an idea

Lately, I am frustrated with questions of success… church success, to be specific. It seems to me that when we pastors talk about our churches and how things are going, we ask about Sunday attendance and a list of programs we run, the events we orchestrate and the dollars we gather and spend.

Before I went to sleep last night, my mind was spinning. I desperately wanted to create a new metric… I need to get a handle on a new way to measure success.

All I can think of is this:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches… The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Matthew 13:31-33

To Jesus, the small is big. The tiniest of things is strong. The speck is valuable.


my psalm for the darkness

I think I said something insensitive and stupid last night… I’ve been feeling fragile lately anyway, due to stress and exhaustion and this was apparently my tipping point. As I soon as I got home last night, I could feel my stomach tying up in knots. When I tried to go to sleep, I was hearing strange noises in the house and was convinced something horrible was going to happen in the middle of night. I felt like I was going to disappear. This is not an unfamiliar feeling to me– whenever life feels out of control, my inner demons tend to show themselves, and this is a big one, the fear of disappearing. I felt like this when my mom was dying. I felt it again last summer when we were trying to put the pool in and I had children’s needs, work crew’s needs and church needs to juggle all at once. I feel it again now– any goodness left in me, any joy or peace, any goodwill from family or friends, any love– it’s disappearing. I’m disappearing.

But my spiritual director is a very wise woman, and she has given me some tools to deal with this particular demon. It’s truly God’s grace that I found her last spring. So I went to Psalm 23 today and rewrote it, pulling in images of love from Jesus’ life and teachings as well as some of my own longings. Here it is:

My Lord is the one who knows my name. He bends down to feed me and protects me from the darkness, from my enemies. He defends me. I don’t need to fear anything, even death. He knows exactly where I get tripped up along the path, and He is right there to give me His Hand. He binds up all my wounds and wipes away my tears.

He lays me down in lush green grass that tickles my nose and my toes. I love the smell! It’s a soft place to rest. I hear the sound of water, and He shows me the nearby stream. When I’m thirsty, He lets me drink from His Hands. It cools and refreshes me. I splash and play in the living water.

He knows who my enemies are and serves me a scrumptious feast, right there with them! He honors me. He washes my feet and dries them tenderly.

I will be in the presence of Love always. Always. He promised.

beauty and pain

Great post. Amazing. Well-written. Gives voice to passions I have also felt.

A must-read for men… and women

Loving this post at Gifted for Leadership, concerning women’s contributions to church leadership throughout the ages! Read it if you’re an egalitarian. Read it if you’re a complimentarian. Read it if you’re undecided on the matter. Just please read it.

Speaking Against Myself

For my theology and culture class, we were asked to respond to Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, on the issue of women and head coverings. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit, because of my Mennonite background. In some circles “the covering” is still an issue, even today… not so much in the larger denomination (Mennonite Church USA) but certainly in the smaller and more conservative groups. Anyway, here is my essay in response to Paul.

As I search these verses for meaning for today, in suburban America, I cannot help but look back a few chapters to put this passage in context. Chapter 9 immediately catches my eye. In verse 19 of that chapter, Paul says: “though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.” Then he goes on to warn against idolatry and to encourage the Christians of Corinth to “do everything for the glory of God” (10:31), whether they are eating or drinking or serving or worshipping. In my opinion, the key to interpreting 11:1-16, is actually found in the last verse of chapter 10: “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so they may be saved.”

I think Paul’s approach to the issue of women’s head coverings has everything to do with furthering the Gospel in Corinth. Just as he admonishes the Christians to eat whatever food is given to them when they are houseguests of an unbeliever (10:27), not themselves questioning where it came from; he contends that women should not bring disgrace upon themselves by putting away their head coverings (11:6). The meaning in this passage for us today, in general terms, is to examine our social structures and “judge for ourselves” (11:13) what is behavior that will bring offense, and what will nurture relationships that may win converts to Christ. Neither meat offered to idols nor women’s head veilings are issues that we grapple with in suburban America, yet the underlying principal Paul uses to approach these issues is central to following Christ in the here and now. The principal itself is counter-cultural in America—to give up our right to choose for ourselves how we would like to conduct our lives, so that we might not bring offense to anyone; but rather open doors to new relationships with non-believers.

Paul’s deepest passion was to see the Gospel spread and new churches flourishing, and he believed that imitating Christ, the bringer of the Gospel, was the way to do this (11:1). In Paul’s mind, the way to imitate Christ was to lay down his life, lay down his rights, making no claims to his personal freedom. The hymn Paul quotes in Philippians 2 seems to shape his Christology and thereby, his life as a disciple of Christ (“he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing… taking on the very nature of a servant/slave…”). Thus, Paul was a first-century man, living in a first-century world, teaching fledgling Christians what it meant to empty themselves and follow the way of Jesus in the nitty-gritty of their daily lives.

This passage has often been used to further arguments for male-only leadership in Christian churches. In verses 7-12, Paul addresses issues of proper lines of authority based on the second Creation account in Genesis 2. What I find interesting is where his interpretations of the second Creation account lead him (and yes, I am being very intentional about saying “the second creation account,” because in the first account both men and women reflect the image of God. Paul is being selective here). The fact that woman was created for man and not man for woman, is not the end of the story. The fact that man was created first and woman created out of man is not the end of the story. The end of the story is that neither men nor women are independent of one another, but that they come from each other and all of them come from God alone. Men and women need each other and depend on each other for different things, which is just as it should be. I do not believe that Paul sees the birth of the Church as an opportunity to push for equal rights for women or for the subservient position of women. Which statements of Paul in this passage concerning women should bear more weight for us? Neither. His point is to do what will bring honor to Christ. Paul views being found ‘in Christ’ as an opportunity for us to lay down our lives in service to one another and to God, not as an opportunity to demand what should rightfully be ours.

