Archive for December, 2016

Gift This Christmas

3 comments Written on December 27th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
c-kaminskyRev. Cathy Kaminski is the lead pastor of Trinity Community Church in Cincinnati, OH. She hopes this article will be a gift to you this Christmas.

Here is a gift you can give to your sisters this Christmas: understanding.  We all have demons of self doubt.  At times they can paralyze us, make us give up, change course or lose focus.  Realities that plague our psyche.  Male or female, we can all fall victim to the crushing weight of our mistakes, shortcomings or doubt.  But here is what we all need to understand: these forces that threaten to deter us can be destroyed by the love, encouragement and support of the people around us.  The crushing place is the one in isolation, but the love of our community can pull each of us out of the spiral of doubt.

But we have to start from a place of understanding.  What are the lies we tell ourselves and how can we be equipped to fight them?  And while we each have to do the hard work of combating our own demons, this is not what I am here to expose.  I want to discuss how we can help destroy the lies for ONE ANOTHER.  Let us grow in our understanding of the forces we fight each day and let us COLLECTIVELY break them down.

For your sisters these forces are many, but together we can tear them down.  And this work is the gift we can give in abundance this Christmas season!  What common understanding do we need to help our sisters, daughters, partners & friends?  Here is a profound truth: although there are many who support the voice of women, (and I’m hoping if you are reading this, you are one of them), not all people do.  Therefore many women’s default stance is trepidation.

In my own experience, I am often cautious and hesitant when entering ministry settings because I don’t know if my very presence will be an issue for people.  I’ve learned to take up less space, not be a burden, and take the opportunities given to me, but not be too pushy.  As I’ve gotten older and trusted God’s call on my life more and more I realize how much nonsense is in this approach.  Why should I be smaller when God has gifted me to have a voice and bless the church?  Why should I be less?  Am I really a threat?  And if so, what exactly does my presence and gifts threaten?  I don’t have to be everyone’s pastor, but I also don’t need to deny my pastoral calling and hold back my gifts if there are those around me who do not support me.

This is the lesson I’ve learned and keep learning.  It’s a struggle that is real and has ups and downs.  Here is the way each and everyone of us can contribute to transforming this muted expression of call: if you have a female friend, colleague or family member in ministry be a vocal, active support.  Let her know you are a safe person who supports her full expression of call.  Make it so that in your presence she doesn’t have to hold back or be less.  Create space for the full and beautiful manifestation of the gifts of the women around you.  If you already do this: thank you!  Now do it more!

It is such a sad truth that for so many women the default is “less.”  And it’s a missed opportunity for the Church.  If we understand this reality then we can start to break it down.  And it starts with you and me.  It starts with conversations.  It continues with a posture of openness and support.  It changes when we challenge others to break down this reality too.  Be generous this Christmas: give this gift of understanding and support.  And let the church be better because of this gift!

 



Delivered by a Woman

3 comments Written on December 19th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
img_0440Abby Jones is the pastor of the Covenant Church in Stromsburg, NE. Abby is an advocate for women in leadership, a mom of four girls, and you can read more of her writing at: sustainabletheology.com.

My mom likes to tell me a story about a cold November night when her and my dad threw on their tennis shoes, bundled up in their coats and walked four miles. After the walk, they changed into their pajamas and played Yahtzee. They filled up an entire score card that night, crawling into bed well after midnight. The next morning she woke up in labor and I was born just before lunch.

I do the same thing with my girls, every year I tell them about the events leading up to their birth. It’s always a little embellished, censored, and very polished. Our big stories, the ones we tell often, usually are. We do the same thing at Christmas with the birth story of Jesus, don’t we?

When I think about the story my mom tells, I have to take my dad’s version into consideration when piecing together the events of that night. We do the same thing with Jesus, piecing a few versions together so that we can have enough parts for the kids to play at the Christmas pageant. All the while, skipping over those not so G-Rated details.

Keep your ears open this weekend as Matthew and Luke are blended together, and characters are revealed. Listen for prostitution, foreigners, and scandal. In the beginning of Matthew’s story is the genealogy of Jesus, and in that genealogy five women are listed.

Tamar was a Canaanite woman, married to Judah’s oldest son, Er. Er was evil, so God killed him. Tamar became a widow, and her only hope was for Er’s next oldest brother, Onan to marry her. But Onan refused, so God killed him too. Judah only had one son left, and said that he was too young to marry.

