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Gender-Inclusive Language; Gender-Inclusive God (Part 2)

From the archives: originally posted January 18th and 19th, 2012

Read Part 1.

Now to come to the point.  After all this journey toward freedom from gender-specific language about people and about God, I still don’t have all the answers. I still don’t have it all worked out.  I’m not sure anyone does.  We live in a time where change happens so quickly.  We try to define the era we live in while we’re living in it, an impossible task.  So instead of being prescriptive and laying out a neat outline of what must be done as an advocate of gender-inclusive language, I choose to be descriptive and share what works for me and why I’ve made the choices I’ve made.

I think any effort to be gender-inclusive, even if it’s done imperfectly, should be commended for the effort itself.

So if you like to “he/she” and “himself/herself” your way through the world, that’s wonderful.

If you prefer to “he” your way through one paragraph and “she” your way through the next, that’s excellent, too.

If you’re a “oneself” kind of person, which some people consider a little stilted and impersonal, I will still appreciate you.

And if you’re like me, you might prefer simply “we”-ing through the whole thing and when “we”-ing doesn’t fit well, bringing back the singular “they” which had fallen out of use for a century or two and is steadily gaining new life again.

Then of course, let’s not forget to transform those “mans” and “mankinds” into “humans,” “peoples,” “humanitys,” “human races” and even “humankinds.”

(Confused? Here’s a helpful guide on gender-inclusive language.)

So “we” have now established that effort toward a mindfulness of gender-inclusive language is preferable when talking about ourselves and each other.  But what about when we talk about God?

Remember when Madeleine L’Engle was writing about her perspective on gendered language? She referred to Genesis 1:27 as the basis for “man” being inclusive of both male and female.  Here’s how the TNIV translates the verse:

So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

If it takes both a man and a woman together to represent the image of God, then why is it that we often only use male language when referring to God?  One common argument is that God is described in male language in the Bible; therefore, Bible-believing Christians must follow God’s example and continue to use male language to describe God.

Let me be clear.  I do not think there is anything wrong with using male language or masculine imagery for God.  In fact, God as the Father is one of my most precious expressions for God in my personal spiritual journey.

What I think is unhelpful is referring to God using male language at the exclusion of female language and feminine imagery.  Christian mothers like Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, and Catherine of Siena helped bridge the gap by describing God using male language and at the same time feminine imagery.  For example, Julian of Norwich wrote of Jesus nursing us at his breasts and described Jesus as “our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

In today’s Christian culture, many people are too quick to settle on God as Him and dismiss the movement of the Mother-Father-God-ers as radical and perhaps even heretical.  For me, I strive for a more moderate stance.  That’s why I avoid gender-specific pronouns when I talk about God.  That’s why I still refer to Jesus as male (because he was a man, even if he isn’t still).  That’s why I like to refer to the Holy Spirit as female, because so much of my experience of the divine feminine has come through encounters with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit-inspired.

Even when I must use gender-specific pronouns so as not to write myself into ridiculously awkward sentence structures, I try to use “he” and “him” or “she” and “her.”  That way I know I am not saying God is “He” as in God-the-All-Masculine or “She” as in God-the-All-Feminine.  Instead, I say God is “he” as in God-as-God-embodies-the-masculine or God is “she” as in God-as-God-embodies-the-feminine.  In this way, I am able to balance the masculine and the feminine aspects of the Trinity, which is very biblical.  At least for right now, this is what works for me.

(Does the idea of God as “she” rock your world? Ask yourself what it would be like if the situation were reversed and God as “he” was revolutionary.  Watch out for double standards and try to be mindful of the way language may affect others, even if it doesn’t affect you that way.)

We all know that when the pendulum swings away from one extreme, it inevitably swings right past the middle and reaches the other extreme before it can gradually settle more and more toward the balance the middle brings.  My journey with gender-inclusive language has swung from one side where “man” includes both men and women to the other side where God as “He” and “Him” makes me feel like I, as “she” and “her,” am not part of the image of God after all.

