“Women Are Fine China” and Other Misconceptions of “Christian Gender Roles”

I’ve never understood the Evangelical preoccupation with “gender roles,” a phrase that Jesus never even mentions. The word “role” is defined as: 1) A part or character played by an actor or actress. 2) A proper or customary function. 3) The rights, obligations, and expected behavior patterns associated with a particular social status. It’s a word I don’t want to associate with my faith for several reasons. For one, I am cautious of following any type of socialized expectation without critical examination simply because of someone else’s implied standards of what they think is “normal,” “proper,” or “right” rather than fostering freedom for individuals to be their true created selves. The Jesus I worship did not adhere to societal expectations, but carved an identity that touched those who weren’t supposed to be touched, spoke to those who were not to be spoken to, and ate with those whom were not supposed to be given his company. And thank God he didn’t bend to what his society deemed appropriate, because otherwise there are women who would have never been touched or taught, people who would still be sick and unhealed, and there would not have been communication between “high” and “low” classes or cross-cultures (Samaritans and Judeans).
But perhaps my biggest problem with “roles” is that all of this leads to a show. I’m not trying out for a play; I’m showing up for my life. Therefore I don’t have a “prescribed role” to follow, line by line, scene by scene, for the applause of an audience of conservative Evangelical men. So putting on a “role” of who I “should” be instead of who I truly feel I am is disingenuous. Instead of carving out a subversive identity like Christ did, I fear that some circles of Evangelical culture contribute to this pretentious, shallow, unfulfilling “show” by its restrictive teachings on gender. Here in lies some of my experiences.

It was 2005 and I was a bright-eyed, eyes wide open, Division 1 collegiate swimmer in my freshmen year of college. I was feeling alive physically, mentally and spiritually in ways never before. That is, until I decided to read the entire Bible and gasped over passages in which Paul starts talking about women needing to be quiet in church and submissive to men. Trying to slough it off, I picked up some books on my college ministry’s recommended reading list. I picked up “Captivating” by Stasi Eldridge and was told that “every girl longs to be rescued and to be a princess.” Sorry, I was taught that the only person who could “rescue me” was Jesus and I’ll stick to that.

Enter sophomore year. This marked the beginning of wrestling with “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” It was the year in which I cringed when I heard a guy from this same college ministry tell me that a female pastor was out of God’s will and her career choice was a sin.

It was the year in which one of the men in this particular ministry called me “to talk to me about something.” I made my way down to the college lounge, hair wet from swim practice, only to be told that when I wore a tank top (during that hot, 95 degree move-in day in August 2006), I “caused him to stumble.” He asked me repeatedly if I would please not wear tank tops anymore. I told him, “sorry, but I work out and when I sweat, I’d rather not have sweat stains.” What I really wanted to say was to please stop telling me it’s my fault that you’re stumbling. If you keep tripping, go grab some crutches, “man up,” and deal with your own sexuality instead of blaming me for the “feelings” you have (or a boner).

It was the year in which I was told from a male group bible study leader one cold, January evening that women were fine china and men were sturdy pots and that 1 Peter 3 meant that I had to be content with being fine china and embody a calm, gentle spirit. And in that moment of sitting in that guy’s apartment living room, with a fine china glass glaring me in the face, being told that’s what my gender is: essentially, fragile, I felt an aloneness and righteous anger that I will never forget. You see, my Bible study leader didn’t see that glass stare him in the face after working out in a weight room and swimming pool for five hours that day. He didn’t wake up at 6 a.m. to work out for two hours, only to return at 2:30 for another three. Or bench 90% of his body weight that day. Instead, this individual was inside all day preparing to tell me that the Bible says I’m fine china. When this Bible study night of oppression was over, I walked out of this guy’s apartment, tears warming my eyes as I trudged back to my apartment, imbued to only work twice as hard the next day, with each kick of my leg in the pool wanting to shout, “I AM NOT FINE CHINA!!!” For crying out loud, I am a Child of God. I happened to have developed two x chromosomes sometime in utero, before I had fingers and toes, thus making me a woman. My call is to love God and love others, no different from you. And so with a galvanizing spirit from that day forward, I vowed to pray. To serve. To love. To be strong. To benchpress. To dream. I will s o a r. I will continue on with this journey, ok with being contrary, if that’s what it takes.

And that’s exactly that it takes. Fast forward another year to summer 2007, the day before a dear friend’s wedding. The afternoon before the ceremony, a group of guys and girls affiliated with the wedding party went down to a lake for a picnic. Before we left the house, we had a pow-wow in which the guys requested that we wear a one piece bathing suit, no two pieces please. But it didn’t end at that. They then went on about “causing them to stumble” and requested that we not even wear bathing suits at all; we should wear a shirt and shorts to swim in the lake that day. I kept my mouth shut. Being a swimmer, I don’t have this feeling towards swimwear. A short car ride later, we arrive at the lake, dressed in our “bathing suits,” while the boys took off their shirts and splashed through the water in their swim trunks to their hearts content. Toward the end of the afternoon, we took pictures of us making pyramids. The guys had their shirts off, hairy (and not so hairy) chests completely exposed. The girls had their shirts on. And shorts. No swim wear. Just clothes that were supposed to count as such.

