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!



The one about being a Jesus Feminist

Short entry today. In fact this isn’t really an entry as much as it’s an introduction. I have been following the blogger Sarah Bessey for awhile. Her entries are always so insightful and full of wisdom. She’s been working on her first book for awhile, and it just came out. The book is called Jesus Feminist and I’ll let the book blurb speak for itself.pic

Gender roles have been debated for centuries, and now Sarah Bessey offers a clarion freedom call for all who want to realize their giftedness and potential in the kingdom of God. Through a thoughtful review of biblical teaching and church practices, Bessey shares how following Jesus made a feminist out of her.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be delving into this book chapter by chapter. I’m really excited to read what Sarah has to say. What I love about Sarah is her quiet and gentle spirit. I tend to have a more “turn over the tables in the temple” kind of spirit when it comes to gender roles in the church. I think both approaches are needed and valuable, but I look forward to growing my more gentle side. I thought I would give my readers a heads up about this project so that if you wanted to buy the book before the series starts you had that chance. I haven’t checked my local library for it yet, but I know the book is available on Kindle and paperback. I hope you’ll buy it. Not just because I’m writing about it, but because I think this book may change your worldview. I hope this goes without saying, but I think this book is of equal value to both sexes, so guys please feel free to join in the discussion!

I’m planning on the first post about this book to go up early next week. Until then here is the amazon link to buy either version of Jesus Feminist.

The One about being a girl

A few days ago a friend on Facebook posted a status that said the following: “Being a 5th grade girl is not for the faint hearted”. I felt an immediate affinity to the post and based on how many comments accumulated under the post many other women identified with the feeling as well. When my niece, Lily, was very young (I want to say 3 years old) she told me a story about feeling like a girl at school didn’t like her because she didn’t want to play with her. After comforting her as best as I could, I turned to Jena and said, “The saddest part is that I can’t tell her that sort of thing is going to stop. In fact, it just gets worse the older she gets.”

In some ways that sentence is true. I am 26 years old and I still have to deal with what can be called “girl drama”; who is friends with who, who got invited where, who isn’t pulling their weight in the friendship, on and on and on and ON. It’s a generally accepted fact that girl drama is its own special and terrifying breed of horror. Anyone who has seen the movie Mean Girls know’s that this is true. What’s disheartening is that this attitude is no longer relegated to just high school, but increasingly to younger and younger girls until we have to admit that even 5th grade (even pre school!) is hard for girls. When I read that status I was instantly back in middle school feeling awkward and unsure of who I was, having no confidence that I could be myself, or frankly what my true self even was!

So, if things don’t ever change should we all just put our heads down and sink under the pressure of knowing we will never be fully happy as women? Of course not! While in some ways what I said to my sister is true; in other ways it does get easier the older that you get. The drama does not change (seriously it really doesn’t), but two other major things do change.

1) Your ability to choose the people that are in your life: In elementary school and even middle school there really is not much choice in who we are friends with. This is because most of us haven’t reached an emotional maturity that allows us to know what we seek in a friendship, and because of environment. (AKA you are pretty  much stuck being friends with the people in your class at school, maybe a few people in your neighborhood, and if you are lucky some people at your church.) But, when high school and college come around your ecosystem gets bigger. You can choose who you want to spend time and who isn’t worth your time or energy. I don’t think I could tell you who was considered popular in my high school. I can tell you that I had a great group of friends who made me comfortable in my own skin. (As comfortable as any teenager can be of course). On Friday nights we were usually in the basement of Amanda’s parent’s house, unless it was winter in which case we went to jazz band competitions. I know it sounds really dorky, but we had fun. And I was comfortable. All that “drama” that comes from being a girl? I don’t remember dealing with any of that sort of stuff with these friends. Did we have silly fights? Yes of course. But overall it wasn’t nearly the stress that middle school friendships were. Of course there were still mean girls in high school, but they weren’t my only choice for a social life. That made all the difference. There is a second major thing that changes how girl drama affects you as you get older.

