Navigation


Archive | Uncategorized

This is my metaphor

Birth is my metaphor

Birth has been the hardest work of my life and the best work of my life.

In these final days, I’ve realised afresh that experiencing birth has been – and continues to be – the greatest altar of my life for encountering God. This is my thin place between the Spirit and my reality, it’s my favourite metaphor. The more I experience pregnancy and birth in all its mess and glory, loss and life, the more I uncover the devout links between how we as women experience birth and how the Holy Spirit often “gives birth” in our souls.

Sometimes when I was preaching here and there, I would use the metaphors of birth to explain what happens when we are growing or developing or evolving in our journey of faith. But then I realised something a few months ago that ticked me off: I was apologising for my metaphor. “I’m sorry, here’s another story about having babies to explain what I mean.”

This bothered me. Why was I apologising for my metaphor, for my experience, for the place where I met God so clearly? I know my metaphors don’t belong to everyone, that’s kind of the point. My situation and learning is unique to me, just as a football player’s metaphors are unique to his experiences or a business-woman’s metaphors are unique to her experiences. We each have our own metaphors for how we understand our faith journey. Some people find theirs in literature – I do that, too. Others find them in nature or in great acts like climbing mountains. I’ve heard many a sermon using sports or war as metaphors for the journey of a soul. And more, every mother’s experience with birth is unique because her situation is unique, her body is unique, her story is hers.

What was it that made talking about birth so taboo from the pulpit? It is too much, perhaps, too uniquely feminine to others, too messy, too real. The  braiding together of pain and joy and love is too powerful, perhaps.

But I believe right in my marrow that the voices and experiences of us regular mamas, having babies, are just as valuable, just as real, just as spirit-filled as any other metaphor.

I’m nearly 38 weeks pregnant right this blessed moment: God is very near to me right now. In my fear and exhaustion, in my waiting and my hoping, in my swollen ankles and my interrupted sleep cycles, in my preparations and my dreams, in the disappearance of any protective armour between me and the rest of the world, Emmanuel.

So I won’t apologise for my metaphors anymore. 

This is where I find God and this is where God continues to somehow find me, too.

I’ll write about how the Fear-Tension-Pain Cycle of labour mirrors the fear-tension-pain cycles of our transformations. I’ll talk about leaning into the pain, however counter-intuitive that may seem, because it’s in trusting our pain, letting our pain teach us, that we find life waiting and a trust-worthy path to release. We fight against the very thing that will free us.

I’ll write about how transition is identified by the feeling that you can’t go on, it’s too hard, you need to quit. And it’s transition because it’s in that moment, right when you want to give up in defeat, that you are nearing birth at last. My desire to give up is the very signal I am longing for that it’s almost over.

I’ll write about how the Industrial Revolution and modernism gave rise to a techno-medical method of birth that treated women like machines to manage, problems to solve, and how we forget that the very work of birth is the the thing that makes life after birth richer and healthier. And then let me draw the parallels for how we’ve techno-medicalized our souls, we treat our spirits like machines, full of shortcomings and defects, patiently awaiting the formulas to make it quick, make it easy, make it painless, make it simple. We deny each other the precious struggle which often makes healing, bonding, nourishment happen.

I’ll write about how the professionalization of bringing babies moved traditional wisdom away from us, collective story-telling disappeared, how we bench our wise women because what could they possibly have to teach us? I’ll question, oh, yes, I’ll push back a bit on authority, I don’t mind. I can’t surrender my soul or my body to the ones who want to make a buck off of me anymore. I’ll be wary of the slick promises and the easy roads, I’ll be suspicious of the ones who promise too much and cover the fine print with their jocular assurances.

I’ll even write about miscarriages and loss, about how it feels to labour only to end up with death and longing, sorrow staining backwards and forwards, changing everything.

I’ll write about how I withdraw when I’m labour, about how I need my safe place, my home, my smallest circle around me. How I crave silence and darkness, about how my very self goes deep deep deep within to draw the strength for the work ahead. And I’ll connect it to the ways that when we are in the struggle of our new births how we often withdraw from the strangers, from the bright lights, from the noise, from the unfamiliar or untrusted or untried, how the Spirit hovers over our darkness and causes new life to begin to rise from that place of silence and darkness, relentless, inexorably holy. I’ll probably think too much about how I love to give birth in water, how baptism and water pull me into relief like nothing else.

