because I’m a woman.

I’ve always wanted to go to seminary. In college when we were getting close to graduating, a couple of our friends were talking about going to seminary, and I longed to go, too. I can’t remember if I vocalised it, but I know that if I did it was with the caveat of “I mean, I know I wouldn’t use it, really, but I think it’d be fun,” because that’s the caveat I used in my head. Because why would a woman go to seminary? Really. Any female pastors I had seen were explained by the complementary “Deborah” interpretation: God only called/used Deborah (and/or any other woman in leadership in the bible) because there weren’t any men to do it, so it was okay in that situation but not the norm.

The list of things that I haven’t done because I’m a woman is pretty short. There’s only really four items on it, but those things are pretty vital to who I am as a person. I haven’t actively pursued making music, I haven’t “wanted” a career, I never went to seminary, and I never really considered a life in ministry. I just remembered last week that for awhile in high school I thought (like I really, actually thought) that I would like to be a pastor’s wife. It had escaped my memory til recently, because I met my husband and once I met him that was it for me. But I truly believe that I wanted to be a pastor’s wife because I wanted to be in ministry in a local church, really on the inside helping lead it, and felt like that was the only way.

I think that maybe for some people, the fact that most churches don’t include women in the inside circles of leadership doesn’t feel like it affects them. Maybe they wouldn’t want to be an elder, or a pastor, or maybe their marriage works pretty well with the traditional gender roles. But the fact that I grew up thinking it was not ever going to be an option for me to serve in the church, not the way I would want to, actually deeply affected who I am and how I’ve struggled. And I know that I am not alone.

The church I go to is really great. So was the one I went to before this, and the one before that. But you’ll go months, sometimes even years, without hearing a woman’s voice speaking her own thoughts about God and faith and life. Our church has women read scripture, so you’ll hear her voice, but only reading the printed words off the page. I may not be complementarian anymore, but I believe that even within the complementarian framework there is plenty of room to be made for women’s voices above and beyond token scripture reading.

If God’s image wasn’t completely reflected in humanity until he made women, then maybe we ought to be hearing from them. Maybe there’s a fullness that we’re missing as a church when we limit the story to being told from only one gender’s perspective. Or one race’s perspective. I’d love to walk into my complementarian church one Sunday, and see a woman welcoming us to worship, praying over our service in her own words, sharing her thoughts on the scripture reading.

Honestly, maybe I’d like that woman to be me.

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it’s okay to feel.

Motherhood, for me, has been one endless parade of fears. The searing fear of my kids ever being hurt, the knowledge that they inevitably will be, the memory of my own struggles, the feeling that I am incapable of handling their intense emotions because I am incapable of handling my own…it’s completely overwhelmed and undone me. My anxiety has robbed me of all the feel-good moments of parenting, leaving only the helpless dread and the anger that so often masks fear. The only way to face the fear is to remember that it is not my job to shield my kids, or myself, from pain.

Being a parent has exposed me to all the negative emotion I have spent a lifetime trying to avoid, but without the option of escape. I’ve had these moments of reckoning before, but I’ve always run away. This time, I’m finally listening. I’m finally, slowly, learning to lean into the pain rather than try to escape it. I’ve finally begun learning, for the first time, the lessons which I’ve longed to impart to my children. And now, especially as they have gotten older, I have begun to tell them the things I am learning to tell myself. In fact, when I speak these words to them, often I’m speaking just as much to myself in that moment.

It’s okay to feel scared. You won’t feel this way forever. You are safe.

It’s okay to feel angry. It is not so bad and so big it will control you. You can absolutely feel angry and still not hurt the people around you.

It’s okay to feel negative emotions. It doesn’t mean you’re bad or doing something wrong.

It’s okay to feel out of place sometimes. Most of us do. There is no right size or way to be. You can be as loud or as quiet as you need to be.

It’s okay to feel big emotions. Feelings come and go, they don’t have to be the boss of you. You don’t have to hide or be afraid of your feelings.

As much as I try, I am not always a safe place for my kids feelings. As a sensitive person who is only just coming to terms with her own emotions, I don’t always handle theirs well. But I can point them, and myself, to Jesus. No one person is going to be a completely safe place for you. It breaks my heart wide open every day, and I wish it wasn’t true, but I fail you. But Jesus is never put off by you. He is never overwhelmed. He is never surprised or scared.

