For a long time, I’ve been angry; allowing myself to root about, sullied by my feelings–ashamed. And oh, so hurt. Hurt by my church not taking a brave, outward stand on women in leadership.
Then, over the last few months God has taken me on a journey, though it began many years ago. The Holy One has helped me to “forget” that I’m a woman at church. Turning off my “feminist radar” so that I can fully receive from scriptures and teaching. And not be caught up all the time in the women’s issue. This has been good. I am being healed in many respects. For me personally, I have to let it go. Forget about it. Forgive.
I read with a feminist lens and this especially true when reading the Bible. Because of my precarious journey of self-understanding, as I have grown in my knowledge of being a feminist Christian woman, I needed to know and learn the stories of the women in the Bible. When reading the OT with Eat This Book, I found myself overly conscious – hyper aware of every time a woman is mentioned or our story ignored. As you can imagine, this was causing me no end of frustration and anger (being a bad tourist in a culture foreign to me, I suppose) when the Old Testament is so definitely a patriarchal, androcentric collection.
I ask how women pull out the truth for ourselves, when we are reading the OT, when many verses in scripture have an interpretation and very likely the translators came to it with bias and agendas. I had to let go of that. Let it go free for now.
I am learning to read the Bible for the big story, the meta-narrative at least for now. Fly high over these books, look for major themes. Not sweat the details, for now.
Our church is strongly recommending the ESV study Bible. I have resisted purchasing the ESV. I learned recently that there were no women on the team of contributors, the oversight committee and the review scholars. This strikes me as a significant backward choice. I must admit to feeling dismayed. Both the English Standard Version (ESV) and the New Living Translation (NLT) which I love reading, down-play the ministries and roles of New Testament women in their translations and show a bias about women and leadership. This doesn’t discount all the rich, important amazing scholarship. But it sullied it, for me, that no women biblical scholars were included.
I bring the NRSV to church when I want to know quickly, which verses apply to me as a human being. (Of course I know they all do, but it’s still irksome to have to think about it, when a verse says Man and Men and it means human or people. It so limits the joy of opening scripture to have to think about it and I find that extra step of thinking takes away from my ability to hear the sermon for all its full meaning. I do wish that teachers if they are aware of when a version is particularly biased in the translation of particular verses, could/would point it out. But that’s a pipe dream for now, perhaps, at least for this church. Forget about it. Forgive.
I was gently reminded by a new friend on Facebook that our dialogue about women can become ghettoized (which I’ll confess I don’t totally understand what she means) but I do understand that we need to be laden with grace in all we say. And in particular where there is pain involved, it seems all the more significant, even profoundly so to to find within ourselves the strength to be gracious and even pray for those that we disagree with.
As I grow, I am often convicted by the truth that my tone and heart are so often not like that. And I am reminded to “Learn to write your hurts in the sand and to carve your benefits in stone.”
It is a unique dance too, when you (may) feel called to be a bridge person, (may) be called to challenge injustice of all kinds. This doesn’t mean that we can do it with a tone of bitterness and condemnation, rather we should be at peace and speak with genuine grace and love.
Let it fly free. Yes, oddly and quite gratefully, I am learning to “forget” that I’m a woman while at Church. For now.
I highly recommend the blog of Margaret Mowczko, a NT scholar. Her writings have greatly influenced me, even for this blog post. Her blog New Life has a rich set of articles, but I particularly point to her articles on Gender Equality Issues. This is the one on Bible Translations, that I referenced above.
I have not read it, but a friend recently recommended Mark Strauss’ book, “Distorting Scripture? The Challenge of Bible Translation and Gender Accuracy” (InterVarsity, 1998). His book argues for gender neutral translations.
I know that this idea of “forgetting” I’m a woman will really bother strict feminists. Sorry about that. It’s just something that is working for me, for right now. I will never truly forget. It’s more like a word picture of an idea that I’m embracing for right now.
9 thoughts on “Can I “forget” that I’m a Woman while at Church? Forgetting and Forgiving”
Ideals are meant to show us what should be. They cause inward stirrings in us to achieve what we know can be. For Christians, that means that we trust that we follow God who can accomplish anything. Too often, we limited-vision people bound by space and time hold up ideals, afraid that they might be lost in our world which eats idealism for breakfast. We hold them so close to us, because we originally have faith that such things will come to pass if we stay mindful. As the days and months and years go by, with little or no apparent change our hearts can become disillusioned. The very best way to derail an idealist (trust me, I am one) is to convince them that what should be, will never happen. Then, the ideals we hold so dear become two things… a disfigured mirror that turns the joy of the possibility and the hope for change into a hammer that pounds upon us repeatedly… and they also block our view from seeing what changes are actually happening because it serves as a heartbroken measuring stick, where nothing seems to measure up to the ideal we hold. We spend all our time holding onto the ideal, that we forget we have two hands and can work much better unencumbered by having to hold it on our own. Your passions are very much God-directed, but I would suspect that you probably need to do a little more giving them to Him and less carrying the burden yourself. You’re not stopping being a woman, nor are you stopping being a person caring for and about gender issues in our church. You’re just trying to do it with perspective, and resting in the knowledge that God is involved in the process. Blessings, Sis. You’ve been having a time of it lately. I wonder if God isn’t just cleaning house with you before Lent comes so He can show you something you wouldn’t have room for beforehand….
