The one about words

CVS 10:00 AM. I’m waiting in line to pay for my shampoo. There are 3 other people behind  me. The bank of check out counters are right in front of me. The sign to my left says “Form one line and wait for next available register.” The man, about 6 feet tall 40 years old swaggers up pauses for a split second next to the rest of us and then proceeds to move directly behind the person paying at the register. I gently clear my throat and say “Excuse me, but the line actually starts here.” He turns giving me the dirtiest look and responds “Oh, sorry” the tone making perfectly clear that he really isn’t sorry, but he moves to the back of the line so who cares. Less than 10 seconds later a second man approaches the line and realizes there are 5 people standing in line. He speaks to the first man “Is this the line?” The first man responds “Yes” and then raising his voice a little bit louder to make sure that I can hear says “And you better not try to cut because the line police will make sure to correct you. Because ladies ALWAYS have to be first I guess.”

I turn back and give him my iciest glare but before I can really get into it it’s my turn to pay. I finish my transaction and start to leave. His words follow me out, “Great! now how are we going to know how to stand in line?”  By the time I get to my car I am shaking with anger and reminding myself over and over that I absolutely cannot go back in there and give this jerk a piece of my mind. This is not the worst thing that has ever happened to me. This isn’t even the worst time I’ve been harassed by a strange man. But for some reason this time I am almost boiling over the rage of how we use words to take power away from each other. In two sentences I move from a person concerned about being polite, to a bitchy control freak who sees her job as being the person who keeps everybody else in line. I sit in my car for a few minutes waiting to calm down and I think about what could have made that situation different. If only I was older, bigger, or stronger. If only I was a man the size of my father. He probably wouldn’t have had the guts to speak like that around him. And I’m tired. I’m so tired of it.

I’m tired of the double speak.

to a woman “You’re so bossy!”

to a man “You’re so decisive!

to a woman “Whoa calm down, you’re making a big deal out of nothing.

to a man “Wow you’re really upset. This must be an even bigger deal than I thought it was!”

to a woman “You’re such a control freak!”

to a man “You know exactly what you want and you go after it!”

to a woman “Don’t be a show off.”

to a man “You have so much confidence!”

to a woman “You’re being a bitch.”

to a man “You’re the man!”

to a woman “Wow! Why are you angry? Calm down!

to a man “Wow! You’re so passionate!”


I’m done.

No more.

Telling someone not to cut in line doesn’t make me a bitch. Being decisive, knowing what I want and asking for it does not make me a bitch. Don’t speak to me like I’m a child. I’m not. Don’t mistake my politeness for timidity. Don’t mistake my silence for fear. I’m not afraid of you. I’ve just decided you aren’t even worth my time. Trying to get through to you would be like screaming at wall asking it to move; worthless. So, go ahead and say what you want. I’m moving on. And you’re moving to the back of the line.

This entry is very raw and I freely admit pretty righteously angry. Have any of my readers dealt with this feeling? This feeling that an aspect of your personality is being demonized simply because of your gender? What did you do to cope with it? See below for a really great commercial that also captures what I’m talking below. Leave your thoughts in the comments!


The one about marriage

This is the fifth part of an ongoing series delving in Sarah Bessey’s book “Jesus Feminist”. The other entries can be found here.

Growing up one of the first times I ever thought about getting married was when I watched the Anne of Green Gables mini series. If you are unfamiliar with the story a quick overview is all that’s needed. The main character, Anne, meets a boy, Gilbert, in school and they move from sworn enemies, to best friends, to husband and wife over the course of the mini series. At four years old I determined that when I got married it would be to someone exactly like Gilbert Blythe. Someone who could challenge me, was kind and loyal, funny, and most of all loved me fiercely.

I found myself thinking about all this again while I read chapter five of Jesus Feminist. Bessey begins the chapter by talking about her own relationship with her husband. She likens it to a dance the two of them are in where each of them take turns leading the other, and where sometimes nobody leads at all; rather they just dance in place. I love this quote

Well, who is in charge here?

“We are.”

“Yes, but if push comes to shove, who is the leader?”

“We are.”

“But then who is the spiritual head of your home?”

“Only Jesus. Only ever our Jesus” (p. 73)

Reading that passage I felt a recognition. A recognition of the kind of marriage I want, and a recognition of the kind of marriage I’ve seen modeled by those closest to me. If you asked the younger version of myself who was the spiritual head of my household I probably would have been confused. What did that mean? The answer that eventually came out probably would have been “…..Jesus?” I would have been even more confused if you told me that the man was supposed to be the “head of his household.” That was DEFINITELY not what I saw modeled at home.

Let me clear some things up first. Yes, my father was outnumbered being the only man in a house full of women. Yes, on Sunday afternoons our television was not tuned to any type of sports. Yes, my dad watched every girly TV show, movie, and mini series my sister and I imposed on him. (Seriously he’s seen all of Downton Abbey and loves it). Yes, it was (and still is) hard for him to get a word in edgewise when my mother, sister, and I are all around.