It might be worth noting that these conversations don’t feel great to me. It’s not warm, fuzzy, or pretty. I hope it will get easier, but I imagine it will always be hard for me to let my kids be in pain. I recently left a school drop-off feeling helpless and heartbroken for one of my kids who’s having to navigate a difficult situation. She’s safe, and there is no danger to her, or I’d step in and throw down. But she is having to learn how to be a sensitive person and feel those strong emotions, but then set boundaries and actually ask for what she needs, all while still being kind, because she has a big heart. I talked her through all of that, and I prayed for her–I did everything right but I left feeling like I’d failed because she was still in tears and it was still going to be hard. So, I had to talk myself through my own feelings afterward. My job is not to fix every hard situation or shield her from the pain of growing up. That is not the measure of success or failure, as much as I feel like it might be better if it was, and I find peace when I reconcile myself to that fact.

My job, my hope, is to raise children who are able to acknowledge and feel their emotions, who can face hard things and walk through them because they know they are capable and they know that Jesus is with them. That’s my hope for me, too.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

to the anxious christian.

Maybe you’re like me. I don’t know what it’s like to live as a Christian without anxiety, so I can’t even imagine what it’s like on the other side, but I get the sense that some people need reminding of their sin, in the church. It’s why we do corporate (or personal, depending on your brand) confession, it’s why there are certain kinds of sermons. People, in general, need to remember they need Jesus. You and I, we don’t have that problem. We see almost every sin, real and imagined, played out in technicolor every one of our days. We sit in despair and under condemnation. No, we don’t need to be reminded of our sin. We need to remember something else.

I had a friend who went up at multiple altar calls to “pray the prayer”. (I’m going to use the singular “they” here for extra anonymity.) In between altar calls they spent years desperately afraid that they were going to hell. When I heard their story years later my heart both broke for the terrified child they were and seethed in anger against a church system that did nothing to help them. They’re no longer attending church, unsurprisingly after years of emotional turmoil like that.

My church has this saying, the sin behind the sin. Maybe it’s a Presbyterian thing, I don’t know. I think it might be helpful for people who are always rationalizing that they’re okay, better than so-and-so, and can’t feel their need for Jesus because of it. Jesus himself invented the sin behind the sin, when he talked about the lust of the heart being the same as actual adultery. My problem is that my entire life, I’ve lived as though I had actually committed every single sin behind the sin. I writhed in internal agony, with every word uttered in anger toward my children, because of the abusive parent I clearly was (I once even sobbed through a worship service I was singing in because I couldn’t forget how horrible I’d been to my oldest a few days earlier). Every flaw was evidence of the deep depravity, and the weight of the sin behind the sin was drowning me.

Those of us who are anxious Christians, who have overly sensitive consciences, we don’t need to think about the sin behind the sin. We don’t need help sitting with our sin, we do that all day every day, don’t we? And there’s something that feels good about wallowing in mental self-immolation, isn’t there? It’s all we’ve ever known, so it’s comforting, in a way. That neural pathway is well worn. We see a flaw or a failure, or an outright sin against another person, and away we go. And it feels somehow spiritual, maybe because of the influence of the church cultures we’re in.

But there is now no condemnation. Hear that? Your sensitive conscience may be the result of a different kind of wiring which you can’t necessarily change, but it does not have the final word in your life. He does. And hear me, any conviction that the Spirit brings is not to send you into the depths of despair. It’s not to show you how horrible you are. It’s to bring you to freedom! It’s to make you better! It’s because you’re his kid and it’s because it is possible to change, regardless of what your sensitivity to sin may tell you. Bit by bit, over your lifetime, my dear anxious Christian, you are being made into an image of Christ by the work of the Spirit. Sometimes your conscience will help you in this work of the Spirit and sometimes it will hinder you. I think for the other half, maybe their conscience hinders them by being too hard, so they miss that abundant life. Like I said, I don’t really know and can’t even imagine. For us, though, our conscience hinders us by being too soft, and keeping us in a cycle of despair so we miss that abundant life, too. So look up!