yeah, well it’s so complex. isn’t it? making space for God to speak. hm, …. sounds so rich. i look forward to sitting there. waiting a while. you’re right about trying to carry … that ain’t my job. i had to call off a “holy crusade” that i had self appointed myself to and let go. the grip i had on it was strong, the scars ran deep, the pain furrowed in my brow and heart. i feel so ready for … something.
and thanks for inspiring today’s poem.
Although I do not identify as a Chrisitian, I studied theology at a Catholic university so this post resonates with me. I agree that the Bible should be read as a meta-narrative and I think the message of the NT is very affirming for women. Certainly not all books (I have always had a difficult time with Paul and probably always will), but there are a lot of examples of books and stories where women are affirmed. I think people forget the Bible is a meta-narrative, a collection on stories to learn from and often people pick out the worst lesson and miss the meta-narrative point.
That being said, there is a rich history of powerful women and women’s devotion found in the history of the Church. As well as a rich tradition of more pro-woman messages in the gnostic gospels and other texts you may enjoy reading. Jesus after all was a great friend to women in general, and that is a huge part of the Christian meta-narrative I think. (Though it usually gets lost by those who would seek to use religion as a means to their own personal ends.)
In many respects, I agree with your charge that the Bible gets read from an agenda. Then we miss the truly radical actions of Jesus toward women, as well as all the incredible stories of women found there. I enjoyed Scot McNight’s the Blue Parakeet for just that reason, in terms of how you read the Bible. He posed the question: What Did Women Do and that has been a really liberating and beautiful experience for me — looking, digging in for myself to discover it. Thanks for reading and commenting, Pixie.
Hello. I found your blog through Baptist Women for Equality, and it feels like I’m reading the words of a kindred soul. I’m a recovering codependent, and these words of yours describe my struggles too:
“looking for personal value in everything others do and say about me”
“my cavernous need to be important”
And I, too, have wondered why this issue of women in Christianity is so vitally important to me that sometimes I can hardly think of anything else. And reading your words, I’m beginning to understand.
My sense of self, my identity, growing up in an alcoholic home, was always in some sense under siege. My cavernous need to be important stems, deep down, from the belief that I’m really not at all important. My looking for value in what others do and say about me stems from having a compromised sense of value in myself. My obsession with the devaluing of women in the church, then, is not the problem– it is a symptom. When anyone devalues women as a group, it harms my sense of my own value, because it’s not a secure sense. It’s tenuous, and easily shaken. I grew up not sure that I had value in myself– my value was in doing what pleased others. And what they said and did and believed about me defined who I was. The fight for the full valuing of women as equally capable, equally human creatures is thus a fight for my own identity. No wonder it’s super-important to me!
But the super-importance of the issue of women in the church to me, is not the problem. My need to be important is not the problem. My looking for value in what others think is not the problem. They’re all symptoms. It doesn’t help to look on them as idolatry or try to force myself to get over them, or move past them. The only help for me is to see that what I need is for my sense of value in myself to be healed. To seek healing in the arms of Jesus. To learn to see myself as Jesus sees me– as so valuable that I’m worth dying for. To see that He created me a woman because women are the image of God, unbelievably valuable, and He delighted to make me who I am.
In codependent recovery therapy, I learned to give myself new messages. This is what I need to do now: to say to myself, day and night till I start to believe it, “I am unbelievably valuable and He delights in me. He made me important. He alone knows what I’m worth– and I’m worth His life.”
Thanks for being so vulnerable, for speaking from your heart. Hearing your hurt helped me see my own. I hope what I have seen will also help you in your own healing journey.
Our stories are very similar. I think you will find much in my blog that speaks to you. Poems. Essays. We are soul sisters, Kristin.
Humbled that anything I said inspired your writing. I pray that the poem came from a place where hope is being renewed. As powerful as your writing is, it pales in comparison to the person God is fashioning you to be. Keep up the searching, the longing, and don’t let anything take away the joy or peace that God’s gifts to you.