Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Power of a Christian Woman's Voice



A voice.
A Christian voice.
A Christian woman's voice.
The Christian woman's powerful voice.

What thoughts come to your mind?
Did you flinch? Wince? 

Maybe you heard an inner voice intone: "Women must be silent, quiet, demure, deferential... Don't rock the boat. Just don't. Better to say nothing."

Or maybe you heard, "Yes! It's about time! Rock on! Girl power!"

Or maybe you heard both. Either way, you're not alone.

I am a Christian woman, learning to lift my voice. 

In too many church communities, women's voices are silenced, to one extent or another. Sure, they can chatter among themselves about mothering, cooking, housework, home schooling, and other feminine matters. But anything weightier than that is a man's turf. The men will talk it over, make decisions, take care of all the hard things. 

But what if they don't care, or they botch it, or they abuse their position? Well, just hang tight and trust God until they get it right or get it at all. Speak up about it? No, a woman has no authority over a man, and speaking up is considered a challenge to his authority. A woman has no authority even over herself. A woman has no real choice, no real voice. She is just the passive recipient of whatever a man, or group of men, chooses for her. If she doesn't like it, tough luck, she's stuck! She can just pray about it. That's a reality for far too many Christian women in far too many churches and families. (This seems even ludicrous to type, like it's a scene out of A Handmaid's Tale. But it's not.)

But isn't that just the way God decreed it to be? Isn't that what the Bible says?

No. It isn't. No. It doesn't.
Plus, we can evaluate truth by fruit.
So let's look at the fruit of silencing women. 
It's rotten.

The Rotten Fruit of Silencing Women

Sexual Predation and Domestic Violence

There is a strong correlation between the culture of feminine silence and the prevalence of both sexual predation and domestic violence in religious communities. 

Girls who grow up feeling like they are in second place, that they must defer to men's authority (and even boys' authority just because they are male) and must give them what they demand -- they are ripe for manipulative grooming for sexual abuse. Women who are taught that the husband/boyfriend is the boss no matter what, and that they need to submit no matter what -- they are silenced with an angry glare, threatened into subordination with Bible verses twisted out of context, blamed for being rebellious. Can you fault them for being so hesitant to resist aggression and violence? 

That's just the start. What do they do then? Ask the abuser nicely to stop? Yeah, right. Ask for help at church? Often not much better. The victim is shamed not only by her abuser, but again by her spiritual leaders when she pleads for help.

 To the rape victim: "How did you seduce him? What were you wearing? Don't you know that sex outside of marriage is a sin? You must forgive! And be quiet! Don't tarnish his reputation!" 

To the domestic violence victim: "Go home, stay in the marriage, submit more, smile, be sweet, be sexy, try harder, pray, win him without a word. You must forgive! And above all, be quiet! Don't tarnish his reputation! Die to yourself. Die. It's OK. You'll be with Jesus." 

Don't believe it's that bad? It is. Think I'm exaggerating? I'm not. I know this isn't even most churches, but still way too many. I frequently hear the stories of women being excommunicated from churches for divorcing an abusive husband. Take a look here for some examples compiled by my friend Natalie Hoffman: The Crazy Things Your Pastor or Bible Counselor Told You to Do In Your Abusive Relationship

A Culture of Disrespect

Even though so many churches claim that men and women are equal, setting up a hierarchy (whether in church or family or workplace) in which only one gender has the authority is a setup for disrespect. Does it sound like whining when I say that women need respect just as much as men do? I can hear the Internet trolls clicking away at their keyboards right now. So much unChristlike sexism in online "Christian" circles!

When womanhood is belittled from the pulpit and other religious venues in the name of God, even subtly, even in the guise of respect, how does that shape her image of God? Will she see the Lord of Glory as a sexist old man who doesn't value her much, and just made her to be an appendage to his real crown of creation, MAN? You may think I'm being sarcastic. I'm not. Not at all. 

What does it do to a woman, made in the very image of God, to have her worth discounted by not only men, but by other women who want to keep her in her little feminine place? Why would other women do this? I'm sure there are many reasons. One reason might be that is this is the way they were taught. If they have to stay in their own places, they don't want another woman rocking the boat. Maybe they think if they associate with a "feminist" they will risk the wrath of God, because of guilt by association. 

