A couple of us Church Daughters are still in school, so our reading outside of our syllabi is rare these days.  I say this mostly to place a disclaimer on this premature review.  You see, I am one of those Daughters still in school; and while I have the next week of classes off for “reading days,” I still work.  Break shmake.  These days are to be used primarily for catching up on all of the work of my course load, but I am intentionally taking some of the time to do a bit of selfish reading.  I will not finish an entire extracurricular book, but I will skim a good bit of something I love.

The Rev. Dr. Lauren Winner’s new book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, arrived on my doorstep with impeccable timing last Thursday.  While I was at school studying for midterms, my husband called to let me know that this unexpected surprise had arrived with a sweet form letter from the author.  The thing about Lauren (you know we are on a first name basis now, as I dream I am with all of my favorite authors) is that she writes with such beautiful honesty and vulnerability.  I fell in love with her writing and her story the first time I read Girl Meets God; and her letter, though only a form with my name inserted for a more personal feel, was characteristically Lauren – pure, honest, raw.

Lauren’s new book is not intended as a memoir but as a confession of where she has ended up after the newness of conversion has worn off and life has marched on with its inevitable ups and downs.  She suspects, and correctly so, that many Christians (if not all) have a point where they wind up in the middle of their journey – far enough from the beginning point that the warm fuzzy feelings have faded and the reality of disappointment and doubt distract the journeyer from truth.  Lauren tells her story unapologetically.  And, I respect the hutzpah (catch that Lauren?) that it takes to offer such honesty to a public that would be content reading Girl Meets God like they would watch a movie – assuming that happily ever after lasted after the last period.  Her sequel, however, tells us otherwise.  In Still, the happily ever after has worn off, and we get a picture of a life of an honest Christian in the middle of her journey.  She has days of doubt and loss, and she has days of seeming clarity.

Lauren’s story is my story, and I suspect it is the story of every honest Christian in the middle.  There are days when I am completely clear on my calling to be a Christian and it seems that God and I are in sync with one another.  But, there are also days when I struggle to make out God’s voice, and I struggle to remember the joy and passion that I first felt as a new Christian.

In her form letter, Lauren suggests that her book be used as a guide through Lent.  She offers a reading guide and discussion questions relating to the book for mid-life Christians.  Though I have only read the preface and part one, I assure you that this book is real.  It is honest.  It is my story.  And, it is probably a bit of your story, too.  We are a week and a half into Lent, but do not let that be your excuse for not picking up this book and grappling with your own mid-faith crisis with Lauren and with me.

 

Lydia Pratt Tatum

I don’t iron.  If I have a rare item of clothing that requires ironing, I will steam it in the bathroom while showering and pretend not to see remaining wrinkles.

I don’t have good skin.  On top of that, I quit wearing foundation on my face years ago, which means that I am most attractive in dimly lit areas or from a distance of at least 3 feet.  (this is not a self-loathing session.  I am actually fairly beautiful…just more so from a distance of at least 3 feet)

I also say the wrong or inappropriate things.  If there is a moment when one should be eloquent or politically savvy, I will inevitably screw up the interaction by blunt honesty or over-sharing.  I never remember names, especially of people who might be important to my career.

Convention meetings make me want to crawl under a rock or pull my hair out.  This is not because of the organization, but because ANY formal, hot-air blowing, hand-shaking situation makes me feel like ants are crawling all over my skin.

On top of that, my large office with a couch and a mini-fridge is always a mess.  No one walks by my door and thinks “a mature, professional woman must work here…now I respect all other women.”

I am not a poster-girl for women in ministry.  I have no desire to innovate the next great theories that will transform and save the increasingly archaic church instituation.  I don’t want to publish a book that a few people will read and Cokesbury will eventually mark down 75% next to a book of Sunday School craft ideas.  I don’t want to be the next powerful preaching voice of my generation.  I don’t even know if I want to head a large and/or prestigous congregation.

I have no doubt that I am called and gifted for ministry.  I love the Church and love my church even more.  I love being their minister: helping to lead worship, knowing their stories, learning to love and apologize, and sweeping the same floors week after week. 

I work with a gifted and humble pastor (yes, I said it…they exist) and other awesome ministers (including two other strong women).  My congregation is fully supportive of women in ministry and has been that way for 40 years.  It is easy to forget sometimes that women are not welcomed in the pulpit everywhere.

