Regaining feeling in my feet

Today I read the Danvers Statement. I didn’t wake up planning to read the Danvers Statement.  But who wakes up planning to read a manifesto that basically downgrades one’s own beliefs and upbringing to a savage attempt to devalue the authority of Scripture?

Yeah. That’s where this post is going. You’ve been warned.

I could write for days about my position as an egalitarian, a Methodist, a fairly progressive Christian.  I’m still not always wonderful at expressing these beliefs with humility or without anger, but I’m getting there.  God is teaching me grace.  He is teaching me to listen more than I speak.  I will be the first to admit that I am not there yet.

But I don’t really want to prove points right now.  I don’t want to rehash the same arguments, the same talking points, the same interpretations.  My purpose right now is to thank.  It is to honor.  It is to – well, I guess it is to prove one point wrong.

According to the Danvers Statement,

7. the emergence of roles for men and women in church leadership that do not conform to Biblical teaching but backfire in the crippling of Biblically faithful witness…

You see, I expected most of what I read in the Danvers Statement; I am not unfamiliar with complementarian thought or ideas.  I go to a school with a complementarian bent, run by individuals with strong complementarian views and quite a literal interpretation of Scripture.  I don’t doubt that one can form a solid complementarian exegesis from Scripture.  I don’t think God intended for us all to read Scripture the same way, or to draw all of the same conclusions on matters that don’t directly relate to salvation.  But, as many* would also attest, it’s a matter of interpretation.  It’s what we come to Scripture with just as much as what we walk away with.  Our presuppositions, our upbringings, our families, our churches – all color our view of Scripture to the point where I wouldn’t claim that anyone “just follows what the text says.”  Because the text is a living Word; it is the breath of God, and breath is not stagnant.  Words and stories have contexts, hidden meanings, biases, and peculiarities.

Therefore, because of my relationship with the Lord, my upbringing, my church, my research, my gifts, my experience, my observations, and yeah, even my biases and opinions, I call myself egalitarian.

Anyway.  I expected to read most of what I read in the Danvers Statement.  It wasn’t shocking or offensive because it is the arguments and logic that is presented to me often in the current environment in which I find myself.  But point 7 was different.  Point 7 hit my heart.  And it hurt.

When I’m told that the roles faithful women have played in my church – and in my life – serve only to “cripple Biblical faithful witness,” what I really hear is “the ways God has worked in you and through others is false. He didn’t actually do what you thought He did.  In reality, you’re knocking the legs out from under those through whom God is actually working.”

They can’t mean that.  Can they?

Because when I was a baby, I was baptized in a church that ordains women.  And when I was in preschool, a group of women taught me how to share, write, and listen in the basement of that same church.  The summer before second grade I started going to a camp where college-aged men and women, together, led Bible studies, shared testimonies, showed us the stars, and taught us what it looked like to worship.  I never attended a gender-segregated Sunday School class, but I did attend many that were taught by women and couples.  Under the prompting of a female camp counselor from Scotland, the summer before 7th grade, I read a poem I had written at a talent show and men and women told me I changed them.  My church had three female youth pastors serve during the time I was a part of youth group, and the current youth pastor is one of my closest friends, a confidant and an ally and a woman.  She preaches to the congregation, teaches dance, and has a Master of Divinity.  I am best friends with a 21-year-old full-time missionary who has shared the Gospel in India, Turkey, Germany, Nicaragua, the Midwest.  My other best friend is 20 and moving to Australia next year to be a youth pastor.  She was a missionary for a while, too.

I go to a Baptist school but many of my professors, both male and female, have faith in a God who calls based on giftedness, not gender.  I have girlfriends who will be pastors.  I have friends who are stay-at-home moms.  I have been “shepherded” by women writers whom I’ve never met.  The pastor at my church is a woman.  My mother and grandmothers (and so many others) taught me how to love and how to stand up for myself.  They have stepped aside to allow my strength to grow.  They have never unconfirmed my passions.

These women have not crippled Biblical witness.  They have taught me and others how to witness with our lives more than with our words.  They have inspired me to seek God.  They have helped me interpret the Bible.  They have let me think for myself.  They have cleared out a space for me to grow into and out of.  They have showed me who Jesus is.  They have given their lives to Him.  They have shown others to the head of the dusty path to salvation.  They have listened to Yahweh.

These women have not crippled anyone.

They have sent me running.