Upon graduating college and eventually moving back to Baltimore, I tried my best to find a church community with whom to devote quality time in involvement, but knew it was my queue to leave when there was an entire sermon on “the three P’s” in which men were instructed to be pastors, providers, and protectors to their wives. I met sincere, genuine people at this church, whom I respect and am grateful to have had in my life, but that was a clear signal that this was not the church for me to heal from restrictive gender roles.

And so I’m still trying to find my way; trying my best to keep a straight face through friends’ weddings in which “submission,” and “obey” have been used, but reached a bubbling point in 2011. I sat in the back row of a quaint church, tears streaming down my face, not because I was moved by the wedding, but because I was hurt. The pastor spoke about “knowing your roles.” I watched the groom, who I used to have a crush on (now grateful for God’s ways being higher than my ways when it comes to relationships!) listen to how he was instructed to be the leader of his wife, and I watched as the smiley wife’s eyes glittered as she was instructed to respect her husband’s leadership and to honor and encourage him. I walked out of the wedding ceremony swiftly, in hopes no one would see me, lest I attract attention to my tears rather than the wedding celebration. My boyfriend walked back with me to my car, putting his arm around my shoulder, to which I responded half angrily, half fearfully, “you don’t believe that stuff, do you?” “That’s not what you’re looking for, is it?” “Noo, babe, noo.” I was reassured. It made me question my faith all over again, not God and Jesus, but Church and Christianity and especially Evangelicalism. I couldn’t understand how this teaching at all correlated with the way Jesus lived, and couldn’t comprehend why she was being told that her new life mission was to honor her husband because that’s her “Biblical calling.”

And another “Biblical calling,” according to Evangelist John Piper, is to recognize that “God gave God gave Christianity a masculine feel,” as he proclaimed at the 2012 Desiring God: God, Manhood & Ministry – Building Men for the Body of Christ Conference.

So for many years I was slowly brewing inside with all of this, but after graduating college, I was no longer sad, in fact I was angry, and I’m not sure which I would rather feel, but perhaps the greatest feeling of all that I am JUST starting at this moment of my life to taste is FREEDOM.

Thankfully, I’ve gotten connected to organizations such as Christians for Biblical Equality and subscribed to the blogs of Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans and other women and organizations who are stepping out in faith to promote gender equality and have taken the time to dismantle the contextual aspects of scripture that entangle dissension and debate all too frequently.

Thankfully, I’m no longer cringing in my seat as a college student, behooved with anger but too afraid to speak up upon being repeatedly instructed that women needed to be willing to be led and should say yes to every guy who asks them out because they are demonstrating Godly courage (Where again, does Jesus say this in the Bible?).

No.

I’m not in my seat anymore.

I’m not angry at the megaphone.

I’m somewhere in between.

And I think it’s called freedom.

And though I still have much to learn, much to mature upon, much to learn about Christian unity in relation to voicing freedom from gender roles, I am learning how to let go of the lap bar and wave my hands in the air on this rollercoaster, no longer entertaining gender role dress rehearsals. And. I. Love. It.

Rachel Held Evans depicts the pitfalls of literal Biblical interpretation— http://www.rachelheldevans.com

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For Those Who’ve Ever Cringed Through a Wedding Ceremony

This is for everyone who’s ever sat through a wedding service, cringing in their seat over the hurtful, debilitating, limiting words they’ve heard from the preacher, whether about gender limitations, or salvation of some and damnation of others, or both.

This is for everyone who’s ever sat through a church service, for that matter, and shaken in their in their pew, anger slowly boiling up in them, unsure whether they will cry or give voice to their righteous anger.

For anyone who’s ever been to a convention, women’s conference, meeting, or bible study, for that matter, and been told over and over again that Jesus died for you, but were never taught what he lived for. Who’ve been taught that God finds us so utterly, distastefully sinful and so despicable that we can’t even catch a glance at Him without the blood sacrifice of another human being. Because God’s punishment is death when you mess up, make a mistake, or sin. A loving Earthly Father would be jailed for punishing a child in such a manner. I find all of this rhetoric to be a bit of a hyperbole, because the God I know told me I’m made in His image, and like my Earthly Dad, I don’t need to be beaten, spanked, or die when I mess up. Knowing I’ve disappointed him is the ultimate punishment for me in itself because I hate it when I disappoint someone I love so much.

This is for days like today, in which I’m outside on a beautiful autumn day, sitting in a cushioned seat at a wedding, while a white socially conservative Evangelical man purports that this man up front, about to become a husband, is this woman’s leader. And she, the wife, is to submit to his leadership while he “lovingly leads her” and “leads his family as head of the home.”

