Book Review: Jesus Feminist

Sometimes a book comes along that challenges you deeply.  Other times, a book comes along that puts into words the deep longings of your heart that you couldn’t yet express.  And other times, a book is so compelling that as soon as you’re through, you become an unofficial member of the marketing team.

Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist was all of those for me.

Some of you will be off put by the title alone, but please, I urge you, don’t write it off just yet.  Others of you will immediately gravitate toward the book because of it’s title alone, and I urge you, keep reading; it won’t be exactly what you expect.

With gentleness born out of a sweet relationship with Jesus, Sarah addresses topics like gender equality, submission in marriage, and Biblical manhood and womanhood.  Her voice is quiet, patient, and loving – not necessarily what we have come to expect when we hear from a feminist.

Sarah is completely feminine and completely feminist.  I dare you to give this book a chance whether you claim to be all feminist and the mention of Jesus in that mix makes you feel funny or whether you claim to be the opposite of a feminist and the mention of that word makes you feel funny.

If you need to read just how the author defines feminism before you risk requesting the book from the library, here you go:

“At the core, feminism simply consists of the radical notion that women are people, too.  Feminism only means we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance – not greater than, but certainly not less than – to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women.”

If you are a woman who reads this book, you will feel loved, you will feel important, and you will feel called deeper into God’s greater story of redemption in the world.

If you are a man who reads this book, you will feel loved, you will feel important, and you will feel called deeper into God’s greater story of redemption in the world.

This book isn’t an invitation to fight; it’s an invitation to dialogue, and even more, it’s an invitation into kingdom work.  This book isn’t a means to divisiveness and arguing amongst people of various theological and denominational lines, but rather, it’s an invitation to unity.

This book isn’t about feminism, really.  This book is about redemption.

“Biblical equality is not the endgame; it is one of the means to God’s big ending: all things redeemed, all things restored. Jesus feminism is only one thread in God’s beautiful woven story of redemption.”

Because of this book, I feel more encouraged in my gifts and calling.  Because of this book, I feel more spurred on to continue to mentor and grow with fellow women of faith.  Because of this book, I feel more compelled to put down my boxing gloves, and instead, grab a hand and get to work.

Regardless of how you fill your days, whether with babies or excel spreadsheets, or perhaps a combination of both, you will feel affirmed through this book.  And you will feel compelled to affirm the goodness in the women and men in your life because of this book.

If you still aren’t convinced, my friends, the author closes with a commissioning and a benediction. Seriously, who doesn’t love a good benediction?  Grab the book and start with the commissioning, and you’ll get just a taste of what the spirit of this book is all about.  And then read the rest of the book.  And then get your friends together and talk about it and reclaim women’s ministry (that will make more sense after chapter eight).

Let me know what you think of the book, sweet friends!

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A Follow-Up Post

I wrote a blog post last week about being married without children.  I thought perhaps my good friends and a few curious facebook friends would click the link, but instead, the post got shared and shared and shared some more.

I got countless emails, personal messages, texts, and comments and a lot of them were “me too’s”.  So many people said, “I have felt the same way but didn’t know how to articulate it” or “I thought I was the only one” or “Thank you for putting words to my feelings.”

There is power in knowing that we aren’t alone, isn’t there?  There is relief in knowing there have been, and are. and will be others in similar life seasons.

This week, the online community became a beautiful place of connection, of truth-telling, of encouragement, and of support for me.  When I hit submit on this post, I was bracing myself for some theological debates about having children.  I was nervous that I was opening myself up to the critics about a subject that is so personal but so important.

But instead I was met with love, love, love.

Thank you online community for being grace and love and support this week..

Let’s keep doing that with one another, eh?  Let’s keep celebrating one another as we live out our callings in seasons!

Don’t Volunteer this Holiday Season

Please don’t volunteer at a homeless shelter or retirement facility or children’s hospital [*just*] this Thanksgiving or Christmas. 