Maybe my reaction is too extreme.  Maybe as the pendulum of my journey continues to swing back and forth, I will come closer and closer to the perfect balance of the middle ground.

But I’m not there yet.

So for now, oh ye readers, you will see me still swinging.  Let’s approach both ourselves and each other with grace, and give each other room to swing out as far as we need to, safe in the knowledge that we will also have room to swing back.

 

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29 Truths I would tell my younger self

I turned 29 recently and have been reflecting on my life’s journey thus far. I have come a long way personally and spiritually and am no longer the person I was when I was in high school or college.  If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, here’s what I would say:

29 Truths I would tell my younger self

  1. It gets better. I promise.  Keep on keeping on until it does.
  2. Know who you are.  When your identity is sure, you will stop believing the lies other people tell you about who you are.
  3. You are beautiful and worth loving.  You will fall in love and get married sooner than you think.  Live with confidence in who you are.
  4. Let people in. They may bring pain, but they may also bring healing and joy.
  5. God loves you. No, really.
  6. Stand up for yourself. Ignoring the problem behavior only makes them try harder to hurt you. Show some backbone and they’ll never have the guts to cross you again.
  7. Acknowledge pain others caused you, deal with it, and then move on.  Pretending it didn’t hurt doesn’t make it true.
  8. You don’t have to be always right.
  9. You don’t always have to prove you are right to everyone else. Sometimes it’s more important to maintain a relationship and open conversation.
  10. It’s okay to let go.  You don’t have  to carry everything all at once.
  11. It’s okay to fail. The world will not fall apart. Plus, you can always try again.
  12. Practice self-care.  Rest is as productive and necessary as work.
  13. You don’t have to take care of everyone all the time forever. Share the burden. Give people the opportunity to learn to care for themselves.
  14. Quoting Bible verses to support your argument to people who don’t read the Bible can be alienating.  Meet people where they are.
  15. Allow people to be who they are, where they are in their personal growth, and trust that God will get them where they need to go in time.  Offer people the same gentle patience God shows you.
  16. Instead of focusing on what divides, look for common ground, what unites people, and build on that foundation.
  17. Be willing to admit you could be wrong.
  18. Admit when you’re wrong.
  19. Your voice has power. Speak.
  20. Pace yourself.
  21. Don’t judge others. I know you think you don’t, but you do. Stop it.
  22. Have more compassion.
  23. Show more compassion.
  24. Life is not black-and-white. God is not black-and-white.
  25. Stop correcting people’s grammar out loud.  People make mistakes. Don’t rub their faces in it.
  26. You think you’re motivated by love, but you’re not. You’re motivated by fear. Let go of the fear, and there will  be room for the love.
  27. Own your mistakes. Say you’re sorry. Make it right. Pretending it didn’t happen does not make it true.
  28. All-or-nothing is easy, but it’s not healthy. Aim for the happy middle.
  29. Keep writing. It will save you.

Guest Post: Inside Out

Tammy Waggoner is a recent grad of Fuller Theological Seminary. She enjoys writing about the things that affect her life and ministering to women who have been abused. She is a trailblazer in this area and enjoys helping other people understand the complexity of sexual abuse as well as helping survivors get freedom and true healing.  For more from Tammy, check out her ministry, Fractured Wholeness, and read her blog.

This post is in response to Monday’s post, “Against the Flesh, Part 1.” In this post, Laura talks about the lies that people believe about their body. I had mentioned to Laura that if we want to get freedom from the lies, we need to not only understand where the Bible stands on such issues but also acknowledge and dig into the root of such issues.

Society tells us what the ideal body image is and until recently, with the influx of plus size models, that was size 0 without curves or blemish. Who really wears a size 0? Even plus size models are the ideal at size 14. As a woman with curves I have had to embrace my curves and really step into that but society alone is not to blame.

How we see ourselves on the outside is directly related to how we see ourselves on the inside.

