if the church were a basketball court

There’s a wonderful promotional video out for the Harding University Lady Bisons Basketball season. I love the way these athletes are celebrated for the skill, their physical strength, their determination and their team spirit. I love the way that they flex their muscles and glare at the camera and celebrate their victories. I love the way that they are supported by their school and the way they support each other.

I can’t wait for my girls to step out onto the court or the field or the diamond with that kind of confidence in their own skill and strength. And I want them to carry that confidence everywhere else they go. Because it doesn’t just belong on the court.

And that’s an easy sentiment to agree with, until I ask, can’t we celebrate this same strength and competence and skill and desire and effort in the church, too?

(Further reading: if the church were a soccer field.)

What’s New: a report on ACU Summit 2013

For those of you who couldn’t make it, or who, like me, were there all too briefly and missed some of the wonderful offerings at ACU Summit this year, I have compiled a list of sessions by men and women addressing the topic of gender justice in our churches. There were also several classes taught by women on various topics within their expertise (homiletics, spiritual disciplines, child psychology, ethics and racial justice, etc.) and this is, if anything, more exciting! (And, if there are sessions that I somehow missed in this list that I should add, please let me know!)

Recordings of sessions will be available to order here.

 

“Gender and Grace in the Body of Christ,” Sara Barton & Gary Selby (3 parts)

“How to Preach to Women,” Amy Bost Henegar (3 parts)

“Welcoming Jesus: Moving Children from the Margins and Into the Midst,” Dana Pemberton

“Voices in the Margins: Edges Defined by Race,” Tanya Smith Brice (2 parts)

“Luke According to the Professor and the Preacher,” Josh Graves & Lauren Smelser White (3 parts)

“Women Still on the Margins,” Stanley Helton

“Who is in Charge Here Anyway?: A Personal Journey,” Steve Sandifer (2 parts)

“A History of Women in Ministry in Churches of Christ: Women Exhorters, Deacons and Missionaries,” Lynn Mitchell (2 parts)

“Does ‘All Flesh’ Mean Me?” D’Esta Love (2 parts)

“Pushing Jesus Off a Cliff: The Church’s Response to Women,” Curt Niccum (part 3 of 3)

“Charis Project Presents: Race, War and Gender,” Doug Foster (2 parts)

“Going Out (of Bounds): Dating Violence in American Culture,” Chelsie Sargent

“Dislocated Exegesis: How Where You Read the Bible Influences How You Read It,” Kasey McCollum

What’s New: Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Today We Are Closer”

Nadia Bolz-Weber is the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, an ELCA mission church in Denver, Colorado. She’s a leading voice in the emerging church movement and her writing can be found in The Christian Century and Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics blog. She is author of Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television (Seabury 2008) and the Sarcastic Lutheran blog. Her theological memoir, Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint (Jericho, 2013) comes out in September of 2013.

The following reflection was written on the election of Elizabeth Eaton as Presiding Bishop, and first published at Huffington Post.

 

Today We Are Closer: Lutherans Elect First Female Bishop

When I was 12 years old, and still wearing white sandals to church, all of the Sunday school teachers in our church suddenly were men, instead of women. Like a gendered, ecclesial, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s not that the women who were our Sunday school teacher became men, or anything as interesting as that — it’s that their positions were taken by men. It wasn’t until years later that I realized this was because 12 was the age at which boys were considered to be men (a ludicrous idea), and women, according to 1 Timothy were not permitted to teach men. Therefore 12-year-old boys in the Church of Christ had more authority than grown-ass women. Now, at age 44, I have a 12-year- old-boy of my own and while he is an amazing creature with a body full of energy and a mind full of Doctor Who episodes, he is no man.

Teaching Sunday school to 12-year-old boys was far from the only thing forbidden to those with a particular set of plumbing. The women in my church, born female like myself, and yet old, wiser, stronger than me, and those to whom I looked to see an image of my future self as old, wise and strong, could not preach, or pray aloud in front of men, of even be an usher. Yes, Church of Christ women did not have the “authority” to hand a man a bulletin in church but did have the authority to hand him a plate of fried chicken and potato salad an hour later at the church potluck. Weird.

Today, 32 years after watching the women in my church faithfully do what they were allowed, I watched about 1,000 people in Pittsburg at the church-wide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America faithfully elect Elizabeth Eaton, a woman, to be the Presiding Bishop, the leader of the largest Lutheran denomination in America. She succeeds the faithful and fiercely gracious leadership of Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. (I know that the big story is that a woman was elected but what is equally remarkable is that the excitement about the new bishop was only matched by the affection for the out-going bishop).

The Lutherans elected a woman Presiding Bishop. That, is huge.

Now, normally I cringe when asked to speak about being a “woman in ministry” wanting, as I do, to live in a post-gender world, a world where the election of Elizabeth Eaton is celebrated because she is an extraordinary leader (which she is) and not because her gender is, in anyway, interesting or worthy of comment. But we don’t live in that world and here’s why: while there are women pioneers in other male-dominated fields and careers that historically have been forbidden to women, like medicine and law, there are not hospitals all over the country when women are still forbidden to practice medicine. There are not courtrooms all over the country where you still cannot argue a legal case were you born female. But as we know, there are still countless churches across the country where women, like myself and Elizabeth Eaton, would not be allowed to preach. As much as I long to never again be asked to speak about being a woman in ministry, and as much as I want the day to come when the gender of clergy is not in any way interesting, we are not there yet. There are still little girls in white, Sunday school shoes who will never hear a voice that is like theirs speak the Gospel, who will never see curves like the ones they will have under the robes of the one raising bread and wine behind an altar and speaking ancient, holy words of promise and forgiveness, who will never know without reservation that she is made in the image of God in all her glorious girl-ness.