Far too often, especially during this time of year, our focus is set on ourselves.  Somehow we’ve turned a season dedicated to giving and sharing into what we can give, what we can do, what we are up to, what works best for us, what traditions are important to me and my family, etc..  Because we are selfish in nature, I would bet that a lot of November and December community volunteerism is more about ourselves than the people we are serving.

Before you completely discount me, think about things you’ve heard yourself or others say after a day of serving:

“I love that I got to make someone’s day.”

“Did you see how I cheered them up?”

“It feels so good to serve on a day like today and remember how blessed I am.”

Sadly, in the frenzy of the holidays, the selfish motivation for service can get worse.  Out of guilt for our excess, we go and serve – perhaps to appease our self-centeredness or maybe justify our over-spending.  In an effort to teach our children to be grateful for all that they have we take them to observe those that have not – but don’t remedy the have-not part.  And if that is the motivation for our service, we actually use the poor, the powerless, and the disenfranchised.

If you’re not convinced, think about your social media feed. I see a lot of posts and pictures of community-serving around the holidays.  We post about serving because we want people to know we care about the deeper meaning behind the holiday – but in the process, we are broadcasting our good deeds, and even violating the same poor and powerless that we are there to serve. Taking pictures of someone without their permission to show how we’re serving them is downright exploitative. Even when have their permission, why do we feel the need to broadcast what good we have done? Whatever happened to “treasuring things in our hearts” (Luke 2:19)?  Whatever happened to “not letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing and serving in the secret” (Matthew 6)?  

I’m not proposing a ban on “doing good” this holiday season.  In fact, I’m really pro-generosity, especially during an easily selfish season. What I’m really proposing is a motivation-check this holiday season. Before we load up the cars and roll out into the community, let’s ask ourselves some really good questions:

 1.  Why am I doing this?

 2.  Who am I serving today?

 3.  What will I tell my friends and family about what I did today?

 4.  How can I make this a regular habit?

 The fourth question is a really significant one, because if we’re not serving regularly, we’re totally missing out. Regular service with a consistent organization/ministry/group helps us form relationships, shifts our perceptions, teaches us sacrifice, and changes our hearts.

Maybe the homeless woman receiving our scoop of mashed potatoes this Thanksgiving knows that we need her smile more than she needs ours.  After all, she sees a new starch scooper every week, and rarely the same face.  She knows that it makes us feel good to serve so she returns our smile.  But what if this holiday, we made it about her and not about us?  What if we committed to coming back on a regular basis and learning her name and her dreams?  What if we committed to serving because we are honoring a Lord and Savior who took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist and served his disciples? What if we didn’t declare our good deeds through social media, but served quietly and humbly? What if we committed to helping things change for the long-term, not just the moment?

 What if this holiday, instead of serving once for the year, we made a new year’s resolution to serve regularly, consistently, and faithfully all year long?

 

The Welcoming

A few years ago, I was at a college event at church.  As I was scanning the crowd, making sure everyone had someone to talk to, I noticed her.   I’d met her once before at an event.  She was very shy, a little withdrawn, and certainly quiet.  She wasn’t a “typical” outgoing, social, college student, and I remember being the only one who had talked to her at the previous event.  I watched her eyes dart around the crowd looking for someone who would greet her, anyone who would notice her or welcome her into their conversation.  She took a comfortable spot in the corner and tried to look interested in her food.  I looked around for a student who I knew would be friendly and engaging, I knew she wanted to be welcomed by peers, not the old lady in the group.  But before I could find someone to reach out to her, I watched her throw away her plate of full food and walk toward the door.  I walked after her, but couldn’t find her.  I’ve never seen her again.

A few weeks ago, I was at college small group.  I watched a new person walk in and look at all of the other members grouped in their comfortable peer groups.  He grabbed a chair and pretended to look interested in his phone.  I looked around, hoping that someone would notice that he was new, that he didn’t know anyone, and he was uncomfortable.  But everyone was caught up in conversations, laughter, sharing.  He sat there alone for far too long.

