Monthly Archives: May 2012

On Being Brave

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[a] because you have struggled with God and with human beings and have overcome.” 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[b] saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” 31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel,[c] and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.  – Genesis 32:22-32

I woke up thinking about this passage on Saturday.  Since I started this blog, I have occasionally been awakened before my alarm already thinking of what to write about.  But this time I didn’t really understand what this passage had to do with body theology, or with me, for that matter.

I had a marathon weekend working in Pasadena and didn’t get to put much thought into it, but last night on the long drive home, I put a good portion of my attention toward identifying the purpose God had for leading me to this well-known moment in biblical history when Jacob wrestles with God.

And I noticed three things.

1) God shows up physically.

God meets Jacob at a critical moment in his life–just after he has learned what it’s like to be deceived by Laban’s manipulation and just before he is going to be reconciled to the brother he once deceived.

Let me clarify. God meets Jacob physically, and Jacob is left with a physical injury as a result of his night-long struggle.

But here’s the thing I love about this moment: God did not overpower Jacob.  In another translation it says that the man “was not able” against Jacob and that Jacob struggled with God and with people and “was able.”

God met Jacob exactly where he was, down to the exact strength of his muscles.

2) Jacob has the audacity to demand a blessing–and he receives it! 

As much as the health-wealth gospel is criticized, here’s a mark in its favor.  If Jacob had not asked for the blessing, he would have walked away from his encounter with God with only the injured hip.  Jacob may limp away from his encounter with God, but he also gains a new name.

3) Jacob is still referred to as “Jacob” after this moment when he is given the new name “Israel.” 

I find this truly interesting since all the other times people are given new names (Abram/Abraham, Saul/Paul), they are immediately and forever changed.  Yet Jacob is still sometimes “the deceiver” even after he becomes “one who struggles with God.”  That tells me sometimes receiving a blessing or realizing a change in character are not lightning-bolt moments but ongoing journeys toward something new and better.

Being Much-Afraid

One of my favorite books when I was younger was Hinds’ Feet on High Places. If you haven’t read it, you should!  It’s an allegory of the Christian life, following Much-Afraid’s journey to meet the Good Shepherd on the Mountain of Spices.  Her companions are Sorrow and Suffering, and they help her navigate the difficult path through the mountains on her crippled feet.  At the end, Much-Afraid reaches her destination, is restored to full health in her body, and receives a new name.  Her companions are also transformed.

So I asked God on my drive home late last night what it was about this passage in Genesis that was so all-fire important that I had to wake up early on an already full weekend just to hear about it.

And I realized something.

I am Much-Afraid. 

Okay, maybe that’s not news.  I’ve identified myself with that allegory many times in my spiritual journey.  But this time I realized something else.

I’ve been given a new name. But like Jacob, I’m still sometimes Much-Afraid.  I’m still learning to live into my new name more fully and more often.

Then I read about how Alise sometimes feels like she doesn’t stack up against other bloggers and how Sarah is sometimes afraid of her name and her voice, and I suddenly felt known and understood and not alone anymore.  These bloggers have such unique and vital voices (and such well-established web presences), and they still sometimes feel the same way I feel.

Discounted.

Afraid.

I opened up my bedside table drawer and pulled out a gift a friend gave me, a little paperweight in the shape of a heart with “Strength” carved into the rock.

I once heard the word courage described as “strength of heart” and remembered a story I wrote in seminary about a boy named Courage who goes on a journey to recover his name after a spell of lies changed it to Fear.  If you read Tuesday’s post, you’ll understand.

Being Strength-of-Heart

And that is how I came to understand why God felt it necessary to wake me up so early on Saturday morning and remind me of a passage I haven’t read in ages about something that doesn’t even seem that related to body theology and yet MUST be the inspiration for this week’s blog posts.

I’ve been given a new name.

I am not Much-Afraid anymore.

I am Strength-of-Heart.

But I have been living like I’m still Much-Afraid for a long time.

I have strength of heart, as much strength as Jacob had that night he wrestled with God.  When I encounter God, God shows up with just exactly that amount of strength to push back with.  When morning comes, I am wounded and limping, but I am also blessed and so much closer to being that courageous woman God has created me to be.