To many people, an evangelical egalitarian who believes in gender equality is the same thing as a raging leftist liberal feminist who wants to abort babies on every street corner. That is totally untrue. 

People often prefer to jump to stereotypes instead of truly listening to the viewpoints of others, and seeking to understand. And it's way too easy to dismiss the viewpoints of a woman. Case in point: My Husband Has Something to Say to Those Who Insult Women by Sheila and Keith Gregoire.


Cheating the Church

The Christian community loses out on some of the best and brightest ideas when women are too timid to speak up out of fear that they will threaten the fragile egos of the men around them. Or when they do try to share their opinions, they are quickly put back into their place and ignored. 

So a capable missionary worries about how to present her ideas "in a gentle and quiet way" so her male colleagues won't be offended. There is nothing wrong with being gentle and quiet. But should a woman have to tiptoe around masculine feelings to communicate? 

An experienced author speaks in a church on a Sunday morning (gasp!) - but she must be seated and a man must interview her so it doesn't seem like a sermon. 

A female seminary professor is fired solely because of her gender, and a prominent minister writes about how women shouldn't even be seminary professors because that puts them in authority over men. 

Many women don't even try to equip themselves for ministry because what's the point?

Unheeded Correction

Women who seek to bring honest and necessary correction to churches or other Christian organizations are routinely and unfairly blamed and shamed for slander, gossip, bitterness, and usurping authority. 

Woe be to them if they persist in talking, and even worse if they start a blog to report trends of spiritual abuse, especially if it is about gender. Witches! (And the other word that rhymes with that!) 


~*~*~

There is so much more I could write about these bad fruits, but it would still only be a drop in a bucket compared to the foaming sea of misogynistic madness. I've read the stories over and over and over. It's depressing, revolting, infuriating. Let me know if you want an earful. Meanwhile, I will keep speaking out on these topics, as I have for so many years.

But for now I want to focus on the positive, the possibilities of what could be.

There is power in a Christian woman's voice!

Created to be an Ezer

You were created in the image of God, who declared you to be an ezer: a strong and suitable helper to fulfill his purposes. This word, often used to describe the Lord coming to our aid, means strength and not weakness, the partnership of an equal match and not subservience. You are not spiritually or emotionally fragile just because you are a woman. You are able because God is with you, and the Holy Spirit fills and empowers you. This truth is a firm foundation for finding your voice. What you think becomes what you speak.

Your Voice is a Blessing

God gave you your voice to proclaim goodness, gospel,  truth, compassion, life, growth, healing, justice, peace - so you can use it to bless your own life, your family, your friends, the wider community, the world. Why should that threaten a man? You aren't his rival. Becoming excellent is not competing. If that's what he thinks, that's his problem! 

Bold and Confident for a Change

You have every right to communicate boldly and confidently when you learn about something that isn't as it should be. You can be a mighty advocate, activist, reformer, and social justice warrior. You don't need a man "covering" you with his authority when you have the power of the Holy Spirit in you.

You Have a Choice and a Voice

God gives you agency, the right to discern and determine your own path (within ethical parameters, of course, just like men). This seems so obvious, but I can't even begin to describe the contrary messages that girls in patriarchal homes receive. You don't need to silently let others plan your life for you. 

With God's guidance, you get to choose what you want to do about relationships, education, career trajectory, ministry - and then navigate through the realities of pursuing, reassessing, and accomplishing your goals. You get to choose when to speak and when to be silent (and there is a time for that, for both males and females). 

You can say, "This is what I want to do. This is what I plan to do. This is what I'm preparing to do. This is what I'm doing." It's your God-given life, and you have the right to your God-given destiny. Speak it!

Speak It Into Action

Your powerful voice c
an bring about powerful action. In many ways, we often speak into existence what we want to see happen. This is not a mystical name-it-claim-it deal to bring down miracles with magical thinking. This is real, this is practical, this is every day. 

Using our voices, we state our intentions, spark interest, gather a tribe (to either cheer us on or cooperatively work with us), collaborate around ideas and solutions, and then get the job done with continued communication, motivation, inspiration, and feedback. Your voice is needed all along the way. 