BUT I have never thought that this means he was not the “leader of our house.” In fact, I put that phrase in quotes because I find it laughable. My dad was not the leader of our house. My mom was not the leader of our house. As a child I felt clearly, even if I couldn’t have put it into the words, that Jesus was the leader of our house. He helped my parents figure what was the best choice to make, and they helped Jena and me live those choices out. Period. End of discussion.

When I read the verses about wives submitting to their husbands I always felt a little uncomfortable. I knew that what some people counted as submission did not happen in my house, but I also believed the way my house was run was the best way it could be. It wasn’t until I got older, and honestly, began reading this book that I began to put to words what I’ve known deep in my bones my whole life. The verses written in the New Testament about wives submitting to their husbands are written to fall within the Greco-Roman household codes that existed as law at the time. That is why you see this listing function happen; slave to master, children to parents, wives to husbands etc. Bessey quotes theologians Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe when she says

Peter and Paul worked within imperfect systems because “with Roman officials looking for every excuse to imprison Christians, any challenge would bring scrutiny and persecution for the early church.” The Apostles advocated this system, not because God had revealed it as the divine will for Christian homes, but because it was the only stable and respectable system anyone knew about at the time.” (p.76)

Bessey then writes my favorite line in the whole chapter. “Paul and Peter used the codes as metaphors or scaffolding because they were familiar and daily, not because they were prescriptive or ideal…Life in Christ is not meant to mirror life in Greco-Roman culture.” (p.76) Some might say that a line hierarchy from God to the husband to the wife is the ideal because after all in the Garden of Eden got created Eve as Adam’s “helper.” Bessey, with some help from authors Carolyn Custis James, and Rachel Held Evans reminds us that the phrase used to describe Eve in Genesis, ezer kenegdo is used in three different contexts throughout the Old Testament.

1) The creation of woman

2) When Israel applied for military aid

3) In reference to God as Israel’s helper for military purpose (it’s used 16 times in this context) (p. 78)

When we think of the God who helped Israel in battle do we think of him in terms the way some have us think of Eve as a “helper”? No! As Bessey says “Our God is more than that: he’s a strong helper, a warrior.” This is how God intended women to be not just in their marriages, but in every relationship they encounter in their lives. I love the quote from Biblical scholar Victor P. Hamilton Bessey uses.

“Thus the new creation will be neither a superior nor an inferior but an equal. The creation of this helper will form one-half of a polarity, and will be to man as the South Pole is to the North Pole. She will be his strongest ally in pursuing God’s purposes and his first roadblock when he veers off course.” 

I’m not finished the book so I can’t say this definitely yet but this may be my favorite chapter. It’s given voice to what I felt all along. That marriage is not a line down hierarchy, but rather a triangle with Jesus at the top point, and the husband and wife as equals on the bottom points. This was the model my parents showed me and the one I still see them put into the practice today. It’s the way my sister’s marriage functions. It’s the way every marriage I know and admire seems to function. And it’s the way I know my own will function someday.

What I love about this model is how it frees us from preconceived gender stereotypes. My dad didn’t need to be the tough man around the house telling us all what was what. If you’ve ever met my dad you know this is FAR from who he is. In fact nobody in our house walked around telling us what was what. My mom and dad prayed and asked God for direction. If God didn’t speak to both of them, they stayed still right where they were until he did. When I needed a battle fought for me, mom was the one I called. Not because my dad is weak, but because mom was much more suited for the role. When I needed  the knots brushed out of my hair dad was the one I called; he was MUCH more suited for that role. When I needed help in the kitchen dad was the one who offered the most help. Not because mom was incapable, but because dad loves to cook and mom cooks because she has to.

If a girl has a great father the cliche phrase is that she wants to marry a man just like him. In my case this is very true. I want to marry a man like my father because I see how much he not only respects my mother, but delights in her. He feels no compunction to assert his authority because he is secure in the man God made him to be. I won’t settle for anything less in the man that I marry.

What are your thoughts on wives submitting to their husbands? Single people how has this affected the way you think about marriage and relationships? Married people how do you deal with this idea in your own lives? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

The one about being silent

This is the fourth part of an ongoing series delving in Sarah Bessey’s book “Jesus Feminist”. The other entries can be found here.

I loved the movie The Wizard of Oz when I was a kid. I loved the songs, I loved the ruby red slippers and my favorite character was the Scarecrow. (I did not love the flying monkeys or the mean apple throwing trees but that is a topic for another time.) But honestly, my favorite part of the whole movie was the moment Dorothy stepped out of her house and into Munchkinland. This was the moment the movie went from boring black and white to glorious color. I could finally see that Dorothy was wearing a blue dress! The yellow brick road was actually yellow! And the Wicked Witch of the West was a bright shade of green! To me, the movie didn’t really begin until that transition from black and white to color.