For me this means, when I find myself beating myself up again, I will shut that unprofitable garbage down. Last night I found myself chanting “Stupid stupid stupid” in my head at work for such a silly mistake, putting an olive scoop somewhere and getting oil on that surface. I mean, really, the neural pathways are wellllll worn in this brain. When I heard myself saying it, I stopped. I didn’t even spend any time working out why it was okay or not okay, because trust me, that is just a recipe for more rumination which is a sure-fire way to spend a lot more time in anxiety. There is a time for you to strategically address the areas in your life where you need growth, but it’s not when you’re in your head going over and over it. Set it aside, and pick it up later, preferably when you can talk about it with somebody who understands you and your anxiety, and can be matter of fact about it and not add more weight.

Look, in the end, you’re going to have to talk to yourself while you’re at church. You need to understand how you work, and you need to be able to know what’s going to trigger you, so you will be prepared to talk yourself through it. Church is hard for lots of people for lots of reasons, and it can be extra hard for those of us who are extra sensitive. But you don’t have to leave, and you don’t have to let your brain make the messages into something they’re not.

The bottom line is, we all need Jesus, and he brought us back into his family. And he is doing his good work in us, sensitive or callous conscience and all. Don’t be afraid.

it takes time.

It takes time.

It takes time to slow your heart racing.
To learn how to breathe again, in and out.

It takes time to unlearn your triggers.
To recognize those times of the day creeping up on you, elevating your panic without you even realizing it.

It takes time to stop being afraid of church.
To be able to sing the songs without becoming angry.
To sit in the pews without having to wrap your arms around yourself, holding yourself tightly so you don’t end up in tiny little pieces all over the sanctuary.

It takes time to make friends.

It takes time to get better at sex.

It takes time to get in shape.

It takes time to learn how to take care of your home.

It takes time to learn how to communicate.
To not run away from the hard conversations.
To not ignore the signs because it’s scary.
To share your feelings without attacking the other person.

It takes time to heal.

It takes time to trust people again.

It takes time to learn not to let anxiety drive your life anymore.

It takes time.

It scares me sometimes, looking ahead at the days and days of getting better that remain in my future.

But then I remember, it takes time.
And while I’m alive, I have time.

This is not the end.

5 biblical reasons I became an egalitarian

Around the beginning of the summer, I suddenly found myself putting a theological name to a lot of the issues I’ve had with church, both in the past few years and historically. The personal interactions I’ve had that felt off suddenly made a lot more sense. I found myself reading post after post, sometimes with tears streaming down my face, written by men and women who interpret the Bible differently than the churches I’ve attended. And these were not people who just wanted to believe something and did so at the expense of the Bible–these different beliefs were concluded after rigorous study of the same beloved and respected text. The weight lifted off my shoulders was immense, but the fear that followed was almost tangible. What does this mean for me now? How do I process my past in light of this? Where do I fit?

I don’t really know the answers to those questions, but I’m sure I’ll share more of the process here. I do want to share a couple of reasons why I would now likely classify myself as an egalitarian. This might not be your cup of tea. You might not think it is very important to hash this out, that functionally everything is working just fine in your marriage and in your church. If it’s not your thing, you don’t need to read, but I encourage you to. There are lots of us sitting in the pews, men and women, who feel the weight and confusion of the teachings on gender, who are inwardly crying out for relief. At the very least, even if you don’t have the same sense of urgency, knowing that there are different ways of respectfully interpreting this sacred text may help you be more empathetic to people struggling.

So here are five scriptural reasons I’m an egalitarian:

  1. I believe that God made men and women as equals, to rule over creation and care for it together, with no hierarchy between them. See Genesis 1:26-28.

    Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

        So God created human beings in his own image.
        In the image of God he created them;
        male and female he created them.

    Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

    The only authority mentioned is that which humanity is given over creation. The loving and caring leadership and rule which is often described as God’s plan for men and women I only see given by God to humanity over the earth. I simply don’t see any evidence of God giving authority to man over woman before the fall. If it were as big a deal as complementarians make it, I think it would have been a clearly stated call given to the man, just like the one God gave to men and women regarding their role in the world. Instead, I see man and woman called to work together to sustain God’s good creation, while walking with him.

  2. I believe patriarchy is a product of the fall, not God’s design. Genesis 3:16 outlines this consequence of the fall very sparsely:

    You will desire to control your husband, and he will rule over you.

