Her Missing Voice

“…the insight of women whose hearts are attuned to the heart of God are silenced because so much of our ministry endeavors arise from a culturally derived false sense of masculinity…We are forcing a theological famine upon ourselves by ignoring the voices of women.” ~Soong-Chan Rah, Prophetic Lament, p. 64

I see hunger everywhere. And I find the malnourishment especially painful to understand, early in this adult life, as it thrives in this Church, this love of mine. To accept that conferences and services and studies led by men are for men and women, and those led by women are for women (usually ones with a ring on and a mortgage). To hear excuses made for men that would endanger the jobs and influence of women. It’s hard to know that a woman in leadership is still a living, breathing debate, and to constantly live where men and misinformed masculinity are the decision-makers.

Half of God is neglected when half His people are not at the table.

Adopting the roles of wife and mother has both sharpened my appreciation for being a woman and my sensitivity to the ways in which women are ignored and discriminated against, especially if they don’t fall into the privileged hats and stereotypes I happen to possess. I hurt with those who don’t desire to ever have these titles, or do but have not found or pursued them yet; I can see how living in the pressure cooker of churchy society often make both women feel out of place.

In my humble daily, I strive with others to set a different table and divest from such mean, narrow, Bad News culture. I long for the day we don’t have to apologize for being women. I’m encouraged and taught by so many doing similarly, mindful of God’s femininity and motherhood, of the voice and might of women in Scripture. As much as I hold men responsible for perpetuating or breaking down the confines around my gender, I also feel the burden and calling of putting forth a more cohesive and comprehensive image of woman.

We are uniquely qualified to speak as God’s children when we work from the truth of our experience on the sidelines. From the time we are labeled bossy when he is named leader, to the first time we are called a bitch for having a thought threatening to a man, to the observation that men are asked to pray and women to babysit, while the sermons rattling around in our heads have no venue. We remember the debut of our physical figures and the ensuing comments, hollers, and assault. We are aware of brokenness because we have been subject to it, with greater frequency and less recompense than the other gender. Women can be present and affected by another person’s pain because we have faced our own, and brought it before others and Abba God, again and again. The complexity of our bodies and our sexuality, our nuanced intellect and our God-given emotions, are qualifications and indications, not apologies and caveats.

The voice of women implores the Church, the Bride, to greater honesty and empathy. She calls the family to remember, to lament, and to a patient and inglorious resolve that introduces Jesus where we need Him most.

Women, you –we– are necessary to the task of love, the Shalom that calls. We still have the hard work of pushing, gripping one another’s hands, and screaming through the pain of bringing forth a more whole picture of Jesus to the world and one another. Because we have found God as Parent, and Good News in our own experiences, we can offer non-judgmental space for others who are hurting, who have made big mistakes, who are slow and disappointing or just completely different. We are great about embracing the cause. We are half of Christ’s body left here on earth and imperative to the Already and Not Yet.

The women I know have been the bravest and the quietest, the most overlooked and underpaid, the best qualified and the least promoted. Men, I ask you to share the pulpit and agenda, invite women to the team, and defer to their advice. Making space may mean moving aside. Listen. Copy their rhythms, ask God to make you sensitive to language and theology that excludes us. Repent of the assumptions made about us. Women, let’s share the mic. Bring a friend to the opportunity that’s been given you. Maintain vulnerability. Invest in each other’s stuff. Name bravely what is happening. Keep unlearning and repenting of the stereotypes and prejudices we have absorbed against ourselves and each other.

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From the dinner table to the conference table, from the pews to the platforms, your womanhood and way of seeing and being, is impactful; do not relent. You are commissioned and seen, encouraged to not neglect the gifts in you, named chosen, royal, holy, beloved.

I take heart in your sisterhood.