For days in which the preacher man then describes God’s design for marriage with Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 to designate the husband as a head of a wife and his family instead of Jesus’ words to “love God, love one another, and love others.” I don’t understand why Evangelical preachers focus on gender so much during a ceremony, when Jesus never once used the terms “gender roles” or “submission to male leadership.” I don’t understand why the preacher asks an adult female, who has already consented to marriage, “Who gives this woman to be the bride?” in which the father, not the mother, then states “her mother and I do.” The Jesus I know offers choices and reminds me to grow up in maturity. I don’t need permission from anyone. Even if a woman actually needed permission, why wouldn’t the husband need permission too? Never mind. Someone’s probably going to retort a verse about leaving and cleaving instead of actually affirming equal decision making capabilities among spouses.

A service in which the preacher mentions not once, not twice, but three times in the same half hour service that marriage is between one man and one woman. We heard you the first time, actually, sir. And it doesn’t make you “right” simply because you repeated this three times with a stolid, authoritative glare and had “reverend” in front of your printed name in the wedding ceremony bulletin.

In which the preacher declares that “sin isn’t discussed often enough in the world” and I internally have to remind himself that this is his opinion, which he is entitled to, but it’s just that- an opinion; not etched in stone cement fact.

In which you must shake the hand of this preacher man who just finished stunting your entire gender as you exit the recessional, only to be seated across from this same preacher at the reception table afterwards.

And this, then, is when things start to turn around. Loud sound pours through the speakers and the first song ushering the crowd onto the dance floor is Aretha Franklin’s “RESPECT.” You rise to your feet and start singing it at the top of your lungs, in wild, reckless abandon, glancing over to eye this preacher man in the face, as if to remind him to respect the strength, knowledge, power, and VOICE that women have, alongside of men, and that this preacher man’s words will not resound as the only possible way for a woman to be a Christian woman, for we are in an era of freedom and grace and this girl, alongside so many other women and girls, has Kingdom life ready to bust out of her veins to quickly remind other females that you don’t have to adhere to any “role” some white man tells you to… for you have brains in your head, passions in your heart, and your relationship with God to reveal who you are and who you can become.

This is for Jesus’s words in which he asks us to, “be one, like I am one with God, to complete unity.” And to “love your enemies.” “Do good to those who disagree with you.” Because we’re all in this together, even if we come to different understandings.

This is for gathering around the table, the same table, with that preacher man and the rest of the body of believers, and sharing in the same cup, partaking in the same bread, whispering a  prayer to the same God, realizing that our God is bigger than the divisions we’ve created.

This is for unity without passive agreement to everything “Christian” that you hear.

This is for asking questions. Lots of them. Any of them you’d like.

This is for speaking up, recognizing that your voice is equal to that preacher man’s, regardless of title, gender, professional studies, or social beliefs.

You see.

There’s a place, there on that same dance floor that Aretha was singing out from earlier, that’s big and open and free.

A place you can go to physically, or carry within your heart on days in which you feel stuck hearing another message that doesn’t ring true of your study of scripture, who God says s/he is, that is subtly being used to denote a hierarchy of gender.

We’re in that place with you.

It’s this wide open field.

Some of us do cartwheels here.

Others, handstands.

And some of us just like to sit on our backs, gazing up at the sky, deciphering the shapes of puffy, white clouds against a contrast of ocean blue, while warm zephyrs tickle your face and the tip of your nose.

We love each other here.

We offer freedom here.

There’s more of us out here than you think.

Look around.

We exist.

We sit in church pews next to you, putting our arms around you when  they tell you that the Muslim woman on the tv screen suffering in Saudi Arabia from gender based violence, rape, female genital mutilation or human trafficking, is, undoubtedly going to Hell, banished from God forever. We know that all you want to do is hug this woman and sit down with her, like Jesus would have, and listen to her story, her pain, her dreams, her brokenness and affirm her strength and dignity and that God knows her heart, her beautiful, pained, but still resilient heart that’s being redeemed by the Healer of the World. This is what happens when we embrace. When we engage in loving kindness and this is how we make Jesus visible. Not through forecasting doom and hell and who’s “in,” and who’s “out,” as if you are the gatekeeper.

We sit beside you in wedding services that often feel unbearable and oppressive.

We dwell inside of you, the voice that longs to be heard, to be voiced, to be understood.

I promise you, there’s more voices than you think.

You just have to be courageous and dare to believe that the God you worship is big enough to hold you, those you disagree with, room for all of us… to believe that God is big enough for our questions, our doubts, and differing interpretations and studies of scripture.

We have a dance floor too out here in this open space.

And our song is freedom.

We’d love for you to sing along.

We will comfort you when you are cringing in your seat, in disbelief of what you are hearing.

We will listen to your questions and share some of our own.