Healing the Church

If you are a believer in Jesus, you are a vital part of Christ's body on earth, which is the church. That church is hurting badly right now because of faulty attitudes about women and the scandals which have resulted. 

The church needs your powerful voice to help tend the wounds, speak life, strengthen the vulnerable, change the rhetoric, teach truth, bring correction where you see misconceptions, confront misogyny, advocate for the abused, light imaginations on fire, draw others into authentic worship (of the God who made both men and women in his image), rally volunteers (men and women) to serve in practical ways, and reconstruct spiritual communities with a healthy paradigm of gender equality. 

You can speak the whole truth in love. 

You can do all of these things. 

You have a voice.

You have a powerful voice.

Use it well.


______________________________________


This essay has been percolating in my heart for a while, but after listening to Carolyn Custis James speak at J4 (a gathering of Christian women who are leaders) in Orlando last night, I knew I had to sit down and write. 


Carolyn Custis James and Judy Douglass

Carolyn shared the story of Ruth: the young, powerless, impoverished, Gentile, foreign, barren widow of a famine refugee, daughter-in-law of a despairing old woman. Instead of taking her cues from the patriarchal culture around her, where she had no voice, she found her identity in the Lord. With faith, loyalty, diligence, wisdom, strength, and courage she became a mighty woman of valor, a community role model, an esteemed wife and mother, the great-grandmother of King David, and ancestor of Jesus. Like Ruth, we need to bring all we have, do all we can, not hiding what God has given us to share. We need to be active participants, not passive spectators. 

Read more of what Carolyn says about Ruth and women's voices here: 



More links!


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Major Media Articles


The Southern Baptist Church and Paige Patterson



That's enough. Oh, that's too much.

Speak up, my friends!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Soul Musings from an Old Journal





God
Truth
Change
Beauty
Questioning
Contemplation

Today is Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. I've been scurrying around getting ready for my adult children and my grandchildren to come over for dinner tomorrow, joining the ones who still live here. While I was tidying up the house, I could hear my heart telling me to slow down and tend to my spirit. So I did. 

I retreated to the blue table in my bedroom -- where I do my best reading and writing -- and finished the last three chapters of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior. I could feel my own soul move at the words in her memoir; I'm glad I took the time to read and reflect. I still had stuff to do, though, so I got up and went back to cleaning and checking on food supplies. Where did I put those bags of frozen Alfredo fettuccine for our Italian buffet? But again, I felt that insistent inner tug to go back and settle my heart. I decided to pull out a journal and write, but first I picked up an old journal and read. I'm glad I did. It was like a buffet for the soul.

These lightly edited excerpts of several journal entries are from a two year period quite a while back. I have interspersed them with recent photos from a foggy morning at a local pond.




(The first entry here was apparently prompted by something I had read on a home school blog about teaching children about God.)

I have been questioning, and in some ways recoiling from, much of what I had built my life upon for 25 years. There is, of course, a necessary drawing back to evaluate. We must not accept anything blindly, no matter what it is. Truth is to be examined; the real thing is solid enough to hold up to scrutiny. And yet, I cannot put myself above truth. We must submit to truth, just as much as we can stand on it. It is not there for us to merely look at, but to live, because there is a moral force, God, who put it there for that purpose. To reject Truth (mentally) or to rebel against it (practically) is a choice - and a sin - against God. 

The first question then, is not about teaching children, but about who God is. What is his nature? And after the nature of God, what of the nature of mankind? God is good. That is the fundamental essence of his character. 


:::





What helps me to hold onto faith are two things: seeing God as the Creator of a beautiful creation (including and especially mankind) and the life of Jesus. Humanly thinking, I am touched by people who live and create artfully -- whether visual or written or musical or whatever -- to reflect spiritual depth and not just doctrinal exactness. There is beauty in the gospels, the poets, the clouds. Mirth and exuberance help, but so do solitude and reflection. I find some sanity and sustenance for the soul. Thankful also for Bishop William Frey's book, The Dance of Hope, which helped me see through the creation lens, not just the fall and redemption. There is dignity in being human - fearfully and wonderfully made - the crowning act of creation. 