I felt the heat rush to my face, and the knot form in my stomach, and wanted to scream, “look around you, welcome others, stop being cliquey.”

Afterall, the Church should be the most welcoming group of people on the planet.

I went home from small group that night fuming.  I had a well-planned lecture with good scripture to back up my righteous fury.  And as I laid in bed, unable to fall asleep, I heard that still small voice that reminded me to pause, and examine my own welcoming.

And as I sat in quiet and thought, I realized that I’m more objective with college students because my deepest desire is to see every student welcomed in, accepted, and grow in Jesus with their peers.  My role is to be welcoming and to foster connection.  I noticed this because I was looking for this.  But when I’m with my own peers, I lose that objectivity.  In that moment, I was reminded that:

*  Under the guise of community, I have been exclusive and unwelcoming.

*  With the label of authentic relationships, I have sought out people that act, look, and think like me.

*  Through the pursuit of good friendships, I have formed cliques.

I was reminded that while I believe that everyone is welcome in the family of God, I don’t necessarily want to welcome everyone into my close circle in that family.  I’m content to hang with the “family members” that I like, and keep the “awkward uncle” and “weird cousin” at a distance.

I love looking around the pews on Sunday and seeing people from different racial, socioeconomic, educational, and cultural backgrounds gathered together to worship.

I want to be part of a church that welcomes sinners and saints, rich and poor, homeless and resourced, squeaky clean and felon, shy and outgoing, rough around the edges and easy to love…  Because I know that’s how it’s supposed to look.  I love that Jesus welcomes everyone.  But I don’t often want to be the one doing the welcoming.  Not the real welcoming of including people really different from me into my small group or my group of friends or my home for dinner.

I don’t have a nice summary for this post.  I’m sitting in the midst of this new and difficult revelation, and I’m asking God what it means for me to become more welcoming. I’d love to hear from you about your thoughts, insights, struggles, and stories with this.

How do you welcome?  Who do you welcome?  How do you balance having deep and meaningful friendships without becoming cliquey?

“That’s Not Me, We’re Not All Like That.”

Last night, at a work event, I met a new friend.  Our conversation started with work chatter, but quickly shifted into our backgrounds and passions.  She works primarily with Kurdish and Arabic families – helping them navigate systems in the US.  She speaks multiple languages, and has experience acculturating to America, herself.

As she was talking about the families that she works with, and her own transition to life in Tennessee, she stopped and thought for a moment and said, “You know all of that stuff going on around the world in Africa and elsewhere.  That’s not me.  We’re not all like that.”  And she stopped and looked cautiously at me, wondering how I would respond.

I had a million thoughts in that moment, and a zillion things I wanted to say to her.

I wanted to tell her that I’m sorry that acculturating to the US has been difficult.  I wanted to tell her that I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be Muslim in the Bible Belt of America.  I wanted to tell her that I believe her.

But I started with, “I believe you, and I can understand why you would say that.”

I can’t begin to count the number of times that I have cringed at fellow Christians’ choices to picket, rally, and preach in megaphones and wanted to scream, “That’s not me, we’re not all like that.”

I can’t begin to number the occasions when Christians have said hurtful things, ostracized others, and pushed their religious but non-Jesus agendas to the detriment of others, and wanted to yell, “That’s not me, we’re not all like that.”

I can’t begin to list the historical woes of wars, murder, and oppressive reign in the name of Jesus that made me shudder and want to cry, “That’s not me, we’re not all like that.”

Followers of Jesus are people, not deities.  We get it wrong.  We misinterpret the Bible.  We get stuck on the wrong priorities.  We are selfish.  We mess up.

And if I want someone to give me the benefit of the doubt and not lump me into a category of those terrible Christians, then I need to give others the benefit of the doubt.  Not all Christians are the same.  Not all Muslims are the same.

The news reports from Kenya and Pakistan have been absolutely heartbreaking this week.  And as I’ve followed the news and prayed to the Prince of Peace for answers and intervention, I’ve been grieved for those who have died, for the families and friends of those who have died, and for those who caused the death and grief.