We will help you find new places and ways to worship, places in which you are free to express your thoughts, feelings, opinions, ideas, longings, and aren’t restricted by an authoritarian, intransigent pastor.

We will cheer you on when you speak up for the first time.

We will support you when it feels like no one else is.

You don’t have to be afraid here.

You don’t have to submit to one of your fellow, Earthly, breathing, pulsating human beings here.

You don’t have to vote any particular way.

You are free to love whomever you love, irrespective of gender.

We are people of grace. We are people of second chances. And third. And ninety nineth. We’ll come back to find you if you lose yourself along the way.

We are people who are willing to stand, or at least try to stand, in the face of those who try to tie boxes around you, dismantle your voice, stereotype you, or shame you.

We are outsiders, on the fringe, and our God has brought us into inclusion.

Instead of shrinking and succumbing to words of preachers who try to tame your gender, passions, feelings, and questions, we ask that you speak out.

You are needed.

You are wanted.

You are welcomed.

We want your presence. The world will be stronger because of it.

We want your voice. The world will be more courageous because of it.

We want your song. Whether it composes a beautiful cacophony choir of Aretha Franklin’s R-e-s-p-e-c-t or the song we have yet to hear because you only sing it alone in your shower, where no one can judge you or tell you you’re not good enough. We’re here to tell you it is good enough. In fact, we’d like an encore.

Enough of walking on eggshells.

Enough trying to please everybody.

Enough division.

Enough of the disrespect and incivility.

Come, let’s lock arms together, you, and me, the preachers who are willing, all of us, each of us, each of us who recognizes the Image of God in ALL of us, not just some.

Let’s run.

Let’s laugh.

And instead of debating and arguing and trying to convince your “rightness,” and their “wrongness,” hop on the dance floor. Put on your boogie shoes. Play your funky music, [white/black/Asian/Indian/whatever culture you identify with] –[girl/boy/man/woman/transgender/whoever you are, wherever you come from.]!

Because you can’t argue and dance at the same time.

And remember, the place we’re headed- we’ve already been told there will be dancing and merriment.

Some come on.

Dance. Dance with somebody who loves you.

Turns out there’s a lot of us.

Love letters with God

Dear God,

I lay here tonight, alone, in the quiet of my room, the only light shining being that of glowing candle casting flickering shadows against my mostly undecorated walls, a peaceful ambiance bringing closure to a busy day.

I’m breathing peaceful, sleepy breaths here in this moment, and all I can think about is you, God.

How I so long to know you.

How I so long to be close to you.

This innate desire to near you.

I hear so many things of you, God, from Churches and books and radio stations, that seem so unlike what I’ve experienced of you, God, experienced with you, God, together.

It’s enough to drive me crazy. Or at least frustrate me.

But you, God, your Spirit has captured my soul.
So I offer you this. My love letter to you.

It’s not a prayer per se, although it is the cry of my heart.

I’m not going to quote any verses.

Or mention hell. Or re-pray the sinner’s prayer, although I wonder if that’s what you even had in mind when you said that you wanted us to have faith like a child.

I just want to express a raw gratitude for every single thing you’ve spoken to me, given me, helped me to enjoy, everything you’ve used to help me grow, God. It all comes from you; all of this leads me back to you. Even if I were to purposely try to not look for you in it, God, I would still find you.

Oh how I love you, God, and Jesus, who marvels me into simplicity when he urges us to learn from the wildflowers and the birds of the air. Did you do all this to dazzle us, to beckon us closer to you, our Creator, through the beauty that drips from the works of your hands? Some artists use watercolor, others use charcoal, paint, or yarn, but you, God. You swirl sunsets with your hands. You design waterfalls miles wide. You hang gaseous luminaries in the endless twilight, composing Pleiades and Orion, while we forage around with plastic ornaments on fake trees or rearrange stiff, staged portraits on crème colored walls.

We are far too easily entertained by the baubles of manufacturing while the whole outside world screams your name in iridescent hues and highlights of every magnitude and height.

I wonder, God, if the next time someone tells me I’m wrong about my view of salvation or homosexuality or any of the stuff that some Christians seem to get so vehement about… I wonder God, if I can go back to your artistry and sunburst and pluck one of your Black Eyed Susans from a field, and talk with that person in a lush meadow of cattails and clover, birds in flight. And I wonder if in that moment, all of that chatter and shaming and “righting” and “wronging” can dissipate, God, as you meet us there and offer us this cup and this bread and we delight in it, so we pass it around for all to taste this… this love, this light, this indelible connection to the one we come from.

Oh, Lord. I’ve been taught to take my faith so seriously, take the Bible so seriously, as if my entire life hangs on the thread of “correct” interpretation and pedantry. Truth is, I don’t think you’re as serious as they’ve made you out to be. I think you’re a lot more fun than that. You have a sense of humor, and that wasn’t discussed in our bible study lessons. Instead we memorized words on pages, not once being encouraged to explore the endless ways in which we can experience you outside of the pages, the text, the words.