2) You care less about it: I’m not joking when I say the type of drama you see young girls dealing with never ends. Men you may find this hard to believe, but it is true. My mother deals with it, and my grandmother (who is in her eighties!) deals with it. Seriously, when we go visit my grandmother at her apartment complex I hear stories that could come right out of a middle school girl’s mouth. The difference is that after telling such a story my grandmother will literally shrug her shoulders and say “You know what? Who cares?” The good news about girl drama is the older you get, the less you care about it. I can’t stop it from happening, but I can stop how much time and energy I waste on it. I think this point is a direct result of point number one. When you have the freedom to choose your own healthy friendships you can ignore drama when it tries to drag your attention away from your normal life. I’m not a fan of women that say they “hate drama” mostly because I think deep down most of us do enjoy picking apart a scenario and figuring out its meaning. I think a better thing to say is that I hate unnecessary drama. Sometimes you are going to fight with your friends and you’re going to need to confront an issue with them to save the friendship. But that situation doesn’t have the same soul sucking capacity of drama with mean girls because there has been a foundation of friendship established that creates a safe space to deal with the drama.

To any young girl that is dealing with the difficulties that comes from adolescence, I know the above advice doesn’t help in the situation you are in right now. But, I know when I was going through the same situation knowing the above 2 points would have really comforted me. Sometimes just seeing the light at the end of the tunnel is enough to get you through the rest of the dark. And while you are still in the tunnel look around at the small points of light that do exist. During my middle school years I was lucky enough to meet my best friend AJ. Even in the midst of crazy drama, good things can still happen. Drama doesn’t change with age. Thankfully, we do.

How about my readers? Ladies do you agree that drama will always exist? If so, what are the ways you deal with it? Guys what are your thoughts on this crazy girl world phenomena? If you have a daughter what advice would you give her when dealing with the horror that is female adolescence?

The one about Emma

The year was 1815. Jane Austen was already a successfully published author (although she was not successful by name as all her books were credited as having been written “by a Lady” only). Her novels Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park were all hits. As she sat down to write her next novel she said to her best friend and sister, Cassandra,“I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like” The heroine she spoke of was Emma Woodhouse. Emma is described in the first paragraph of the book the following way,

“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich,

with a comfortable home and happy disposition,

seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence;

and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with 

very little to distress of vex her.”

Emma is the richest of Austen’s heroines. She is also the snobbiest, pushiest, and meanest of all of them. She spends most of the novel sticking her nose in other people’s business, giving people horrible advice, and being blind to her own faults to the detriment of others. And yet, she is my favorite Austen character. Yes even more so than Lizzy Bennet of Pride and Prejudice fame. I’ve  been re-reading Emma for the past few weeks and have been struck again with a deep love for this very flawed character. As I thought more about it I realized from where this love comes. I see much of myself in Emma. It’s why I find myself very upset when people talk about hating her character, or finding it hard to understand her. I understand her completely. I don’t always agree with what she does, but I see much less malevolence in her actions than other do.

Now I would not deign to call myself rich (the handsome and clever however….), but it’s more in Emma’s mistakes and strengths that I see myself. Emma has decided opinions. Her decisiveness extends not just to the world at large, but to the people she interacts with on a daily basis. If Emma sees someone in her life making a bad choice (a bad choice in her mind, to be clear) she will do everything she can to step in and prevent this mistake from occurring.  Emma will also go to great lengths to make any situation fit what she has already decided is the truth. In the overwhelming obviousness of one man being in love with her, Emma still convinces herself that all of his attentions are meant for her close friend instead; simply because she has already decided in her own mind that these two people should get married.

She ends up doing great damage to her friend’s heart and emotions because of course she is completely wrong about the situation. But where some people see a spoiled child playing with humans like they were dolls; I see a woman who steamrolls over people in an attempt to make them as happy as they can possibly be. I’m really good at deciding what the people I love should do to make themselves happier. Sometimes I find myself wondering in complete seriousness why more people won’t just listen to me! I mean, I know what I’m doing. I’m always right….right? Oh boy.

