What’s New: Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Today We Are Closer”

Nadia Bolz-Weber is the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, an ELCA mission church in Denver, Colorado. She’s a leading voice in the emerging church movement and her writing can be found in The Christian Century and Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics blog. She is author of Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television (Seabury 2008) and the Sarcastic Lutheran blog. Her theological memoir, Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint (Jericho, 2013) comes out in September of 2013.

The following reflection was written on the election of Elizabeth Eaton as Presiding Bishop, and first published at Huffington Post.

 

Today We Are Closer: Lutherans Elect First Female Bishop

When I was 12 years old, and still wearing white sandals to church, all of the Sunday school teachers in our church suddenly were men, instead of women. Like a gendered, ecclesial, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s not that the women who were our Sunday school teacher became men, or anything as interesting as that — it’s that their positions were taken by men. It wasn’t until years later that I realized this was because 12 was the age at which boys were considered to be men (a ludicrous idea), and women, according to 1 Timothy were not permitted to teach men. Therefore 12-year-old boys in the Church of Christ had more authority than grown-ass women. Now, at age 44, I have a 12-year- old-boy of my own and while he is an amazing creature with a body full of energy and a mind full of Doctor Who episodes, he is no man.

Teaching Sunday school to 12-year-old boys was far from the only thing forbidden to those with a particular set of plumbing. The women in my church, born female like myself, and yet old, wiser, stronger than me, and those to whom I looked to see an image of my future self as old, wise and strong, could not preach, or pray aloud in front of men, of even be an usher. Yes, Church of Christ women did not have the “authority” to hand a man a bulletin in church but did have the authority to hand him a plate of fried chicken and potato salad an hour later at the church potluck. Weird.

Today, 32 years after watching the women in my church faithfully do what they were allowed, I watched about 1,000 people in Pittsburg at the church-wide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America faithfully elect Elizabeth Eaton, a woman, to be the Presiding Bishop, the leader of the largest Lutheran denomination in America. She succeeds the faithful and fiercely gracious leadership of Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. (I know that the big story is that a woman was elected but what is equally remarkable is that the excitement about the new bishop was only matched by the affection for the out-going bishop).

The Lutherans elected a woman Presiding Bishop. That, is huge.

Now, normally I cringe when asked to speak about being a “woman in ministry” wanting, as I do, to live in a post-gender world, a world where the election of Elizabeth Eaton is celebrated because she is an extraordinary leader (which she is) and not because her gender is, in anyway, interesting or worthy of comment. But we don’t live in that world and here’s why: while there are women pioneers in other male-dominated fields and careers that historically have been forbidden to women, like medicine and law, there are not hospitals all over the country when women are still forbidden to practice medicine. There are not courtrooms all over the country where you still cannot argue a legal case were you born female. But as we know, there are still countless churches across the country where women, like myself and Elizabeth Eaton, would not be allowed to preach. As much as I long to never again be asked to speak about being a woman in ministry, and as much as I want the day to come when the gender of clergy is not in any way interesting, we are not there yet. There are still little girls in white, Sunday school shoes who will never hear a voice that is like theirs speak the Gospel, who will never see curves like the ones they will have under the robes of the one raising bread and wine behind an altar and speaking ancient, holy words of promise and forgiveness, who will never know without reservation that she is made in the image of God in all her glorious girl-ness.

But today, today we are closer. And this makes me want to put on white sandals and dance in all my glorious girl-ness… in my clergy shirt.

The Fierce Urgency of Now: Contemplative Justice

 Natalie Dunn Magnusson holds a degree in Youth and Family Ministry from Abilene Christian University and an MA in Spiritual Formation and Leadership from Spring Arbor University. She is Director of Spiritual Formation for the Masters program in Missional Leadership at Rochester College, Adjunct Instructor at Spring Arbor University, and serves on the board of the Women in Ministry Network.This was first presented at the 2013 Christian Scholars Conference session, “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Strategies for Social Change Within the Churches of Christ.”

