“For He Himself is our PEACE, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” Ephesians 2:14
Have you ever found yourself in a season where God keeps bringing you back to the same thing over and over again? Like no matter what you thought you were reading, studying, listening to or talking about, you end up unintentionally swimming in the exact same waters? All roads lead back to a single path He obviously wants you on. In fact, at some point, it feels cosmically comical and you just have to surrender.
Please tell me I’m not the only one.
It seems strange that I didn’t choose these waters, this path, on purpose because I should have. It is important. Sometimes we have to jump into the deep end to “get used to it,” as my kids say. But Mamma is more of a “one inch at a time” girl, and so it has been on this journey as well. Now that I am here, I can tell you that the water is fine.
Women in the church.
Women in leadership.
Women with a calling.
It’s a frightening feeling to know that there is a fire burning in your bones that may have no way to escape. What must it burn down to get out? Will it just burn me up? Such has the need to speak God’s Word aloud to the world been in me.
When I say “speak,” we are all comfortable.
What about “teach?”
What about “preach?”
Anyone squirming a little?
Maybe you are not. Maybe you have been floating on your back comfortably in these waters for years and you are confused a bit by the girl on the shallow steps tiptoeing tepidly. Give me a hand, will you?
Would God give me a passion and then give me so many perimeters that I bump into myself with every step? That doesn’t feel like my Great Big God. Is He just grand and big in creation, in the scriptures, for my brothers, but very very small with his daughters? I can’t believe that.
But it’s exactly what I believed.
So, I began the journey in secret. I was afraid that what I would find would challenge what I thought I believed. But what I thought I believed was already being challenged by a calling I could not deny. Where was my place? Where were my people? Were these safe waters for a 40 year old stay at home mom? Would the progressives laugh at me? Would the conservatives shun me? All I knew was that I needed my beliefs to reflect the Truth and the character of God. and nothing else..
So I picked up Sarah Bessey’s book “Jesus Feminist” and snuck around with it like it was porn or something. I was terrified my husband, friends, or mother-in-law would see the word FEMINIST on the front of the dog-eared, highly highlighted copy and assume I had lost my mind. (The cover is golden and so is every word on the inside in case you were wondering). It led me to “Half The Church” by Carolyn Custis James and I could feel my theology being stretched like an underworked muscle.
And as it did, I became braver and left the books about to be seen. And conversations were had. Questions were certainly asked. And I don’t know that I am ready to take some official stand, and I don’t know that it is what is being asked of me. But growth is. ALWAYS. God is not afraid of hard conversations and neither should we be.
Here, from the first few shallow steps, let me whisper, speak, teach, preach (?) the three most profound lessons I have learned so far…
First, according to Genesis 1:27, God “created mankind in his own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” There are masculine and feminine qualities to the character of God. BOTH male and female were created in His image and BOTH male and female reflect aspects of His character. Just like no one, imperfect human can represent the whole spectrum of God’s character and image, no one, imperfect gender can either. There are parts of God’s character that resonate more strongly with me as a woman than they maybe do with my husband. But, if the only voices we hear are male, won’t we be missing half of God’s heart? I believe the answer is yes.
True, the Word of God is the Word of God, eternal, unchanging. But a woman’s voice, a woman’s experience, a woman’s filter brings a different depth than a man’s. Isaiah 49:15 says, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” This is God’s love seen through a mother’s eyes. A man can read this. He can study it. He can preach on it. But he will never, with tears in his eyes, remember the first time his first born latched on. His heart will never ache, searching his mind for the final time he nursed and rocked his last baby. How it felt. How tiny fingers wound around his hair. How tiny heads smelled. He has never lived it. God knows. And so do mothers.
Would that sermon not reflect a Truth more, well, true coming from a woman? For BOTH men and women? It isn’t about OUR voices at all. It’s about reflecting His.
See, my husband and I are raising 2 girls AND 2 boys. Our fight is for all of them. And in some ways, I think we as women have a richer opportunity for learning when we sit beneath BOTH male and female teachers. We hear both voices. We see a fuller representation of God’s character. When men are only given the opportunity, are encouraged to only seek the opportunity, to learn from other men, I wonder if an echo chamber theology threatens them. Is “half the church” cut off from half of God’s character because the other half of the church is relegated to children’s or women’s ministry?
So, first lesson… I believe both genders need to hear from both genders, in some form, to grasp more fully the complete character of God.
Next, my heart is broken as I hear from woman after woman that the world has so much more to offer them than the church. More opportunities to lead. More encouragement to use their strengths. More options. More.
I cannot believe the Bride of Christ is less.
Recently I was chatting with a young couple that had just attended a marriage conference at their church. They were eager to soak up some wisdom during a difficult season. When I asked them about it, the husband said he felt like the material was “chauvinistic.” They both said that the men were encouraged to lead and press into their callings while the women were encouraged only to support their husbands. While I am a strong believer in headship in a home and traditional gender roles for the most part, I can’t believe a woman’s only divine assignment is to support that of her husband’s.