I’ll write about learning to think positively about my body, to honour the strength of my thighs and my hips, to let myself make the noise I need to make, to be unashamed about my own strength, how our bodies can hold the truth if we learn to follow. I’ll tell you about trusting our souls and our bodies, about believing in the inherent goodness of our physicality, about the lie of dualism separating our spirits and our bodies. I’ll tell you about how learning to let my body lead me gave me beautiful experiences in birth.

And I’ll write about how much I love the midwives of my life, how it feels so right and holistic to work in partnership with someone who trusts me and my body, my capacity and my spirit. I’ll echo Brene Brown who admits that she thought faith would be like an epidural, taking away the pain, but instead there she found a midwife, whispering in her ears, “push, it’s supposed to hurt a bit, you’re almost there.” I’ll write about how tenderly they cared for me, like a daughter or a sister, how they ministered with their hands and their wisdom, with their strong leadership, and then with tea and toast and clean sheets.

I’ll write about how the Apostle Paul himself never shied away from the metaphors of pregnancy and birth, finding rich parallels in our stories for life in Christ.

I’ll be honest about the ways that birth slows me down because I’m no longer afraid to be slower, to be out of step with the evangelical hero complex anymore. I’m not afraid of taking time to heal, of taking time to nourish both baby and soul. I’m done with proving myself, with acting like having a baby doesn’t affect me or change me. It does change me, it will change me, I am different already. I practice rest and healing, slowness and sleep after birth like resistance. I’ll write about how important maternity leave is and how important it is to give ourselves space to heal and mother after we do something so momentous.

I’ll tell my stories because, as Ina May Gaskin tells us, “stories teach us in ways we can remember. They teach us that each woman responds to birth in her unique way and how very wide-ranging that way can be. Sometimes they teach us about silly practices once widely held that were finally discarded. They teach us the occasional difference between accepted medical knowledge and the real bodily experiences that women have – including those that are never reported in medical textbooks nor admitted as possibilities in the medical world. They also demonstrate the mind/body connection in a way that medical studies cannot. Birth stories told by women who were active participants in giving birth often express a good deal of practical wisdom, inspiration, and information for other women. Positive stories shared by women who have had wonderful childbirth experiences are an irreplaceable way to transmit knowledge of a woman’s true capacities in pregnancy and birth.”

And our stories do that, don’t they? When we are active participants in the transitions of our soul, we emerge from the experience with practical wisdom, information, inspiration. We have tremendous capacities for hearing from God, for wrestling with our past, for leaning into the pain, for finding truth in the darkness, for discovering our true selves there in the blood and the pain and the beauty and the joy.

And then, then, we see that the struggle, the very thing we had been trying to avoid, is the very thing that sets us free, gives us life, helps us heal, restores our joy.

You have your hard-won and unique metaphor, I know.

This is mine.

 

 Photo by Rachel Barkman back in 2011 (38 weeks pregnant with Evelynn)

 

Continue Reading · baby, faith, giving birth, journey, Uncategorized · 51

A Lament for Nigeria

There hasn’t been as much press coverage for you, Nigeria. Almost no one mentioned your name at the Golden Globe Awards or on social media, in the lead stories or soapbox editorials for newspapers or around our dinner tables. If we’re charitable, we could say that it’s because this is an unspeakable moment, perhaps, too terrible to flippantly hashtag or speak aloud. Or perhaps it’s simply that we cannot bear your pain and loss, that we feel overwhelmed and powerless. Or even more horrifically, perhaps we simply don’t value your lives the way that God values you, you feel far away from us, beyond our compassion. God forgive us.

Young girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram sent among you as a suicide bombers – one a child of ten years old – to detonate their young selves in your midst, then your bodies strewn across a market, your dead lined up in the streets, and the grief of a nation caught in terror over and over and over again.

Then I heard of a town in the northeast, once home to 10,000 souls, now desolate and quiet. One report says 150 dead, another says 2,000 dead, but a witness said, “It has all been burnt down. We have been burnt down.” There was no time to bury the dead after the attacks: everyone who could run had to run to survive and so the streets smell of the rotting ones.

Refugees trying to swim across the lake to Chad, drowning in the attempt. And still it goes on, unchecked. More than a million people displaced by relentless and increasing violence.

I made the mistake of clicking on Images for my Google search a few days ago and my stomach heaved at the inhumanity casually loading on my screen.