 

Social issues are highly spiritual issues, as Walter Wink, William Stringfellow, and others have reminded us. Our love of God is deeply interwoven with our love of people, and so how we engage these social issues reveals much about our lives with God. I imagine that many of us gathered in this room are already in tune with God’s call for justice and are passionate about seeing social change come to fruition, but I believe we need to be just as concerned about what happens along the way, not just the end result of justice. So, as I’ve been thinking about the title of this session, The Fierce Urgency of Now, I want to caution us about how “fierce urgency” might instill in us a reckless and possibly aggressive posture as we stimulate social change. We must avoid becoming oppressive in our endeavors to eradicate oppression. I, along with many other women in the Churches of Christ, long to be included in the public life of the church sooner rather than later. I am on board with fierce urgency, but I also believe we need to take time to be mindful of a few things: first, God is the source of justice, second, there are some intentional practices that will ground our actions for justice, and third, our work for justice is for the sake of God in this world.

Our empowerment for justice must be rooted in and flow from lives that are lived with God. We cannot engage these issues on our own. We’re up against deeply rooted structures and systems that have been in effect since long before we ever existed. The labor of justice, the setting of things as they should be, is really God’s work, and we are wise to remember our position in this. I think about how in Acts we see the Holy Spirit so clearly and actively involved in the inclusion of the Gentiles. It was God who initiated that kind of justice and saw it to completion, and thankfully there were some individuals attentive and willing to respond to the movement and nudging of God. In a similar fashion, we need to step back and allow God’s Spirit to have a primary role in this unfolding story of gender inclusion and other social changes that are taking place in our churches. This is not our story. This is God’s story. Our posture has to be, first and foremost, confessional and dependent on the power of God. In suggesting this stance, however, I’m not implying that we have to sit back and wait for a white sheet to fall from the sky. Rather, I’m advocating for a rhythm of praxis and reflection, or action and contemplation, where we are in the habit of regularly stopping and prayerfully considering what has occurred and how God is calling us to participate next.

So as a part of the rhythm of action and contemplation, I believe there are five practices we can engage. These will help us to discern what God is already up to in our world and will guard us from becoming that which we detest. We practice these disciplines not because we believe that it is by our efforts alone that change happens, but because we trust that when we open up space, God’s Spirit will come in and do the transformative work in us and through us. Many of these practices are passive and not actively making justice happen. They do, however, serve the imperative role of grounding our actions towards justice. The quiet rhythms of our lives must be supportive of the active rhythms of our lives.

1. One of the most foundational practices is silence. It helps us to listen more than to speak both in our prayers and in our engagement with others. Silence creates the conditions for justice to unfold, as well as, prevents us from running over people with our speech, which could easily become another form of violence.

2. The second discipline I recommend is that we practice lectio divina with people who hold beliefs contrary to ours. This is not the same as studying and dissecting scripture; rather it’s a way of listening to and noticing what God is up to in the text, in the lives of other people, and in the world. Dwelling with individuals who offer a diversity of perspectives will open us up to their voices and will assist us at other points as we seek to have challenging discourses concerning social issues (as we seek to create “positive peace,” McCarty). And hopefully, in turn, it will open them up to our viewpoints and understandings. We do not necessarily need to dwell in the traditional gender texts or hot button texts together. We simply should practice being in a variety places in scripture with people other than our likeminded friends.

3. Another habit is the regular rhythm of Sabbath, where we stop our anxious busyness and recognize that we are not God. Sabbath is an intentional relinquishment of power, and a valuable routine in a world where the temptation for power is fierce and palpable. Sometimes overlooked, the command of Sabbath in the Old Testament had direct social implications, for they were to give their slaves, aliens, and animals rest, so that they too might be refreshed. And this causes me to wonder what we might have to discover today about the direct social implications of Sabbath rest.

4. The fourth discipline is the prayer of the examen that is often practiced each evening. It’s a prayer that prompts us to notice our consolations and desolations from the day. The examen helps us to see patterns of where we are both giving and receiving life and death in our world and is useful in detecting how we are being formed as we engage God’s work of justice.

 5. And fifth I suggest the practice of restraint. We live in a world of instant gratification and immediate response. So, rather than always caving to the impulse of responding immediately, I believe it is beneficial to set up parameters for ourselves that create time and space before we offer something in return. And in this interim, it is helpful to ask ourselves questions like, “Am I wanting to respond in order to assert power over the other?” or, “Do I notice that I am being anxious and fearful about something and wanting to respond out of that feeling?” or, “What are the greater implications of a particular kind of response?” The only caution with this practice is that we cannot allow so much time to elapse before we respond that it becomes one more form of power over the other and induces anxiety in them.