God is restoring my name to me. I am becoming Strength-of-Heart again, the Strength-of-Heart I was created to be, the Strength-of-Heart who got buried under all the fear and lies of the world.

I am emerging. I am being made new.

I am finding my voice.

I am going to be brave.

20 Reasons I’m Afraid to Speak

  1. I am afraid of being wrong.
  2. I am afraid of drawing attention.
  3. I am afraid of not being prepared.
  4. I am afraid of losing friends.
  5. I am afraid of losing potential friends.
  6. I am afraid of being attacked.
  7. I am afraid of being misunderstood.
  8. I am afraid of being disagreed with.
  9. I am afraid of making the situation worse.
  10. I am afraid of harming someone else’s walk with God.
  11. I am afraid of failing.
  12. I am afraid of succeeding and not knowing what to do next.
  13. I am afraid of having nothing worth saying.
  14. I am afraid of being considered unworthy of saying it.
  15. I am afraid of being known.
  16. I am afraid of being known and then rejected.
  17. I am afraid of gaining nothing.
  18. I am afraid of losing what I have.
  19. I am afraid of living up to my potential.
  20. I am afraid of discovering my potential isn’t enough.

Courage and the Book of Truth: A Fairytale

Once upon a time there lived a young prince named Courage who lived in a palace and dreamed of adventure.

The King of Barrington was a good king, so there was peace in the land.  When Courage was very small, he would play with his friend Skeeter who had very large ears and lived at the far end of the palace grounds.  The boys would play at war, creating epic battles against imaginary enemies and coming home as heroes.

As the boys began to grow up, the King hired Thomas the Good Wizard to tutor Courage.  Thomas the Good Wizard taught Courage many valuable things, and when he had learned all he could be taught, Thomas decided to go back to his family at the far end of Barrington.

Before Thomas left, he gave Courage a special gift: the Book of TRUTH.

Now Courage was a young man who was not interested in old books that smelled like mold and had no pictures in them of great battles.  So Courage put the Book under his bed and forgot it.

One day an Evil Magician came into Barrington on a huge dragon that breathed fire on the villages and burned up the crops.  The King rode out to meet him on a strong white stallion, and the two collided in a wild struggle.

It looked like the King would win until with a mighty blow to the temple, the King fell to the ground. Courage, who had been watching from a tree, scrambled down to save his father, but Skeeter held him back, and the two disappeared into the forest to hide.

The Evil Magician locked up the king and all his family in the highest tower, but he couldn’t find Courage.  So the Evil Magician put a spell over all the land made of LIES.

The tower became a dungeon, the Evil Magician became the king, and Courage became Fear.

Fear decided to go to Thomas the Good Wizard for help, but now he was afraid to go by himself.  So Skeeter went with Fear to the farthest end of the kingdom to find Thomas.

While they were traveling, the Evil Magician put another spell over the kingdom so that everyone who dared to teach TRUTH against his LIES would mysteriously die.  When Fear and Skeeter arrived at the house, Thomas was dead.

But there was hope!

Skeeter, who had supersonic hearing because of his very large ears, overheard Thomas’ wife whispering about a Book of TRUTH that Thomas used to have that could reverse the spells and bring him back to life…if only she could find it.  Then Fear remembered the gift Thomas had given him long ago, so the two borrowed horses from Thomas’ wife and rode for two days to get back to the palace.

Fear climbed up the wall of the castle, snuck into his bedroom window, and found the old Book under his bed.  He opened the Book, blew off the dust, learned the secrets about the TRUTH and set the land free from the Evil Magician’s LIES.

The newly freed King sent the Evil Magician out of his kingdom, never to return, Thomas came back to life again, and Fear was once again restored to his true identity as Courage, a true hero—with help from Skeeter’s very large ears.

The end.

Forward Friday: Speak

This weekend, take some time to honor and acknowledge the women in your faith community for their leadership and ministry gifts and abilities.  Here are some ideas to help get you started:

  • write a thank you note

  • write a letter

  • give a $5 gift card

  • take her out to lunch

  • recognize her publicly

  • offer an opportunity to lead in a new area

  • mention her in the comment section below and send her the link

  • mention her on your own blog and share the link in the comment section

Whatever you say or do, be genuine and specific.