We know that you are beautiful and strong – rich in wisdom and literature, artists and brilliant thinkers and leaders. You are the nation of Chinua Achebe and Chimanada Ngozi Adichie, Ayodele Awojobi, Genevieve Nnaji, Funmi Iyanda, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. We see the danger of the single story and we won’t reduce you to this one story.

But right now, in these days, the world is heaving with pain and you are an epicentre of sorrow.

I write letters to international leaders for all the good it will do. I read the stories in the news, I make myself pay attention. I write prayers for your girls. And I feel powerless, useless, broken-hearted.

What use are letters of empty words pleading for action, for help, when what we want to do is lay down in the grass and keen wordlessly? What will be the legacy of these years, I wonder, what seeds are being planted in your sad young people of the north east?

So I need to say it once at least, here, again for all the good it will do:

We mourn your dead, each soul, they are not uncounted to God, each one mattered. We mourn your injured and devastated. We mourn your homes and your jobs, your work and your art. We mourn your right to life. We see what this is doing to your beautiful land and legacy, to your families and your culture, and we mourn with you. We mourn for the damage to your bodies and your souls, your communities and your minds. We mourn for your daughters and your sons, your old women and your old men.

We repent of how we ignore you, of how we turn a blind eye to your suffering and your brilliance, of how the nations of the world continue to look on with only empty words and threats, of how our compassion has yet to turn to action. Your massacres, your sufferings, are forgotten, it seems.

I can’t do much but I’m doing this: I’m paying attention, I’m doing what I can from my small corner to advocate for you and hold your name up, and there is one small candle burning in my house for you, reminding me to pray for justice, to remember you.

 

Continue Reading · Uncategorized · 33

Pronouns: Or, why I still use masculine pronouns for God

Pronouns - or, Why I Use Masculine Pronouns for God

Occasionally, fellow feminists or egalitarians will get in touch to critique my use the masculine pronouns for God when I write or speak publicly. Critique is often hard to hear, of course, but it has often made me a better writer and sometimes even a better follower of Jesus. And in this case, I think that’s a fair critique and question, worthy of a thoughtful response. This is my attempt.

It’s not because I believe God is a man or exclusively masculine. Far from it, in fact.

And it’s not because I believe that’s the best or right or “most biblical” thing to do. In truth, I always feel elated when another writer or preacher avoids gender-specific pronouns or employs both male and female pronouns interchangeably when speaking of God (or, in the case of Anne Lamott, her way of getting around it is to occasionally call God “Howard” which delights me).

I think we limit our understanding of God by only referring to God as “he” or even “she.”

After all, both male and female are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Calling God “Mother” or ascribing to God characteristics that we have traditionally considered more feminine is not only scriptural, but completely within line of our Church history. God is described in scripture as a midwife, as a mother, as a nurse. God is referred to by Jesus as “Father” or “Abba” (a tender word for father, similar to our “Daddy”) and yet the Holy Spirit is often described using a feminine noun in Hebrew. The Apostle Paul himself often employed feminine metaphors or experiences to explain the work of the Spirit – pregnancy, labour, birth, and breastfeeding.

As my dear friend, Rachel Held Evans wrote on the topic back in May:

Finally, the self-naming of God in Scripture is “I AM WHO I AM”—a name without gender. I suspect that’s because, though God is a person, God is not a human being like us. The people of Israel received a strong warning from God about this in Deuteronomy 4:15-17: “You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air…”

There’s no good scriptural or theological or even church-historical argument for exclusively requiring or using male pronouns for God. God is neither male nor female.

I’ve used both male and female pronouns for God occasionally in my work. You wouldn’t have too look very far into my book or my blog to find those metaphors or phrases or pronouns, not at all. But it is true: I often default to male pronouns. 

When I hear from people who are hurt or surprised by my use of pronouns in preaching or prayer, I think it’s a legit critique. But I don’t use those masculine pronouns or call God “Father” in prayer without purpose. Some might find my reasoning flawed. (I think that’s fair, too.) To me, this is simply a matter of personal conviction. There isn’t a right or wrong answer here, not really.

So here’s my big secret reason: I want to serve the Church in love. This is my small way of trying to build bridges and create pipelines for people to move towards freedom and justice. This is me walking a few steps into their familiar territory instead of waiting for everyone to line up where I think we should line up before the conversation even begins.

And for some of our brothers and sisters, those who have not yet experienced freedom in this area, any other pronoun or name only distracts or offends.

I choose to use familiar pronouns in order to reach even more with the message of Christ’s freedom and love.

