For 18 months, the congregation I’ve been meeting with for fifteen years has slowly been confronted with the reality that about 10 to 15 percent of its baptised members were asking serious questions about the assumptions and practices regarding Women in Ministry.
Perhaps naturally, the majority of those questioning and challenging the status quo are women. In a patriarchal church that already believes women have no role or authority to teach a mixed group, this has proven ironic and problematic. How does one get a fair go at accurately and systematically presenting one’s case, when the current dogma dictates that one is not entitled to a platform to teach in the first place, and the Upholders hold all the Preaching & Teaching Cards? It was always going to be an uphill battle, one where the odds are stacked against us from the outset. A built-in stumbling block, if you will.
It is certainly not a level playing field — but then our contention is precisely that it has never been a level playing field, so perhaps my lamentation of the same when it comes to debating the issue is redundant.
Someone in my online community is thinking of writing a post about witnessing. In a biblical culture that relegates women to nothing more than chattel and twice as dispensable, it’s a curious and wonderful thing that Jesus chose women to be his first witnesses of his resurrection.
I mean, what a crazy, counter-intuitive, inefficient way of getting something as earth-and-heaven-shattering as the news of your Undeadness out to the public! If the miracle of Jesus conquering death isn’t already a strain to believe, why would he have chosen unbelievable witnesses on top of it?
Because he sees women differently. Because even within a society that heavily discounted the value and veracity of women, Jesus says, “I know better. I see who you really are. I choose you to proclaim what just went down, and who I am.”
“When the wise men saw the star, they were filled with joy. They came to the house where the child was and saw him with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. They opened their gifts and gave him treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
Until the sermon on Sunday, I’d never really wondered about the significance of the gifts that the Wise Men brought.
(Growing up in a Fundy church, we seemed more focused on the number of Wise Men than the reason behind their gifts. The thinking went that traditional and commercial imagery usually depicts three wise men on donkeys when in actual fact, the gospels are silent on the actual number of men who showed up. When brought up, it was a lesson in my church about not presuming or adding to Scripture what God is silent about. I’d argue that there are more interesting lessons to glean from these ancient baby gifts, honestly.)
Interestingly, there are several possibilities for the three gifts. It could just be the “done thing” at the time — you meet a new baby, you give money and spices. Other reasons include the medicinal properties behind the spices as a symbolic and practical gift for the longevity of both mother and child, and the practical thing of giving money to a pair of refugees on the run from Mad King Herod. (Note to self: best to steer clear of Herod as a baby name.) Yet another interpretation is that the three were standard gifts for kings and deities in the ancient world.
In fact, these same three items were apparently among the gifts, recorded in ancient inscriptions, that King Seleucus II Callinicus offered to the god Apollo at the temple in Miletus in 243 B.C.E. The Book of Isaiah, when describing Jerusalem’s glorious restoration, tells of nations and kings who will come and “bring gold and frankincense and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:6).
On a separate but related note, hearing a reflection on the birth of Christ from a woman brings a slightly different flavour, I thought. As women, and particularly women who’ve been through childbirth, there is a kind of empathy in the retelling. Coincidentally (or not), there was a dedication on the day where a family brought their very smiley baby to the front, and the church pledged in unison to support this family as they bring up this child in the Lord.
It was wonderful to see both men and women contributing to the service, something they probably take for granted by now, and yet so empowering for someone like me to watch. Yes, there really is a sense of completeness when there are literally different voices heard from the front — men, women, and children. As grand as the building was (it’s a historical building with the stained glass windows and the vaulted high ceiling), somehow the fellowship was cosy, the music and singing loud and sincere (oh the lyrics! some of them were just breathtaking), their minds set on higher things. Of course, every church will have its problems and I am coming in cold as an observer, newly burnt and bruised from current troubles. “Anything but this, anywhere but here” is almost my desperate plea for a better 2019.
So I went ahead and created a Facebook page and had all these great intentions to write daily and purposefully when suddenly, Other Stuff Hit.
And then suddenly, I realised I couldn’t publish anymore. Not in my actual name anyway. It’s one thing to have a stream of consciousness documented in the public domain when the most scandalous thing to report is our uphill battle with toilet training The Younger.
It’s quite another when it’s about a very personal journey that involves your former truths crumbling to dust and the utterly bewildering and lonely experience of figuring out where your next steps should be.
That’s cryptic. Even as I type now, I’m wondering how much to divulge. The last two years have been a marathon that’s continually tested my stamina, my optimism, my thick skin and my courage. Meanwhile, my most entrenched ideas of what it means to be a Christian and a woman have been repeatedly called into question — along with my motives, my attitudes, my faith in God, and my character. I now swear more than I ever have in my life. I’ve lost a lot of friends. (That’s unrelated to the swearing but it probably doesn’t help.) Then again, I’ve found new ones in the unlikeliest corners of my life. If anything, the last few years have crystallised who my truest friends are. And while it’s been spiritually, mentally, and emotionally bruising to find out that the set of people I’ve relied upon don’t actually fully overlap with the set of kindred who continue to come through for me, the new relationships and the depths of honesty and authenticity I’ve found in brand new quarters have renewed my faith in God’s humanity.
Church is bigger than church, y’all. And God is the biggest of all.
There’s a lot of sound and fury lately in Australia about Same-Sex Marriage, Safe Schools, and gender education. On a personal front, it’s been an especially sobering year as I reflect on my own relationship with God, and contemplate deeply how God designed humankind and what that means for me, a woman made in His image. I took a deep dive into Genesis and I’m still confronted by the overarching narrative of how God and Christ treat women. Growing up, I thought I understood His design but the closer I’ve been looking at this, the more troubled I am by what I’m finding.
And I’ve been equal parts unsettled and unbelievably excited.
Thing is, I’m now looking at my daughter and my son, and the responsibility of what lies ahead looms ever larger. Do I want my daughter to grow up learning what I learnt about womanhood? Or my son, for that matter? I thought I believed in the equality of the sexes, but now I’m wondering if I didn’t grow up buying into a form of second-class citizenship in this world that isn’t just wrong, but heretical.
And I don’t want that for my daughter. And I don’t want that for my son.
Words have power, and our words matter because they articulate ideas, and all ideas have consequences. I spoke very briefly — and perhaps not articulately enough — yesterday about how words frame issues. We know that instinctively, and we’re confronted by examples every time. Someone I was chatting to online yesterday gave a common example. When a woman is out front organising people in an assertive way, is she being bossy? Is she behaving like a man? Or is she leading people? How we use words shape attitudes, and they teach both our young men and women a lot about what is “allowed” and what “isn’t” for each of them.
And we often clip both their wings in the process.
This stuff matters. It goes right to the core of things. And I want the right things for my children.
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