If you are a woman in leadership, know that what you bring to the table is unique and valuable. Your voice matters.  Keep speaking!

Choosing Church: A Lament (Part 3)

Read part 1.  Read part 2.

Church-Hunting

My husband and I spent several months looking for a church when we moved to a new area.  You can read a little about our experiences here and here.  We finally decided that we were not going to find The Perfect Church and that we needed to just pick one and make an effort to be part of the community of God.

The church we chose had some very positive traits.  Some of the important elements we were were looking for in a church were present, and we were hopeful that we might be able to plug into the community and begin to make friends.  It wasn’t the best fit, but we hoped it might be good enough at least for this season.

Fight or Flight

Now, after about three months of intentional effort to get to know people and become involved, it is clear that this church is not a good fit.  These are kind, welcoming people.  They are genuine and earnest in their pursuit of God and of community with each other.  Because of these traits, their lack of support for women in ministry was an issue we thought we could overlook, but I have realized I do not feel safe here.

I will never feel safe here.  I cannot share myself with these people because they will not understand or accept me.  They will never be able to support and encourage me to live fully into my gifts and calling because their worldview does not allow it.

Since I moved to California, every time I have begun to participate in a community, I have found myself in leadership positions.  Sometimes they were vacant, and I just happened to fill them.  Sometimes positions were created to fit gifts and skills that were emerging and being recognized in me. Sometimes leadership opportunities were ill-timed or even unwelcome as I was struggling with accepting who I am and who God has called me to be.

I’ve spent so much time learning to spread my wings and trust them to keep me in flight that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have them clipped. Now that I have experienced freedom and have begun to live into my gifts and calling, I can’t go back to the way things were. I can’t go back to being satisfied with being in the background, watching and listening as the men lead, accepting their leadership without question, following well.

I can’t go back to being silent.

And I can’t watch these brilliant, gifted women assume the fullness of their roles in the kingdom of God is only available in the room where there are no men present.  It’s too painful. It makes me angry.

Where is the freedom of Christ here?  Where is the blood of Christ that covers us all?  Why are we standing so far apart on our respective hills, the theological ones we’re willing to die on, when we should be kneeling together at the foot of the cross where we are all on common ground?

At the heart of body theology is the incarnation of Christ.  Christ lived and died and rose again in the actual, fleshly sense.  Through Christ we have been redeemed: body, mind, and spirit.  We are made new.  There is no longer race, class, or gender to divide us.  All are one in Christ Jesus.

How can we regain our connection with the ideal, the beginning, the first bloom of the coming together of the community of God?

The first step is to recognize our strength and that our strength is far greater than that of the leash that ties us to satisfaction with complacency.

The Lament

If we can’t be silent and we can’t speak, where does that leave us?

I feel dishonest, sitting in a folding chair on community night while these earnest people open up their lives to each other, knowing I am not being vulnerable in return, knowing they would not know how to respond if I were, knowing there is no room for me here.

I want so much to join them. I want so much to leave.

I feel like the sluggard who buried his talent in the sand rather than using it to his advantage.  Here I am with a seminary degree, a woman with all this knowledge and training and no where to put it to use.  Here I am, sitting in that chair, keeping my mouth shut, unwilling to rock the boat, unable to move at all.

How can they be satisfied with so little?  How can I expect so much?

I feel like a freak for not being satisfied among these people, these brothers and sisters, these members of the body of Christ.  Their complacency wounds me, and I can’t even begin to explain it to them.  I am already too defeated to try.

There is no room for me here. This space is too small and cramped. I can’t even squeeze in as it is.  How can I grow?

I can’t stay here.  But there is nowhere to go.

Choosing Church: A Lament (Part 2)

Read part 1 here.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

Galatians 3:28 reminds us that we are joined by the Holy Spirit beyond race, class, or gender.  How can churches preach “all are one in Christ Jesus” while discouraging strong women leaders like my friend Amy, the EPC candidate?

How can we be unified as

one body,

the body of Christ,

when we discriminate against each other based on the particular body God has given each of us?