She doesn’t have a calling of her own? Maybe even one that is distinct from that of her husband’s or children’s? What about those women without a husband or children. What of the empty-nesters or widows? Nothing for them?
I’m sorry, but that is just not what I see reflected in the Bible over and over.
Ruth, Rahab, Deborah, Jael, Esther, Mary, Martha, Pricilla, Anna….
As Carolyn Curtis James points out in “Half the Church,” it was Joseph whose entire life became about supporting his (very young, pregnant out-of-wedlock) wife’s “calling”. She says, “I am not sure from our cultural context that we can grasp how radically self-denying this was in Joseph’s culture. It was certainly not the “manly” thing to do. Joseph doesn’t stop there. When the angel finally corroborates Mary’s story, he shuts down his carpenter shop, gets behind Mary’s calling, and adapts himself to his wife and God’s calling on her life.”
When I hear that companies in the world are fighting over well-educated, driven women while the church is still fighting internally to make a statement about women, I am discouraged. A friend who has her degree in theater and has been staging professional productions for years, just told me that though she had served at her church in a similar capacity for some time, when a lead staff position opened up in the department she wasn’t even informed. The church hired a man from across the country. I don’t know all the details but it looks pretty strange from where I am standing. It makes me sad. She hesitates to serve now. I get it.
Just like the church should be the biggest advocate for social justice, and political reform, and the orphan and widow… we should have the very most to offer women! Jesus’ church should always be more. This has been lesson number two.
The third thing I have learned on these first few steps revolves around the identity statement and job title for women as man’s “helper suitable,” or “helpmeet,” from Genesis 2:18. The English language has translated the original “Ezer-Kenegdo” into these familiar terms and in doing so, has lost so much of it’s depth and power. The word “Ezer” appears 21 times in the Old Testament; twice for women, three times for nations Israel asked for military help, and SIXTEEN times for God as Israel’s helper. In “Half the Church” Carolyn Curtis James points out that “Ezer” is consistently used in a military context. She concludes, and this feels so right in my spirit, that an ezer is a warrior, a solider, a fighter. Kenegdo, which we have translated “suitable” is more of “match.” As in, “Boy, you have met your match.” After Adam named all the animals, God gave him his match, his fit, his equal.
This feels different doesn’t it? We are not merely men’s assistants, wives, managers of their homes, mothers of their children. If this is all Ezer-Kenegdo means, then 60% of women in this country alone have no identity at all, as they are neither wives or mothers. If it in fact means a co-warrior, a co-soldier, a battle partner, well this story just got interesting.
Why did God say Eve was needed? “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a Ezer-Kenegdo for him” (Gen.. 2:18). To do his laundry? To snuggle at night? I mean maybe. But I think it is not good for man to be alone because we are in a war. God knew what would happen in Genesis 3. He knew the battle that would rage for centuries afterwards. He knew the enemy was coming for our souls. It isn’t good for any of us to fight alone, to war alone, to solider alone. It isn’t good for man to be alone in life or in ministry. We are co-warriors and any man who doesn’t appreciate a woman having his back in this war, who isn’t willing to have her’s, isn’t going to last long.
A couple of weeks ago, a couple of months into this journey, I had the rare opportunity to spend some time with my parents without my husband and children. I got to play the sole role of daughter for a weekend. The conversation turned to books we had been reading, the things we had all been studying… and I learned the coolest lesson of all. My mom is a boss Bible teacher, that I knew. She has taught a large “women’s” Bible study every week for years. She and my dad also teach an adult Sunday school class at their church. What I didn’t know is that TWICE they have left churches because her teaching gift was questioned and the fact that men had the opportunity to sit under her, and were coming, was causing a stir. TWICE. I wanted to stand and cheer for my parents! Instead, I took the chance to tell my mom that I honored her for how brave she had been in paving the way for women who know there is a fire in their bones too. She didn’t mean to do it… she just had to speak the Word of God to those within her hearing. AND I told my dad that I honored him for standing up for her, for being secure enough to affirm her, and recognizing the calling on her life as well as his. To say I am proud is an understatement.
When I got home from that weekend away, Facebook announced one morning that it was #internationalwomensday. I laughed to myself. Of course it was. I see you God. I am here for this, even if I am a little late to the game.
So, maybe you disagree with some of this. That’s totally okay. Maybe you wish I was holding a bigger sign and shouting louder. That’s okay too. We’re all on our own journeys. I just want to talk about it.
And I want to thank the women who have been brave and let their fire out. It has lit the path for me… So to Kay, Beth, Priscilla, Christine, Ann, Jennie, Jen, Sarah, Rebekah, and my favorite Suz, way to go girls! I’m honored to even be in the shallow end of this pool with you.
*And to my church, thank you for empowering women the way you do. Thanks for being more.