Another thing Emma does often is speak without thinking. If she thinks someone is ridiculous she says so. Out loud. To that person. And the person sitting next to her. And to the next person she runs into. And on, and on and on. Take out Emma in the first sentence of this paragraph and put Janelle, and it wouldn’t really change the sentences that follow at all. Is there anything wrong with pointing out the ridiculous in life? I don’t think so. Like most personality traits I think there are good and bad parts involved with each of them. What makes a personality like Emma’s good is that she is genuine. She’s not going to pretend to be something she isn’t, or like someone she doesn’t, or approve of something she doesn’t. She (and I) just need to apply it in moderation. Not every thought that comes into my head is worth putting to speech. In fact some thoughts are better left unsaid. Late in the novel Emma is brutally honest about a neighbor’s shortcomings. When Mr. Knightley (her true love though she doesn’t know it yet) speaks harshly to her about it he never calls the honesty of her comment into question. Miss Bates (the aforementioned neighbor) is ridiculous! What Emma said is 100% true! But, she should not have said it. Her neighbor is a poor old woman undeserving of Emma’s jokes and sarcasm. As Mr. Knightley says it was “badly done!”

The final way I see myself in Emma is in her inability to just admit when she is wrong. At one point she and Mr. Knightley fight over an issue which the end of the novel tells us she was clearly incorrect about. And yet, when they “make up” as it were she is quick to say

“As far as good intentions went, we were both right.

and I must say that no effects on my side of the argument

have yet proved wrong.”

Newsflash in case you have not read the book. They are NOT both right. Emma is wrong and the “effects” on her side will prove to be very wrong indeed. And yet Emma, even while apologizing cannot fully admit she is incorrect. All of this sound uncomfortably familiar. The words “I’m wrong. I’m sorry” have a really hard time coming out of my mouth without a million caveats attached to them. I think the reason for this is, like Emma, I’m still a little convinced that with time I will be proven right. So why apologize now when later all will see how correct I really was?

So what’s the upside of all this self flagellation I’m doing today? Well, Emma does not end the novel mired in the same problems with which she started it. She has a moment of real self reflection when all that she knows about herself blows up in her face. She admits herself “universally mistaken” about all she thought before. She vows to be better than she has been. The novel ends happily of course. Not just because Emma finds love, but because Emma find her true self. She doesn’t throw away the very things that make her who she is. I can imagine even after the novel closes that Emma will always have decided opinions and express them accordingly. But, she’s learned how to take a breath and listen to the counsel of others. She’s learned she is not infallible.

That is truly why Emma is my favorite literary character. She changes her actions without changing her core. There is nothing wrong with being opinionated, honest, and sure of oneself. But there is also nothing wrong with being open to other’s thoughts, keeping quiet, and being willing to change. Emma may be flawed, but that’s what makes her so real. She seems to jump off the page fully alive. I think this is why Emma lends itself to modern adaptation so much more than any other Austen novel. Clueless is not just a great movie, it is in my opinion the best adaption of an Austen novel.

When Jane Austen wrote that nobody would like the heroine of her next book except herself, I think she was being a little facetious. I think she knew her readers would identify so much with Emma, that they would be more harsh on her than any other heroine. After all, everyone wants to be Lizzy Bennet, but more of us are like Emma than we would care to admit.

What about you? Do you have a favorite Austen heroine? How about any character in pop culture you closely identify with?

The one about underdogs

We are doing a series at my church called God of the Underdogs based on the book with the same title by Matthew Keller. It’s been a really great series and the book is excellent too! While I was reading the book I found myself thinking about some other underdogs from the Bible not mentioned in the book. At the same time, a friend of mine on Facebook recommended I like a page called The Junia Project and BOOM. I found the underdog I wanted to write about.

I first became aware of Junia the Apostle when I read Rachel Held Evans book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. The book is equal parts serious and tongue in cheek. Evans doesn’t cut her hair for a year and lives in a tent in her back yard during her period. But, she also talks to different denominations of Christian Women to find out how they define Biblical womanhood. At the beginning of each chapter she highlights a different woman of the Bible and the things they can teach us. It is an amazing book and I highly recommend it.