My calling is marked by a desire to love people and be a witness to the Gospel in their lives.  It is alarming and frustrating when I remember that the “call” comes with a lot of other baggage.  I haven’t forgotten how it feels to serve in a congregation that is still adjusting to female ministers.  When you are the first,  you are aware of being a woman every moment of Sunday morning.  Watch the cleavage!  Don’t seem too strong or too weak!  It is exhausting.

The voices of my seminary professors are still faint in my mind as they pressured us to all find head pastor positions where we could make a difference as women.  Associate pastor positions were suddenly a compromise because I am a woman.  I understand their point of view.  They knew that once we left seminary, there would be many more voices telling us to avoid leadership than to pursue it. 

The problem is that I wasn’t called to spend my life defined as a FEMALE minister.  Some of my sisters in Christ have that prophetic barrier-breaking call.  They remember names, pursue excellence, see the value in convention meetings, and even iron their clothes before leaving home.  They are the type of leaders who see an unwelcoming community and want to guide them.  They make excellent poster-women for those who are not yet comfortable with our call. 

That isn’t me.  I feel called to become a great minister who is also fully comfortable in my womanhood…just not as an example of all female ministers everywhere.  This is one part of the job that is thrust upon us whether we feel called or not. 

I believe that one day (in my lifetime) there will be enough older women in baptist pulpits that we will not all be forced onto posters simply for being called and having boobs.  Until then, I will continue to serve and avoid all the posters that I can!  I’ll also try to wear wrinkle-resistant clothes.  You are welcome.

It was super-bowl party Sunday. We had just come back that morning from a weekend retreat with our youth leadership team and I was exhausted. We had stayed up late, gotten up early, planned, dreamed, and discussed everything that was youth related.

Like most other youth groups we were hosting a super bowl party that weekend. We had the game up on the projector screen, an open gym for those who would rather play than watch, wii tournaments happening, and of course food galore! What kind of party doesn’t have food? Parents brought any and all possible appetizers and desserts. At the near end of the party I was in desperate need of a clean up crew. So I asked several of our high school girls if they would please go to the kitchen and wash all of the parent’s dishes to be sent home.

The four girls walked into the kitchen where piles of dishes were sitting around the sink area, a fresh sponge lay on the side ready to be used, an entire bottle of dish soap, and several towels for drying. When I walked into the kitchen a few minutes later to check on the progress of the dishes the girls were still just standing in the kitchen. I am sure the fact that I didn’t say anything lead one of the girls to say, “Amy (long pause). We don’t know how to wash dishes.”

At this point I am sure that the expression on my face said everything that I was thinking. They don’t know how to wash dishes??? What do you mean you don’t know how to wash dishes? How is it that you do not know how to wash dishes? Everything that was swirling in my head came out of my body with the loudest most side splitting laughter I have ever experienced. They were clueless as to how to wash dishes!

Even now, weeks later I still get a huge kick out of it. They had everything they needed to be successful at the task that I had asked them to accomplish. It seemed so simple. It hasn’t been until now that I have actually begun to think about this hilarious situation in terms of our world… our home. Did God give us everything we need to be successful at the task that He has asked us to do? Has He given us everything we need in order to end world hunger? Everything we need to put shoes on all children’s feet? Everything we need to provide clean water to all countries? Everything we need to show the love of a God who gave us everything? Just a thought anyway. Just a thought.

That same night the girls who “washed the dishes” also drew me some pictures with notes. I have attached one for the sake of hilariousness. Ha. Enjoy!

Never Again. Ha.

 

This past weekend I was asked to lead a breakout session for the Crossover Youth Conference.  This is an annual discipleship event for youth in the Dunn, NC area.  This is a weekend that involves different churches coming together for a youth-centered weekend of worship and growth.  Knowing that this was held at a Pentecostal Free-Will Baptist Church (didn’t even know that denomination EXISTED) I did not really know what to expect.  The theme was “Unity.”  I was charged to lead a breakout session on “What unites us as Christians?”  My first inclination was – PERFECT…I am all about some unity!  In fact, I think this is a subject the church does not talk about enough.   We think we want unity, but do we really?

On the first night, all the leaders were standing around in a circle, and someone asked us to go around and say our name and what denomination we were from.  The first guy went, and said he was “Baptist…SBC.”  We had Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, and then they came to me.  “Hey, my name is Leah…and I am Baptist…but I am DEFINITELY not SBC!”  For those of you that do not know me, I tend to enjoy a good laugh.  I said this in the most sarcastic, witty, smart-butt tone that I could muster.