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To my daughter // 9

A letter to my daughter for a time:

Today I am reminded of you. I remember the day you were torn from our home. Though you slept through the night, you were awake for much of that one. First for examination and a soothing bottle. As I fed you in front of a sympathetic police officer, I prayed and cried while your foster dad was interrogated by a very misguided lady. Then, after you had been placed back to bed and the officers had reassured us that there would be no removal or further problems, after over an hour later, you had to wake again. This time, because of that lady’s immovable choice. This time, for a final diaper change, a final hug and grasp. You were so disoriented as we placed you in that wonky car seat.

Why am I reminded of you today? Because now my son, my youngest, is the same age as you were then. 10 days shy of 9 months—that’s when your peace was disturbed and our protection was interrupted and we lost you, despite our best efforts. Now we will be with him longer than we had you.

Every day our youngest has been with us has been a gift, just like every day with you. He looks at me for reassurance when someone else holds him, just like you did. He crawls fast towards us, after venturing away for a brave minute, just like you did. That morning, we had a garage sale, and for an hour, I took you with me to a meeting and prayer time. Like him, you went with me just about everywhere. You were distractingly happy and playful, going back and forth from me to new items in the room. His glee at movement, at us, at life, are on par with yours. And today, he will go to bed and not wake up in foreign places, away from everything he’s known. Life will continue as it should. As it should have.

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I’m also mindful of you today for another reason. I’m tender towards the young girls in my world who are growing up in a world that elected our next president, adamant that you deserve better. Young girls like your aunt-for-a-time, who is feeling defeat like a true, new agent of change, destined to make a difference for a long time. I know that you’re not my daughter, but you are the closest thing I’ve had to one, and I often think what it would be like to have a daughter in these times. You have always had many women who loved you and sought to meet your needs; I may be the one you’re never told about. But it doesn’t make me less true. Now, I want to tell you in a motherly way some truth: you, as a female, are worthy of respect, leadership, and choice, though many things will suggest otherwise.

I want to tell you, my daughter for only a time, that no matter what our culture, our courts, our elections say about women, we are made in the likeness of God, and resemble the Diety in unique and powerful ways. I want to tell you that no matter what popular vote happens, no matter what Donald Trumps and Brock Turners occur, that you are encumbered and covered with love, intelligence, power, volition and beauty, and these burdens behoove each of us to reject the narratives that would normalize misogyny and downplay our accomplishments. They implore us to insist on our God-given place at the table—every freaking table. It will be a fight and it will not be fair. Today I wish we had a better historic landmark to offer you—you at the age of 3. Our culture’s dirty laundry and resistance to change is out for all the world to see, and slaps the face of all of us women who know that sense of being better-qualified, under-appreciated, under-compensated, harder-working, less-safe, less-credible or defeated—lest we forget.

Dear sweet girl, do not forget this: you, as a woman, are equal in worth and standing in the eyes of God. I pray that the truth of who you are will echo more loudly than our misogynistic culture lies of who you should be. I am dedicated to raising sons who affirm these things about you, and your sisters, your mothers and your daughters. I am raising sons with daughters in mind. It is an upward battle; as young as they are, they are already absorbing the skewed gender slurs that mitigate our value. I am writing you, in this somewhat imaginary scenario, partly because I miss you and I still grieve you, but more so because I truly pray for your empowerment as a woman and especially as a woman of color. And on this day, the day after a set-back in this realm of things, you’re first on my list to cheer onward.

You were my daughter for a time and you are the symbol of our daughters—those girls we love, and make space for, and teach and parent, whether for an hour or 9 months. You are a face to those girls we would give anything for, that they would have the freedom and empowerment to be all they are created and capable of being, without fear and apology. I’m sorry it will take so much grit.

I write to you, from my grief and disappointment today, in hopes that tomorrow your stories, and those of your peers, would have the bearing and validation they deserve. I was blessed to be a part of your story for a time…until the very last minute. I continue to be inspired by you and love you.

Love,
a mother and woman
(proud to be both)

Sharing: Just for Kids?

It seems like adults all agree that kids should share but I’m not so sure if we all agree that WE should share.

After being a vocational missionary for about 8 years, attending a seminary and university that are leaders in their circles in promoting social justice and diversity, and living overseas, I have a pretty warped perception of privilege and power. Specifically mine.

