When I initially finished writing Jesus Feminist, I handed it over to Brian first. He is my best critic, truly making my work better than I could do on my own. After he spent a weekend reading it, we went through all of his suggestions, edits, and notes. He is particularly helpful with articulating or clarifying some of the theology behind the prose more accurately, as well as asking me hard questions, testing my work out.
But one criticism he made that night bugged me. It bugged me because he was right, and he called me out. (Talk about iron sharpening iron…)
In nearly every chapter, I had a paragraph along the lines of: “Oh, my, gracious, I’m no scholar, I’m not a pastor, I don’t know, but here’s what I think. No one should listen to me, la-dee-dah.”
At least fifteen different times in this manuscript, I felt the need to make sure the reader saw me stuffing my hands in my pockets, kicking rocks, looking down, and apologizing for my opinions.
Brian said he didn’t know if it was because I’m just another Canadian prone to over-apologizing (somewhere in the Canada Act is the requirement that all Canadians say “I’m sorry!” a minimum of 12 times a day) or because I have a lively horror of appearing prideful or like a know-it-all.
Or maybe, really, it was because I’m a woman still learning how to walk in my authority as a daughter of the King. I’m not supposed to apologize for what God has shown me or done in my life. But here I am, dulling my voice, fitting into a too-small box of God-breathed womanhood, shrugging off.
I do that? Still? Really? Apparently, yes.
After all this time, after all the “I’m loved and I’m free” stuff and commissioning for others, I still default to self-deprecation for humour, I still turn my declarative statements into questions, I still minimize the work and goodness and grace of God in my life out of fear.
He felt it was a huge blind-spot in my work. Because I am writing about a thorny issue, and because I am nervous about how it will be received, my fear was coming across in my tone more than I realised. And that tone – apologizing, fearful, “hey, here’s an idea…” – was undermining the very message and intent of my work at its very core, disproving my very thesis.
“Sarah, you need to own your authority,” he said to me. “The authority does not come from man, I’ll give you that, but this is a different kind of authority. You need to step into it, babe. This authority comes from the Holy Spirit. God has called you for such a time as this. So start writing like it.”
I felt the jolt of truth from my husband’s words: I have authority for such a time as this, given by the Holy Spirit. As soon as he said that, it was like that birthright rose up in me and said HELL YEAH.
I was reminded of how often people remarked on Jesus’ teaching as one of authority. “We’ve never heard anyone speak or teach like this!” they would say. I highly doubt that first century Palestine was lacking in authoritative men and leaders: so what was the difference with the authority of Jesus? His authority did not derive from the honour of men or from his finely tuned rhetoric or subversive theology, always available in abundance.
No, it was Holy Spirit authority, wasn’t it? It was authority rooted in the love and power of our Abba, not in any other source. It was authority, not for flaunting or power, it was authority for servanthood, for the purpose of giving life and freedom, for the purpose of invitation to God’s way of life, and his Kingdom ways.
So I may not have much authority in my own self, sure. I may not have much authority in the eyes of the world or even the Church, particularly the dwellers of The Table. I may not have authority of rhetoric or debate, arguments or prose, PhDs piled behind my name alongside womens’ studies or biblical literature notations. Even if I get slammed by critics, even if I’m wrong, even if, even worse, no one reads it ever, even if: I want to be faithful. I want to be faithful to the work God has given me to do.
Yet, I have authority, but it’s not my own. it’s the authority of the Holy Spirit, isn’t it? It’s a different authority than what we think: it’s the authority of Love. It’s the authority of grace. It’s the authority of being a daughter of the King. It’s the authority of living loved, walking close to the Father, knowing that when I take a step or make a move, it’s the authority of paying attention to the Voice in my ear, saying this is the way, walk in it, and remaining faithful to that Voice. It’s the authority of Narnia, perhaps, therefore a true privilege, who knows.
But I know this: I want to own it. I want to stand in it.
I went through my beloved heart-won book all over again before I submitted it to the publisher, prayerfully. And every time I deleted one of those undermining sentences or rewrote an entire chapter from the place of Holy Spirit and love-rooted authority, instead of the place of apology and fear, or even a place of man-made authority, I sensed God’s pleasure.
This is His work, not mine, I’m learning to believe it.
I’m learning, slowly, but I’m learning. I’m also laughing a bit ruefully over this from Paul in 2 Corinthians: “Now I, Paul, appeal to you with the gentleness and kindness of Christ—though I realize you think I am timid in person and bold only when I write from far away.”
I hear ya, Paul. Gracious, yes. Hopefully it will also show up in my life, like it shows up in my words.
(P.S. I see the negative of this, too. After all, I come from a charismatic tradition where any one who felt like preaching or teaching was more than welcome to hop on up there and give it a go, claiming a lot of unearned authority. We had a lot of crappy teaching, veering off into Crazytown as a result. So I’m not anti-authority of wisdom and scholarship, elders and community, not at all. That’s not the point.)