:::




I just don't know how to reconcile all of what I know and experience in my heart and mind; so much seems paradoxical. I shouldn't feel bad about this, though. This is the full-time livelihood of countless theologians and philosophers. Who am I to master all of the mysteries all of a sudden? It is also very hard to wrap myself around how to integrate the ideals and theories into daily life. I love beauty, yet there is this messy house. I yearn for kindness and grace, but then I get angry with the stubbornness and thoughtlessness of others.


:::



I started reading Chesterton's Orthodoxy on Kindle today and find it witty and profound. I like his quotes on poets, mysticism, and sanity. Only the madman thinks in a tight, small circle. The truly reasonable one expands and thinks beyond, and can even embrace apparent contradictions. I think I see that in some people around me: the tendency to get stuck or fixated on a thought, so that every sensibility must fit in tidily with that or be rejected out of hand. Going in circles, circles, like on a British roundabout, when it is high time to exit to a side street, get on with life, and see the bigger world. A similar picture that comes to mind is of oxen attached to a radial bar with no other place to go, trudging round and round on the same rutted path, turning the cogs in bondage. But I am being a cynic here. Perhaps the remedy for all our souls, if we are to bear breaking free of the endless circular trajectory, is the gentle question, "What if?"

:::






I sometimes feel guilty for not being as devout, settled, and conservative as I used to be. I don't fit into the pious paradigm that I clung to for so long. I am trying to stay true, trying to remain in "the pale of orthodoxy" - but I am finding that circle being enlarged in my mind. I see real people, real stories, not statistics nor villains. 

So many things sound so pious, especially when couched in self-effacing phrases. We still have to be Bereans, even if it means cutting through misguided piety into common sense and real reasoning.

:::


I was reading from the book Studying Poetry. It might seem I have no good reason for that, that it is unessential, and this is probably true. But the point is to stimulate and stretch the brain to make it fit, not just to understand poetry, but to understand life. This is perhaps not unlike the connection between listening to classical music and boosting math skills, or working through algebra and finding it strengthen your deductive/logical skills for more general problem solving. I think the same is true of playing solitaire digitally rather than with paper cards. There is so much to be learned about life from the simple strategies. I can go back and try something a different way. I can shift and shuffle and predict. I can ask for a hint. I can follow a trail for a little while, go in reverse, try a different one, and then compare the profitability of each. I can take a guess. I can realize that the "logical" move immediately at hand may not be the one that wins the game, that I may need to wait for the counter-intuitive move. Sometimes I need to put a card up on the ace stack knowing I will pull it down again later. I see the relevance of this to life, that some things are not hard and fast, and you have to experiment and try things differently while still employing the basic strategies. Open the mind. Think it through. Try it out. Try it again. Quite philosophical, I say.


:::




I wish I could be a full-time contemplative -- without the daily distractions and demands of life -- and be free to travel, explore, experience. Yet it is as Luci Shaw reminds me in Breath for the Bones: a great poet is "tied down to earth" and "exhibits an understanding of the daily concerns of common humanity."  She notes that C.S. Lewis helped Mrs. Moore make jam and scrub floors. The poetry is made of daily life, which keeps it authentic and grounded.

:::




Fragments of dreams from morning slumbers:

- a small blonde-haired child (not mine, but one who lived where I was visiting) up on my lap, looking at a book, answering questions about the pictures, comforted by my presence.

- unexpected visitors, old friends not seen in ages, bringing bags of Chex Mix because I had nothing to offer by way of hospitality.

- trying to throw away trash in a public dumpster, but underneath the top layer in my can were my dirty linens, which had somehow gone in with the trash and had to be fished out, while a new friend watched, understanding.

Common dream theme here: acceptance and grace, even though I was an "other" - either a stranger or one who apparently fell short.

:::



Reading in Luke, I notice how simple Jesus is, so unlike the legalists and the celebrity preachers. What words he had for the Pharisees! But to folk like me: Believe. Repent. Love God. Love others. Listen. Pray. Give. Forgive. Remember. Follow. Obey. Bless. Shine. Do to others what you would have them do to you. Serve. Watch. Rejoice. Stand firm. Show mercy. Understand. Worship. Go in peace. Share the good news. Welcome. Bring the kids.