I realize that I am a woman at an evangelical seminary, a pastor of worship, a former youth pastor, and someone who often speaks strongly on behalf of egalitarian church leadership. How can I, in good conscience, be saying all of this in my essay? I do have a fairly sensitive justice radar and a hot temper to go along with it. I am not afraid to say what I think most of the time, either. I am an egalitarian. However, I have come to believe that those of us who are passionate about issues of justice and equality must work for those things on behalf of others and not ourselves. If I am fighting for my right to preach, my right to lead or my right to hold authority; then I am not following Christ. And I have difficulty even typing those words. But isn’t that what Paul says over and over in his epistles—serve, love, empty yourself for Christ’s sake, submit, follow in Christ’s footsteps, become a slave in order to win some to Christ? In a freedom-loving, independence-loving, rights-loving society such as ours; these words are tough to swallow. I am called to stand up for the orphan, the widow, the poor, the oppressed; but I am not called to stand up for myself. I am “not seeking my own advantage, but the advantage of many,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:32.

1 Corinthians 11 is a step toward self-emptying love. It can be used to argue for culturally specific guidelines for women or for universal guidelines for women. Perhaps the Holy Spirit knew that both patriarchal groups and feminist groups would need the tempering this passage offers. We are not called to be independent of one another, or to lord anything over each other, male or female. We are called to empty ourselves for the other. If that means covering my head, shaving your beard, dressing up when you’d rather dress down, serving coffee when I’d rather be preaching, cleaning toilets when I’d rather be teaching, or for some maybe it means leading when they’d rather be invisible… whatever it means, it should be for Christ’s honor and for the sake of others, not for our own sake.

Thank God He doesn’t let go

The never-ending conversation

Last Tuesday our seminary cohort sat down to (try to) tackle 1 Timothy 2 and the issue of the role(s) women should play within church. It has been years since I have heard anything new in this conversation. Basically, it’s all in how you read the text, how you understand the ancient context, and how you hold the whole Bible together. Reading only one of Paul’s passages on women or one of the Gospel stories where women play a major role or one of the Old Testament narratives involving women is dangerous. It’s dangerous because then one misses the depth and the contradictions that lie within the passages of this Book that we call our Authority.

As I wrote my paper last week and continued to think about this issue once again, this thought occured to me: my call in Christ, whatever specifics it might hold (preacher? teacher? pastor? shepherd? leader? who knows!), is a call to lay down my life just as Christ did. This call that I claim is a call to service, to slavery, to self-emptying love. Yes, even those who suffer injustice, whose voices are ignored or marginalized, who are abused and neglected— the call is the same for everyone. Part of me recognizes the deep truth in that and responds to it. Another part of me rages against that. I was born with a very sensitive justice radar, and my instincts rise up and urge me to take a stand against injustice. Someone has to name what’s wrong in this world WRONG. I am realizing now that this urge to stand against injustice is a gift, a very good thing, as long as I am using it on behalf of OTHERS rather than myself. My call is to lay down my life and not to take it up again. Ouch.

This is not say that I think I should stay in a situation where I am being marginalized or my voice is not taken seriously. I think at times in our lives, it may be completely appropriate to step away from a task for the sake of our own mental, emotional, spiritual health… perhaps even for the health of the group in which we were serving… and to state the reasons why: “This position was not life-giving for me. I found it difficult to function in healthy ways here. I do not believe I was a good match for this group.” On the other hand, if we are stepping away out of a desire to punish them for what they did to us, or to teach them something or get back at them… can you sense the difference in the attitude? One is Christ-like living. The other is not.

Here is a great quote from The Shack by William Young (p. 148ff):

[Jesus is speaking here] “Mack, don’t you see how filling roles is the opposite of relationship? We [God] want[s] male and female to be counterparts, face-to-face equals, each unique and different, distinctive in gender but complementary, and each empowered uniquely by [the Holy Spirit] from whom all true power and authority originates… I came as a man to complete a wonderful picture in how we made you. From the first day we hid the woman within the man, so that at the right time we could remove her from within him. We didn’t create man to live alone; she was purposed from the beginning. By taking her out of him, he birthed her in a sense. ” “Oh, I get it, ” Mack interjected…”If the female had been created first, there would have been no circle of relationship, and thus no possibility of a fully equal face-to-face relationship.” “Exactly, Mack… Our desire was to create a being that had a fully equal and powerful counterpart, the male and the female. But your independence with its quest for power and fulfillment actually destroys the relationship your heart longs for… Just like love, submission is not something that you can do, especially not on your own.”

In Genesis 1 & 2, 1 Corinthians 11, Ephesians 5 and 1 Timothy 2, I see this theology. Mutuality, partnership, mutual submission, servanthood, a willingness to empty oneself for the other. There is no grabbing for position or power. There is no concern for proper hierarchy or positional authority. The concern is an unbroken circle of relationship.

“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman, but ALL THINGS COME FROM GOD.” 1 Cor. 11:12

Do I still get angry when I encounter systems that marginalize and devalue female wisdom and leadership? Yes, of course I do! Am I learning to let God be the justice-bringer? Am I learning to love and serve those who believe differently than me? I sure hope so. I want to be faithful to Christ’s call.

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