 

 

 

 

 

*Following are a list of books/bloggers/organizations to check out for more on this.  I’ve read or interacted with all of these resources:

Sarah Bessey | Rachel Held Evans | Scot McKnight (no, I’ve not read everything he’s written) | Elizabeth Esther | Dianna E. Anderson | The Junia Project | Ed Cyzewski | Kathy Escobar | Hilary Sherratt | Micah J. Murray | How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership | SheLoves Magazine | Christians for Biblical Equality | The Priscilla Papers

 

 

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Noticing

If there was ever a perfect day to have a yoga class, it might have been today.  After an emotionally draining but ultimately fulfilling weekend, an evening in which I stayed up far too late and became far too grumpy, an early morning, and a day full of work (complete with a drive to meet with staff at a university 45 minutes away), I was ready to take my first yoga class.  I was a little nervous, yes (but my natural state is Overthought, so nervousness wasn’t exactly new), and there was a small but firm voice in my head that was trying to back out of the whole thing, but more than anything, I just wanted to breathe.  I wanted to try something new.  And I wanted to do so today.

the yoga studio is in Yellow Springs, a town about fifteen minutes from where I live.  But it seems like it’s worlds away: the village is small but incredibly unique and artistic, with street signs and meters covered in rainbow stickers, bookshops offering volumes on women mystics of Christianity and vegan Hindu cookbooks, vintage boutiques with chanting playing from a radio in the corner, a stained glass shop that serves as home to three large cats.  Today was beautiful, so the streets were crowded with a mix of roadtripping retirees, cigarette-smoking students, young mothers and their toddlers, local artists, cyclists, and myself.  After I got over my initial apprehension a few years back – I’d never seen a Baha’i house of worship or a Wicca section in a bookstore or a waitress with tattoos on her shoulders wearing a strapless top – I came to love the town.  People are kind.  They are accepting.  I can be myself on their streets, even if myself is simply a 21-year-old girl from rural Ohio who goes to a Christian school.

You know how Christians can sometimes paint pictures of the token Hostile Pagan?  Baggy pants and long hair and an angry vendetta against anyone who claims an absolute truth?  Well, in my limited time wandering Yellow Springs – supposedly a hotbed for Hostile Pagans – I’ve never overheard a single plot to take down the Kingdom.  What I have noticed, though, is that our Hostile Pagan stories may be just that – stories.  Maybe Jesus’ love is practiced far more amongst those who don’t realize they’re practicing the love of Jesus.

My yoga class started at 5:30, but I arrived at 5, partly because I was excited and partly because I wanted to introduce myself to the teacher.  I was the first one there, even before Larisa, the instructor.  My anxiety alarms were buzzing: I had arrived too early, looked too eager, looked too silly, I was probably wearing completely the wrong thing, I’m going to make a fool of myself, I’m probably in the wrong studio, this is most likely an elaborate front and I’m going to get hypnotized and inducted into an underground band of druids.

Do you see how exhausting it is in my brain sometimes?  Do you see why I need some chakra?  Or whatever?

The receptionist, a quiet, kind older woman who made it feel like I could only speak to her in whispers, had me fill out a release and showed me where to change.  She told me that I would love Larisa, that she was excited about it being my first time trying yoga, that this was a very welcoming class.  When Larisa arrived, she introduced me and nudged me to lay out my borrowed mat near the front.  Larisa, another kind, warm woman who I supposed was a mother of someone just a few years younger than myself, asked me about myself, helped me get set up, assured me that this was a good class for beginners and that I didn’t need to be afraid of looking silly.  I hadn’t told her that I was nervous, but she seemed to be a pretty perceptive person.  Perhaps one must be, to be a good yoga instructor.

The other students, five of them, arrived close to 5:30.  A young couple came first, chatting idly to Larisa about their week.  Next an older woman came in, followed closely by a couple closer to my parents’ ages.  No one really acknowledged me, for which I was grateful – I didn’t feel like being on.  I wanted to observe.  Gradually, the talking died down and Larisa began the class – and it’s hard to explain what the next hour held.  It was a standard yoga class, I think.  I realized I was quite familiar with a lot of the poses and breathing techniques, from my years of theatre warm-ups.  Larisa started class by asking us to find an intention – something to focus on for the next hour, something we wanted to do during the class.  My brain, as we’ve already established, is hard to quiet down, so I decided to just try to relax.  To try to focus on what I was doing, in the present, for the next hour.  I was fascinated by the whole class, so quieting my brain completely wasn’t going to happen.  But maybe I could notice something.