I started thinking more about my response to this question of my name and denomination.  Why was I so quick to point out my different flavor of Baptist life?  I was amongst friends, and I could not even speak about my denomination without some sort of clarification to point where I was on the theological spectrum.  How sad.  The sting of division set in, and I was immediately filled with embarrassment.  Who am I to talk about the subject of unity?  The weight of conviction sat heavy on my chest, as I realized that I was just as wrong as the other extreme.  In the framework of unity, fumbling around to clarify what type of Baptist I was, would do me as much good as stapling my face to the carpet. God will continue to convict me about this until the day I can breathe a deep breath, and say without any clarification “My name is Leah, and I am a Baptist.”

Leah Anderson

I stand on the rounded sidewalk of the labyrinthine (winter stump) rose garden, waiting to hear directions from the group leading the devotional activity.

Imagine that Jesus is beside you, right now.  What do you feel?  What do you see?  Walk the circles and experience Jesus with you.

I stand still, arms at my side, hands comfortably cupped.  The wind picks up and the cool air funnels through my left hand as if the Spirit is taking me by the hand for the walk we will take together.  I imagine myself  leaning on Jesus’ shoulder as we sat together.  I silently cry and he sits quietly, absorbing my tears.  “How do you love me?” I ask.  “What makes me a woman?”

If Jesus was with you right now, what would he be saying to you?

Jesus turns and takes my face in his hands.  He rubs away my salty tears with his thumbs and looks deep into my eyes.  “You’re perfect,” Jesus says.  “You’re perfect and I made you this way specially.”

Take another few moments to walk the labyrinth.  Talk to God and be open to what God is saying to you.

“Jenny, I am what makes you woman…”

 

Jenny Lee

“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” Virginia Woolf

So, let’s talk about this.  As women, we often find ourselves trying to balance on the tightrope between rolling over and playing dead and being considered an over-bearing, demanding woman.  We can either have no opinion at all and be used as a doormat, or we run the risk of being labeled a “nag” or that ever so popular “b” word.

The world expects us all to be submissive and willing to compromise on all of our beliefs and convictions if we ever come up against opposition.  We are expected to be passive and ever self-sacrificing.   Now, do not hear me saying that we need to give up striving to have Christlike hearts of servants, but Christ was a pacifist, not a passivist. Though Christ had a servant’s heart at all times, Christ did not shy away from conflict when it came to the wrongs in the world.

Men often gain respect in the world by being confident and firm communicators, but the moment a woman exudes confidence in a way that seems demanding a firm, she is labeled.  Take a look at this recent article from NPR, http://www.npr.org/2011/02/14/133599768/ask-for-a-raise-most-women-hesitate

Here we find this tightrope walking in the professional world.  After studies, it was found that women who use the exact same negotiating techniques as their male counterparts were often denied raises.  But, the best way found for a women to negotiate a raise was to play into female stereotypes of being sweet, dismissive, and demure.

We need to get this all out on the table.  Men and women who perpetuate this stereotyping of women are setting us back decades in women’s liberation.  And, women, like me, who point this out are labeled “bra-burning feminists.”  I proudly wear the badge of “feminist,” but many times the word is flung around like an insult.  Being a feminist to many people is reproachable, and they look on us with utter contempt.

What I propose is that we take back our “feminist” badge of courage and march forward toward equality not simply in our professional lives, but in our family lives.  We, together, can step off of the tightrope we walk and step onto the level playing field where we should have been all along.

I am interested to hear your thoughts.

 

 

Lydia Pratt Tatum

I am finding that as I allow myself to be a minister as a woman without apology for my gender, I have gained confidence in expressing my faith and my understanding of God in ways that are no longer intrinsically tied to the patriarchal history of Christianity.  I am learning how to find my own feminine voice.  Because I have had few examples of women ministers, my understanding of how to operate as a minister has been to model the masculine style.  It feel almost as if I have shed the little girl’s dress up clothes and have come into ministerial adulthood in a way that is uniquely me and markedly feminine.

 

My reflections in my seminary class meetings have begun to hint at this change; but I have found that when trying to express myself, my words have come out disjointed and jumbled.  I am sure that as I progress on this journey, my articulation of the journey will become more cohesive and clear.

 

I journal often, and I share my journey with a very close friend as often as possible.  Most of my journals are a reflection on Kidd’s The Dance of the Dissident Daughter.  They are topic-specific and often reactionary.  The beautiful thing about Kidd’s memoir is that as women read, it elicits reflection and recalls sometimes hurtful memories of their feminine journey.

 

When we chose to read DDD as a group, I knew that some may not be ready to fully digest all that this book has to offer.  I know this because I have read DDD once before, and that reading did not nearly have the affect on me then as it does now.  I know that not everyone will process their journeys quite like I am, but I am so grateful that we are reading this book in community.  By reading it together, we are able to feed off of each other and enlighten each other’s experience.