Some people’s insides are damaged or broken. As an abuse survivor I can tell you that I have some distorted views of my body. My body reacted to abuse when my mind was screaming that it wasn’t right. My body let me down and in some instances I am plagued with ideas that my body is bad.

To admit that the first time was hard but now I know that my body was not to blame. Do you blame yourself for attraction? Do you blame yourself farting? Our bodies, made in God’s image, have natural functions that we cannot blame ourselves for.

Poor body image is directly related to self-hatred. I hate myself so I also hate my body. Women who have been abused spend lots of time trying to hide their bodies, the idea being, “If I can become ugly or invisible no one will try to take advantage.” This outward need to become hidden is sad but when this is broken it is beautiful to watch.

In my ministry I have seen women go from wearing all black and covering their bodies from head to toe to wearing bright colors and new cuts and no longer hiding behind dark clothing but stepping into who they actually are. It is the rewarding part of my job and my ministry. Watching women come out of the shells they have hidden behind is awesome.

How you view your body is directly related to how outside forces have told you to view your body. What did your parents tell you about your body? Often parents who scold their children when they catch them masturbating instill in them the idea that their genitals and their sexual drives are bad.

What did your first boy/girlfriend tell you about your body? What happened in the locker room in middle school? What have past dating partners told you?

Each person we interact with tells us something about our body and we take that image in. Sometimes we are lucky and the people in our lives nurture our love of our bodies but often times we are not as lucky and each interaction further distorts our body image.

So how can we possibly see beyond our distorted body images? It takes time, a good support system full of loving people who see us as we actually are and a loving God to guide you along the way.

Letting go of lies and self-hatred takes time and is not a quick process but it is totally worth it.  Letting go of self-hatred and the lies we believe about our bodies can open us to the freedom of loving ourselves and seeing ourselves as God sees us.

Against the Flesh: Part 1

One of my pet peeves is when people talk about fighting against their flesh, beating their flesh into submission, or some other allusion to the flesh/spirit (sometimes also earthly/heavenly) dichotomy present in a number of New Testament passages–mostly in Paul’s letters.

It bothers me because people often use these passages to support an unhealthy–or at least unbalanced–body theology, one in which the body is something wholly other, something to be forced into submission, blamed for failures, lamented, battled, beaten, and regarded as dirty, filthy, and something to get rid of and be finally, blessedly free from after death.

I am not my body, people seem to acknowledge.  I am my mind, my personality, and my spirit.  I am pursuing God, but my body pursues evil.  I am good, but my body is bad.  I am purified, but my body keeps contaminating me. “What I don’t want to do, I do, and what I do want to do, I don’t do”; and it’s all my body’s fault.  Stupid human flesh holding me back from the glorious, Spirit-filled Christian life.

I get a little upset.

That is not the truth about who we are as children of God.  These are lies we believe, perpetuated by a consistent misreading of scripture.  Just as we can’t read Romans 3:23 without Romans 3:24, or Colossians 3:22 without Galatians 3:28, or Ephesians 5:22 without Ephesians 5:21 — so we can’t read Galatians 5:16-18 without Ephesians 6:12.

The Bible is meant to be read collectively as the revelation of the story of God for the people of God.  We need a holistic hermeneutic by which to read the entirety of scripture. Otherwise we get caught up in a verse here and a verse there and end up so far away from the point the author was trying to make, or the truth the Holy Spirit intends to reveal.

Scripture is easily twisted to fit our preconceptions and presumptions.  We are so used to reading scripture through the lens of our own understanding and experience that we are often unable to recognize when a beautiful spiritual truth — intended to free us and bring us into the fullness of life and completion of joy promised to us — has been distorted into a horrible lie — intended to steal, kill, and destroy us.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at some of the scriptures below through the lens of holistic body theology.  This is not intended to be an exhaustive list but representative of the New Testament’s negative treatment of “the flesh.”

