Sunday, June 19, 2011

Down the Garden Path?

Okay.  So today (Sunday) makes two weeks in a row when we have not --- gasp --- gone to church.  Except for vacations or illness, I don't know if I can remember a time when we missed church two Sundays in a row.

And here's the embarrassing truth about this situation:  I could get used to this.  Yes, I just said that. Me, a pastor, though now retired. Me, a lifelong church-goer, even before I became a pastor. Me, the mom who prays daily for her kids to love and be an active part of their own church communities. Me, the grandmom who prays daily for the work of the Spirit to be done in each of our eight. 

I said to my husband tonight, "You know, if I could find a weekday church service, I think I might really enjoy worshipping somewhere on a day other than Sunday for a while.  I quite like having Sundays to be quiet, to visit softly with friends and with you.  To take a walk in my sweats and breathe in the beauty of where we live." 

And I think I may even mean that. 

I will never NOT go to church - it's part of my DNA, I think. And I do love worshiping in community on a regular basis. But I gotta tell you, after almost 20 years of working on Sundays, it's been absolutely delightful to have the freedom to say, "Nope.  Not this week." 

This particular Sunday, we had an out-of-town guest, a woman I love dearly and who has been a true soul sister for the last dozen years or so. She moved away from California about six years ago and I miss her. I miss our ability to connect at a deep level very quickly. I miss our shared story-line - each an oldest daughter, tightly connected to our parents, with two younger brothers; each a seminary student at mid-life; each of us working in ministry; and each of us dealing with difficult health situations for our husbands, though both of them are thriving now. 

And most of all, I miss the ways in which we have shared a very similar journey of self-discovery as women of God, called to be leaders in a church that doesn't always welcome women in that role. And it's been an interesting, frustrating, exhilarating, challenging, rewarding story for each of us.

She is back in California to work for a week and needed to take a day off in-between sessions; we were happy to oblige. So Saturday night and Sunday morning were spent in rich conversation, sharing stories of joy and grief, wondering together what the future holds for women in ministry, especially in the more centrist section of the evangelical community. 

Both of us are part of the larger church that bears the covering adjective of "evangelical," each of us located in denominations that ordain women, hold a high view of scripture, and an understanding of mission that includes both a call to repentance and a commitment to social justice.

And both of us can tell stories of stunning pain and rejection coming from the very people who have embraced the idea of women in leadership but who don't always know how to make the practice of it truly work in the day-to-day life of church and academy.  And we wonder.  We wonder, even more than we did when we were in seminary, how will the young women coming up behind us fare? Will there be room for them at the table? Will churches and colleges and universities and hospitals offer them work, recognizing their gifts, affirming their call?

Over these last 20+ years, we have both worked through the biblical texts, we have worked through the early church history, we have worked through our own and others' objections to the reality of God's clear call. And we are both now at the point where we are just plain tired of the discussion.  We are tired of even attempting to make an apology for our presence, for our gifts, for our call. We are tired of the continuing, even, in some quarters, the escalating push-back on this topic. (And I've written about that in an earlier post, found here.)

And here, right here - just now - as I am typing these hard and painful words, I have read Lisa-Jo's blog for tonight.  A wrenchingly gorgeous post about her daughter, her baby girl, her beautiful, beautiful little one. And tears well as I read of her own pain - so familiar to anyone female - her worries about not being enough.  Not beautiful enough, not worthy enough, not enough.  And this, this is what lies at the heart of this 'argument,' this discussion the church has been having the last 40 years.

Are women worthy enough?  Does scripture tell us we're less than?  Does God see us as 'equal but different,' at least in terms of our roles.  And oh, what a loaded word that is. This is the pain of it, the constant rub of it, the anguishing, tear-springing reality of it.  After all the work, the hard, hard work of writing papers, of preaching sermons, of reading complicated texts, of walking beside people in pain and duress, of constantly striving to show that we are worthy of inclusion - will it be enough? 

Quite honestly, I don't know. I hope so. I pray so. I trust so. This much I do know: God is good, God is faithful, God created us, all of us humans, in God's image, "male and female, created he them..." (Genesis 1:27)  and I KNOW that, "In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female." (Galatians 3:28)  And that is enough.

Joining with Michelle on Monday and Jen on Tuesday and Suzannah on Tuesday, too.

so much shouting, so much   laughter