I don’t know what I expected, truly.  I wondered if the stereotypes would be true: the chanting, the Oms, the crossed legs and the emptied mind and the seven centers of the spirit (or something).  I found that a few of them were – my legs were crossed a lot, there was some talk of centering oneself, and the class closed with about 6 seconds of ommmmmm.  But we also did a lot of stretching, a lot of breathing, a lot of relaxing and just simply being quiet.  When Larisa reminded us to relax even our face muscles, I realized I had been smiling the whole time.

Throughout the hour, Larisa kept telling us to “bring our mind closer to our heart.”  I latched onto the phrase.  Whatever it was supposed to mean, it meant something profoundly spiritual to me.  I thought about how distant my mind often is from my heart, and what that means for me as a Christ-follower.  The heart is so important in my faith – we sing and read and talk about the heart, about love, about Jesus finding dwelling within us.  It’s a metaphor and it’s a literal expression; it is used as poetry and as prose.  The heart is how we explain the intimate connection we have with Jesus.  The mind, on the other hand, isn’t as common.  Weirdly, in Christian culture, it seems that the mind – the intellect, the logic, the activity – is so disconnected from spirituality.  It’s associated with the world, with secular thought.  And that doesn’t make sense to me, as both an intellectual person and a Christ-follower.  My heart is often on my sleeve, but my mind is a million places at once.  For me, the issue isn’t that my mind and all that it holds has nothing to do with my faith, but rather that my mind is too busy for the peace my faith is meant to give.

When the Scriptures said to love the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, it didn’t leave any room for the idea that those aspects of my self are disconnected.  Everything about me is tied to the Lord.  If I have given my heart to Him, I’ve also given my brain, my arms, my legs, my dreams, my thoughts, my passions.  God didn’t put people together with the intention that we should let this life break us apart, or that we should continue on without putting the pieces back together.

I don’t know if I left yoga feeling more intimate with God because I thought I was supposed to – after all, I wasn’t looking for any other divinity other than the One I already know.  Of course the spirituality, for me, would be my faith.  But I did leave happy.  I did leave joyful.  I hadn’t quite been able to relax my facial muscles.

One yoga class didn’t shut off my brain, but I don’t think that is what I really want.  My intention was to focus.  To notice what I was doing in the present.  And I did: Larisa told me to think about what my breath was doing, and I did.  She said to notice my fingers, my toes, my shoulders, my thighs, my neck, the space behind my ears – and I did.  I kept realizing that I was alive, that God was for me, that He had not left me floating but that He had placed me on the floor in a yoga studio in a town full of many who did not recognize my God as Yahweh – He had let me find myself firmly on a floor, breathing, figuring out how to put myself back together again.

A God to Expect

There are places that should be filled.  Places that need people in them to fully be what they are.  I first experienced the ghost-town sensation at camp, when I arrived three weeks early to work some rental groups and prepare for summer. Before then, camp had always been a place full of delightful squeals, shouted repeat-after-me songs, golf cart tires on gravel.  But that summer, when I arrived early, camp was silent.  The assistant director lived on the edge of camp, and he and the director were in the office with me during the day, but at night, they left.  And I would make myself dinner, traipse down to the cottage I was staying in, and sit with the quiet. It was the most alone I had ever felt.  There was no internet, no cell service, and no television – it was just me, and the music I had installed in my computer.  I tried to read, I remember, but the silence became heavy as the sun sank away.  I tried to write, but my thoughts would run away with themselves – I thought too much for a girl who had no one with whom to think aloud.  I would call my mom on the land line from the office, crying, not because I was afraid or because I missed home, but because camp finally looked and felt empty.  My place – the one place where I had always been guarenteed company – was a giant wooded prison.

One night, alone in a cabin that I had just opened for the season, tucked into my sleeping bag, I spoke to God out loud.  I told Him that if there ever was a time for me to have a mystic moment, a time for Jesus to appear – literally, bodily, with His standard arms-wide-open posture and knowing-smile face – now was that time.  I told God that I had no one – that every night for what seemed like years (but was really only a few weeks) I had been alone, in the dark, empty.  Really, looking back, I see now that I allowed the loneliness to cripple me; I allowed the dark to seep into my mind.  It’s amazing, and kind of terrifying, how easy it is to be overcome by that which really can’t hurt you on its own.

