Seven Things Guys Need To Know About Post-Evangelical Women

I’ve been in a conversation about the post-evangelical movement. During the conversation, someone asked me to blog about post-evangelical women’s issues for their blog. This is what I wrote. While the post is about PEWs, it’s relevant to Mainline situations as well. For those who read this blog regularly, forgive me for sounding like a broken record on so much of this!

Right now, in the US, many of us wrestle with the Evangelical movement in which we were raised. There are a lot of reasons for that. Our questions are theological, as we struggle with the atonement, the Kingdom of God, or Hell. We ask sociological questions about the role of women, LGBTQs, social media and politics. And philosophical and generational issues arise regularly. We’re in this exciting moment of turmoil right now, and we can realize we make real differences.

For me, the questions (or lack of questions) around gender have been interesting. I find myself wanting to explain what it’s like to grow up as a conservative Evangelical woman and how difficult the transition into leadership is from that place. I work a lot in the conference world, and my issues often arise there. I hear the whispers that men don’t. So, even though I’m at risk of sounding like a bad Cosmo article, I decided to write 7 Things Guys Need to Know about PEWs (Post-Evangelical Women). Basically, it’s the stuff we’re saying or dm’ing when you’re not there.

1) We were told to keep silent in church. Sometimes it was overt and other times it was subtle—a youth or Campus Crusade for Christ director buddies up with the cool football guys, takes them to lunch, and focuses on their leadership potential while the young women were left stranded. To go from “you must be silent” to finding your voice can be a long, arduous process.

2) We’re not welcome at every table. Nobody’s a blatant sexist (well, almost nobody…), so we have to look for cues. When a PEW sees the leadership of an organization or the splashy landing page for a conference, and we notice that the gender ratio is 14 to 1, it causes panic. We think, I thought this movement was different! I thought I was welcome here! It may be that we are welcome, and the leadership thought that having one female voice was good enough. But, for PEWs who grew up listening to “women should keep silent,” major gender inequity is a clear signal that the table is off-limits to us.

3) We don’t want to hear whining about forced quotas.
We’ve heard the tiresome response: “We don’t do quotas. This movement isn’t about counting and making sure that there’s a particular number of non-white males.” I’m sorry, but there’s no way around it. There will be no transformation in women’s leadership unless women are in leadership.

4) PEWs hear a defensive response as “you’re not welcome.” Sometimes on Twitter or blogs, a person might point out an appalling gender ratio. The PEWs who bring it up get the smack-down. I’ve been the recipient of coordinated pummeling twice by organizations who care about gender issues. I don’t understand why they did it, other than defensiveness. Ironically both boot parties were orchestrated behind the scenes by other women. If you care, please stop.

5) There are enough women. I’ve been hosting a podcast for a couple of years, and I regularly receive emails from men who ask to be on the show. I rarely get them from women. Women may be less willing or less able to self-promote. We’re harder to find. But we’re here. We’re writing, speaking, and preaching.

6) Please refrain from using “organic leadership” or “meritocracy” as an excuse. When the subject of PEW leadership comes up, we hear, “Our leadership grows up organically. If women want to be involved, they need to produce.” If organic growth or meritocracy is a reason for not having women in leadership, you have to realize that for post-evangelical women, we’ve have had weed-killer sprayed on us for 20 years. You’ve got to spread the manure to all the corners of the garden for a couple of decades before you can expect women to naturally grow into leadership.

7) Money Matters. Forgive me, but there’s no delicate way of saying this. I’ve spoken at conferences where I have as many credentials as the guy standing next to me. Sometimes more. I’ve gotten paid fifteen times less than he does. You know what makes things more awkward? The conference leaders congratulate themselves for flattening leadership, overturning hierarchies, or unbinding the church. The guy next to me is known for his hard-core social justice work. I’m here to tell you… no one’s overturning hierarchies at a conference where a woman gets seven cents to a man’s dollar.

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The plot thickens

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Stories have always been important for humans, but they seem to be taking a new form and vitality in our culture. With our reaction to the information age and our longing for vibrant community, there is a revival of the narrative in our everyday lives.

I began to understand the importance of stories when I stood before the intergenerational group of men and women, leading a conference for an Episcopal Church diocese. I asked people in the crowd, “What formed your generation? What sort of music, technological developments, political events, religious movements and social trends helped to shape who you are today?”

