with a candle burning and a steamy cup of tea, and catch up on some Audrey Hepburn movies. Or bake an intricate cake that expends way too much of your energy with your daughter without sharing the recipe or a picture of the final product with your friends.

Enjoy things for your own benefit. Adventure without the stress of perfect angles and lighting, or making some rando take another picture of you because the last one captured that last bit of holiday weight a little too accurately. Do what makes you happy. Don’t be so involved in what makes other people happy.

I will leave you with some insight far better than my own from 2 John 12:12 (NIV):

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

I encourage you not to let the new norms of our social-media-centered society hinder your progress of self-care and meaningful relationships. The world is at your fingertips, but so is the ability to make your joy complete.

With Love,
Willa James.