I mentioned in my last entry that when it came to understanding the motivations of people in power I wanted to denote them as all good or all bad instead of being willing to see the nuance. The “and” instead of the “or”. I think that desire for a right or wrong answer gets even more powerful when we start talking about theology. Bessey defines theology as “…simply what we think about God and then living that truth out in our right-now life.” (p. 55) Theology can be divisive but Bessey (and I) wish it didn’t have to be. She writes, “People want black-and-white- answers, but Scripture is a rainbow arch across a stormy sky. Our sacred book is not an indexed answer book or life manual.” That line struck me and brought me back to the movie The Wizard of Oz. The movie up until it switches to color always bored me. In fact I usually fast forwarded that whole section to get to the good parts. And yet, in my spiritual life I can crave the dullness of a black and white world. I want everything to be that simple. This is right, this is wrong. This is wrong all the time, and this is right all the time.

Bessey tells her readers that she wants them to wrestle with the Bible like Jacob wrestled with the angel. (p. 56) If you don’t remember that story it ends with Jacob having a broken hip! That is some intense wrestling! In my own walk through theology and faith I’ve reached what is simultaneously a freeing and terrifying thought; aside from a very few key issues (divinity of Christ, Jesus being the only way to salvation, loving God and our neighbors) most of my questions do not have black and white answers. I’ve held this belief for awhile now, but this past week in particular it seems that God wants to re-iterate it over and over again. First it was mentioned in Bessey’s book, in my own personal life I made a choice that firmly put me “in the gray” of my faith, and in my advent reading this quote from  Dietrich Bonhoeffer jumped off the page at me.

“How we fail to understand when we think that the task of theology is to solve the mystery of God, to drag it down to the flat ordinary wisdom of human experience and reason! It’s sole office is to preserve the miracle as miracle, to comprehend, defend and glorify God’s mystery precisely as mystery.” (“God Is In The Manger” p.45)

Even those that would insist they do not subscribe to a “pick and choose” theology have to admit that in some circumstances they do just that. As Bessey points out, “…we sift our theology through Scripture, Church history and tradition, our reason, and our own experience.” (p. 57) Why does she go through all of this trouble (almost half of chapter four!) to talk about theology and our struggle with it? Because when we make the majority of our theology black and white “We read a few verses about women in a vacuum of literalism and prideful laziness.” (p. 58) Oh yes, we are tackling Paul’s instructions for women to be silent in the church. Buckle up!

No matter what side of the women in ministry issue you fall on, these verses (found in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians) can be highly divisive. I know as a women who believes in equality of leadership when someone quotes these verses as a reason against women in leadership I feel my whole being shudder in anger. So for the rest of this entry I will be practicing my more gentle approach and try not to turn over any tables. Bessey does not claim to have all the answers and is quick to point out that we will never get definitive answers on a lot our questions this side of eternity. But she endeavors to unpack as much as she can out of these troublesome verses. For clarity I am going to quote the passages in questions below.

“Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.” 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (NLT)

“Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly.” 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (NLT)

I’m ignoring those tables in the corner of my eye. I’m not going to turn them over. I’m not. Gentle spirit. Gentle spirit. I’m writing tongue in cheek but any woman knows the real pain that comes when sentiments like the above are expressed with real feeling to her. I love that Bessey’s first step is to ask people to acknowledge this pain and not hid behind a “well I didn’t say it; God said it” mentality. (p. 62) Men, even if you believe in the validity of these verses for women today you need to still acknowledge that being told to be silent purely because of your gender is painful. What makes this sentiment especially painful is that a woman gets this message constantly from the world around her in big and small ways. She gets that message when she’s called a bitch for asserting herself while a man who does the same is called powerful. She gets that message when she’s paid less for doing the same job as man. She gets that message when her job doesn’t give her paid family leave. She gets that message when someone asks how she was acting or what she was wearing the night she was raped. She gets that message when her father decides to marry her to man decades older than her. She gets that message when she is forced to undergo female circumcision. She gets that message when she is sold into sex slavery. Over and over again women are told by the world around them that they need to stay silent. And when she runs to the church for safety, if she’s confronted with these verses it hurts in an even more powerful way. The place she has run to for safety is sending her the same hurtful message she gets everywhere else.