That night, in the cabin, was the first time I remember being completely dependent on God to come through.  As silly as it seems – I mean, there are prisoners of war, religious captives, refugees and over 200 girls being sold as child brides in Africa right now, and my most desperate moment was sitting alone in a bunk at a church camp that I basically grew up at, in a wood I knew like the back of my hand, a three-minute walk away from an office with internet, phones, and food – I know it sounds ridiculous, but in that moment, I felt my need for God more than I had ever felt it before.

I prayed for a long time that night.  It was one of those prayers that drifts in and out, that wanes in intensity until it’s just you, your head on the pillow, staring into the space in front of you, desperate hope and exhaustion clashing within you.

In the silence, a bat fluttered from one rafter to the other.  I sat up, not because I was afraid, but because in that moment, I was completely certain that I had just seen the Spirit.

Track with me here: I don’t come anywhere close to charismatic.  I’m Methodist, and as progressive as I tend to be as of late, I still stand firmly in my pew, arms (usually) clasped in front of me.  The Holy Spirit is, to me, the most intriguing and the most confusing member of the Trinity, a juxtaposition of beauty and mystery.  If we were to get technical, we would technically label me a semi-cessationist with a fairly open mind but a little bit of hidden fear that if I let Him, God will use me in ways I don’t understand (which seems to be the way He usually uses people anyway, but…).  In short, the last thing I expected that night was for God to actually answer my prayer.

Why don’t we pray like God will actually answer our prayer?

Why do we doubt the One who made promises?

That bat didn’t scare me that night.  I didn’t run screaming, I didn’t turn on the lights or set a trap for it.  Instead, the bat was comfort.  It was that peace-surpassing-all-understanding feeling.  It was the most unromantic revelation, but that’s how God tends to work, isn’t it?  Maybe we’ve hyped up the miracles so much that we see them through Hollywood glasses, as these flashing heroics complete with background orchestration.  But the ways Jesus worked were generally without fanfare.  He had a conversation with a woman drawing water.  He told the servant to have the wine skins filled with water.  He told the man to pick up his mat and walk.  As earth-shattering and life-changing and power-shifting as His works were, there were no fireworks.  He spoke in parables, with no flashing arrows.  He did things differently, but not in ways anyone expected.  He was not yet the warrior king on a white horse, riding into Jerusalem to defeat the Romans.  This is a God who uses bats in camp cabins.  This is a God who answers prayers but asks us to pay attention.  He is a God who asks us to expect Him, but not always in the most expected ways.

I’ve met with the ghost-town sensation a few times since then.  I found it this week at school – I’m living with a family outside of town and working on campus during the day.  It’s desolate – finals have ended, students have left, and the small, sleepy town has slipped quietly into the slow pace of summer.  Thankfully, I have plenty of friends around, which keeps the loneliness far away, and I’ve grown up quite a bit in the past few years anyway.  I know, now, how to better be alone.  But I’ve been reminded, in this new quiet, of my need for my God.  I’ve been reminded of His faithfulness, even in my wandering, even in my doubt, even in my fear.  He continues to sit closely, constantly, and I can rest in that.

Rest, He whispered that night, after the bat flew by – the bat that reminded me that I have never been fully alone.

Rest, because you can expect Me.

Redundancy.

Loved.
Repeat it to yourself, over and over.
Loved in your inane selfishness
and in your moments of brightness.
Loved.
Repeat it to yourself, like you believe it.
Loved in your quick turns from joy to fear,
and loved even when you don’t want to be.
Loved.
Repeat it to yourself, like what I did on the cross mattered.
Loved because I died for a world
and for you.
Loved because I never stopped thinking about you.
Loved.
Repeat it to yourself, out loud.
Loved because I chose you,
I prepared your way,
and I do not intend to leave you.
Loved.
Repeat it to yourself, as you rise and as you sleep.
Loved even as you contradict yourself,
and even as you whisper truths.
Loved even though you don’t make sense,
because I do.
Loved.
Repeat it to yourself, because you must understand.
Loved by Me and by others,
loved in ways you can’t comprehend,
loved when you cannot love yourself.
Loved, still, when you can.
Loved.
Repeat it to yourself, bathe in the notion, let this love fall over you.
Because you don’t deserve it.
But I decided you were worth it anyway.
Believe Me.