It’s always a fascinating exercise, and that day was no exception. A journalist and church leader in her early twenties raised her hand, “Ever since I can remember, we’ve had the Internet. So, I’ve had every fact available—even news from around the world—at my fingertips.”

“Yes!” I yelled, with excitement. “Amazing things have developed.” I began to prattle on enthusiastically, until I noticed the concern on her face.

“No,” she stopped me. “You don’t understand. Every fact has been available,” she repeated, and this time I saw her furrowed brow. “It’s kind of scary.”

Her comment hides in the back of my mind, and every once in a while I invite it to the forefront so that I can roll it over, imagining the implications of growing up with news and data so readily available. How does this proliferation of information impact the ways in which we communicate? How does it affect our congregations and religious movements?

Looking across popular culture in a new generation, it seems that this crucial shift of information accessibility has made our stories more important. The business writer, Daniel Pink, makes the case in A Whole New Mind that with this inundation of data, facts have become cheap, and stories have more impact. We no longer vault our statistical information in ivory towers, waiting for some professor’s steadfast and dedicated assistant to set them free for the rest of us to consume in a scholarly journal. Now, research data can be readily procured, with a few keystrokes. “When facts become so widely available and instantly accessible,” Pink writes, “each one becomes less valuable. What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.”

I wonder if we’re learning about this important cultural shift in our preaching classes. In a time when much of our scriptural interpretation includes a long process of gathering facts and information, are we learning ways in which we can present them with emotional impact? Should that be a concern in our preaching? Or is too much emotionalism manipulative in the pulpit?

photo is by Bibimorvarid

God’s Anointing

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Text: Luke 4:14-21

I’m starting on my third book now, and I’m writing about the experience of healing from religious abuse. Moving from the conservative religious upbringing and becoming a progressive, female pastor is a huge shift. I’ve spent a lot of time, sorting out my beliefs. Trying to figure out what has been damaging to my self-esteem, my sexuality, my friendships, and attitude toward others. I am thinking about the people who have come into my office during this past decade in ministry.

As I’ve thought back on my history and remembered the stories of others, I hold my breath as I think about the wounds that religion has caused in the lives of so many people, so many of my friends who have suffered abuse from fathers who demanded submission; gays and lesbians who felt that they had to choose between divine love or human love; people who felt emotionally manipulated into a conversion experience, or rejected by their families and friends because of the shunning that was encouraged by churches; women who felt subordinate to men because of the teachings that they learned in Sunday school.

But as I write, I also cannot deny that even though religion wounds, it is often the balm that heals as well. It makes me think of the ointment that was poured over people for medicinal reasons in biblical times.

There was a practice, called anointing. Anointing is an extremely old ritual that is used in all sorts of religions—Hinduism, Judaism. In fact, it’s a practice went back farther than that. It seems that in ancient traditions, there was a sense of life flowing through the blood and fat of animals. There was something sacred about the fat. So when a hunter killed a bear, and he wanted the bear’s courage, he would take the fat of the bear and smear it on himself, welcoming the courage into himself.

This sense that power or the qualities of a person could be passed from one person to another is evident in the Bible. In some cases, it’s almost like passing along an inheritance. For instance, when the great prophet Elijah ended his time here on earth, he gave to his spiritual successor, Elisha, a double portion of his spirit.

Anointing is used throughout the Bible, for different purposes. In the beginning of fledgling country of Israel, the act was used to set men and women apart. Prophets were anointed, and prophets anointed the new kings. Even before the king was chosen by the people, he was chosen by God, through this ritual.

Anointing was used in more ordinary ways as well—as an act of hospitality, the smell of the sweet oil would fill the home, inviting and comforting guests. It was used for medicinal purposes, as the oil acted as a soothing balm for wounds. And men and women anointed bodies to prepare them for burial.

It is important in the life of Jesus as well. One of his first acts of Jesus’ ministry (or at least the first that’s recorded in this gospel) was the one that we read, where he reads from the scrolls:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

As we think about this act and about Jesus—especially as we remember how prophets and priests anointed each other and anointed kings in these ancient rituals—it is interesting to note that Mary is the one who anointed Jesus, right before he died. Lavishing expensive perfume on him, and bathing his feet with her tears, Jesus turned to her, and said that the good news that Jesus preached would always be told in memory of her.

And it just might be true. After all, Jesus is called “the Christ,” which isn’t his last name. The theologian Paul Tillich says that we ought to saying “Jesus the Christ,” because Christ is his title. It means “the anointed one,” and from what we know, she is the one who anointed Jesus. She gave him his title.