Men, you don’t have to change your theology to acknowledge the pain that women sometimes feel when they read these verses. And men who believe in gender equality of leadership, this is why your sisters in Christ can sometimes “go off” when these verses are quoted. We are tired of hearing we need to be quiet. I’m not just tired. I’m frustrated. I get frustrated because as Bessey points out the verses in question are not universal standards. “They are a portion of the letters from the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, written to specific people in specific cities for specific situations that had arisen.” (p. 62 emphasis mine)

Oh specificity. My new favorite word. You are so important when it comes to these passages. If you are part of a church that believes in equality of leadership some of the following may already be known to you, but bear with me. I think it needs repeating. Bessey points out the following

  • Women in the community of God were leading, teaching, ministering, and prophesying at the time of the letters Paul wrote to Timothy and to the Corinthian church. (p. 63)
  • In 1 Corinthians 14:39 (just a few verses after our problem passage) Paul was encouraging the women of the church to prophesy alongside their brothers (p. 63)

So now we are back to that word again; specific. What is more likely? Paul contradicting himself in matter of four verses? Or that he was speaking to specific people about specific problems?  Bessey (and I) tend to think the latter. She talks about how women flocked to the church in Corinth in droves because the church loved, valued, cared for, and affirmed them in ways the rest of the world did not. The Church represented freedom to these women. She goes on to point out that “Many scholars believe that in the exhilaration of their new found freedom, a group of women were disrupting the meeting with questions and opinions, and Paul, as a reminder, asked them to learn in quietness and talk it over at home with their husbands.” (p. 64) Again, if you are from an egalitarian church this interpretation is not new, but I still think it’s worth pointing out again. Paul is not advocating that women don’t learn. He’s pointing out the value of order in the service. This is not a gender issue. It’s a people issue.  

Moving from the Corinthian passage to the Timothy passage we deal with a translation issue AND specificity issue. Bessey tells us that the world quietly found in Timothy is not silence like the Corinthian passage. It is the Greek word hesuchia:

“which means ‘stillness’-more along the lines of peacefulness or minding one’s own business. It’s not about talking versus not talking; it’s about learning in a still way, far from meddling in other people’s affairs…I never learn much myself when I’m constantly interrupting and questioning or applying the lesson to everyone else first. Sometimes we learn the most in stillness and peace.” (p.67)

So yet again Paul is speaking specifically to a group of women, not all women for all time. The Bible is perfect, but the culture the Bible was written in was not perfect. When we approach the Bible without an appreciation for the time period it was written in, we miss the whole picture. The church was radically feminist when it began. It doesn’t look radically feminist to us today until we look closer at the culture. In a time period where a woman’s word was not valued in court, when women were not educated, when women were owned first by their father then by their husbands, Paul came along and reminded everyone that in Christ “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) When women demand equality from their churches we are not demanding anything outside of its history. The church was always ahead of the surrounding culture when it came to women. As Bessey emphatically writes “When women are restricted from the service of God in any capacity, the Church is mistakenly allowing an imperfect male-dominated ancient culture to drive our understanding and practice of Christ’s redeeming work, instead of Jesus Christ and the whole of the Scriptures.”

Asking whether a women should be allowed to teach in church based on these two passages of Scripture makes no sense to me. The church always had a place for women in every capacity and was always up front about believing in everyone’s equality in Christ. Paul was writing letters to specific people to address specific problems they were encountering. I would shudder to think that in the future someone would take my personal messages to a close female friend and apply those principles to every female from that moment on, so why do some of us try to do that with Paul? The lessons we carry from Paul’s letters have to do with service order and how to learn with a gentle and quiet spirit. Those are lessons that both genders can and should hear. I will end with a quote Bessey uses from Loren Cunningham the founder of Youth With A Mission:

“So, should women be silent? Yes, just like the men. Should women be prepared to minister with ‘a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue of interpretation’? Yes, just like the men. Should women exercise self-control as they minister? Yes, just like the men. Should women seek to educate themselves so that they can better edify others when they minister? Yes, just like the men. ‘For God is not a God of disorder but of peace'” (p. 68)

What about you? Have you ever heard these interpretations of Paul’s message before? Do you agree with them? Why or why not? Are there other areas of specificity in the Bible that we have less of problem dealing with than here? Leave any and all thoughts in the comment

The One about my history (Jesus Feminist Study pt 3)

This is the third part of an ongoing series delving into Sarah Bessey’s book “Jesus Feminist”. The other entries can be found here.

I’m taking a different approach to covering chapter three. Mostly because Bessey herself takes a different approach. She uses this chapter to talk about her own history of faith and feminism, the ups and the downs; the history that lead her to her present. So I decided to do the same thing. I wanted to use this entry to share a little bit of my own history as a Jesus Feminist.

I’ve written and joked before about how spotty my memory is, so a reader of my blog would not be remiss in wondering just how I’m going to recount a history that I probably barely remember. I will say that while specific stories may be few and far between, feelings and general understandings have always stuck with me even without specificity drawing me to them. With that in mind I will begin.

I grew up with parents who loved God in a truly relational way. Of course church was important, (I spent most days of the week there from infancy onward) but what they wanted the most for my sister and me was for us to have a personal trans-formative relationship with Jesus. My world growing up was very female centric. I had no brothers, and outside of my immediate family the only cousins I regularly saw were all girls. I had two aunts that I regularly interacted with only one of whom was married. (My other aunt did not marry until I was closer to pre-teen age). I say all of this to say that it would never have occured to me to place women in a certain sphere. The women in my life were in every sphere, stay at home mothers, working mothers, you name it I knew a woman who did it.

