02 November 2013

Don't Be Like Tech Support to Me!

I take care of my own tech problems but occasionally I call tech support. Once I’m outed as a middle-aged woman, I’m always pigeon-holed. Invariably I dash tech support’s preconceived ideas about middle-aged women.

Jesus has perpetual appeal in this; he always dashes preconceived notions of who he should be and how he should act. The Pharisees embroiled him in debate but it took a sharp turn when Jesus responded with a category-smashing, liberating statement for humanity: “… are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man's whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:23b, 24).

When asked “where I am” on the complementarian /egalitarian debate in the church, though I’m weary of the topic, my conscience won’t let me ignore it. Through my brushes with male chauvinistic attitude (from both genders) and with the power-hungry, I’m aware that churches persist in judging by appearances and not with right judgment. I’m convinced the church needs every adult, male or female, who is willing and qualified as teacher or church leader. This reawakens me to the urgency of “smashing categories."  

Why now? The problem is the numbers: they don’t lie. Young women and men believe church is irrelevant to any world they occupy. They are right. Women are allowed to do anything, until they walk into church (granted, not all churches). Young women tell me they see the flaws in the “Christian womanhood” model. You'd have to be blind not to: no one can live up to it because it is a fabricated ideal.

Galatians 3:28 says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The church has dealt with the Jewish/ Gentile rift, and it no longer supports slavery. Yet, females are still barred from particular church roles (even though the Bible is shot through with women leaders such as judges, prophets, apostles, and more).
The consequence of barring women is that churches are anachronisms when it comes to women.

There are two main currents which herd women away from leadership in the church.
Neither of these two currents is a Christian injunction. The church’s health is not benefited when either current is promoted. The currents are often promoted in ignorance, or on a kind of unthinking “auto-pilot,” or a combination of both.

The first current is gender tendency. Churches which make gender tendency prominent submerge individual distinctions. Gender tendencies are either promoted openly or implied as the preferred “way to be.”

The second current is that churches fuse (consequently confuse) the early Christian era and culture with the current one.

1) Tendencies (& Abilities)

There is nothing in scripture to support that idea that God has delegated gifts, vocation, and talents according to gender. More women than men like to cook: this is a tendency. (It happens to be a tendency I lack.) There is nothing scriptural or godly for a church to encourage people to conform to “typical” gender types.

Beyond that, there are also gifts and abilities unique to people. A male chef may be extremely talented: that’s his gifting. It’s how God made him.

There is nothing holy or humble about keeping your gifts hidden or repressed. Repression takes on expressions—one of which is depression.

If your love is teaching, you should be able to teach (male or female). Doing what you’re outfitted to do well is a form of worship: don’t shoehorn yourself in—or stay away from— what you do best.

Whatever your strengths, they should be encouraged by the church. But if not, don’t wait—you just may need to blaze a trail.  

2) Era & Culture Fusion

A) Cultural Differences

It’s unfair to me that in some cultures I’m not called by my first name, but by husband’s first name. It’s also unfair that my husband is treated better than I am. But, while in foreign culture, it becomes my cultural reality. I must accept the non-western culture in its own context on its own terms and accommodate it outside of home.

However, when I return to my own culture, I would be extremely weird to insist on retaining the foreign culture out of some twisted sense of loyalty.

Similarly, the culture of the 1st century was different from the dominant Western culture; it was different, not better.

The point is simple: To force the culture of a different time and place into our Western culture is both unnecessary and strange. And, it’s lethal for a church to ignore the “local” cultural reality.

B) Era Differences

People don’t change, times do. My grandmother could kill and pluck a chicken, I never have. That doesn’t make me a better (or worse) person.

Schooling (literacy) and a middle class is relatively new historically. For women, universal schooling is even newer. Today, more American women than men have graduate degrees.

Little wonder we lose our way if we drag standard practices of the early church (which was very superstitious and mainly unschooled) into this century.

A different era requires different (and changing) demands. When a preacher or a writer fuses the era and culture of the Bible with ours, it’s not warranted, nor right.

What the Church Most Needs

Everyone is unique—uniqueness defies stereotyping. Creating a categorical rule from a biblical passage is deleterious, it relegates women to non-people—an anti-Christian perspective. It’s not only wrong but in practice, it is harmful.

People rightly sense that the dominant message regarding women isn’t applicable; to reverse the clock is to live in a fantasy world. Customs are time/ place-specific, and serve society. While customs change, truth doesn’t. Complementarianism is not a truth of Christ. Blocking women from leadership has no basis in truth: this custom no longer fits our society.

Christians are tired of bridging opposing worlds—to commend one custom outside of church but to uphold its opposite inside the church. Happily, if the church navigates our cultural current, the incongruity can be easily put to rights.

It’s a win-win for the church: it can only be strengthened with additional good, godly collaborators of any gender. When we bring out the best in each other, male, female, young and old, in the resultant “rising tide, all boats are lifted.”

I have long since finished with making anyone an idol. My life is in Christ, the Head of the Body, the Eternal Lord. Only Christ is life-invigorating, liberating and category-smashing.