Jesus stood up at the beginning of his ministry and said that God had anointed him and she prepared him for the end of his life, pouring the oil over his feet, weeping tears, in this loving and tender gesture.

I know a little bit about anointing myself. We have similar ancient rituals. In other congregations that I’ve served, I have anointed babies when they were baptized. I marked their heads with oil and the sign of the cross, to note they are a part of the Body of Christ. A Christian, a little anointed one.

We do the same sort of ancient rituals when we lay hands on one another in ordination. When you think about it, it is quite amazing. The hands that surrounded you represent a chain that connects you with leaders who go back decades. The chain of arms connect you with men and women whose courage, creativity, and wisdom have kept this church vital for over a 150 years. It always gives me goosebumps when I think about it.

And I know about anointing on a personal level. This sort of thing happened when I went to my grandmother’s home in South Carolina. I had been called into my grandmother’s room, because she had stopped breathing, her heart stopped beating, and she was dying.

We took each other’s hands, made a circle, and began singing “Amazing Grace” and reading Psalm 23. I looked around at the women who were gathered. I could see them, a gathering of preachers and teachers, in some form or fashion. They had worked hard in their congregations. My grandmother had been a matriarch in her congregation. My aunt had cared for people as a nurse for years. My mother and my other aunt led a ministry with developmentally disabled people.

I’m pretty sure that all of these women, at one time or another, had believed that a woman should not be an ordained pastor. But we were gathered there, nonetheless, with our different ministries.

It was a beautiful moment. There was no oil there. But I could not help but have the sense that the strength that my grandmother embodied was flowing there. The bear-like courage with which she faced life was making its way from her, to all of us, from generation to generation. And, inexplicably, my mother turned to me and said, “You are an anointed one.”

The scene was so powerful that when it was over, the hospice nurse took my grandmother’s vital signs, looked at us, shook his head, and said, “Y’all just got her all riled up again. What are you doing? She’s not ever gonna wanna leave this room!”

I smiled. And something happened to me in the experience. I am not always proud of the religion that formed me. I am often ashamed that it is a tradition that often includes hatred and manipulation.

But something happened to me that day, because I was able to embrace my history, and acknowledge that even though my has been a source of pain, it has also been a place of healing. Like a balm, that was poured over wounds, that anointed the feet of Jesus. That gave him the title “Christ” and allows me to live as a Christian.

You are anointed ones. You have been called out to bring the good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.

photo by madbronny52

Rejoice

Text: Philippians 4:4-7

I saw the car commercial, just slightly in my vision as I was walking through the basement. I was doing laundry, but I could tell that the ad was showing footage of a beautiful, expensive, luxury automobile, zooming at high speeds around the highway curves. And there was some sort of prattle going on, I don’t remember the monologue, but I think it was a man talking about how he was going to his holiday family reunion, and he was going to show them how successful he had become.

I smiled. The messages of this season are so interesting. You can show people how much you love them with a diamond. Your can make your children happy by buying them a video game. Now, you can finally let your brother and sister know that you got the biggest piece of the pie. You own the most toys. You won the ultimate tug-of-war, because you have a shiny car. Not only can you buy emotional security for your spouse, happy memories for your kids, but you can win the final grand victory for your sibling rivalry. In fact, if we believe the commercials, the only thing that money cannot buy is poverty.

In this season, the idea that money will buy our happiness seeps into just about everything we do. And in this time when we are grasping for joy, we almost believe it.

Joy is part of our Christmas season, and it is a theme in the Bible. The command to “Rejoice” was repeated in our Scriptures and it is peppered in our hymns. And so we gather around, in this time when we know we ought to be joyful, with this expectation that we will be happy. We even read the command from Philippians this morning: “Rejoice!” the author, Paul, says, “And again I say Rejoice!”

And yet, let’s be honest, often with the shorter days, gloom and depression can set in. This is a time when expectations run high and money can run low. It is a season when we can be surrounded by people, but feeling utterly alone. It is a moment when we long to be with our families and our friends, and yet we find ourselves working overtime and attending those parties that we really ought to be seen at.

So, with this command in front of us, and with these holiday pressures all around us, we have to ask, “What gives us joy?”

When I think about joy, two vivid scenes from the last couple of years pop in my mind. And please forgive me, because they are both bathroom scenes: one from a movie and the other from a book.