In the midst of processing such large death tolls and such unimaginable violence, it’s easy to villainize an entire group, based on a few people’s actions.  But that’s not fair.  That’s not right.  Jesus called His people to be meek, to be merciful, to be forgiving, to be kind, to be non-judgmental, and to make peace in the world.

 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth… Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy… Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.   Matt 5:5-9.

So as we interact with fellow creations of God today and this week and this month, what are we going to believe about them?  What assumptions will we make?  How will we interact?  Let’s be good neighbors. Let’s choose to believe the best.  Let’s be kind and open and learn from one another.  Let’s befriend people who don’t look, act, and believe just as we do.

Last Week Was Completely Awful (and a Teensy Bit Wonderful)

I got attacked by a dog last Sunday.

I agonized over the verb.  “Mauled” sounds really dramatic – probably a bit too dramatic.  “Beat up” underplays what happened.  “Attacked” sounds about right.

I could tell you all the details, but to be honest, I’ve told them enough times this week to EMTs and doctors and animal control and family, and I’m tired of sharing them.  The details don’t really matter. The biggest detail that does matter is that the dog wasn’t a stray and we know that the dog was up on his shots so, I don’t have rabies.

Here are a few more details that I’ll share:

I got to ride in an ambulance for the first time (Although I thought I was riding in a firetruck because that’s the only emergency vehicle I saw pull up to the house between the blood and closed eyes.  I was a little disappointed when I found out it was just an ambulance).

I got stitches for the first time.  Stiches aren’t so bad.  Shots in the face are really terrible.

I got my nose broken for the first time.  I have a new compassion for people being punched in the face in movies – and in real life.

I got Percocet for the first time.  I’m not addicted.  It makes me feel weird in all the wrong ways.

I was down for the count for the week.  I had a bum arm that was in a lot of pain, and a face that hurt to move.  Also my nose was twice it’s size – which is saying something – and I didn’t want to take the schnoz in public.  I took the week of work to heal and sleep and watch rom coms.

The week was terrible.  I’m not going to sugar coat it.  I felt incredibly helpless, weak, nauseous, and fearful.  I was angry at times, too.  It was a pretty terrible week to miss work.

BUT

(Thank God there’s a but)

God’s love was so very evident this week through people.  And these are the details I’m up for sharing:

1.  I have the most amazing husband.  If you ever plan a crisis, invite Adam.  He was there when the attack happened and he took charge.  He knew just what to do.  He said all the right things.  Even lying when necessary (telling me that my face was still beautiful when it was rather gross).  He waited on me hand and foot, getting up for middle of the night meds, dressing my wounds, and staying in the room while I dry-heaved.  He even slept on the floor so he could be close but not bump my arm.  He did every dish this week and even cooked a few nights without a single inconvenienced huff.  The man has been holding out on me in the cooking department (but don’t tell him I said that or he’ll start cooking and then I’ll start having to do dishes).  Thank you, Goose.  You are the best gift God ever gave me!

2.  I have the most caring family.  I was overwhelmed by texts, cards, emails, niece videos, and ice cream deliveries from my family who was freaking out from a distance.  I’m so blessed to have a family that loves me so much.  Love you guys!

3.  I have the greatest non-family family – We didn’t share about the incident very publicly – it was so unexpected and traumatic that we were pretty quiet.  We kept this news off social media, and we only really shared with the people we see weekly (either because we weren’t going to see them or they saw me and had a few questions).  Turns out we see a lot of people weekly.  Those that we told flooded us with love. We had meals brought to our home, gluten free dessert drop offs, care packages complete with celeb gossip magazines, flowers, cards, chick flick stash loaners, doctor appointment drivers…  just to name a few.  We were literally blown away by our people.  So thank you dear friends for caring for us so well!

This week’s takeaways: Trauma sucks.  Pain sucks.  Having people to care for you and love you in the midst of trauma and pain makes it slightly more bearable.