Anyway, Rachel starts her story about Junia by saying, “Although her name appears just once in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, Junia the Apostle is perhaps the most silenced woman of the Bible.” Junia is mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:7

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews

who have been in prison with me. They are

outstanding among the apostles,

and they were in Christ before I was.”

When we think about the apostles we tend to think of the “greatest hits” like the original twelve, Paul, Timothy, Silas, and Barnabas. But here sitting in the book of Romans is a woman apostle specifically mentioned by Paul. Not just mentioned, but called outstanding among ALL the apostles. Like, all those dudes just mentioned? Junia is called outstanding among them! Amazing!

So how does this make Junia an underdog? Two ways. One is that being a woman in first century Israel was no walk in the park. It is amazing that at a time where a woman’s testimony didn’t even matter in a court of law, a woman was considered an outstanding leader in the early church! Look at how many women are specifically mentioned in the New and Old Testament and you can pretty much give them all the title of underdog because just to be a woman in this time period meant you were one. And yet Jesus continually chose and used underdogs including women. I love when Jesus knocks down a barrier.

The second way Junia is an underdog comes well after the time she lived. You see the early church fathers were not too stoked about a woman being given such high praise on the same level as the likes of Peter and Paul. I’ll quote Evan’s book here. “But as time went on, the mention of a female apostle became inconvenient for the increasingly hierarchical Church, so a medieval theologian found a creative solution to the problem: he turned Junia into a man. Andronicus and Junia became Andronicus and Junias.”

I know! It’s crazy! Junia moves from underdog to “outstanding among the apostles” and then gets erased completely from Biblical existence for centuries! In case you are doubting the veracity of this story (ie translation issues etc) I’ll let Evans explain further. “This was no small error. The masculine name Junias does not occur in a single inscription, letterhead, work of literature, or epitaph in the Grec0-Roman world, while the feminine name Junia is everywhere.” (emphasis mine)

She continues that early Christian theologians all identified the apostle Junia as woman, but “…the myth caught on, especially after Martin Luther used Junias, rather than Junia, in his German translation. ” 

Even today some translations still identify Junia as a man. How does something like this happen? I know I’ve been quoting a lot but professor Lynn Cohick of Wheaton College had an answer for Evans in her book. “The answer lies in the translation committees’ convictions that a female apostle was unlikely, and so the name Junias-unknown throughout the Greco-Roman world-was created ex nihilo to match their presuppositions.” 

So, now that there is mounting evidence proving that Junia is a woman the problem is over right? She’s back on top! Wrong.  Evans tells us that even today “some contemporary theologians now argue that since Junia is a woman, the phrase ‘outstanding among the apostles’ should instead be read as ‘esteemed by the apostles,’ thus allowing Junia to be female so long as she is not actually an apostle.” (emphasis mine)

What do I take away from this? One thing is that some people will go to any length to try and silence a strong woman. But more importantly, what I learn from Junia is that I won’t necessarily stop being an underdog. Junia seemed to have overcome her label as lesser than. She lived in a time that was way harder on her than my own time is now, but in some ways she’s still as much of an underdog as she ever was. There will be moments where I will feel like the odds are stacked against me. Then, with God’s help, I will rise to the occasion and accomplish something I never imagined I could. The trick is to hold onto the moment and lock it away in my memory. That way when I wake up to a fresh set of obstacles that threaten to overwhelm me, I’ll remember who I am. I am an underdog who God has chosen to use in mighty and powerful ways. Life may try to tell me I am less than I am. But the truth of who I am is in the One who called me. And he says I am more than a conqueror. I’m going to keep moving so that one day I too will get the honor of being called “outstanding among the apostles.”

What about you? Do you ever feel like an underdog? How do you get past that feeling? What do you think of Junia’s story? Do you ever feel like Junia? Underestimated and forgotten?

For further reading:

A Year of Biblical Womanhood 

The Junia Project