Please keep showing me how to “unlearn” some of the things that I’ve been taught about you, the aspects that are hampering my freedom in you. Tonight, that might look like the juxtaposition of how to let go and how to hold on, and the wisdom for when to do which, as you show me what my hands should pick up and what they should put down as to have room enough to embrace such experiences when they come.

Please keep being patient with me, and thanks for letting me muse questions and for allowing me to show up to Church wet and dirty from stomping in mud puddles on those rainy days in which I’m stir crazy indoors and want nothing but to taste your rain on my tongue and feel music in my feet.

I can’t wait to see you when I wake up. Only you know the ins and outs of what’s to come, but I just thank you that I get to experience it all with my mouth and my toes and my ears and my nose and my eyes to let in more light, love, beauty, wonder…

I love you.

       •••••••••••

Dear Child of God,

When you feel a closeness trickling from your heart, up to your chinny chin chin, going up to your ears, that will be me tucking you in tonight.

I’ll see you when you wake up to the fresh dawn of a new day, a blank page that you so love to embrace in  possibility, unsullied and smooth, that is, until you’re ready to create words and lines and stories with each person you’ll meet today, footprints running all over the page in new directions. I’ll see you, and you’ll see me through the wind kissing the tree tops of the forests, a soft breeze brushing through early autumn leaves of faded green, yellow, crimson, and orange. You’ll see me through the smile of your sister, the open road before you, and oh yes, those wildflowers and birds you seem so blithely fond of.

I know you don’t understand me all the time, or other people either. And that’s ok. I don’t expect you to. I only ask that you love that much harder when you encounter voices that drive you crazy. Whatever you say about them, even if no one is listening, remember, I hear. And they are my children too. You don’t have to listen to the hyper critical voices. But do take a look inside and examine your words too. Will you bring love and hope with your words, or cynicism and criticism? Together, I hope you’ll make the time to take some bread and dip it in the cup, together, and feel free to dance, too- play the hokey pokey or the macarena and come together on the dance floor, unencumbered arms moving in and out and over to compose the letters “YMCA” above your heads. After all, you can’t argue and dance at the same time… Pretty soon the two of you, or this group and you, will be out there, on the dance floor, laughing, like old friends at a wedding reception, and all the bickering and “righting” and “wronging” will fall to the wayside as you let yourselves go fly free into the night, souls so alive and abandoned. Remember, I meant it when I said there will be dancing and merriment when you make it to the other side…

I am so proud of you when you hang on to me through faith when your world is shaking. Remember, though, that your world will shake time and time again. But I am right here where I’ve always been, as much as I’ve ever been, beside you, inside you, inside each person you meet and in all that your eyes encounter each day. I created all of it, and long to walk together through it with you, Child, even in the midst of confusion and struggles that you cannot make sense of. But I hope you trust long enough to experience the ways I grow you in these times, so that you can smile and know I’ll use even your saltiest tears as the gateway for goodness, sweet, genuine goodness. And I will watch you, I mean, take a step back as to really take you in, all of you, both your body and your soul, as you soar, as you dance, as you hop, skip, jump, and as you sprint ahead, never once looking back over your shoulder, into the life I have for you.

I love you; I love all of you- your questions, reflections, and even your muddy feet.

Therapy is not a Four Letter Word

It’s been 2 years since my first visit back to my counselor’s office. And, thanks largely in part to health insurance, it’s the best $15 billing statement I ever receive.

I remember the first friend I told my “dirty secret” to. “So I’m going back to counseling…” (crickets.) “Good for you!” (awkward smile). I remember telling them how scared I was to tell my boyfriend. I thought if he knew, he might think he was dating a psycho and want out. I thought if he didn’t know, I wasn’t being honest and transparent. You’d think I was trying to tell him I had herpes or hemorrhoids or something painful like that. Anyway, I told him (over the phone, too scared to do so in person at the time) and, lo and behold, we’re still together. He’s either ok with dating a “crazy” person or perhaps he’s “crazy” too. Or maybe he’s just human, and recognizes that this is my way of dealing with my own depravity.

I’ve learned a lot during my sessions since that first drive up 695 East, one chilly evening in October 2010, praying, hands gripped to the steering wheel, repeating mantras of, “I’m not crazy.” “This is money well spent.” “You’re doing the right thing.”

I learned that I’m still “crazy.” Just not in the ways I once thought.

I learned that I’m not as bad, as powerless, or as “wrong” as I used to think, and, in the same breath, that I’m more self-centered, self-focused and controlling than I ever realized. Maybe that’s the beauty of grace. We don’t ever maintain an accurate perspective of ourself for more than a minute or two before we’re either beating ourselves down or puffing ourselves up. And God comes in and shows us who we really are, and that, no matter which side of the self esteem see-saw we’re currently teetering on, S/He really does love us and will never give up on us.