Spiritually this was also true. My spiritual growth was impacted by women of God from the very beginning. It was Sister Mabel Jones who lead me in the prayer to ask Jesus into my heart when I was 4 years old in her Sunday School class. (As a side note, all of the women in my church were referred to as Sister____ as a sign of respect to show that we were brothers and sisters in Christ.) It was Sister Helen who taught me about Passover and the amazing miracle God performed to rescue his people from bondage. It was Sister Rubie and Sister Sandy who song after song taught me doctrinal truth as well as the order of the books of the Bible. (Anyone remember the song “Little is Much?”) These women are just the tip of the iceberg. The pages of my childhood are filled with women of God who poured into my life in amazing and valuable ways.

Of course there were men of God who influenced me as well and I am just as grateful for them. Not only for what they taught me but for their willingness to work side by side with their sisters in ministry. If anyone had asked me as a child and pre teen if women should be allowed to lead the same as men, I’m not sure I would have understood the question. There were places where people thought women couldn’t do those things? It wasn’t possible! This is just my perspective of course. I don’t pretend to know any of the politics that might have been happening behind the scenes of my childhood. Maybe there were hard fought battles, and maybe there were not. All I know is that what trickled out to me was a clear understanding that God calls people to do his work. That’s it. Just people.

In college, when I began to understand that some people believed women were unable to hold certain leadership positions I experienced two emotions almost simultaneously; anger and self righteousness. I was angry that people dared to believe that I was unable to perform certain tasks for the body of Christ just because I was a woman. But I also felt a sense of pride as well. After all my church believed that women could be senior pastors. My denomination believed that women could hold all the same leadership positions as men. We were so much more enlightened than these other people who didn’t see women as equal to men.

And then I began to feel a little uneasy in my gut. Sure, my church believed that women could be in leadership. It said so right in the statement of our doctrinal beliefs. But, how many women senior pastors did I know in my denomination? How many women preached from the pulpit of the church I attended every Sunday? Does it really matter if a church believes in equality of women in leadership if they don’t actually put it into practice? I wasn’t the only one noticing this. My friends who attended other churches were coming to the same conclusions completely separate from me,  and we were all asking the same question. Belief and practice were not lining up and it was very distressing.

For a long time I waffled back and forth between sadness and anger not knowing where to land. I couldn’t draw a connecting line between those who thought women shouldn’t be in leadership and the men that lead the churches I attended. The pastors I interacted with valued women. I knew this because I experienced it and saw other women in my life experience it as well.There were so many strong female spiritual leaders in the church I had grown up in and every church I had attended since; they just didn’t have the title of pastor.  And yet, I couldn’t deny that it rubbed me the wrong way to see the absence of women on boards, in the pulpit, and in spheres outside what is typically considered “women’s ministry.)  There were women in my life who were not only eager but qualified to serve and yet for whatever reason were not being given that opportunity. It was disheartening to say the least.

I’m not going to wrap this up with a neat bow. I didn’t come to an easy solution. In fact I haven’t come to any solution at all yet. At least not a typical one. Bessey experienced this type of tension in her own life as well and I love the solution she talks about in the book. She says “We must lean into pain instead of resisting it.”(p.51) It was painful to question the very system I came to know Christ in. It is true though that by leaning into the pain I’ve began to see a way out of it. I often want the answers I seek to be a zero sum game where someone is right or someone is wrong; someone is bad or someone is good. But leaning into righteous pain has taught me that the answers I seek are not “or” but “and”. The churches I have been a part of have always valued women, AND they also need to work on putting their theology into practice. That’s ok. I’m constantly working on putting my theology into practice. I think I’ll be working on that until the day Jesus comes back. I can be patient with my church family because I love them and they love me. What I need to do is not give up. The body is made up of many parts. I see one of my roles as being a reminder that while we are doing well with gender equality leadership, we still have work to do.

And honestly, there is nothing more encouraging than the men that have been and continue to come into my life that push for just that. The pastor who places women in leadership roles without a second thought and preaches about women from the pulpit not just on Mother’s Day and at Christmas. The pastor who hires a woman to be the youth pastor at his church. The father who always let me know not just in words but in actions that he valued the spiritual leadership of my mother and expected great things from my spiritual life as well. These men and others like them join the women I mentioned in the beginning as people who shaped the woman I have became. A woman who calls herself a Jesus Feminist.

What about you? What is your personal story? Did you grow up in a community that saw women and men as equals? If not when did you begin to change your own mind? Do you see the value in ideology informing practice? Leave your comments below!

The one about a third option (Jesus Feminist Study pt 2)

This is the second part of an ongoing series delving into Sarah Bessey’s book “Jesus Feminst”. The first part can be found here.