:::



"Our little systems have their day,
They have their day and cease to be,
They are but broken lights of Thee,
And Thou, O Lord, art more than they."
~~~ Tennyson

"I say that we are wound with mercy round and round -- as with air." Gerard Manley Hopkins

"It is better to avoid God, we reason, than to face his fury... We end up hiding from the one who longs to heal us." James Bryan Smith in Embracing the Love of God

We care. He cures. 

Wonder. Imagine. Savor.


:::




One entry near the end of this particular journal made me laugh with delight:

"I am trying to envision the years to come. More education? A master's degree in Christian counseling? Asbury? Time is running short, though. I'm 50! I want to come into my own, not just tag along."

I wrote that several years ago, but then put it out of my mind for the longest time. I forgot I even wrote that, though I remember a similar discussion with my late mother over a year earlier. I'm even older now, but I finally applied to Asbury Theological Seminary last month, and my interview for entrance into the counseling department is this Thursday. Amazing and amusing what I find when I read old journals! 

Am I too old to start graduate level study of theology and counseling? I have been a Christian believer for nearly 42 years. As far as topics of study go, theology has always been my first love since I was a young teen. Close behind it has been humanity: how to love and understand and even guide others well. My beliefs (orthodoxy) and practices (orthopraxy) and emotions (orthopathy) have changed quite a bit as I have hopefully matured from an overzealous teen to a mellowed grandmother. My decades as a believer, though often so challenging, have served me well. I guess I'm not too old after all. I just needed the extra perspective.



P.S. Friends who have encouraged me on this journey toward seminary have also urged me to return to sharing my writing more. This blog post is one small attempt at that. I also just received, and look forward to reading, Vinita Hampton Wright's book The Art of Spiritual Writing: How to Craft Prose That Engages and Inspires Your Readers.  




Blessings,
Virginia

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Lift High the Cross (Strength in Hymn)




Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,

Till all the world adore His sacred Name.

Led on their way by this triumphant sign,

The hosts of God in unity combine.




Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,

Till all the world adore His sacred Name.

Each newborn servant of the Crucified

Bears on the brow the seal of Him Who died.


Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,

Till all the world adore His sacred Name.

O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,

As Thou hast promised, draw the world to Thee.





Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,

Till all the world adore His sacred Name.

So shall our song of triumph ever be:

Praise to the Crucified for victory.





Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,

Till all the world adore His sacred Name.




This is my new favorite hymn. I'd sung it before, but heard it again recently at Asbury United Methodist Church. It has been ringing through my soul ever since. I find myself singing the chorus to myself day after day. Today, as we begin Holy Week for 2018, I thought it would make a good addition to my Strength in Hymn series.


 


If you would like to know more about this old Anglican hymn, which was written for a missionary conference, you can read it here: History of "Lift High the Cross"

The heart of Christianity is Jesus - his eternity in the Divine Trinity before mankind, his birth on earth, his sacred life, his miracles, his teachings, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, his continued intercession for us at the right hand of the Father Almighty, his powerful work through us as his body.

Let us lift his cross high, proclaim the love of Christ, and devote our lives to adoring his sacred name.

Does this mean we retreat into religion and ignore what is happening out in the world? No! I believe that those who follow Jesus should be actively engaged in social justice such as combating the evils of human trafficking and  abortion, serving those who are homeless or hungry, welcoming immigrants, advocating for abuse survivors, caring for those who struggle with mental illnessempowering women around the globe, and protecting schoolchildren from violence. We turn our faith into action. It is because we march in resurrection triumph that we can be bold for the sake of others. Jesus had compassion on the poor, the prostitutes, the foreigners, the women and children. So must we as those who proclaim not only his name but his justice. 

If you would like to read more Strength in Hymn posts, here are several I like best, or you can look through my index to find your favorites.


Here are some of my posts related to Holy Week from past years:


I photographed all of the artwork in this post in Paris and Geneva in October 2016, on a trip which was an amazing gift from God. I love cathedrals and art museums, and always gravitate to masterpieces which glorify Jesus. You can click the links to see other pieces from each site. From the top:


Lift high the cross!

Virginia Knowles
www.watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com