The first was from Slumdog Millionaire. I know that there has been some controversy about the portrayal of people in India and anger about the name of the movie itself. But, I must say, I liked the movie. There was this unforgettable moment in it. A little boy was in an outhouse, and his brother wanted him to come out of it. Just at that moment, a helicopter came flying over their heads, and news spread that a celebrity was visiting the city. His brother locked him in the outhouse. The boy wanted so badly to see the man that he escaped the only way he knew how. He fell into the excrement.

Then the boy went to go meet the famous man, without wiping anything off. And the crowd of people, who were surrounding the celebrity, moved out of the way for the little boy. He smelled, and they were all afraid that he was going to touch them!

And the celebrity gave the boy his signature.

The boy yelled and jumped for joy. The elation, the pure happiness of this moment, when this boy is covered from head to toe in filth, was an amazing moment.

I found myself, during the whole movie, rooting for such simple things for these children. A home. School. Food. Safety. I thought that it would be a happy ending if they could only have these basic things.

The second bathroom scene that stayed with me this year was much different. It was from the book Eat, Pray, Love, when the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, was on the clean bathroom floor of her suburban home. It was a beautiful house, with new furniture. Gilbert had everything that a person could want, everything that we strive for—a great career, a successful spouse. And yet, she would find herself, late at night, on the floor of the bathroom when she should have been sleeping. She was fighting a wave of overwhelming depression, and trying to talk herself out of hurting herself.

We talked about Eat, Pray, Love at the women’s retreat. We turned it over in our discussions, how the book has sold millions of copies. And we realized that it must be because a lot of people relate to the story–that story of finally having everything that you want and realizing that you’re miserable in the midst of it.

We see this unfold in the news all too often. We see the perfect “family man,” the sports star or politician, they seem to have everything together, then we watch them destroy their lives and themselves. And we scratch our heads and ask, “Why did they do that? They had everything that they could have wanted.” We look at their amazing spouses, and we realize it has nothing to do with what they already have.

Then, as the sordid details of their secret lives come out, we realize that men and women do not just cheat on their spouses because there is someone better who happens to be available. Sometimes they cheat because they are miserable. There is a giant vacuum inside of them that needs. And when they try to fill it with money, power, success, and accolades, and then it’s still there. So they grasp on to sex try to figure out if there is something else that can fill it.

Back to the two scenes, they contrast in my mind, and make me wonder—what is joy? Why does one person experience it in the midst of a slum and another person cannot find it in the midst of luxury? There are studies out that say that in this time and age, even before unemployment got so high, when men and women had many more comforts of life, that we were more depressed than ever before in our country.

Is it because we have too much money? About 15 years ago, I did some work in Kenya, and people in the villages would dance and sing all night long, completely outlasting my 20-year-old self. And after these long nights, my friend Grace would tell me, “We are poor people, but we are rich with happiness.” I never doubted it.

The experience had an effect on me. And I began to have this romantic notion that people who lived in poverty were somehow happier. On top of that, I had a sense of religious asceticism, and believed that when I gave material possessions up, then I would be satisfied. And when I left seminary, I decided to go to one of the poorest areas in the country to pastor in a very small congregation.

But, after living for a few years under the poverty level and realized that there is nothing satisfying about not knowing how I was going to pay for my student loans, or where my next mortgage payment was going to come from. The marital tension was overwhelming. And I quickly became a failed ascetic.

I am not so shallow to think that material possession can buy us happiness, and I learned that giving them up didn’t work for me. But I do wonder, where does joy come from? What sort of things need to be in place so that we might experience joy? Paul ought to know about joy in all kinds of circumstances, he is writing this from prison—and he is telling the community to “rejoice.”

There are things that we can learn to do-eat well and exercise. There are also spiritual disciplines that I have learned in my own life, and things that I have seen others going through as well.

Now, if you are experiencing chemical depression, then do not hesitate to get the help that you need. Often there is a chemical imbalance within our minds that physical and mental exercises will not resolve, and it’s important to get the help that you need.

But, aside from that, there are some things that we can do.

First, we can understand that God loves us and wants the best for us. I know that this might seem trite. It might sound like a bumper sticker on the car of someone you would not invite to your holiday parties, but it is a powerful truth when we can internalize it. For some of us, we get God all mixed up with our parents.