04 June 2013

Meeting Plato & Shakespeare at Breakfast

I find the phrase “vocation is mission” satisfyingly descriptive. What it means is that which I do every day is my personal mission. 

We are continuously changing people in an ever-changing world and we draw on tried-and-true instruments to form new experiences and things for us, and for people around us. 

That’s the inventive/creative power we have. I love the creative work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. NT Wright said well,

“Those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God’s new Temple. They are… places where heaven and earth meet.” -Simply Christian

The Holy Spirit works with us: He doesn’t come through our door with a signboard announcing his Presence, nor with a Tweet.

If you do a bit of spiritual self-care, rather like getting ready for the day for work, it may amaze you later on at creative God can be in your life.  

Perhaps you might surprise me someday when I come down to breakfast and ‘meet another Shakespeare.’

Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. 
Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more. 

But, imagine what it would be to live with such men still living,
to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture tomorrow or
that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song. 

The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church
is a man always expecting to meet
Plato and Shakespeare tomorrow at breakfast.

 -   G K Chesterton, Orthodoxy

14 May 2013

On Women: Don’t Be Like Tech Support with Me

In the Church of Jesus Christ there can and should be no non-theologians. – Karl Barth
I can take care of my own tech problems–most of the time. Now and then I have to ask customer service for help. Once they know I’m a woman, I feel like a three-year old: half of my conversation is getting them not to pigeon-hole me. Sadly, in some churches I get the same sense communicated. I feel like texting the 32-year old in the pulpit who is speaking down to women: “I have been studying the Bible, and I’ve been devoted to spiritual disciplines for more than 40 years. Right now I’m using some of the best theologians and bible studies.”
On this note, someone recently asked “where I was” on the complementarian /egalitarian debate in the church. I’ve read both sides and the scriptures in context, out of context, and upside down and I think it’s silly. First, I’m not that political (small "p"). Mostly, it’s a distraction from discipleship and evangelism. As Christ’s Body we have a mission to do–in this era that necessarily involves some women. And some of those women will be teaching men.
The thought that God has segmented the gifts according to gender is unsupported in scripture and in the real life. Of course there may be tendencies, but tendencies don’t apply to all people. Some women hate/are scared to read this—no worries: what God has not equipped you for He does not ask you to do. Others react as if the entire Bible were questioned (which it is not). Scripturally there is support for women: women are judges, prophets, apostles—which makes them teachers. But notice, women make up the minority of these. And that speaks to two separate things: tendencies and cultural context of that era.
What should concern the church is quality: where are the visionaries?  the humble, Spirit-led, God-obsessed ones? Yes, many are in the pulpit. But excluded is the woman who might qualify, and yet the dullard of a man who holds an unsacramental view of the church, the world, women and work is acceptable. This, I do not see as a God-ordained decision.
Might we ask ourselves honest God-honoring questions with regard to genders in the church structure: Do we unthinkingly following an all-male quota system, rather than prayerfully fitting the churches with the best for the pulpit? Can we answer the question is it okay to suppress a person from growth by barring her from teaching a mixed adult Sunday School?
Our theology informs our thinking—or ought to. We should at least dare to ask questions of depth: What is our underlying view of women and girls in general if the church cherishes solely-by-males in all contexts stand with regards to teaching? What about the people who people threaten to quit the church if a woman teaches—and throw a tantrum. So, do we fear the anger of people so much? Is this our problem, or Christ's?
I have heard it said (or insinuated) that a man could not learn from a woman. Of course if the man is arrogant, then this is true—you can’t be taught if you’re not receptive.
Are we afraid of competition (in a bad sense)? Perhaps this fear in us should be treated. Or, is the question a harder one to face: are we not able to trust our Lord in this; He who makes us and gives all gifts and callings? (We aren’t too good at trust, if we’re honest with ourselves.)

I worry that the church is putting out its own eyes when it quashes the God-given gifts and talents of females in the churches. Again, in my experience, most women do not wish or have the time to be preachers or theologians. Yet, there are those few women who have a mind to serve and are ready and willing—but they will be lost to the ages if the church in the West continues as it is.

Can we be honest about who the church is for: it should be for and about Christ. When it is about Him, that is, when the members see Christ as the Only One, the Head of the Body, then (in this context) the calling to teach in a member is energized by the Spirit of Christ. There is no question about gender or background – the Spirit of Christ doesn’t require a “type.” In the rarefied air of the love of the Body of Christ the outcome is beautiful, unforced, and a normal: discipleship occurs, and evangelism happens. I know, I’ve been there.

However, the beautiful unfolding of these revolutionary moments cannot withstand the force of the hands of a board or committee who stick to their notes and pull the plug.

Let’s reflect. It might be painful, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong, Church.  

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for a bird to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”– CS Lewis

 (Lest you think I dislike men, it’s not true. My Lord is a man; some of my favorite pastors and theologians are men. I prefer working with men, I was raised by a great father, have a husband of 37 years who is gold, grew up with wonderful brothers, and have the best sons.) -Charity Johnson