To be continued…

 

Forward Friday: The Question of Women

This week was Blast from the Past Week during which I posted a few of my theological reflections on readings from a class on “Women in Church History and Theology” back when I was in seminary.

For today’s Forward Friday, let’s engage theologically with some of the following issues.  What resonates with you? What makes you uncomfortable?

Remember, it’s important to know what we think about things and where our opinions and beliefs come from.  It’s also important to know what other people think and where their opinions and beliefs come from.

Iron sharpens iron, people, so let’s get to rubbing!

  • what does the Bible say about “a woman’s place” and how should we interpret it?
  • are women good like Mary or bad like Eve?
  • is God feminine?
  • what is a woman’s true nature and does it preclude ministry and leadership?
  • is the silence of women contextual or prescriptive and is there room for exceptions?

Come back by and leave your thoughts in the comment box below.  If you blog about it, be sure to share a link!

Maternal Language for God

It’s Blast from the Past Week on Holistic Body Theology.  Here are some of my theological reflections from a class I took on “Women in Church History and Theology” at Fuller Seminary.

First posted May 9, 2008

Julian of Norwich, Showings

The idea of referring to God as Mother, or even as Mother-Father, has never sat comfortably with me. I cherish the image of God as Father and attribute much of my relationship with God to the understanding that image has fostered. (Note: I’ve come a long way since first writing this post.)

Nevertheless, I felt no discomfort when reading Julian of Norwich’s Showings. Perhaps that is because it was not my first reading of her revelations using such prevalent maternal language and imagery when referring to God and especially to Jesus. Or perhaps I was not uncomfortable because she is not agenda-driven in her writing. Though Julian often refers to Jesus as our Mother, she continues to refer to him as “he” and just as often pairs the parental reference as God our Father and God our Mother.

Particularly, Julian is writing in explication of sixteen visions she had of Jesus revealing something of himself to her. If her explanations include maternal imagery in conjunction with paternal imagery, I am not upset by it but appreciate what her revelations add to my understanding of God in the role of tender nurturer.

Hildegard and Hadewijch

Likewise the use of maternal imagery in the writings of Hildegard and Hadewijch, as recorded by F. Gerald Downing, does not bother me for similar reasons. These women are not pushing an agenda, trying to force out the man in favor of the woman, or trying to emasculate men or make God a woman. They are simply recording their own experiences of personal encounters with Jesus, using the kind of language and imagery that is both appropriate to their own life experience and to the way in which Jesus chose to reveal himself to them.

As Downing notes, “Hadewijch enjoys a fully tactile (and indeed erotic) sensation of being embraced by him [Jesus] during a mass,” and Julian’s less sexually-charged image of “Christ’s motherly suckling care” is just as intimate and personal a description (429). Downing notes also that the images these women draw on in their writings are all scriptural and traditional sources available but not utilized by other theologians like Anselm and Thomas Aquinas (430).

This kind of imagery, Downing argues, leads to an understanding of “the actions of Father, Son, and Spirit towards us [as] personal, specific, and interconnected, culminating in the Incarnation of the Word and the response the Spirit enables” (433). The point is not a triumph of feminine imagery over masculine but of personal, bodily imagery of a real and experienced relationship with God over impersonal, abstract imagery of a distant God who is perfect but inaccessible.

Marriane Meye Thompson, “Speaking of God”

Marianne Meye Thompson writes in her article “Speaking of God” that it is important not to lose one’s audience for the sake of pushing a theological conviction that the way has not been prepared for (6). What is the help in praying to God as Mother before a room full of people who have no idea what you are doing?

But Julian teaches her readers, in the midst of her sensuous and bodily language, how to imagine God (and particularly Jesus) as relating to us not just like a Father but like a Mother as well: “for God’s fatherhood and motherhood is fulfilled in true loving of God; which blessed love Christ works in us” (chapter 60). I think Thompson would agree that reading Julian out of context would be detrimental to an unprepared audience, but Julian’s unashamed use of maternal language (“[Jesus] feeds us and nurtures us: even as that high sovereign kindness of motherhood [does],” chapter 63) in general draws no particular criticism.