There is a pretty common phrase that says “there are two sides to every story, and then there is the truth.” The point of this thought is rooted in communication theory. People are not deliberately lying, they genuinely believe the truth of whatever it is that they are saying. But, their perspective is always going to be a little skewed toward making themselves look as good as possible. The truth usually lies somewhere in between the two perspectives. I was thinking about this while reading chapter two in Jesus Feminist. Bessey writes that she has received wisdom and insight from both egalitarians as well as complementarians.(p.24)) If you have never heard of these terms, a quick GENERAL definition will be needed. (Please, I don’t want to get into a debate about these terms so these will be very BASIC)   Carolyn Custis James in her book Half The Church defines these terms as follows.

Egalitarians: “believe that leadership is not determined by gender but by the gifting and calling of the Holy Spirit, and that God calls all believers to submit to one another.”

Complementarians: “believe that the Bible establishes male authority over women making male leadership the biblical standard.” (p.154)

I’m not here to get into a debate between these two schools of thought. And neither is Bessey thankfully. Instead she states her purpose as wanting “to take a step out of those debates, to pursue a third way; a redemptive way.” (p. 25) She goes on,

“God has a global dream for his daughters and his sons, and it is bigger than our narrow interpretations or small box constructions of ‘biblical manhood and womanhood’ or feminism; it’s bigger than our frozen-in-time arguments or cultural biases, bigger than socioeconomics (or the lack thereof), bigger than all of us-bigger than any one of us.” (p.25)

This brings me back to the opening quote. We limit ourselves when we act like there are only two ways to put God’s word into practice; by either letting women take on major leadership roles, or not. While we are busying arguing for one side or the other, God is standing in front of us pointing to the third option. It’s the path that we can’t see because right now we “see through a glass darkly” and God is waiting to bring us face to face with him. So until we are living in eternity and fully understand the message of God and how best to put that message into practice, what do we do in our daily earthly lives? I believe that God doesn’t wait for perfection in order to move and transform the world, and so does Bessey. Instead he “works with whom he’s got and with what we’ve got-all to bring about his purposes.” (p. 26)

The world we live in is broken. We can sense that brokenness and we long for something to come into that brokenness and help us. God’s solution is called redemption and it is a powerful thing. Each Sunday when my pastor prays over those who are making a decision to follow Jesus for the first time I get chills up and down my spine. God’s redemptive grace is so amazing and overwhelming that it never ceases to amaze me.

Bessey talks about how in Scripture we see a redemptive movement of the Spirit in operation and often it is practiced by Jesus himself. She writes that ” Jesus would teach or quote a portion of the Law and then move us forward from our current place toward God’s original intent.”(p.27) The example she uses to drive this point home is Jesus taking the “eye for an eye” accepted law and telling us to instead “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” As Bessey says “God is both here with us, and ahead moving us onward to fullness.“(p.27) I love this thought so much. God loves me and accepts me for who I am right in this very moment, no questions asked. And yet, he is not content that I should stay where I am at this exact moment. Instead he gently moves me forward in a redemptive move toward himself. Powerful.

What Sarah Bessey is doing in this chapter is very subtle. She is showing how Jesus worked within the paradigm he was given and yet at the same time was always shifting the paradigm slightly. She also gives a few examples of how the church has done this same thing and it easy to move from this thought and see that she is also commenting on certain interpretations of Scripture that seem to prohibit women in leadership. Bessey first brings up slavery and how for hundreds of years many Christians understood any Scriptural reference to masters and slaves to imply that slavery was both biblical and right. However Christians of today would almost universally say that what God wants for humanity is justice for the oppressed, not slavery. (p.28) So what happened? I’ll let Sarah elaborate.

“The church eventually moved to the forefront of abolition because it understood this truth: just because the Bible contained instructions about how to treat slaves in a context and culture where it was acceptable to hold slaves does not mean that slavery is a godly practice or part of God’s intended purpose for creation.” (p.28)

Today, not only do Christians oppose the slavery that occurred in the past, but they actively fight modern day slavery. Bessey mentions one of my favorite pastors, Christine Caine, and her organization The A21 campaign which fights human trafficking. Chris Caine is a dynamic speaker and her heart for slaves around the world is awe inspiring and humbles me greatly. She is doing great work and she’s doing it because she believes in the redemptive plan of God that wishes to free all people from oppression. But as Bessey points out, “all this battling to eradicate human trafficking happens despite the fact that there is actually no specific verse in Scripture that prohibits the buying and selling of human beings.” (p.29)

This reiterates a thought I’ve had for awhile now. The Bible is the inspired word of God and I believe it’s message and teaching is infallible. I also believe that human beings are extremely fallible. When the Bible doesn’t make sense I don’t question the Bible. Instead, I question the way I’m reading it; the cultural biases, the beginner theology, the personal biases I’m bringing to the text. This doesn’t just happen on personal level. The Church as an organization is extremely fallible and sometimes we put our stamp of approval on things that future generations look back on and shake their heads in dismay. I think of Rachel Held Evans in her book Evolving in Monkey Town. In the introduction she talks about the things we hold tightly in our hands and how sometimes we hold them so tightly we crush the real truth out of them. When 21st century Christians look back at Civil War era Christians that vehemently spoke out in favor of slavery, we shake our heads. They held too tightly to something that ended being incorrect. I wonder what future generations will shake their heads about when they look back at my era of faith? It isn’t wrong to hold beliefs. I just need to hold them loosely with my hands open ready for my Savior to take them out if he so chooses. What am I holding too tightly?

