On Doubt & Growing up in the Church of (women) “Shouldn’t. Wouldn’t. Couldn’t.”

My daughter pushes me.  She demands.  Before coffee and time to wake up in the morning, she throws out at me like spittle in my face a withering challenge. She says, about my faith, my beliefs, something like ….

You follow some concocted foolishness, if only to comfort yourself, to be a part of something, to be less alone, to feel consoled by the idea you won’t spend eternity in hell.

Ouch.  She’s fourteen.  I listen.  And take another sip of coffee.  Silently wishing that I was more awake.  Wishing that I had time to go to seminary and get back to her.  Hoping that I can remain calm.  And mostly, I am hoping that I am lucid.  Does she not know this is not my best time of day?  Of course she does.  I am not freaking ready for this!?!

And what sort of religion would sentence people to hell?” she continues.  I’m thinking “Where in the hell is she learning her ideas about hell?”

Yes, that’s the sort of girl we’re raising. 

Questioning.  Doubting.  Testing and pushing.  And I love it, even as it scares me and I long for more preparation.  No, I don’t fear my own doubt, because I have known the One who gives me peace beyond my comprehension.

But I fear her doubts.

She has a wonderful, active intelligence.  How to answer the questions rattling about in her brain— which she throws out with such vivid scorn.  How to answer, when it closely echoes the shadows of my heart and mind?  One might think this would make it easier, but it isn’t because I don’t fear my own doubt I pursue it. I have even grown comfortable with it, mostly.

But her doubts loom bulky and cumbersome, large in the room.  I feel them physically as she lurches toward her future.  Away from me.  Yes I feel her doubt pulling her away from me. This is what I must trust, that the One I know will make himself known to her and to each of them, my children.  I only possess them for a short season, if at all.  I once thought they were “mine” like a precious possession to be held on to tightly.  Now I know I don’t. I can’t keep them for my own.

The day she came squealing into the world, so strong and perfect I should have known then that she was not mine.  In the early months I was uncomfortable letting someone else take her from me, to hold her tight against their own chest in church.  I fought letting her infant body be pulled away from mine.  She was my first and the toughest, impossible, to let go of—I thought that I couldn’t do it.  I began to trust others just a little.  Our nanny.  A nursery caregiver.  Kindergarten teacher, first grade, second and up, over the years.  And now she is learning from pastors at church and from leaders in youth group that are young and barely out of school themselves.  And she learns from her friends.  How much she is learning from equally fallible, impressionable friends

I am reminded again, I can’t possess her.    

I look at her speaking this morning, so sure of herself, and  I think “I would hold you in my arms forever, if possible, so enormous is my love for you.”

A mother’s love and possession of her children is irrational.  At first I trusted no one.

And she always resisted me.

She struggles, fights me.  Argues about whether I like her outfits even when I say I do, she says I don’t; her hair, the shape of her nose which I think is quite perfect. But no, she is angry even as she tells me how very wrong I am.  “My nose is not perfect” she wants me to know. And I marvel at the thought.  To me, you are.

Perfection.

This is what I want to tell her.  

You have always questioned.  You were impatient, always.  I couldn’t teach you fast enough — the alphabet, or to read.  All of this could not be conquered quickly enough for you, in the midst of other babies coming along.  Just fourteen short months after you a brother, and he was physically large but quiet, careful and followed you everywhere; happily occupied by his admiration and awe of you.  My job and its demands getting me home at night exhausted, and there you were, already reading, even before I had the time to teach you.  You are ahead of me in so many ways.  At forty-five, I am just barely allowing myself to ask the hard questions, the ones that our faith community wouldn’t allow when I was growing up, somehow my doubt might mean that all of it isn’t true. 

I am only just learning to accept my own questions, to seek the answers out myself.  Yes, I learn from you my girl.

Your mother isn’t sure.  I doubt myself all the time  because I was told long ago in bible class in college (a Christian college) not to question.  As the Bible was opened for me in class, and I began to learn as never before, my heart fluttered and sped up with the dawning, comprehension that I could know the actual Greek words for myself.  I wouldn’t have to take anyone’s word for it.  Just. Like. Anyone. I could study and know for myself.  But when I sought this knowledge out, my professor asked “what would you do with it?” as if, I shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t learn for myself.  There would be no purpose.