While I would really like to think that I have given up a lot of privilege and power, I haven’t. It’s more than touting living simply, practicing incarnational ministry, and soaking up lessons from those who are underserved. You might be surprised to find out that living in a developing country says nothing about your detachment from worldly comforts and privilege. Sadly, I haven’t really scratched the surface and that is extremely hard for me to admit.

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No matter what lengths I go to separate myself from luxury or power that I was given by my upbringing, I could basically reclaim any of the things I have managed to lie down (not many) at any moment. And, even more upsettingly, the non-empirical effects of privilege– the way I see my options and time, the confidence and vocabulary I have, the relate-ability to those smack dab in the middle of privilege, the trust I have for authority, and the choice to deny or not deny my privilege–are inescapable.

Since attending Storyline, I have been wresting with how to share my privilege; I don’t want to deny it (thus insulting those with less privilege) and I don’t want to waste it (in thinking it’s mine, all mine, to enjoy). When I first arrived at the event, I was judgmental of the crowds and their privilege and homogeneity. But I knew deep down that that was ugly of me. It was over-simplification and I judge the things I fear in myself. I desperately don’t want to fit in in those situations but ultimately I cannot deny that I mostly do. And no one really cares about that as much as I do.

I’ve since been trying to think constructively about how to translate the culturally-embedded Storyline material to other contexts and what to do with the privilege I simultaneously enjoy and judge. Ideas have been swirling about and were given more substance as I read Christena Cleveland’s eye-opening Disunity in Christ. Despite its negatively-toned title, it bears hope and practical ideas of recovering a commitment to reconciliation in the segregated Church.

I have been grasping around, trying to think of how to share privilege in clear, lifestyle ways. As always, I want company in this. I need company in this. Is anyone else wanting to share some of the privilege you have (class, race, ability, gender, sexuality, age, nationality…)?

At the risk of being found simplistic, here are some ideas. 🙂 My starting lines to sharing better: 

1. Regularly invite people of different cultures to speak at your pulpit, class, and small group or (gasp) write on your blog.

2. Take someone without a wholesale membership with you and divvy up products if they so desire; share in the savings and mitigate the overhead cost.

3. If I were a man in any leadership position, even in a singular meeting, I would invite a female co-leader as frequently as possible and potentially fight for another position to be opened for her.

4. The next time you attend a training event or conference, invite someone to be your guest, who normally doesn’t have those opportunities. I would also like to ask them if there was anything that they are planning on attending that I could tag along to.

5. Instead of vying for position on a bus, in a line, or in a room, use your abledbody-ness to reserve a seat for the differently-abled, the elderly, the shy.

6. There’s always a line outside of our Ralphs for the shuttle service. I wonder if anyone would let me drive them and their groceries home.

7. Swallow the inconvenience of translation, not ending on time, or an adjustment to a 7-course church service or meeting to allow for a more inclusive time together that allows for translation without feelings of embarrassment or time strain.

8. Invite others to use your computer and internet for online job applications.

9. Go without things. Until you can afford two. Until you can afford four. Until you don’t need it any more.

10. Print text, order books and format powerpoint in large print, with two languages when remotely appropriate.

11. Quietly sponsor a retreat for a family, for a pastor, who does not have the privilege to afford reflection and space.

12. Dress down.

13. Accompany a single mom to some places she is interested in going; help with snacks, get the directions, manage the shopping cart.

14. When the remodel happens at your church or office, fight for a family, unisex, accessible restroom. Or five.

15. Use that camera, or recruit your friend, to take pictures of families, events, engagements and newborns who don’t have a professional photographer budget line.

16. Next time you travel, travel with someone who doesn’t travel.

16 is my favorite number so that is the deep reason I will stop there. Thoughts?

I am coming to terms with the facts that my privilege is not something I can bleach myself of, not something to be shamed by, nor something to soak in. It is a gift, and it can be shared. I can spread beauty and justice and mercy and in doing so, experience so much more Truth.

What are your favorite ways to share? What other ideas do you have for me?