People and publishers don’t require it of me. Not all. In fact, if someone did, I’d probably be much more prone to take a big stand against such restrictions to the freedom that Christ has given us and become a bit more militant about it.

I do this only out of care and love for the ones who haven’t received this revelation yet.

I do it to create a pathway for those coming after us.

It’s not an easy choice but given the nature of my work and witness and audience, it is where I have felt lead to submit.

I want to build bridges. This is a concession that I make as an effort to build bridges and reach out to those who are still new to the idea that both men and women are made in the image of God.

For so many who read Jesus Feminist, it was a huge leap of bravery to read something with the “f-word” in the title. I honour their bravery. So my heart was, and continues to want to, make space for their legacy and experiences with my public language about God. I want to meet our brothers and sisters halfway with my hand outstretched.

Of course, I don’t believe God is exclusively or primarily male. And to be honest, in my personal journalling and prayer life, I either avoid pronouns or employ both in equal measure. Much like Anne Lamott’s “Howard,” these days, I find myself calling God “Love” as if it’s their name. But I don’t do so publicly because I don’t want that to serve as a distraction.

If I used female pronouns only to “prove a point” or to deliberately distract or anger or offend my brothers and sisters in Christ, then I think my reasons for doing so would be selfish and suspect, perhaps even filled with pride at the ways that I am “enlightened” compared to others. I appreciate those who feel called to blow these assumptions up and push back here with consistency – I don’t think that my way is the only right way, I’m simply sharing my convictions right now.

In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul warns us about how we walk in the freedom we enjoy in Christ: “But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. For if others see you—with your “superior knowledge”… won’t they be encouraged to violate their conscience… So because of your superior knowledge, a weak believer for whom Christ died will be destroyed. And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. So if what I eat causes another believer to sin, I will never eat meat again as long as I live—for I don’t want to cause another believer to stumble.”

Now, granted, Paul was specifically talking about how some believers felt free to eat food that was sacrificed to idols while others were horrified at the idea. But the underlying truth of his words serves as a universal guide for us today – we live our lives not only for ourselves but for those with whom we are in community. And, yes, I do see myself as “in community” with those who read my work or come to hear me preach. I care deeply about their histories and legacies, about the bravery it often requires to step out in faith to their new convictions and the price they often pay.

It was for this same reason that my husband and I chose to have a “dry” wedding without any alcohol all those years ago – we did as a sign of respect for those among us who had strong feelings or experiences around alcohol, particularly our parents. Even though we personally feel okay with drinking wine, we don’t do so in front of those whom it would offend or if it would cause others to stumble. We make those choices, not out of shame, but out of love and respect.

So as an act of love and respect, I have chosen to submit myself to the preferences of others.

People can get so tripped up with a pronoun that they miss the truth that we preach about the Kingdom of God, about freedom, about our value, about calling and vocation, even about marriage. It’s not perfect, but it’s reality.

In some contexts, it would be the equivalent of setting up a road block to freedom for some of our brothers and sisters. And I won’t do that. I won’t set up that stumbling block.

Should it be a stumbling block? Absolutely not. Of course not. But do we make our decisions in our interactions with one another based on “what should be” or based on the reality of the situation? Perhaps I’m simply too much of a realist.

In a weird sort of way, it’s the same with cursing. I very rarely curse in my writing – and even when I do, it’s of a rather mild variety. Even though the situation may call for it, I know that there are a lot of people who will simply shut down and check out the second they see a curse word or an offensive word. They’ll miss the truth of what I’m writing because I’ve distracted them. It’s not the same thing at all, but it sort of is related to my mind.

Paul wrote often about the freedom we enjoy in Christ but he also wrote about our obligation to one another, particularly to those who are either weaker or not yet free; he exhorted us to choose the slavery of loving them over the freedom of our own expressions. He himself wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23:

Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.

I have submitted myself to the familiar language of many in order to bring as many people along with me as possible.

So rather than derail the conversation or perhaps the work that the Holy Spirit is up to with the distraction of pronouns, sure, I’ll call God “Father” and I will use the word “he” while I pray to build bridges. Absolutely.

I will use the common pronouns of our church language in order to reach even more with the greater truth behind the pronouns. I figure we’ll get there on pronouns eventually and in the meantime, the bridge is open, the path is clear, and I’ll stand with arms wide open to welcome as many as possible to freedom.

I’ve made this imperfect choice out of love.