I learned to laugh at silly Christians and the stupid things some say and learned that I’m a silly Christian too and need to watch my mouth. I can be stupid too. Even more stupid when I don’t fess up afterwards.

I cried. And the first time I cried in that office, it was painful and I felt like I had to hide my face behind my tear-and-snot sodden tissue, but really the tissue was translucent and crumpled and wouldn’t hide me anyway, nor my tears, so I might as well just show both of them, unadulterated, and experience God’s love through the smile of a patient, gracious LCSW-C with an excellent sense of humor, reminding me that I’m on my way to healing and growth and wholeness.

I learned to be open and vulnerable and real and learned to stop telling people that I’m “meeting with my mentor” when in actuality I’m about to have a 50 minute couch session with a counselor. I’ve been humbled and amazed at many of the responses to that statement (with the occasional awkward moment where the person fidgets and wonders how to respond in which case we usually just switch topics altogether). Such responses have opened doorways for people to share experiences ranging from “well, gee, I’ve been thinking about that too. Where do you go?” to, “You too? No way!!!” Instant connection.

I learned that the past will carry you into the present by default unless you do something about it. It doesn’t just go away. Nor do I want it to. Because growing up has been an incredible joy for me, with some really painful moments in between that have been used to grow and strengthen me. I don’t need to forget about such moments and pretend they never happened. I just don’t need to let them paralyze me.

I learned to recognize and not run from my feelings and how to eschew the voices of certain Christian spheres that re-iterated week in and week out during my college years that “faith is not a feeling.” They’re right. It’s not a “feeling,” per se. But feelings are Biblical. God experiences grief (Genesis 6:7), anger (Deut. 1:37), joy (Zephaniah 3:17), and love (Jer. 31:3). We know from the shortest verse in the Bible that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Just open up the book of Psalms- from the lament of Psalm 13:— “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” —to the zeal of Psalm 92: “You make me glad by your deeds, Lord;  I sing for joy at what your hands have done!!!”  You can call it “Biblical Bipolar” if you want, or better yet, maybe it’s just an accurate reflection of what it’s like to be a spiritual being on this side of Heaven.

I’ve filled journals with phrases like “guilt,” “shame,” “enabling,” “adapting to change,” “choices” and other things ‘therapy’. I’ve written “God, fix me, God help me, God change me, tell me what to do (NOW!), thank you,” prayers. I scribbled to-do lists (to go along with my type A, ADHD, task oriented personality) that could be summed up in six words: “do more, be more, be better.”

I’ve mapped out Thought Records, made my own “searching and fearless moral inventory” of myself, annoyed people I care about by asking them questions like, “So how do you feel about that?” and, “Where along your childhood might you have picked up this message?” Then I annoyed myself with Bible verses, taping them to my wall or writing them over and over again in my journal until they practically would bleed from my head, quoting them with my eyes shut, shouting in the dark, “Do not be anxious about anything!!!” “Take every thought captive to Christ!!!” “Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you!” Oh sure, these verses are beautiful and encouraging; I won’t minimize that. But they’re not a panacea, nor are they a replacement for doing the dirty work of staring your junk in the face, your past, present, and future, dealing with your feelings, your struggles, anxieties, worries, and fears. And, if you’re cowardly like I used to be, such verses can be used to hide behind (memorizing scripture earns brownie points with Christians, after all) instead of womaning or manning up and forcing yourself to grow up in your faith and grow in maturity, break, be broken, be remade, be renewed, be made whole.

It’s been a journey. Who knows. I might be in it for another two years. I don’t care. Bring it.

Because I’m tasting a life in which depression is fading fast and anxiety is slowly lifting, much like the kite I flew on my 25th birthday back in March. It was the first time I touched a kite in 10 years and felt like I couldn’t quite remember how to make it fly, but sure enough, with barefoot feet firmly planted on the green grass, I gazed upward, amazed as this piece of plastic wiggled upward into the sky, suddenly dancing in the early spring wind. I feel changed, from the inside out. I’m whole…ish. And that’s ok for now. I’m growing. It’s messy. It’s beautiful. It’s the best investment I’ve ever made on myself. And I owe it to God, health insurance, SafeHarbor Christian Counseling, the patience and grace of friends and family who support and encourage me during my most anxious days…

but most of all, I owe it to the “dirty word” therapy.

_____________________________________________________

Did you know?
-Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population).*
-An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.**
-Approximately 40 million American adults ages 18 and older, or about 18.1 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have an anxiety disorder.**

None of us are as “crazy” as we think we are. If you’re struggling with an area of your life, feel stuck in your personal growth, question faith and life and existentialism or wonder if life is just some big joke, kick yourself in the…. rear… and come join us. You might find us on couches, in offices, or in support groups, but come on in. There’s room for you. The table is big, the couches are soft, and the judgments are gone. All that’s left is love, love and more love. And some growth. And talking about feelings. But I think you knew that was part of the package anyway. 🙂

To find a therapist in your area: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/

If you are interested in faith-based counseling (beyond paying someone good money to say “just pray more”) and you live in the Mid Atlantic Area, I highly recommend Safe Harbor Christian Counseling (don’t worry, they don’t even know I’m writing this.) http://www.safeharbor1.com/

If you don’t want to have anything to do with therapy, but are hurting, in pain, struggling, or depressed, just do one important thing: talk to someone. Life’s too big for anyone of us to handle by our lonesome. Reach up, reach out, and don’t stop reaching until you’ve got the hand of someone you know you can lean on.