Paul Jewett, The Ordination of Women

Paul Jewett would probably also agree that Julian’s use of maternal language is appropriate because they are just metaphors. She still uses the masculine pronoun “he” to refer to each of the three persons of the Trinity—“for he [Jesus] is our Mother, Brother, and Savior” (chapter 58, emphasis added)—which is the only thing Jewett is concerned about.

She also does not use maternal language to the exclusion of paternal language, so Jewett would not be too concerned about her usage but would probably praise her ability to integrate these images so smoothly into her descriptions. In fact, Jewett actually declares that “the church needs to teach that God is as much like a mother as like a father” (139), and thus Julian does.

Is feminine imagery for God “un-biblical?”

Thompson notes that while there is a “predominance of male imagery for God” in the Bible, it is also true that “the Bible does use feminine imagery for God” as well (2). Since “much of our language for God is metaphorical and analogical” (1), there is no grounds for the claim that it is “unbiblical to picture God in analogies from the sphere of women’s experience” (3). What Julian does in her writing is provide a balanced analogy of the parental relationship, both that of the Father and the Mother whenever she deems appropriate. In that way, she is able to elevate from a “second degree” status the part of the woman in the image of God (5).

Jewett echoes Thompson in the acknowledgement that women have been demeaned in the church, relegated to a secondary or “human-not-quite-human” status in relation to men (119). Since God has revealed himself in masculine language through the biblical authors, and since theologians have followed that tradition in referring to God, Jewett argues that it is appropriate to use masculine language, especially the masculine pronoun “he,” to refer to God (123).

Nevertheless, it is important to educate Christians that while a masculine pronoun can be more appropriate in some contexts than a feminine one, that usage must be balanced with the recognition that “God so transcends all sexual distinction as to be neither male nor female, yet appropriately likened to both” (124).

Julian does just that: likens God to both a Father and a Mother, “as truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother” (chapter 59). Ultimately, Jewett asserts, God has revealed himself not as masculine but as personal, the “personal Subject, saying I am who I am” (127), so while masculine language about God is appropriate because of tradition, “we must not continue to think of the male as supremely the bearer of the image of God” (128).

Julian helps us understand God in feminine terms as well with her many references to Jesus as the suckling mother who cares for his children: “The mother may give her child suck of her milk, but our precious Mother Jesus feeds us with himself” (chapter 60).

A Woman’s Place

It’s Blast from the Past Week on Holistic Body Theology.  Here are some of my theological reflections from a class I took on “Women in Church History and Theology” at Fuller Seminary.

First posted April 20, 2008

First impressions of Ephesians 5 and 1-2 Timothy

After my initial reading of Ephesians 5 and 1-2 Timothy, I conclude that women led varied lives depending on their economic and marital status. In Ephesians, married women are encouraged to submit to the authority of their husbands as they would to Christ and to respect their husbands as part of the union of two into one flesh.

In the Timothy letters, the emphasis is on the widows. The young ones are encouraged to get remarried so that they will be too occupied with household tasks to fall into gossip and idleness. The old ones are encouraged to mentor the younger ones and can only receive aid if they have, in a sense, proved themselves worthy by a lifestyle of service, submission, and obedience. Concerning corporate worship, women regardless of marital state are encouraged to be modest, submissive, quiet…and fertile? I never have discovered how to interpret 1 Tim 2:15.

My impression, then, of the lives of women at this time is that women were expected to submit to male authority, behave with modesty and decorum, and serve with hospitality as part of running a good household. They were not expected to take up authority themselves, abandon or neglect their duties, or behave or dress indecently.

But the fact that women are being put in their place in some of these passages implies that some women perhaps were teaching or asking questions or neglecting household tasks or gossiping among themselves or any number of other expressions of their new-found freedom in Christ that shocked and appalled observers both within the Christian community and outside of it. There seems to be an effort in the letters to recall women to (or to remind them, lest they forget, of) proper etiquette that would bring honor to both themselves and their husbands or families and would keep them from bringing the shame of the world on the early church as it struggled against the world’s accusations and persecutions.