    Where once we worked together in harmony, obeying God and in relationship with him, we now have power struggles between men and women and are out of relationship with God. Jesus came to break the curse, and we can fight it, too. The complementarian explanation of the curse takes for granted that complementary roles in a hierarchical marriage are God’s design, which he gave us before the fall and are now skewed. I even see that taken for granted in my ESV commentary which states that woman will try to dominate her husband, and her husband will “abandon his God-given, pre-fall role of leading, guarding, and caring for his wife, replacing this with his own sinful, distorted desire to “rule” over Eve.” As I outlined above, I don’t agree with that interpretation.

    Jesus reversed the curse, freeing us from the rule of sin and death and serpent, inviting us back into God’s family. As such, we are freed from the power struggle of patriarchy. Any call to hearken back to some archaic form of dominion in gender roles is perverse and fear-based, and only breeds death and dysfunction, I believe.

  3. I believe that new testament verses forbidding women’s involvement in leadership roles have been applied in broader contexts than they were written to address.

    Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly.

    For example, that doozy in 1 Timothy 2. Basically every church I’ve ever gone to accepts that this means that women can’t be pastors, or elders. They find ways of still involving women, but the leadership of the church is left to the men.

    In my researching I’ve found so much written about this 1 Timothy example, but there’s a really concise post that is helpful on the Junia Project blog you can read here. The gist is that these particular women were dominating the men, using their leadership to spread false doctrine that was common in Ephesus in the ritual worship of other gods. Basically, these women were not trained in the teaching of the gospel and were spreading lies, some of which condoned actual ritual violence against men, so Paul was like, sit down for a sec.

    More on the ways our translations have changed to subjugate women can be found here. It’s really disconcerting, because like I mentioned before with my tongue-in-cheek “sit down a sec”, Paul may actually have said something more along the lines of “I am not permitting women to teach men…let them listen quietly” due to the context outlined earlier, but now almost every translation reads “I do not permit women to teach or have authority over men…let them listen quietly”. Paul wanted these particular women to learn more before they taught, so that they led people in the right way, but now many churches believe that all women everywhere should be taught by men.

    This makes a huge difference–all the difference in the world.

  4. I believe that the verses about headship in marriage do not mean what we’ve been taught they mean.

    For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

    Once again, context, interpretation, culture, etc. have all played a role in how we have applied these verses. But I’ll just say that any verse about a wife submitting to a husband is always found in the larger context of people submitting to one another, and the verses about husbands leading wives were wildly counter-cultural given the oppressive patriarchy of the times.

    One leads in her areas of strength, the other in his. We submit to one each other. We obey God.

  5. Jesus used women to be the first to tell the news (preach?) about his resurrection. I know this in itself is not a reason to move from the complementarian camp to the egalitarian one, but I cannot stress enough how beautiful this fact is to me.

    There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    In Jesus, all of the barriers between us, all of the power structures and the abuse and use of the other for our own gain, they’re all thrown out. Looking back on history, we would to our shame say that we should not have fought against slavery because there were verses about slaves obeying their masters. There has always been a way for the Christ follower to live out the faith even under extreme oppression, that’s the far reach of the good news! And how beautiful that our Scriptures speak to that truth. But it should never mean that we don’t seek to see the kingdom of God restored in every facet of life, and I strongly believe that includes the way that we relate to each other as men and women.

So there you have it: five of the scriptural reasons I would now classify myself as an egalitarian. I’m still stuck on the “what now” question, because I do not yet know what this means for me practically. I don’t quite know how to live out this truth in the church context where I find myself, but I take comfort in the verse in Philippians that talks about working out our salvation with fear and trembling. It might be best, from one perspective, to attend a church that fully espouses these truths, just like it might have been best, from the Philippians’ perspective, for Paul to always be with them. But even while I’m figuring all this out, there is still much work I can do in the absence of some perfect scenario in which I am fully affirmed by all outside sources. And honestly, egalitarian or not, I will not ever be fully affirmed by all people, nor does the lack of affirmation change anything at the truest level of my identity:

I am a daughter of God, fully equipped and fully called, able to enter into all levels of the Christian life. There is nothing he withholds from me.