*Source: http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics **Source: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml

When Words are Unnecessary

This gallery contains 1 photo.

I am tired of explaining away my faith. I am tired of defending, “proving,” withholding my true feelings for fear of religious retaliation. I’m tired of watching some people argue their faith, trying to “win people to Christ” with their … Continue reading

6 for Six

We are just under a month away from election day and, despite all the progress in achieving marriage equality in Maryland, it could just as easily be taken away depending on how Marylanders respond to question 6. Here are six reasons why I will emphatically vote YES for question 6 to support marriage equality:

 6) Because I don’t believe that I have the right to deny the marriage of two consenting adults who love each other.

5) Because the quicker marriage equality is achieved, the quicker we can get back to using our time, capital, and media attention to address poverty, peace-building, human trafficking, and other social justice issues.

4) Because I want to add our country to one of the eleven that recognizes marriage equality. At the very at least, I want to remain one of the six states that currently recognizes same sex marriage.

3) Because the law gives freedom— freedom for people to marry those they love and for faith based institutions to choose which marriages they wish to recognize. (It saddens me to have to phrase this in such a way as to insinuate that some faith based institutions will disregard a couple’s marriage simply because they are of the same gender —-while eagerly welcoming in a divorced couple, another supposed “no-no” in the Church—-, but for those who are not ready to observe marriage equality, you will not be forced to change your faith based institutions’ stances or beliefs).

2) When I found out that interracial marriage used to be illegal, I was appalled and astonished. I also wonder where the Church was at this time. Was it supporting equality, love, and freedom? Or was it fostering hatred, judgment, separation, and inequality? I want my children and grandchildren to be so shocked that marriage equality used to not exist (i.e. they’re so accustomed to it that they don’t understand what the big deal was). I want to know that I, along with other people of faith, were on the sidelines voicing for equality, equity, and justice.

2012

1967

                                                                                                                                          Is it any different today?

1) Because my life has been personally touched by men and women who are gay or lesbian. Marriage equality has a face and a story. If you haven’t already, get to know someone whose sexual orientation is different from your own. Your life just might be changed. For more voices and stories, check out Believers for Marriage Equality: http://www.believersforme.com/

Are you registered to vote in Maryland?
Check here: http://elections.state.md.us/voter_registration/index.html

*Photo credits for this page: http://interacc.typepad.com/synthesis/2012/05/divided.html

My love/hate relationship with the Bible.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Bible this year.
There.
I said it.

Oh, I know what I’m supposed to say about the Bible- it’s divinely inspired, living and breathing, sharper than any double –edged sword. I know what I’m supposed to do-  read it daily, memorize it, “eat it” (Jeremiah 15:16), “hide it in my heart” (Psalm 119:1).

But I’m trying to be real here.
And in my current season of life, that’s not quite where I am.

This year, these feelings have been precipitated by a writing piece I’ve been working on as well as the inspiration and wisdom I’ve read from several authors/bloggers I respect. Rachel Held Evans posts about Biblical Womanhood and points out that this can mean anything from making a woman marry her rapist, to calling your husband master, if you take the Bible at its literal word. She was making a point that we need to ask better questions about why we interpret things the way we do and to be wise with the way we throw around “Biblical” in front of words. Because we all “pick and choose” which scripture to follow. For example, I choose not to follow the scripture verse that says to kill a woman if she isn’t a virgin (Deuteronomy 22:21). All of this reading and processing got me thinking. I’ve been working on a writing piece in which I’m trying to find 101 verses that Evangelicals no longer follow and 101, in contrast, that if followed, would literally change the world. I’ve had lots of stops and starts along the way. I’ve been working on it since April. It’s now October.

Why do I keep stopping and starting?

I stop often because I lament and am frustrated about the way women were treated in the Old Testament and how certain verses in the Old Testament and New Testament are used to promote gender roles, in particular, that women should be submissive and men should be leaders. I mourn the wars, the violence, God smashing babies heads on rocks. I feel unsettled when I read narrow verses about eternity and can’t fathom God banishing my Jewish friends or my Muslim sisters in the Middle East who lived their lives in Earthly Hells of forced prostitution, genital mutilation, and honor killings. They dealt with this their whole Earthly life, and now, supposedly, they will have a relentless life in Hell in their life after death too?