I want to close by emphasizing two things. First, these practices are not primarily about our formation as individuals or about our own personal agendas for social justice, as grand as they may be. The church exists for the sake of God in this world. Our individual decisions have communal implications. They impact people and their understandings of God in ways that cannot possibly be known. Our daily decisions afford us the opportunity to give life, as well as, take away life from other people. This is a high and holy calling. We are participants in God’s work of making all things new in this world. So how we go about social justice, not just the end result, bears witness to a God who is reconciling the world to God’s self. We are ministers of reconciliation. In spurring social change, we are taking risks, people are getting hurt, and reconciliation will be an integral part of this work. How we handle this reconciliation before a watching world is just as significant as achieving justice in the end.

Lastly, I want to reiterate that while these rhythms might seem to slow us down and work against a life actively in pursuit of social change, they actually help the work of justice not be just one more impetuous action driven by fear and power. Our moves of justice must be grounded in our identity in God and in God’s ultimate vision for justice in our world, and that takes time.

 

 

 

 

 

Voices of Experience: Sons and Daughters

Paul Mathis is a graduate student at Abilene Christian University working on a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy as well as a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry. This was originally posted on July 28, 2013 at Paul’s blog, a second time.

“Sons and Daughters”

For the past three weeks, I have been teaching a series of lessons on Wednesday nights with a classmate and friend of mine, Meredith. I asked Shawna to take some pictures of the two of us teaching.

IMG_1198

IMG_1201

Although I did not think much about it at first, over the past few weeks, it has hit me just how incredible an occasion this is; for me, at least.

_________________________

When I was preaching, I fought against the idea that the preacher should be held in higher esteem. I was just another member attending church with my Christian family. I just happened to dominate what took place during the worship hour. But I was not special; I was not different; I was just like everybody else. I have believed that about other preachers, as well. For the past several years, I have attempted to treat preacher, elder, youth minister, and “regular member” alike.

And I want to continue doing that. I love the ministry team at Highland, yet I do not love them any more than I love the rest of my church family. However, I am starting to realize exactly how sacred the act of teaching or preaching actually is—and it has nothing to do with who is doing it.

We know the stories of people called to deliver a message for God: Moses made excuses, Jeremiah said he was too young, Jonah ran to the other side of the world, Ananias tried to remind God exactly who Saul of Tarsus was. These people, and others, hesitated to proclaim God’s Word, at least in part, because they did not believe they were worthy of proclaiming a sacred word.

When someone stands up to speak on a Sunday morning, whether it is in a worship setting or a class setting, they are proclaiming a sacred word. When someone stands up to speak in a mid-week class or a home-based Bible study, that person is proclaiming a sacred word. Whenever the Word of God is delivered to an audience, the speaker is doing something sacred; not because of the person performing the act, but because of the Source of the Word.
_________________________
I have often been blind to my own position of privilege. Because I am male, white, educated, and not in poverty, I have access to a variety of opportunities that others do not have. Growing up in church, I always knew that I could eventually lead prayers, read Scripture, help with Communion, preach, and (in extremely desperate times) lead songs. There was never a doubt in my mind, or anyone else’s, that I could do any and all of those things.

When it comes to those who do not have the same access, I often find myself looking for ways to soothe my conscience by convincing myself, “Yeah, but they have other things they can do, so they should be happy with it.” In my church tradition, women are not allowed to be worship leaders. But they can sing on a praise team. They cannot be adult Sunday school teachers. But they can work with the kids.
And that should be good enough, right?
_________________________
So now, I find myself on Wednesday nights, standing next to an intelligent, talented, gifted child of God. A child of God who did not have the same opportunities I had growing up. Who has had to be content with the “good enough” for most of her life. For a large portion of her church experience, she has been excluded from participating in the act of something sacred for no reason other than her gender.

But now we get to teach together. The Word being taught is sacred; not because Meredith and I are teaching it, but because the Word comes from the One who is sacred.
_________________________
In my current church home, there is a measure of gender equality. Women participate in certain areas of worship: praying, reading Scripture, and delivering the Communion meditation. But they are not allowed to preach or teach a class that is conducted in the main auditorium. In other words, what Meredith and I are doing could not take place on a Sunday morning or Wednesday evening in the auditorium at our congregation.