One afternoon, Tamar dressed herself as a prostitute, covered her face and waited by the road for Judah. When he saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, and slept with her. Tamar became pregnant and Judah demanded she be killed for adultery, but she had proof that Judah was the man that slept with her. She gave birth to twins who were recognized as Judah’s sons, the oldest of the twins was Perez in the line of David. (Genesis 38)

Rahab was also a Canaanite woman, living in Jericho when the Israelite spies arrived to survey the land. Rehab was the mother of Boaz. (Joshua 2)

Boaz married Ruth, a Moabite woman who was both barren and widowed. After her first husband died, she went with her mother-in-law to live in Israel. Three generations later, David was born from her lineage. (Ruth)

David became King, and one night was having trouble sleeping. He went out to walk around his roof, when he saw Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, bathing. She was very beautiful, and he sent a messenger to bring her to the palace. She slept with him, and became pregnant. David sent her husband to the front lines, and Solomon was born to David and Bathsheba. (2 Samuel 11)

And of course, there’s Mary. The poor, young, Jewish girl. The mother whose story we’ve also cinched up. We leave out the details about labor and delivery, keeping the story pretty sterile. One minute Mary is pregnant, the next she’s holding a perfectly swaddled and sleeping baby. We skip everything in-between, and miss some very important details. (Luke 1-2)

We miss the part about it being messy, and painful, and difficult. While it has it’s beauty, it’s also very frightening. It’s such a fragile moment, and every one of us have entered the world this way. Through birth we come, breathing our first breath at the expense of a woman’s pain and sacrifice.

And that’s the way that God chose to enter our world. God chose to enter the world through birth, delivered by the body of a woman, so that all of creation might be redeemed. God put on skin and entered the world the same way we all do. Through our very messy, painful, intimate process, we have the incarnation. God with us.

God chose a lineage littered with prostitutes, foreigners, and scandal to show us that there’s enough room in the family for everyone. God chose to come as a vulnerable, helpless baby, in order to show us what it means to be human. The parts of the birth story we skip over, show us that there is nothing too messy, too broken, or too dark that God won’t enter into in order to set us free.

 

 



Making Up for Lost Perspectives

1 Comment » Written on December 14th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Megan Herrold is a student at North Park Theological Seminary, pursuing an MA in Christian Formation, and is the seminary’s student representative on the ECC Commission on Biblical Gender Equality. She recently completed an internship in formation ministries at Resurrection Covenant Church in Chicago.

ephesus-10-1545861-1There’s an African proverb about history that I like. I’ve heard a few different versions, but my favorite is from the late Nigerian author Chinua Achebe: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

In other words, history is written by the winners.

It’s something that always comes to mind around big U.S. national holidays like Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July. These holidays are centered on epic stories of a nation, but what parts, what voices of those stories are left out of our contemporary retellings?

This time, however, I’m thinking about it at the end of my internship, where I had my first major experience with children’s ministry. It’s got me reflecting on my own experience as a child in church, and on the Bible stories I learned and didn’t learn as a kid. And not just the stories, but how I think about God (my theology) because of those stories.

Why did I learn about Delilah and not Deborah? Why did I learn that Sarah laughed when told she would have a son and was chided for her lack of faith, but I never learned the stories of Abraham succumbing to fears and or having incomplete trust in God? And what did I learn through these stories about men and women as reflections of the image of God?

I suppose it’s clear through these questions that I think that whatever I learned, it was incomplete. I grew up in a Lutheran church, so a lot of the theology I learned in my confirmation class was based on the teachings of Martin Luther. In my denomination’s history, Luther’s ideas and arguments were the correct ones; he was the “winner” whose version of things was passed on through the generations. I’m not saying that’s necessarily bad, just that I think I probably missed some things.

The point is that not all Christians throughout the ages have had equal access to education. Not all of us have been garnered equal respect for our thoughts and ideas. The story of God that has been handed down to us is the one that came from people who were considered respectable, who were considered worth listening to, according to whatever social standards of their time.

I recently finished a biography on Katharine Bushnell, who was a Christian activist and theologian who had a global impact in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, but she was largely dismissed later in her life because her ideas and strategies were no longer popular. But I’m so glad I was able to find her story and learn from her experience and perspective. I feel like I was missing an important piece of church history that she represents.

So how do we access the stories and ideas that have been overlooked? How do we fill in the gaps in this story?

I’ve seen a couple of different ways to try to teach more complete theology. One is to simply start teaching new perspectives, especially those that have previously been discredited or ignored. Create a class on Liberation Theology or African Christianity. At North Park seminary, there’s a popular course titled Women, the Bible, and the Church. I’ve seen syllabi for courses that have all the traditionally taught elements of Christian history or worship, but then have specific classes devoted to what was happening or developed in other parts of the world.

However, I’ve also had courses where different perspectives are more thoroughly integrated throughout the entire semester, rather than having specific courses or classes devoted to one idea. The main textbooks are more comprehensive in presenting different perspectives, and the supplemental readings each week rotate between authors from a variety of different backgrounds. There’s an Intercultural Readings course next semester that I wish I could fit into my degree plan, and from what I’ve seen of the syllabus, it looks like it leans more towards this method of presenting diverse ideas.

It’s this second, more integrative method that I personally prefer.