Bessey closes the chapter with what I’ve taken up as a reiteration of the calling I’ve often felt on my life.

“As a Jesus feminist, I believe that we are part of the trajectory of the redemption story for women in our churches, in our homes, in our marriages, in our parenting, in our friendships, and in our public lives. This trajectory impacts the story of humanity.” (p.30)

I can’t wait to see what his plan has for me next.

What about you? How do you see God’s redemptive movement in your own life? Are there other examples of The Church in the past holding tightly to something that we now have let go? Is there something you wish the church would hold less tightly?

The one about learning new scales (Jesus Feminist study pt 1)

(Note: this post will cover the introduction and Chapter 1 of Jesus Feminist)

Right from the introduction Jesus Feminist has been blowing me away. The content is both gut punching, and extremely gentle. Already it’s a significant reminder to me that just because something is said in a gentle spirit does not mean that hard hitting truth is not contained within it. I mentioned in the introduction post that my approach to gender inequality has been more of a “turn over the tables in the temple” strategy than the harsh truth contained in gentle words strategy. What I love about Bessey’s book is how she manages to advocate the gentle words strategy without throwing away turning over the tables. Sometimes tables need to be turned over. But sometimes a gentle word approach doesn’t just turn over the tables, it burns the tables to ash. In the introduction Bessey alludes to The Table. She says,

“It’s the Table where coalitions and councils metaphorically sit in swivel chairs to discuss who is in and who is out, who is right (usually each other) and who is wrong (everyone else), and the perennial topic of whether women should be allowed to teach or preach or even read Scripture aloud.” (p.3)

Bessey goes on to advocate that we be done “lobbying for a seat at the Table.”(p.2) She would rather be with those outside of the Table. The misfits, the ones who don’t fit in, and the ones rejected by the Table. She says she is simply getting on with it; that she doesn’t worry about the Table anymore. I posted this next quote on Facebook when I was talking about this series, but I wanted to post it again because when I first read it my eyes welled up with tears and my heart constricted in my chest.

“Years ago, I practiced anger and cynicism, like a pianist practices scales, over and over.” (p. 5)

Powerful words. Words that I no longer want to be true in my own life. I want to move on from that state of mind. Reading this introduction I was reminded of a paper I wrote for a Communication Theory class in college where I applied feminist communication theory to pop culture. I drew parallels between how new feminist communication theory proposed that if certain avenues were closed off,  women should go off the beaten path and create their own paths. I used female comediennes like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as examples. Amy Poehler refuses to answer any questions in defense of women in comedy. When interviewers bring it up she rolls her eyes and talks about how boring she find the discussion. The basis of her thesis is: I’m doing funny things that people are watching. I could not care less about those that continue to perpetuate the false idea that women are not as funny as men. If they don’t want me in their movies or TV shows, that’s fine. I’m too busy being successful in my own movies and TV shows.

Sarah Bessey is advocating the same idea for women in the church. If the Table does not want us to lead, that’s fine. We’re too busy being successful in places that crave our leadership. The trick to applying this idea, at least in my own life, is doing this without anger and cynicism. As Bessey says to not “confuse critical thinking with a critical spirit, and I will practice, painfully over and over, patience and peace until my gentle answers turn away even my own wrath.” (p. 6) And yet, Bessey does not disparage the other approach. She says,

“I remain thankful for the people called to the hard work of pragmatics and iron-sharpening-iron conflict. Sometimes we turn over tables in the temple, and other times we invite conversation by starting with an apology.” (p. 7)

I read this an appeal to exercise your weak spots. If your approach tends toward turning over the tables, maybe it’s time to exercise your gentleness muscle. Conversely, if you always begin with an apology, maybe it’s time to exercise your righteous anger muscle. I know my righteous anger muscle is strong and well tended. I look forward to giving the same attention to my slightly weaker gentle spirit  muscle. With women (and men) using both muscles in equality I hope like Bessey hopes to one day “throw our arms around the people of the Table as they break up the burnished oak.” (p. 7)

So much for the introduction. I could write another 2 or 3 entries about only this part but I want to move on. Bessey spends the first chapter talking about what made her apply the term Jesus Feminist to herself. Some in the church have a hard time hearing the word feminist. It can conjure up the stuff of nightmares for some: women striding around bellowing about not needing a man, disparaging motherhood, and handing out free abortions like candy. Bessey rightly points out that feminism roots are forever entangled with strong Christian women and their commitment to creating a better world. She reminds us that, “it’s not necessary to subscribe to all the diverse-and contrary-opinions within feminism to call oneself a feminist.” (p. 13) This goes right along with theologian Dr. John G. Stackhouse Jr.’s opinion that