And for a very long time, I thought that women like Meredith should think that is “good enough.”

When the Spirit came on Peter on the Day of Pentecost, he quoted from the prophet Joel in saying, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy.” Priscilla is listed before her husband, Aquila, at a time when the order of names was of extreme importance. Lydia was the first church leader in the city of Philippi. Junia was called an apostle by Paul. Women were praying and prophesying in Corinth.

They were all participating in all that was sacred.

It was sacred because of the Source. God wants all of His sons and daughters to prophesy. And I get to stand next to one of His daughters while she does it.

IMG_1202-1

Share this:

Voices of Experience: Please Don’t Ask Me to Stay, by Rebecca Kello

Please Don’t Ask Me to Stay

Someone has to stay, someone has to stay to make change or we’ll die. This has been the plea that I have heard expressed to myself and to many other women (and to be fair, men as well) in my first year of seminary. I’m lucky enough to be able to attend a seminary that understands my issues with being a woman who grew up in the churches of Christ, little c or it doesn’t count kind of church of Christ, and in many ways this is one of the reasons I chose this seminary, but it also comes with a dose of desperation to save the denomination.

After a year of hearing this plea, though, I have to finally express my exhaustion with it. It’s important to note the need for change agents to stay, but it’s also important to acknowledge when one’s own health is compromised by staying. Asking me to stay in the churches of Christ is like asking a abused spouse to stay in a marriage because fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. I struggle with identifying and labeling my experience as abusive because it seems severe and I love the people and the church that made me who I am; most days I don’t look back on my experience and feel like I was purposefully subjugated, but purposeful or not, it happened.

It was in a small, cinder-block church classroom, with brightly colored paint that was desperately trying to bring some life to the room, that as a 13-year-old girl, I realized that I could never be enough. It was in this class that I realized that I would have to change who I was to become who God wanted me to be. As a shy child, I was hardly as loud or as opinionated as I am today, but even still, I knew that being the Proverbs 31 woman would be an uphill battle for me and that the gentle quiet spirit did not reside in me in the way it did in the women in the church who I adored. I was devastated.

This devastation leads to self-doubt, which leads to self-esteem issues. Those self-esteem issues were not merely about my appearance or social status as most teenage girls struggle with, but rather they were consumed with the guilt of being a better leader than the boys in my youth group, they were ravaged with what career path to take in college, and on a very personal level, they began to create problems in relationships, subconsciously creating a fear of the rights I would lose if I were to be married. I have switched from career to career; teacher, missionary, teacher again, counselor, etc. Those who don’t know or value my story see that as me being flighty and wasting my 20s, those who do, however, can see how I was trying to make my calling to ministry fit into socially acceptable boxes, dancing around what God has designed me for: ministering to wounded, scarred people.

I was born into a generation and a society that allowed and thought that the education of its young girls should be equal to that of its young boys. While this was the case in my public school, this was far from the case in my conservative church in which women were held to a very specific ideal of Christian womanhood. The two places that were most influential in my young life and personal development, the church and the school, both sent clear, intrinsic messages in their structure and intent. The vast dichotomy between the two, as well as the value and potential that I felt, highlights what has plagued me and many females in my generation: a theological identity crisis.

Growing up in a community and family in which church was vital to everything, this theological identity crisis became so central to who I was, in every aspect of life. The church who I gave my whole life to, consistently, by word or by deed, sent the message that as a woman, I could never be enough. This became my underlying schema and the narrative that ruled my life.

Honestly, sometimes anger creeps in when I think about how my life could be so much further along if I had been instilled with the theological identity God gave me rather than the gender identity the church has boxed me into. It doesn’t plague me all the time, but it’s there and everyday I fight; I fight for the theological identity that God has instilled in me and my church denied me. Everyday, in my religious, personal, and professional life, I fight to undo the wounds caused by growing up in a very conservative church of Christ as a woman.

This is why it’s so hard when people ask me to stay. I have wrestled with God and the church, and for me to be a healthy, life-giving member of the Christian story, I cannot stay. I have met those who have the heart and the support and the hopes to change this denomination into a healthier place for women, but I cannot be one of them. Each day I’m growing in grace towards my past but my gifts fall to better use in another denomination, and the wounds still run too deep, so please don’t ask me to stay.