And if we had a father who was never satisfied no matter how hard we tried. If we had a dad who was always absent from our lives. Or a mother who seemed so wrapped up in her own depression to be there emotionally for her child. Or parents who regulated the amount of money or food they gave to us according to how much we were getting along with them. Or if we had parents who abused us. Then, when we pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” we might have the tendency to get the parental metaphor and God all mixed up, and we might imagine that we have a God who can never be pleased, who is never quite satisfied with what we do. Or we could even think that we have a manipulative God who dispenses joy and good things only as God is pleased.

But, if we can begin to imagine a God who loves us, who wants us to have abundant life, who wants us to have a deep abiding joy. If we can begin to imagine a God who will love us and hold us, who thinks that we are good, and delights even in the very smell of us, we can begin to heal from those wounds of our past.

The second thing is to make a gratitude list. Listing everything that we are thankful for. Paul seems to be pointing to this practice when hw says “whatever is whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

It is a rare thing to have everything that we need all at one time. If our job is going well, sometimes we do not have the relationship that we want. If our health is good, then we do not have the job that we want. If we have the career that we always dreamed of, then suddenly we realize that we miss that time with our family that we used to have.

If you are human, there will always a point of dissatisfaction in your life, a place where things seem unbearable. And yet, if we are able to take a few moments to step back, and remember all that we do have, then it’s like getting an injury when we are basically healthy. We can overcome it a lot easier.

The third thing that we can learn to do is to help others, even with our weaknesses. Going back to this retreat, we spent a lot of time talking about archetypes. We looked at the archetypes in the great myths, some that Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell pointed out, and as I was preparing, I noticed that archetype of the wounded healer.

It is a powerful metaphor. I have a friend who was sexually abused as a child, and I asked her one time how she was so resilient. How she was able to live such a productive life. I knew people who were in her same circumstances who were not able to get over the trauma. And she told me that she had learned to use it as a source of healing. Through her work as a counselor, she had been able to talk to people who had gone through similar circumstances, and she had been able to show them that they could live abundant lives. In some sort of emotional sense, it was like she was like she was able to show them her flesh, and to tell them, “Look, the scars will heal. They feel like they are gaping right now, and the pain seems too much to bear, but I have proof that they can heal.”

This is a season when forced happiness surrounds us. And it is a time when we are reminded of the spiritual discipline of rejoicing. We can learn to drink from that deep well of contentment that can fill us. When we are able to use our wounds as a source of healing for others, when we are able to focus on the good things that surrounds us, and when we are able to trust and rest in the fact that God loves us and wants us to have an abundant live.

May we go out in this season, with an overwhelming sense of joy.
To the glory of God our Creator,
God our Liberator,
and God, our Sustainer. Amen.

Sowing and Reaping

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Here’s my sermon from Sunday morning. So what’s best? posting the audio or the manuscript? I guess I’ll check the stats and see what gets the most traffic.

Our sermons can be found on iTunes, by searching “The Progressive Christian Voice.” Most of the sermons are John Wimberly’s, because I’m not good at the details… meaning… I stink at making sure that little stick is plugged into iRecord on Sunday morning….

I preached on the Lectionary passage, which was various verses in Esther, but I just incorporated the whole story. Because, it’s such a good story.

http://westernpresbyterian.podhoster.com/FlowPlayerLight.swf?config=embedded:true,videoFile:%27http://westernpresbyterian.podhoster.com/download/1133/14386/Sowing__Reaping.mp3%27,initialScale:%27scale%27,controlBarBackgroundColor:%270×778899%27,autoBuffering:false,loop:false,autoPlay:false

Join the conversation

Good morning! I’ll check in later today, but this morning, I need to prep for our conversation with Bishop Will Willimon on God Complex Radio. I’m sure that I’ll have a lot to reflect on when I’m done….

The show is going really well. We’re learning a lot, and it’s been wonderful to work with the staff, talk to Bruce Reyes-Chow and interview some amazing people, like Frank Schaefer, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Margaret Sartor. Our audience is growing, mostly with people who download. And interest is expanding as well… including funding/sponsorship interest. So, I’ll have more details later, but for now, it’s an exciting time of transition for us.

I get a lot of questions about how to listen to it. It’s pretty easy. You don’t have to listen to it live. If you use iTunes, you can download it from there (just search for God Complex Radio in podcasts), or you can go to the Blog Talk Radio Site, look for the episode you want, and press play. Or, of course, you can always listen to the last few episodes by pressing on the one you want on the Blog Talk Radio widget on the right column of this blog.

It’s not too difficult, and if you need help, just let me know (teammerritt at mac dot com).