So We Put Our Hands Up Like the (Glass) Ceiling Can’t Hold Us

This summer, my husband and I are leading a small large group through our church for all the college/grad school-aged students that are around Nashville. Tuesday nights from 8-10, cars take up every open spot on the street and we gather on lawn chairs around citronella candles and tiki torches under a sea of twinkle lights to study the Bible. This summer, we’ve chosen to go through the Corinthians.

Summer Small Group

Tuesday nights are by far our favorite nights of the week. We get to see some of our favorite Nashvillians, and we get to learn from one another. The discussions are rich, the community is real, the depth would put any middle-ager to shame. These students are eager to learn, eager to share, and eager to change the world.

We love working with college students because it reminds us to hold onto things loosely, cling to relationships closely, and to keep an open and adventurous mind to whatever and wherever God will lead.

As we’ve been going through Corinthians, we’ve been talking about unity in the body of Christ, the purpose of the body of Christ, and the gifts in the body of Christ. A few weeks ago, we gave the students a Spiritual Gifts Inventory, and asked them to take the week to figure out their gifts. The next week, we came back and shared.

And it was incredible. It was an incredible night to hear how God has wired each of us differently, and incredible to see the students putting together how their gifts line up with their majors and career goals. Some of them are wrestling through changing majors, others are feeling confirmed. It’s incredible!

But there was something that happened that night that I simply cannot shake. As students arrived, we had them mark their top 5 spiritual gifts on a white board. One of our female participants marked 4 of her gifts, and then said, “Well, pastor was one of my top 5 but obviously I can’t use that gift” and she contemplated not marking her tally.

So we unpacked that a little in the group that night, because there were a number of ladies in the group who had pastor as one of their top five spiritual gifts. And then this week, we talked some more about it, because we were going through 1 Corinthians 14, when Paul states in verse 35 that “women should remain silent in the churches…” And then we talked about some other similar passages like 1 Timothy 2:11-14, that have been used by many churches and Christians over the decades to determine a woman’s reach in the body of Christ.

This is a subject that has long been debated in various cultures, churches, and faith groups. It’s not an easy subject. And it has shattered the Church’s unity; the very thing that Paul, the writer of these passages about women, is so passionate about.

We have to remember that Paul wrote these letters to specific churches who were struggling with specific things in a specific period of time, in a specific culture. As Rachel Held Evans put it, “The epistles were written for us not to us.”

But many have taken this and other passages out of context. Many have selected bits and pieces from Paul’s letters, deeming some time and culture transcendent and others outdated. And that cherry picking of passages has affected the health and effectiveness of the body of Christ for centuries. When Paul talks about the gifts of the spirit in Chapter 12, he doesn’t delineate that only some gifts are given to men, and others apply to both genders.

“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines (1 Corinthians 12:11).”

Brothers and sisters, we can’t keep putting up glass ceilings in our churches, because we’re selecting certain verses and soundbites to further our opinions about gender roles. The church shouldn’t lose ambitious, bright, competent, and most importantly gifted women to the corporate world, the not-for-profit world, or the Church world. God has gifted men and women alike to further His cause in the world. Why are we fighting so hard to put limits on half of God’s kingdom?

“When female executives, entrepreneurs, academics, and creatives are told that they have to check their gifts at the church door, many turn away for good. And while our sisters around the world continue to suffer from trafficking, exploitation, violence, neglect, maternal mortality, and discrimination, those of us who are perhaps most equipped to respond with prophetic words and actions – women of faith – are being systematically silenced in our own faith communities. ” Rachel Held Evans, Year of Biblical Womanhood

I wrote a letter a few years ago, and I want to share it again (for the full letter, read here). I want to share it for the ladies and gentlemen in our college small group because I believe in you, and I believe that the sky should be the limit for you. I want to share it for the ladies and gentlemen who are my age and who are past my age, because I believe in you, and I believe the sky should be the limit for you. I want to share it for all of us, because we need each other, and we need each others’ gifts, and the world needs our gifts and unified selves to bring healing and hope.