Indeed, what purpose would it have served?

Yes that’s the lie I bought into, that I fight against (almost) every day as a woman in the Church, that we shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t, learn and teach for ourselves.  It is a lie, but one that is so strong.   I beat it back.  It returns uninvited.  Reading the words in Blue Parakeet, I am once again liberated.  It’s a constant liberation required, when you are raised in the Church of women “shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t.”   Scot McKnight liberated me again when he asked of scripture’s Story “What Did Women Do?”

What did women do I want to know?  We aren’t even to be allowed the stories in Bible of what women have done.  These stories of women have been silenced, ignored, overlooked and (not always with bad motives but still) they are missing!   As I have come into my own understanding of these things I have had to accept that to take a stand on this is threatening and provocative, and I am immediately perceived to be “liberal” and suspect, as if I don’t respect the Bible which I do, oh so very much from that moment in college when I had the profound thought “I can know this for myself. “ Oh what a sweet relief it was to read that even McKnight found it challenging to defend these things himself.

I am an evangelical, today anyway and I am only learning that I have read the Bible wrong.   I am learning to read the Bible as Story, even while “many of the traditionalists read the bible as a law book and a puzzle.  Traditionalists read the Bible about women in church ministries through tradition instead of reading the Bible with tradition.” (McKnight, the Blue Parakeet)

It is no small thing (to me) and I have spoken of this before.  My pastors never mention female theologians or even woman scholar’s writings about theology and the Bible.  I want my daughter to know that Christian women are thinking, can be academic, even scholarly, that we are wise and thoughtful.  Yes women.

And yet she doesn’t see that in the Church of  (women) “Shouldn’t. Wouldn’t. Couldn’t.”

What would it be like to grow up never hearing the old bible stories of what women did and are doing like Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah? To be a grown woman before you learn that these amazing legendary women spoke for God; they led the nation alongside men.  They sanctioned scripture and they guided nations.  What is it like to grow up never hearing from the knowledge and wisdom of women?   As my precious daughter shares her questions and doubt, I wake up and I listen, take it in.  I hope and pray.  She is strong and her soul and mind are powerful already.  Yes, I accept her doubts.  I know Doubt like a close friend, even if mine has different origins, nuanced by my upbringing and by mistreatment in my life by few strong men who abused.  I’m not afraid of my own doubt and I don’t want to be afraid of hers.  The Church needs girls like her who soon will grow into strong, articulate challenging women.  Her influence somewhere someday will be strong.  Perhaps even in the Church, if she stays long enough.  Are they ready her?  Or will they remain the Church of shouldn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t?

Is that what you want to tell her?

We live in a culture that doubts everything as a matter of principle. In such an environment, how can even faith be immune to doubt? Can I really trust in the gospel? Does God really love me? Can I really be of any use to God? We are taught to doubt but commanded to believe. Somehow we think that admitting to doubt is tantamount to insulting God. But doubt is not a sign of spiritual weakness–rather it’s an indication of spiritual growing pains. — Doubting,  Alister E. McGrath

I guess we are both having growing pains –this slowly waking, grown woman, and this young girl .  Is the Church ready for us?  Will they echo that women couldn’t, wouldn’t, shouldn’t?  Or will they tell us, yes, you can.

———————

These musings are like a journal and are not perfect.  As always, I hope you will extend me grace as I write to figure out what I think.

Not everyone is a white male, with all access!

A friend sent me this article in Christianity Today, because of what I wrote yesterday, mentioning Rob Bell.  Upfront, it asked:

“Do you think it is wrong for Rob Bell to question traditional views of heaven and hell? Answer: I don’t care. Do you think it is wrong for traditionalist writers to label Rob Bell a universalist? Answer: I don’t care.
Do you think it is wrong for every Christian with an iPhone to tweet their answers to the above questions from restaurant bathrooms and then go home and blog about it? Answer: Now there’s an interesting question.

Of course, we care about the doctrines of heaven and hell.  As Bell reminds when I heard him interviewed on Good Morning America what we think about heaven and hell informs what we believe about God and how we understand what it means to respond to the suffering around us, here and now.  Informs how we live out heaven and hell right now.  And it informs what to think about injustice here and now.  And that I agree with.

Oh, a controversy was stirred and it will sell a bunch of books and Rob Bell will survive to preach another Sunday.  But I don’t really care.  In How social media changed theological debate, the author John Dyer goes on to say something MORE IMPORTANT.   In fact the more I think about it, it is critical to this conversation.

But my response is different than Dyer’s.

Dyer says:

“Throughout the history of public theological debate, there was one constant—those debates only took place between a few select people—Moses, Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, and so on—who gained respect through a lifetime of scholarship….In pre-2004 Christianity (that is, Christianity before Facebook was invented), only a small group of Christian leaders and teachers had access to the printing press—but today everyone has WordPress. In pre-2004 Christianity it was difficult to become a published author, but today everyone is surrounded by dozens of “Publish” buttons.”

He is gravely concerned with the quality of the debate.  The quality of the conversation, teaching and writing on-line because with the advent of WordPress any ol’ person can express themselves.  And I would never argue against a need for quality conversation or scholarship! But that doesn’t answer a more important question of who is writing and teaching?

The culture is changing rapidly.  Books are becoming less relevant, though I for one will always buy and read books printed on paper.  Even so, yesterday I found myself longing for a Kindle because there was a book I wanted to read immediately!  The church needs to catch up to the immediacy of our culture and how it communicates.

Many pastors still do not Tweet or have a Facebook account.  Mine does not and I am sure it is not just because it is too hot — unpredictable — with much opportunity for people to misinterpret.  It’s also time consuming.  And mentally degrading to clarity of thought. If you are working all week to compose your thoughts on a particular topic for a sermon, it can’t be helpful to constantly be distracted by multiple media.  And yet, hipster pastors are online frequently and do these things.  As do many of the younger pastors in my church.  I am sure they spend much more time and energy than they would like thinking about what’s wise to say or not say.

The fact is one thing hasn’t changed, even as the culture does, our need to use restraint, to respond with maturity and self-control .  These are things that one would wish Piper and others had, even when tweeting.  Our words still matter!  Our heart, mind and soul — even more so than in the pre-Facebook age — is out there for the world to scour over!

Here’s what is most important to me about this conversation.

This new social media gives power to people of color and women — to those that have traditionally had less access to theological education, opportunities for preaching, teaching, and writing and getting published. (Even the homeless.)

So while I applaud Dyer’s thoughts about who should speak, teach and write in the specific situation, one must remember that not everyone is a white, male with all access to publishers, to power and to influence.  Yes, everyone needs to exercise restraint when it comes to social media.  But the new social frontier gives a voice to those of us who have traditionally been kept out of the conversation, the board room, seminaries, and these voices and viewpoints need to be heard in these critical times.

Why is it that each book suggested at church for extra reading in the last year was written by a white man?  Or that almost every song sung on Christian radio, and thus in churches, has a man singing or writing it?  Or that all the elders at my church are men?  And the teaching team is all men? Why are conferences full of Godly Christian men, with perhaps one female or person of color, MAYBE?  Why?

So, my response to John Dyer is “You may knock blogs because the level of thinking isn’t on the level of Moses and Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, and so on … well, have patience!

  • Until the brick and mortar institutions change for women and people of color, we need places like the internet in order to be heard.
  • Until you or I can name a Latino or Latina or African-American or female theologian or two, as quickly as you can think of NT Wright or J.I. Packer or John Piper we need the internet in order to be heard.
  • Until my pastor can name an up and coming female pastor or theologian, as readily as whatever man is on the tip of his lips, we still need this medium to bring change
  • I believe until it is just as commonplace to hear the perspective of a woman or a person of color in your life we need the internet in order to bring change. It is messy, and imperfect, but it gives access. 
I would not have my story published if it were not for connections made on-line. 

Shalom!

Melody

Here’s what I said yesterday.

—————–

In Defense of Women.  This was interesting and not just because he mentioned me.  It relates to not having women’s voices as a part of “the conversation.