 

I have one friend, in particular, who has been right there with me every step of the way.  She understands the road that I am walking because she is there holding my hand and walking right beside me.  Together we have explored what Kidd calls the “feminine wound.”  This is the hurt that is still very present in the feminine psyche as a result of centuries of oppression, of being told that we are less than males, and of being forced into submission.  This wound has greatly affected who I am and how I function as a minister.

 

As I have journaled and reflected, I have come to the conclusion that my writings are necessary.  They are words straight from my soul, and one day they will be the foundation of my memoir, even if said memoir is published for no one other than myself, my husband, and my children.

 

I have discovered that Kidd was right.  Every woman has this story.  Every woman can point to the very first time they were made to feel inferior and their God-given, feminine spirits were crushed.  Many little girls do not recover from this moment in their lives and are forever changed.  As I work towards being made whole again, I am realizing that one of my purposes here on earth is to make sure that little girls never lose their spirit.  And for those whose spirits have been dominated by the lie of male superiority, I will tell my story and I will walk with them holding their hand on the road to liberation.

 

 

 

Lydia Pratt Tatum

Saturday night I soaked overlong in the bathtub soaking in Kidd’s words about critiquing Christianity’s treatment of women.  I read of her hurt and anger.  I read of her struggle to talk about the pain welling up inside of her.  And I wondered at the fact that I hadn’t really felt angry.

Then I stood up for a shower to wash my hair and shave my legs (Yes, I know this is a shameless waste of water.  It doesn’t happen often; don’t judge me.)  And they way a drunk doesn’t feel the effects of the alcohol until he stands up, I felt a rush of anger.  I shaved my legs, washed my hair and face, used good-smelling moisturizer on my body, and heavy-duty moisturizer on my face (Have to prevent aging!).  The entire time, tears squeezed out of the corners of my eyes.  My crying was hushed by the water.  And a prayer echoed in my soul:

Please tell me how you love me as a woman.

Please, tell me.

Through this journey of the last several weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out what makes a woman a woman if she isn’t also a mother or wife.  I’ve come up with nothing.  And at this point I feel like there’s nothing in my life that marks me as a woman except my anatomy.

For whatever reason, I feel like being a man is ground zero and being a woman is extra.  I feel like because I can’t indicate anything outside of biology that makes me woman, I’m missing something.  But if God loves me as God created me, then God loves me as a woman.  So I ask, “How?”

Jenny Lee

Don’t think I’m crazy… My hero growing up was Dr. Quinn. I am just a little embarrassed to admit that even now I still love her. Family friends would record the show for us in the states and ship it to us in the Hungarian village we lived in. I even fell out of touch for a while with the show until a few Christmas seasons ago when my family bought me the entire series on DVD. Wow! Now I’m sure you’re thinking that I must be crazy if I am posting about Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. But as a little girl watching the show I thought I was in some ways the good female doctor from Boston who moved to the Frontier where medical care desperately needed physicians… But they didn’t want female physicians! She left her hometown because they only allowed her to practice medicine at the poor houses and insane asylums for a place called Colorado Springs where she began her own practice. However, it took years before the local men would even step foot in her clinic because she was a woman doctor. She challenged every assumption and limit that society put on her because she believed in her own potential and her children’s potential. No one was going to tell her what to do.

Golly I wanted to be her! I wanted to grow up and be a female doctor somewhere that didn’t accept me and challenge everyone’s thoughts and feelings about me. I wanted to heal wounds and cure the sick because that’s what I thought would matter most. Dr. Quinn dared me as a little girl to be bold, to step out of the mold, and to genuinely care. I never even thought about Dr. Quinn for several years and in fact I figured that all my dreams of becoming her were never going to come true. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much we are alike.

Just as Dr. Quinn fought almost every day to be recognized as a doctor because of her education and experience with medicine, I too fight the same fight. I am a female minister. I AM a female minister. I am a FEMALE minister. Maybe not every day but most days simply by being I am challenging people to see women as leaders in the church and ministry. To some I will never be considered a leader or minister. To some I will just be a blemish on their theological agenda. It took years for Dr. Quinn to prove herself. I am ready for that work. I am ready to challenge and believe. Dr. Quinn dared me as a little girl to be a genuine caring and strong woman. She dared me to believe in myself as a woman and as a minister. That is what I am going to be… A woman minister. Yay! Lets celebrate it!

 

In the mean time who is your hero and what did they dare you to do?

 

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