A Woman’s Place, metaphors, and symbolism

Osiek and MacDonald, in A Woman’s Place, concern themselves largely with cultural and social context in exegeting these texts and other references to women in the New Testament. Interestingly, the authors spend time exegeting the Ephesians text as an extended metaphor for Christ and the church, insisting that the metaphor would have been clear to the early readers or listeners. They label the passage “an important socio-political statement” rather than a concerted teaching on the roles of men and women in marriage (120).

The use of marriage is symbolic, not necessarily prescriptive, and certainly reflects an ideal that cannot be realistic in our fallen world (125). Moreover, the authors argue that the text is a central pivoting point for the themes of the letter, marriage serving as a useful conventional metaphor (121). The text turns the convention of marriage on its head: “The husband is head of his wife as Chris is head of the majestic and heavenly church. Human ‘wifely’ behavior within the church becomes an indicator of the community’s dislocation as an apparently conventional but nevertheless heavenly body” (127). Thus, in taking the passage at face value, we miss the point.

Literal interpretation vs. historical-critical method

Growing up in the evangelically conservative South, I was taught as a general rule that the Bible was to be taken literally, its texts at face value, and its every word as the infallible authority of God. Now, I believe in the authority of the Bible, but its literal interpretation has fallen short of my understanding of who God is and what it means to be a child of God.

I appreciate Osiek’s and MacDonald’s effort to take a more holistic approach to the texts by both reading them in conjunction with each other and by considering at length the cultural context of the day as a lens through which to interpret the issue of women. They broaden the older scholarly perspective by including what the text does not say, what has been left out or assumed concerning the daily lives of women.

The metaphorical interpretation is an interesting approach to the problem of Ephesians 5. I am not sure that I could hold an audience long enough to explain such a position with those who expect a quick, two-punch sound bite or proof text. Nevertheless, the interpretation is a useful reminder that texts should not always be taken at face value or as prescriptive when they are just as likely meant to function as literary or as descriptive.

This approach, both to the Ephesians text and in general, does make a significant difference in the reading of scripture because it (at the risk of using a buzz word) liberates the text from its pigeonhole and consequently liberates women from relegation to the older understanding of “submission” and “authority” as ordained by God to keep women under the proverbial thumb of their men.

Forward Friday: Start a Conversation

This weekend, try using the Bible as a conversation-starter.  As you converse with someone who does not agree with you, remember to:

1) Listen before you speak.

2) Learn from the other person’s perspective.

3) Be willing to be wrong.

4) Explore both the boundaries and the space between through your conversation.

5) Look for ways for the current conversation to spark future conversations as you build a relationship with your conversation partner.

Come back and share your experience with all of us.  Let’s learn from each other how to be conversation-starters.

Conversation: Are You an Ender or a Starter? Part 4

If you missed them, read part 1, part 2, and part 3 first.

More than Presbyterian

When I met my husband, I had already graduated from seminary.  During one of our early conversations about our faith journeys, he asked me if I was still Presbyterian.  I thought about it for a moment, and then I said, “Yes, but I’m more than Presbyterian now.”  He thought my answer was funny, and he still kids me about it, but I was serious.

My roots will never stop being Presbyterian.  I will never forget where I came from, and I keep the best of my Presbyterian upbringing with me now.  But I am also a little Charismatic, a little Episcopalian, a little Vineyard, a little Emerging, a little Non-denominational, a little Buddhist, a little Mystic, a little Catholic, and a little I-don’t-know-what.

I’m in the garden now.  My roots are growing down deeper.  My leaves are spreading wider.  My buds are blooming.  I’m adding my rich and unique beauty to the variety of the garden.  I am learning to live in harmony with the different plants surrounding me.  We are all growing together, and it is only together that we can call ourselves a garden. 