I’m not writing this to say there isn’t a place for courses like Women, the Bible, and the Church. I’ve never taken the class, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying that anyway. And I know it’s pretty popular and students—women and men—seem to appreciate what they learn there. What I mean is that there’s a reason I’ve never considered signing up for the course, or any like it: I’m not interested in learning about women as a special subset of church leaders, or Biblical characters, or Christians in general.

A few years ago, the church I was attending at the time had a sermon series on major characters from the Bible and what we could learn from their stories. A friend of mine mentioned at one point that she would love to hear a series on women in the Bible. I replied that I would rather have more women’s stories folded into the series we were already doing. (The series had featured only men up until that point. In fact, it may have ended up being exclusively male characters, but I feel like there was at least one woman. Maybe Esther was added in at the end?)

I had similar thoughts when I was in Washington, DC, in Spring 2015, when the National Museum of African American History and Culture was still under construction. One of the other students in the group I was with commented that it was about time that such a museum opened. And I agreed it was disappointing that it took so long for this aspect of our national history and culture to gain this level of recognition. (Apparently the idea for such a museum was first proposed in 1915, more than a century before it opened.) But I also said that what I would really like to see is more integration of all cultures in our nation into national museums that already exist, like the American History museum.

Of course, this integration has its own drawbacks. It could lead to appropriation. And I admit, there’s something about giving historically marginalized people or cultures or groups their own space that seems to do more to make up for past lack of respect.

I suppose for me the answer is to try to pursue some of both strategies. After all, the only really wrong way for me to try to make up for what I’ve missed would be to do nothing at all.

 



Women Supporting Women

10 comments Written on December 5th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Ellie VerGowe is currently serving as Ministerial Resident for Community Outreach at First
Covenant Church on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Ellie enjoys singing at the top of her lungs, being
outside and is already ready for a dance party.

I’ve been thinking of Mary and Martha recently. They’re relatable women…and we don’t always
get to hear a lot about women in our scriptures. Sadly, I sometimes find this story co-opted to
shame Martha for her actions in NOT sitting at Jesus’ feet. However, I think there is more
happening in the text. Luke 10:38-42 says:

8b3f6aeed63abc4b437c56b92e4c7edf“Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named
Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the
Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many
tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me
to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her,
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only
one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’”

I think it is easy to forget that Martha was doing exactly what everyone in her day was expecting
her to do. She was probably preparing a necessary meal for Jesus and his disciples as Jesus
taught at her house. She was being hospitable. She was being welcoming. She was providing a
safe and restful place for her friends. And…it was understandable that she would want a little
help doing these things!

Mary, on the other hand, breaks all gender norms and takes the place that would be reserved
only for a male disciple…she sits down at the teacher’s feet and listens to him to learn. This is
wildly inappropriate for that time.

Mary was rebuked by her sister and was probably glared at by the male disciples. Churches
today often shame Martha for her lack of focus on her Savior and complaining, anxious heart.
But Jesus…Jesus defends the one being shamed. And he gently speaks with Martha as well.
Jesus doesn’t seem to shame Martha for what she is doing…only tells her that focus on himself
is the better thing. Perhaps Martha was distracted and not centered on Jesus as she was
preparing the meal, for Jesus says that Mary chose “the better option.” But Jesus doesn’t tell
her to stop working, does he (hopefully he sent one of the disciples into help after this
conversation!)? Perhaps Jesus knows Martha’s calling and pushes her to see God’s love for her
in that work too, just as Mary did as she sat at the teacher’s feet.

If only life were like that.

Being a woman can be hard enough without getting shamed for how we serve Jesus. Some of
us are pastors. Some of us are mothers. Some of us are CEOs. We are chefs, janitors, artists,
teachers, social workers, mathematicians, dog-walkers, students, doctors, business owners and
a whole host of other things that God has created us to be for this season or longer. We can sit
at Jesus’ feet while we work at all these things. But while we espouse liberation for women and
say that anyone can serve God in the ways she is created to, called to and wants to, we
sometimes don’t act like it. We women sometimes shame even each other! Career women
shame women who are stay at home mothers and say that “they aren’t true feminists.” Stay at
home mothers shame a woman who works full time because she “isn’t doing what God created
a woman to do.”

This is wrong! We women need each other! We can sit at Jesus’s feet as we live our diverse
array of life experiences. When a woman among us is struggling, let us lift her up in
encouragement. When a woman among us is failing, let us surround her and fight for her instead
of shame her and work for her demise. When a woman among us is being celebrated, let us
bring the cake and the streamers and not compare ourselves and our own accomplishments.
Let us encourage each other to serve and love God in whatever season we are in or path life
takes. Let us tell each other the truth because we want the best for each other. Let us love our
sisters like we wish we were loved. Let us trust that we are each struggling and working to listen
to God with our whole hearts.

*Artwork by Dr. He Qi titled “Martha and Mary.”