The Choice

When we disagree with the status quo, we have a choice to make.  We can let go of the disagreement, stay in the current situation, and suffer alone.  We can stay and fight alone until we win or are removed.  Or we can leave and either join another community already in agreement or start something new.

How do we make that choice? How do we decide when to suffer, when to fight, and when to leave?

Do not suffer in silence.

Take, for example, another couple in ministry in a community that is not supportive of women.  Let’s call them John and Jenny.  John has the visible leadership role, though Jenny has the clearly stronger leadership traits.  John and Jenny have a pretty egalitarian marriage, all things considered, providing Jenny with the space and opportunities to grow into her leadership gifts more fully.  Yet, like the elephant on a leash, she has been conditioned to subordinate herself to his leadership in the community.

With people like Jenny, I am too impatient.  It kills me to see potential being wasted, to see Jenny silencing herself for the sake of not making her husband look bad, or for not drawing attention to gifts and skills she is not “allowed” to have. I want to rush her into freedom she doesn’t feel the need to seek.  It’s too painful to wait and watch and hope.

Brothers and sisters, do not let your voices be silenced.  Whether you are called to lean into your current situation and slowly affect change from within, or whether you are called to let go and move on to a place where you can experience safety and freedom–do not stay and suffer in silence.  Do not allow the fear and ignorance of others to silence your prophetic voice.

You have something to say.

     You are unique and valuable. 

            You are the catalyst for change.

And you are not alone.  There have been many men and women before you who have advocated for women in ministry and leadership.  There are many more around you now.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:1-3

Fix your eyes on the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  Go or stay, my dear siblings in Christ, only do not be silent. Speak.

What Community Means

So, how do we decide when to lean in and when to let go? The truth is, there is no perfect system, no one right answer. Every situation is different, and everyone is called differently.  Ask God to reveal to you what your role is in your community.

Are you a catalyst for change? Are you in a toxic environment? Is your voice being heard? Are you an advocate for those without a voice? Is there room for you to grow?

For those of you who can stay and work for change,  I admire and commend your patience and forebearance, your long-suffering and perseverance.  I wish I could be more like you.

For me, being in community means being in a safe place.  It means being accepted and valued.  It means having the freedom to live fully into my gifts and calling. It means being able to listen to a sermon or pastoral prayer without getting angry.  It means not having to be on the defensive constantly.  It means being able to be fully myself.  It means being able to disagree with others in the community without losing anything.  It means having my voice heard, acknowledged, and welcomed.

A Seat at the Table

There is a lot of talk nowadays about being “invited to the table,” meaning being included in the conversation rather than having to wait for those at the table to discuss and decide and hand down a verdict.  I know that language is useful to many people, but it reminds me of Thanksgiving dinner.

At Thanksgiving dinner, the adults sit at the adults’ table with all the food, nice plates, and wine.  The children sit at the kids’ table with pre-prepared portions of food on paper plates and juice in plastic cups.  As I grew older, I was put in charge of the kids’ table and made sure everyone had what they needed and that they didn’t bother the adults unnecessarily.

This metaphor of being invited to the table makes me feel like I am still at the kids’ table. I may be in leadership over everyone else at that table, but I am still considered “a kid.” Even if I’m invited to sit at the adults’ table, I’m not really one of them. I’m just a kid with a new seat, closer to the mashed potatoes.

I don’t want to have to fight for a seat at the table or wait to be invited. I want to be in a place where my seat at the table is a given, where it is taken for granted that I have been called and equipped with gifts and skills for leadership.

I’m tired of having this debate. I’m tired of being forced to defend myself and my fellow women believers at every turn.  I’m tired of being angry at the injustice.  I’m tired of being disappointed at the realization that, yet again, it’s really all about fear of sharing power, fear of losing control, fear that the truth may not be quite so neat and tidy after all.

I’m ready to move on from the kids’ table and step into the life God has called me to live.  This reality is not what we are meant to be. The table is too small, and there are not enough chairs.

Where is the beauty and innocence of the first Christians?

Where is the unity and trust among believers?

Where is the sharing of wealth and power?

How can we regain our connection with the ideal, the beginning, the first bloom of the coming together of the community of God?

To be continued…

%d bloggers like this: