What Does the Word “Evangelical” Mean to You?

Wondering what the word “evangelical” means to you? Not completely sure, but I am thinking of quitting — being an evangelical, that is.

Yes, my church is evangelical but that’s neither here nor there to me. I am not my church nor do I agree with every single thing they teach (that would be weird) and I’m not sure I am one any more — an evangelical.

No drama, totally longing for civility here, just wanting your thoughtful response to what “evangelical” means to you, in 21st century America, i.e. today — not originally.  Or perhaps there is an original meaning that is important and was lost.

I think “evangelical” has become both a “dirty word” for non-believers, yes regular non-church going people. And a misunderstood and misused word.

It feels soiled.

Either way, I think it isn’t what I am any more.  Though I am not sure yet what I am.

In this really thoughtful article, My Journey Toward the “New Evangelicalism” By , I found a little of my own heart’s cry:

“… a larger truth is at stake. Will we use the Gospel for political purposes, or make it hostage to any political person or cause? Some sixty times in the New Testament the death and resurrection of Christ are described as liberating, and the Christian life as one of freedom. The apostle Paul declared, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

“A demand for political conformity is a form of legalism that must not characterize the body of Christ. Neither should any judgmental or unloving attitudes over differences of opinion. Disagreements, moreover, should not be regarded as off limits but as legitimate and even healthy. They offer the opportunity to discuss conflicting ideas with a spirit of prayer, openness to the Holy Spirit, and unconditional submission to God’s Word. In this way the church is a community that transcends, while never denying, its internal differences. Here is victory over the last great temptation (as the book of Revelation intimates): that of making politics more than itself.”

This is a Story that is only beginning for me.

When our Traditions and Tired Beliefs are Calcified into Orthodoxy (Brief Thoughts On Women)

 

Yesterday as I was sitting across from one of the people I respect most in the world when my life changed forever. 

You see I have had many long years of being in pain about being a woman in the church, though I am on a path of healing. Yes, this story does have a happy-ish ending.

Okay happy isn’t quite right but I feel hopeful in the knowledge that we have not seen the end of Our Story.

Being a woman in the evangelical Church can be painful.  Being a natural questioner is too.  

More than a decade ago, I began to question the roles of women in the evangelical church and this has brought me a lot of personal pain.  The process of learning what was True – scriptural, cultural, and relevant for us today, was slow and difficult because no one really wanted to talk to me about it or help all that much, as I questioned my pastor, and the elders, and pursued it with others.

Little did I know that in some cases it was because others didn’t really know what they thought.

This is a part of what makes this issue so slippery.  I pushed, sought clarification, and ask for perspectives and read a lot of books! The process of the last ten years has been uncomfortable, isolating and even at times agonizing.

I learned recently that I have even scored a “reputation.”

Not as I would hope of being a thinking, theological person – because I have asked the biblical basis for these things and sought truth. That I would take as a backhanded compliment.

And not as I might wish for being a questioner –because I do have many questions and never saw that as liability as a person of faith.

Rather, I have been called the f-word, yeah that f-word – Feminist. And even more malevolent, an “Angry Feminist.”

Actually, the angry part is true. Once I am able to step back from my defensive, hurt posture, I’ll confess that I have been angry.  I have carried around inside me, close to my heart, an oozing, pussy, and infected spiritual sore and this has been  very bad for my soul.  I even picked incessantly at it.  I have been wounded, offended, bitter and angry and worst of all to me is this.

I have felt unheard.

Sitting there across from my beautiful, big-hearted and loving, Bible cherishing, Jesus following, Holy Spirit filled, Bible Church attending friend, she uttered the most unbelievable words.  And she repeated them when I seemed to just look at her bug-eyed, in shock.

“You are not alone.  You are not the only one wondering what’s true,” she whispered to me.

She asked me this simple question:

 “What did Jesus say about women?”

Well, nothing that I am aware of and I will double-check because she asked. But I am not aware of anything prescriptive that Jesus said about women.

Jesus saw women,

Jesus spoke to women,

Jesus healed women,

Jesus taught women,

Jesus was financially supported by women,

Jesus loved women,

Jesus listened to women?

Jesus was persuaded to change his mind by a woman.

All in a culture and time when women were unseen and unheard, unworthy, unquestioningly invisible.

So I ask you friends.  What did Jesus say about women? And what parts of Scripture bring you hope as you consider the place of women in the church today?

I’ve had a healing of that sore that I allowed to fester for more than a decade.  That incredible story is here.

And I have a renewed challenge by my friend, someone who I never thought would ask about the injustices toward women in the Church.  Because of her, I now dream of somehow bringing a riptide of change into the middle of this vast ocean of tradition and tired beliefs which have been calcified into orthodoxy.

These days, most days, I feel hope about the place of women in the Church. Other days it feels foolish and the lack of certainty is soul crushing.

On the days that I maintain my weak hold on Jesus, I do believe change will come.  And hearing the questions coming from this dear friend meant everything.

I am resolved to begin again to study and write on this topic — I gave it up for a good long while.  The angry feminist in me has become resolved and certain of Jesus and his love for me and all women.  Something shifted in my mind and heart , in my soul as I sat listening to my friend.

I am not alone.  I am not the only one asking.  I am not the only woman looking for answers.  We will find the Truth together.  We have not seen the end of Our Story.

Melody

Other things I have written on these subjects.
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I am human. Join me. (Thoughts on faith, confession and writing)

Part two of … this.  A response.

You know it’s funny.  Several people responded to what I wrote today with what I found to be a slightly odd, or at least a surprising response to me.  Okay, odd isn’t fair.  They expressed concern.   You need to know something. If I have gotten to the place of putting my thoughts down, I have lived it — bled it — known each word like a friend.  I am on the other side enjoying the lesson, learning and knowing I am beloved.  The things I write while true still, are not cloaked about me oppressively.  

You see, no matter how many times I have to learn it — like the Israelites who were incredibly short sighted, foolish and distrusting of God, over and over — I do know I am a beloved child.  I do. Don’t worry so about me.

I read an interview with Anne Lamott, a writer that I adore.  When asked about her writing about her faith (since she’s “pretty outspoken, eccentric artist—a quality we love and admire in her. How does she successfully reconcile the perhaps stereotypical connotations of ‘Christian’ in this polarized day and age—when Christian in the political sense often means an extreme conservative—with her clearly open-minded, open-hearted point of view and way of living.”)

Oh yeah, that.  I can relate.

She said:

“That’s a complicated question. A good question. You do the best you can. A certain percentage of self-identified Christians think I am doomed and just fucked beyond all imagining because I don’t believe the Bible is the literal word of God. I’m a progressive Christian. I’m more of a liberation theology person.

My religious life, my life as a recovering alcoholic, my life as a writer, and life as a public person are the center of my life along with Sam and Jackson [Sam’s son].   People are going to think what they think. It’s called “another thing I have no control over.”

And when asked about her writing process she confessed unabashedly, “Right now I have prepublication jitters, mental illness, and distraction.”

Here is what I think, we are all simply human.  And in writing about our “walk” with faith, some are more honest than others.  I try to be crystal clear, yes even hopelessly honest. That’s my style, my voice, my path.  Sure, I hope one day to write out of a place of certainty.  Just when I wish for that, then I know that I don’t really hope for that.

I carry the scars of my life, not proudly — as if — but I am not ashamed of them either. I am a child of a raging man, who was verbally abusive and controlling.  That makes me different than a lot of kids who grew up with unconditional love and certainty.  I am an alcoholic (in recovery.)  It is a part of my dna and I will write about it.  I’m a compulsive, addictive person — whether it be to Facebook, or Farmville, or television shows like Stargate, watching episode after episode for hours — and I will never have all the answers for why I am like that.  I will never know complete release from that this side of heaven.  That’s what I think.  That much is absolutely certain. But this won’t sink me, it will push me.  Humble me.  Help me to know how much I need God, and the community of believers. And what I must do is be a person that is committed to the spiritual disciplines of prayer and study, to the humble place of making callouses on my knees, and to surrendering myself to service of others.

Daily, hourly.  Sometimes moment by moment, this sweet surrender admission of my broken places.  That’s me.

Reading the incredible words today from Enuma Okoro who said in an essay on faith and the writing life, written to people who seek her wisdom, she said:

“Engaging in the craft of creative writing is where they feel most alive and the means by which they feel most passionate about witnessing to “the things about which [they] have been instructed” (Luke 1:4 NRSV).  … These men and women seek counsel on discerning how writing can be ministry and where they might turn for support and encouragement in understanding how faith and writing intersect…

and she said later:

“Take the leap of faith and trust in your gift to proclaim God’s word in new ways.” I hope I can grow into the sort of mentor who recognizes the writing gift and call in others and boldly and daringly says to them, “Write for the love and power of words. Write for the love of God.””

So, dear friends know this. When I write about the pain of being an artist in the church, or of being a feminist in an evangelical church or the f-word being a dirty word, or my struggles to totally surrender to God’s absolute love, I am simply telling you that I bleed.  I am human. Won’t you join me?

I Traveled to a Dreamland [A Poem]

It was a long week.  I traveled to a Dreamland.

And in that magical place where I know Everything,
I am Powerful.
My prayers are Answered.
I am Whole.
The future holds no surprises, for I am filled with
Visions telling me All.

As I walk the streets of Perfect Knowledge I asked
what’s left?
After Total Acceptance
Complete Understanding,
Perfection and Glory
what’s left?
I have no Need.
No Confession.
No Sorrows.
No Desire.
No Curiosity.
No Thirst.

No Need and All Knowledge is in fact Unbearable.
In that Dream Land, I found myself
Longing to Wake Up
to My Life, where my days and nights are Full of Questions.
Where I wonder about Almost Everything and every day
still hope for Perfection.

Sure, I shake my fist at God because I remember that Place Without
Hate, Pain or Suffering.
Here Without Complete Understanding, I cannot imagine how
it will come again.
I can only
Rest in Him.
And be grateful for the Absoluteness of My Unknowing.