Sometimes I feel a sense of shame for feeling the way I do. Especially because I “know” what I “should” be thinking, feeling, and saying about the Bible.

But simply put, I can’t fake it anymore.

It’s leaking out.
I bring my Bible to less and less places these days.
I open it less and less these days.

But I am learning more about God, the ways that He/She speaks, more about people and imago dei than ever before. I am learning that the story didn’t end with Revelation. I believe, along with the UCC and other churches, that God is, indeed, still speaking and that he isn’t limited to the sole medium of the Bible.

By looking for him in ways other than this book, I am washed over with refreshment by all of the ways I discover him all around me. In the beauty of the trees. In a song. In the resilience of women and girls who have been trafficked but refuse to see themselves or others as victims, rather as victors. By not reading this book as much as I “should,” I am more acute to these other ways he speaks (kind of like how dogs don’t have good vision, but make up for this with an excellent sense of smell). I guess what I’m saying is I see him everywhere. And it’s not in the more traditional places that I’ve been so affixed to.

He’s everywhere. All day. I see his love win out over evil time and time again. I know that’s supported by a verse in the Bible. Though I’m not reading it right now and quoting it, I am most certainly experiencing it and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God’s hand is in this, making beauty out of brokenness.

There’s some dark stuff in the Bible. Genocides, infanticides, killing animals (God’s creation) to assuage God into forgiveness of sin, commanding women to remove themselves from everyday society simply because they had their period and that this uncontrollable bodily act is somehow so revolting that women should be embarrassed to be seen when it, by no choice of their own, arrives biologically…

There’s beautiful stuff too. You know. Faith, hope, love. Forgiveness, grace, life over death. I can’t read 1 Corinithians 13 without feeling a deep connection to something holy and beautiful. I can’t read the Sermon on the Mount without feeling as though Jesus was truly remarkable, encouraging all of us to live a life very subversive to cultural, societal, even, at times, religious mores.

But for right now, I’m taking a little break from this book. You can tell me that I’m straying in my faith. You can tell me that I shouldn’t be doing this. You can tell me I’m wrong. You can tell me I’m missing out. You can call me a disrespectful sinner. You can tell me that God doesn’t like the way I’m talking about His word. Go ahead.

As for me, I’ll be sitting here, real, raw and exposed, being transformed into something, someone, I hope, that has experienced God on a visceral level, reminded that some of our “Heroes of Faith” mentioned in Hebrews 11 did not even own Bibles. And to let you in on a little secret, I do, in fact, still turn to it from time to time. Just not as often as I have in the past. And to let you in on another little secret, I really do love this book. Not in the pollyanna ways I once used to, but from a part of me that’s been willing to ask questions, talk to God openly and honestly about what’s going on here, and take a chance that even though I may not be reading it, I am, in fact, experiencing it. And sometimes in life we don’t need to read anymore; sometimes we need to get our hands dirty, our toes squiggling through wet grass, because life is meant to jump off the page, have actions to correlate with words, and to be LIVED. Because the story is still being written. Somewhere along the way, I feel as though I’m living the words I have read or heard quoted time and time again. And sometimes I wonder if I’m literally standing on a page in the Bible. But then I realize that I’m experiencing it, in real time, and somewhere in between this reading and experiencing, it all amalgamates, and I don’t know if I’m reading or living or both. All I know is it’s beautiful, it’s holy, it’s reckless, swelling with this life abandoned, messy with watercolor streaks painted far outside the lines. I’m not worried about my behavior (or misbehavior if that’s how you see it) in this season. I’m ok with experiencing God in ways predominately outside the Bible in this current season. Because He’s got me. He’s got you. Letting each one of us experience Him in the ways we connect with him the most. I’ll keep coming back to this book; you can count on that. You can travel the world over, but there is some place in the world that can resonate as home. I guess what I’m saying is I’ve left my “safe home” of Bible reading “quiet times” (Christianese for Bible devotionals) and I’m running around the field, to first base, and second base, and even third, and I will always end at home. I might strike out on my way. But I always start fresh at bat from “home.” I’ve found my home in Christ, and this home is lit with the light from the Bible. And it’s also lit with solar panels and candlelight; it’s energized by some stories of the poor, some preaching, some time spent in solitude out in Creation, sunlight on my face…

It’s beautiful.

So beautiful that the more I think about it, I wouldn’t describe my Bible relationship as “love/hate.”

I’d say it’s “love/freedom,” and it’s an insatiable love that cannot be contained to any page or binding.

If you see me somewhere along the way on my journey to “home,” I’d appreciate your encouragement, not your judgments. I hope we can ask each other hard questions. I hope we can recognize that there is so much going on here than we will ever realize and that’s why it’s called FAITH. I hope you accept me when I say that I see a lot of grey in the Bible, with a few “black and whites.” But maybe you won’t. And that’s ok. I’ll see you at home plate, where we will celebrate the big, big God we worship as this big, big team as brothers and sisters. There might even be ice cream.