Remember when Rachel Held Evans called the Bible a conversation-starter?  I think she was right.  What kind of garden would we be if we get rid of all the variety and uniqueness and try to make the whole garden look like us?  We’d be a garden overtaken by weeds.  Weeds put a strangle-hold on their fellow plants and force them to submit to only one expression of plant life.  Good gardeners uproot the weeds to allow more space for all the plants to grow freely and fully as they were meant to.

Let’s stop using the Bible to end conversations.  Let’s stop using our swords to wound and instill fear.  Let’s be conversation-starters.  Let’s allow the different voices of scripture, of history, and of today to shape and inform the conversation.  One of my seminary professors once defined theology as God-talk.  Let’s allow our theology to be a work-in-progress, a work toward discovering together the truth about God and the truth about ourselves because of God.

Boundaries and the space between

I read about a study once where a community member drove by her child’s elementary school and noticed all the kids hanging on the fence at the edges of the playground.  Concerned that the fence was holding her child back, she had the school remove it.  Immediately, the children’s behavior changed.  They began to congregate in the middle of the playground, fearing the insecurity of the edges they once safely explored because the boundaries were gone.

I’m not advocating that we abolish boundaries and play with an anything-goes mentality. We all need boundaries to feel safe and to bravely explore the fullness of the space we have been given.  Without any boundaries at all, we would be like the children gathered in the middle, afraid to explore and play in the in-between.

But we won’t know where the boundaries are if we don’t spread ourselves out and grow into the space we’ve been given.  Through conversation, we can explore and experience that space together and learn what it really means to be the body of Christ.

I used to be a conversation-ender, but I’m a conversation-starter now. Which one are you? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Conversation: Are You an Ender or a Starter? Part 2

If you missed it yesterday, read Part 1 first.

Running in place vs. running a race

But if we end the conversation, then what have we gained? We might stay safe; we might feel righteous and satisfied at having the last word.  But what have we really gained?

Being a conversation-ender is like running in place.  We might be the fastest, fittest, most well-trained athlete in the world, but if we only run in place, we never get anywhere.  It’s much safer to run in place than to enter a race. But is that safety really worth more than the risk it takes to enter the race and be willing to find out we’re actually not as fast or fit as we thought?  What does running in place really gain us?

Ending the conversation

Rachel Held Evans spoke recently at a Mission Planting conference about her upcoming book A Year of Biblical Womanhood where she said, “I believe the Bible is meant to be a conversation-starter, not a conversation-ender.”

Growing up in the conservative South as a black-and-white Presbyterian, I prided myself on being able to end conversations with the perfect Bible verse.  You can’t argue with scripture, right? I carried my Bible with me everywhere because I wanted to be prepared to give an account for the hope that I had.  Cursing? Sex? Watching TV? I had a Bible verse for everything, and I felt safe and secure in the knowledge that I was living the right life.

But then I entered high school and began to be friends with people who didn’t live the right life at all.  In fact, they didn’t even care about what the Bible said!  I didn’t know how to have conversations with people who didn’t honor the word of God as perfect and authoritative.  For the first time, I wasn’t ending the conversation.  They were.

Listening before speaking

As soon as they saw the Bible I faithfully carried with me everywhere, the conversation was over before it ever began.  So I put my Bible away for a while and began to listen.

I listened to my high school friends. I read their stories and poetry. I played their games.  I entered their lives and watched how they engaged with people. I took note of what was important to them. I listened not only to their words but to their lives.

In college I kept listening, mostly because every time I opened my mouth I was slapped down and criticized as that-intolerant-conservative-Christian.   I began to understand how I had wounded others with my Bible-verse sword, how I had cut out their tongues with it and counted myself righteous for doing so.  I had wounded others growing up as I was now being wounded by my professors and fellow students.  I listened, and I learned how it felt to be uninvited to the conversation.

Then I went to seminary.

To be continued tomorrow…

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