“Christian feminists can celebrate any sort of feminism that brings more justice and human flourishing to the world, no matter who is bringing it, since we recognize the hand of God in all that is good.” (p.13)

Near the middle of the chapter Bessey writes what I consider to be the thesis to her book. The qualifier Jesus in front of the word feminist “means I am a feminist precisely because of my lifelong commitment to Jesus and his Way.”(p.13) Like Bessey I feel that my feminism is an outright product of my relationship with Jesus. He was the first person who told me I was equal to any man. Before I ever read any Gloria Steinem, or Betty Friedan, before I heard of Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton, I read the Bible. I read the Bible and learned about Miriam, Esther, Rahab, Ruth, Deborah, and all the others mentioned in Scripture. Jesus showed me my value and told me I could do great things for his kingdom from the moment I met him. I would never believe anyone who told me otherwise.

My Savior is a god of justice and wholeness. The Church can either move with God in justice and wholeness or “we can choose to prop up the world’s dead systems, baptizing injustice and power in sacred language.”(p.14) Wow! I told you this book packed a gut punch. I’m almost winded by that phrase. Go back and read it again. Wow. I pray that we as a body learn to tell the difference between the sacred and the cultural. That we not canonize cultural injustice and power by calling it Scripture and God’s will. What did Bessey learn on her journey of Jesus inspired feminism? She learned how much he loves us. I’ll let her tell us.

“In a time when women were almost silent or invisible in literature, Scripture affirms and celebrates women. Women were a part of Jesus’ teaching, part of his life. Women were there for all of it.”(p.17)

She spends the rest of the chapter going through some of the women that Jesus used and spoke through. I’m not going to go into everyone that she talks about (Seriously you should buy this book), but I wanted to highlight some of my favorites.

On the woman Jesus healed in the synagogue who was bent over: “He called her ‘daughter of Abraham,’…People had only ever heard of ‘sons of Abraham’-never daughters. But at the sound of Jesus’ words daughter of Abraham, he gave her a place to stand alongside them (p.19)

On Mary of Bethany: “Jesus defended her right learn as his disciple.”(p.19)

On the Samaritan woman at the well: “…hers is the longest personal conversation with Jesus ever recorded in Scripture…she became an evangelist.”(p.20)

On the woman who called out to Jesus in the synagogue “God bless your mother-the womb from which you came and the breasts that nursed you!” to which Jesus said that those who hear the word of God and put it into practice are even more blessed: “Women aren’t simply or only blessed by giving birth to greatness; no, we are all blessed when we hear the Word of God-Jesus-and put it into practice.”(p.20)

On the seven women described with the Greek word diakoneo: “the same word (was) used to describe the ministry of the seven men appointed to leadership in the early church.”(p.20)

On Mary Magdalene: “Before the male disciples even knew he was breathing, Jesus sent a woman to proclaim the good news; he is risen!”(p.21)

Bessey opens chapter one with a quote by the Catholic social activist and journalist Dorothy Day. Her quote was the first of many places where my eyes welled up. They welled up with thankfulness that I serve a Savior who values me not in spite of my gender, but because of it. Day writes why women were drawn to Jesus. He,

“rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend.”(p.10)

This truth is one I clutch tightly to my chest. When I see those in power treat women as unequal to the task of leading God’s church I remember my Savior saw us from the moment of his arrival. He saw the woman with the issue of blood. He saw the Samaritan woman. He saw the poor woman in the temple with her one coin. He saw Mary and Martha and Mary Magdalene, and all those who came after. He saw Priscilla, and Timothy’s mother and grandmother. He saw down the ages of time past Teresa of Avila and Juliana of Lazarevo to women like Rachel Held Evans and Christine Caine. He sees my sister Jena; he sees my mother Diane; he sees my grandmothers, my aunts, my nieces, my cousins, my best friends, my readers. He sees us all. Anyone who says we were not made for greatness denies what the Savior saw in all of us from the very beginning; power and the capacity to have an overwhelming impact on the world around us. I’ll close with this thought from Bessey near the end of chapter one.

“The lack of women among the twelve disciples isn’t prescriptive or a precedent for exclusion of women any more than the choice of twelve Jewish men excludes Gentile men from leadership.”(p.21)

These are gentle words. Yet they pack quite a punch. What have I learned from the introduction and chapter one of Jesus Feminist? That whether I use gentle words or throw over the temple tables, Jesus loves me, and he sees me.

What about you? Women, do you find it difficult to identify as feminist? Why or why not? Men do you feel comfortable calling yourself a feminist? Are you reading the book along with me? (I hope you are) what are you thoughts on it so far? Use the comments below to continue the discussion!