 

Continue Reading · faith, Jesus Feminist, Uncategorized · 63

Tables in the Wilderness :: a giveaway and guest post from Preston Yancey

I’m so thrilled to introduce you to my friend, Preston Yancey. Preston and I have known each other for years now, initially writing alongside of one another at A Deeper Story, but then developing a true friendship. He’s like a younger brother to me in some ways. When we finally met in person a year or so ago – along with his then-fiancé-now-wife Hilary – it only solidified what we suspected: we were friends and would do life alongside of each other even from far away.

I finished an early version in a dingy filthy airport motel preparing to fly to Haiti in a few hours. I read it on the flight from Dallas to Miami, absolutely devoured it and gulped it down. Preston did good good work. It’s just so honest. He didn’t shy away from his own pride or even arrogance, but he deals so tenderly with his old self, too. It’s like a whole world I can’t even fathom because I didn’t get to go to school like him and his world is so different from mine, and yet I saw myself in his words. So much richness and goodness. Preston is never the hero of the story, the Spirit and the Church is, and I love that he had the guts to do that.

I loved this conflicted, honest, and beautifully written book. In some ways, it’s a glimpse of a foreign world for us non-academics and yet it’s a universal story of heartbreak, growing up, community, pride, friendship, and the disruptions and pursuits of a not-safe-but-good God. If you’ve tucked your version of God or Church or love into a stale airless room with three point manifestos, prepare for the free wind of the Spirit to sweep in and open up the doors. There’s a whole world outside.

 

grunge image of a field

Preston: When Sarah offered me the chance to talk a bit about my book with her readers, it took some time to figure out exactly what I wanted to say. I considered a Q&A, an original post, something that was an excurses on the themes in the book. Each fell short, each did not quite feel right.

In the acknowledgements of my book, I mention Sarah as my first spiritual director. A fleshed-out explanation of that would be that her blog was the first one I read that I can say formed my faith, reformed my faith, and made me lean hard into Jesus. So while I jump at the chance to share something in her space, I can’t imagine doing so without in some way paying tribute to the significance she has been in my life and I imagine yours as well. So I have chosen here an excerpt from Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again that is in no small way inspired by Sarah.

This is my story, but I imagine it rings true of yours too.

A parenthetical.

Walk about Zion, go all around it,

count its towers,

consider well its ramparts;

go through its citadels,

that you may tell the next generation

that this is God,

our God forever and ever.

He will be our guide forever.36

From the Psalms.

I think about this verse often, about the edges of Zion, the city where God’s glory dwells. The command of the psalmist is to walk about it, to go to its edges, to examine all of its facets, its points, the intricacies of its construction. We are to know this city so well that we may pass on to the next generation what we have seen, what they shall go and see for themselves so that they too may pass it on.

I think of the walls of this city, I think of the walls as orthodoxy. The edges of Zion are the minimal foundations of our belief. Our confessions that Christ is Lord or that the resurrection is literal or that in the beginning God created. The side questions, like whether that creation was by six days of literal work or the miracle of theistic evolution, are not the point. The point is that God is creator. The point is that stepping beyond that basic step, that wall, puts us beyond Zion.

My time at The Church of No Windows was spent mostly testing the soundness of the walls that they believed were in place, or perhaps, more accurately, I was walking around the fields of disbelief trying to bring back survivors to edges of the city. And here I stop, because I must admit that what I did most of the time was bring them back to the walls of my own construction. I had built my own small city within Zion, and I was critical of anyone who tested the walls I had made.

Our God is bigger than our walls. God has God’s own, but I’m not sure we’ve found as many of them as we think.

The action of grace in our hearts is secret and silent.

We bring heaven in.

Some of you know that one of the ways I connect most deeply to faith is by baking, so instead of the usual book giveaway, I was hoping to go one step further. Three commenters on this post will be chose to receive a free copy of the book, but one of them will be further chosen to receive my favourite bread book in the world, Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads, which I began to learn from over a decade ago. It’s my most-recommended, most-referenced text in my kitchen and it feels right in Sarah’s space, where we are so often reminded to do the good work in front of us, to share it here.

 

To enter for a chance to receive a copy of Tables in the Wilderness and maybe Bernard Clayton’s collection of bread making genius as well, simply leave a comment on this post answering this question: what is a wall of orthodoxy, of right belief, that you used to have that God has begun to challenge in your life?

 

Comments will close next Saturday. Winners will be contacted by email.

Continue Reading · giveaway, Uncategorized · 59