________________________________________________________________

Dear Female Christ-Follower,

Let me first say that you are a valuable member of the body of Christ. You are a co-laborer with Christ. You are not a second-class citizen in the Kingdom of God. You are not a “helpmate” in the work of Christ. You are not limited in your calling.

Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” My sisters, you are one with your brothers in Christ. You are not second in line, you are not the shadows, you are not meant to be quiet and wait for your cue. Your cue comes from Christ, not from your male (or female) counterparts. As a Christ-follower, your calling is to love God and love others. You do that by being “you” in the way that God uniquely created you. He gave you a unique personality and giftings, so use them to live out your calling. Your giftings are not limited because of your gender.

If you have an extra few minutes, read all of 1 Corinthians 12. For blog length purposes, I’ve hilighed a few verses:

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink… There are many parts, but one body. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the Church, God has appointed first of all, apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.”

My fellow female Christ-followers, each of you is a part of the body of Christ. And each of you is a different part. You aren’t limited to being certain parts because you are a female. Forgive me if this seems crass, but I’m going to say it: Women, we aren’t the breasts of the Body of Christ – You know, ‘nice on the eyes, but really only practical and useful for babies and small children.’

Women, some of you are apostles, some of you are teachers. Some of you are prophetesses, and some leaders. Some of you have the gifts of helping, or mercies, or giving. Some of you have the gift of tongues. Yes, I said it, some of you are leaders, and you should be leading – and not just in the nursery ministry, or children’s ministry, or women’s ministry. Some of you are teachers, and some of you should be teaching adults, not just children’s Sunday School.

Women, some of you hold leadership and management roles in the workplace, in which you supervise, manage, lead, and steer both men and women – and you’re good at it. Why then, are you asked to check your gifts at the door of your Church? If you have gifts (and you all do), use them! Some of you love children, and are gifted at ministering to children; do that! Some of you are servants; so serve. Some of you are amazing cooks and you help by cooking meals for new moms and families in need. (Some of you men are also good cooks, sorry we as a Church haven’t often invited you to help with this!) Some of you are leaders; so lead in the areas that you are gifted! Not all of you are leaders, teachers, and apostles, but whatever your gifts, use them!

And if any male Christ-followers are reading this letter, may I remind you that some of you are apostles, some of you are teachers. Some of you are prophets, and some leaders. Some of you have the gifts of helping, or mercies, or giving. Some of you have the gift of tongues. And if you are a Christ-following male, who does not have a gift of leadership or teaching, but rather, who has the gift of mercy or helps or giving, you are not a second-class citizen in the body of Christ. You are not weak; you do not need to be called to greatness. You do not need to be corrected. May I remind you of Paul’s writings to the church in Corinth above: “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be.” (1 Corinthians 12:18)

My friends, if you are feeling skeptical about women leading, teaching, and steering the Church, let me remind you of some God followers who have come before you:

Junia – Apostle (Romans 16:7)

Anna – Prophet (Luke 2)

Priscilla – Teacher – (Acts 18) – Interestingly, she was listed before her husband in Paul’s writing – Priscilla and Aquilla

Deborah – Leader (Judges 4,5)

Phoebe – Service (Romans 16)

Read these women’s stories. They used the gifts that God had given them to serve their entire community; both men and women. Then, think about your gifts and whether or not you are using them. If you don’t know what your gifts are, talk to the people who love you in your life or take a spiritual gifts inventory. My spiritual gifts are: Leadership, Administration, Teaching, and Apostle, and Pastor. But I’m a woman, is that a sin? Absolutely not! It’s a sin for me to not use these gifts!

My fellow female co-laborers with Christ, we need you! We need all your gifts. You are first a follower of Christ. You are not first a wife or a mother or a career woman. You are a follower of Christ. There is a world full of hurting, lonely, lost people who need to hear the message of the love and redemption that Jesus brings. So bring the message through your gifts, your prayers, and your unlimited co-laboring.

Love,

Allison