But today, today we are closer. And this makes me want to put on white sandals and dance in all my glorious girl-ness… in my clergy shirt.

What’s New: history & milestones

Yes, for those of you paying attention, this was already announced this via the gal328 Facebook page. But I want to take a moment to mark the importance of these additions to the site, because the history of gal328.org, and the larger history of gender justice in the Restoration Movement and Churches of Christ of which it is a part, teach us something about who we are as a fellowship.

Many of us who are here now became a part of gal328.org when Lance, Katie, Chris, Mary Lou, and Joe first launched it. Those of us who were around back then remember what an oasis the site was–not simply a place to further explore the Bible on issues of gender, but a place to ask the questions we couldn’t voice without trepidation elsewhere. This site exists because of their work. It exists because Chris and Mary Lou continue, as they have since 2005, to financially support the site. It exists because of the dedication and persistent hope of many, many people. Read that story here.

And then read the timeline Chris and others have put together recording the milestone events for gender justice in our churches. This is the larger story that we join our efforts to, and it begins, not 2001, but c. 1810.

This is our story, and we should know all of it.

The Fierce Urgency of Now: Contemplative Justice

 Natalie Dunn Magnusson holds a degree in Youth and Family Ministry from Abilene Christian University and an MA in Spiritual Formation and Leadership from Spring Arbor University. She is Director of Spiritual Formation for the Masters program in Missional Leadership at Rochester College, Adjunct Instructor at Spring Arbor University, and serves on the board of the Women in Ministry Network.This was first presented at the 2013 Christian Scholars Conference session, ”The Fierce Urgency of Now: Strategies for Social Change Within the Churches of Christ.”

 

Social issues are highly spiritual issues, as Walter Wink, William Stringfellow, and others have reminded us. Our love of God is deeply interwoven with our love of people, and so how we engage these social issues reveals much about our lives with God. I imagine that many of us gathered in this room are already in tune with God’s call for justice and are passionate about seeing social change come to fruition, but I believe we need to be just as concerned about what happens along the way, not just the end result of justice. So, as I’ve been thinking about the title of this session, The Fierce Urgency of Now, I want to caution us about how “fierce urgency” might instill in us a reckless and possibly aggressive posture as we stimulate social change. We must avoid becoming oppressive in our endeavors to eradicate oppression. I, along with many other women in the Churches of Christ, long to be included in the public life of the church sooner rather than later. I am on board with fierce urgency, but I also believe we need to take time to be mindful of a few things: first, God is the source of justice, second, there are some intentional practices that will ground our actions for justice, and third, our work for justice is for the sake of God in this world.

Our empowerment for justice must be rooted in and flow from lives that are lived with God. We cannot engage these issues on our own. We’re up against deeply rooted structures and systems that have been in effect since long before we ever existed. The labor of justice, the setting of things as they should be, is really God’s work, and we are wise to remember our position in this. I think about how in Acts we see the Holy Spirit so clearly and actively involved in the inclusion of the Gentiles. It was God who initiated that kind of justice and saw it to completion, and thankfully there were some individuals attentive and willing to respond to the movement and nudging of God. In a similar fashion, we need to step back and allow God’s Spirit to have a primary role in this unfolding story of gender inclusion and other social changes that are taking place in our churches. This is not our story. This is God’s story. Our posture has to be, first and foremost, confessional and dependent on the power of God. In suggesting this stance, however, I’m not implying that we have to sit back and wait for a white sheet to fall from the sky. Rather, I’m advocating for a rhythm of praxis and reflection, or action and contemplation, where we are in the habit of regularly stopping and prayerfully considering what has occurred and how God is calling us to participate next.

So as a part of the rhythm of action and contemplation, I believe there are five practices we can engage. These will help us to discern what God is already up to in our world and will guard us from becoming that which we detest. We practice these disciplines not because we believe that it is by our efforts alone that change happens, but because we trust that when we open up space, God’s Spirit will come in and do the transformative work in us and through us. Many of these practices are passive and not actively making justice happen. They do, however, serve the imperative role of grounding our actions towards justice. The quiet rhythms of our lives must be supportive of the active rhythms of our lives.

1. One of the most foundational practices is silence. It helps us to listen more than to speak both in our prayers and in our engagement with others. Silence creates the conditions for justice to unfold, as well as, prevents us from running over people with our speech, which could easily become another form of violence.

2. The second discipline I recommend is that we practice lectio divina with people who hold beliefs contrary to ours. This is not the same as studying and dissecting scripture; rather it’s a way of listening to and noticing what God is up to in the text, in the lives of other people, and in the world. Dwelling with individuals who offer a diversity of perspectives will open us up to their voices and will assist us at other points as we seek to have challenging discourses concerning social issues (as we seek to create “positive peace,” McCarty). And hopefully, in turn, it will open them up to our viewpoints and understandings. We do not necessarily need to dwell in the traditional gender texts or hot button texts together. We simply should practice being in a variety places in scripture with people other than our likeminded friends.

3. Another habit is the regular rhythm of Sabbath, where we stop our anxious busyness and recognize that we are not God. Sabbath is an intentional relinquishment of power, and a valuable routine in a world where the temptation for power is fierce and palpable. Sometimes overlooked, the command of Sabbath in the Old Testament had direct social implications, for they were to give their slaves, aliens, and animals rest, so that they too might be refreshed. And this causes me to wonder what we might have to discover today about the direct social implications of Sabbath rest.

4. The fourth discipline is the prayer of the examen that is often practiced each evening. It’s a prayer that prompts us to notice our consolations and desolations from the day. The examen helps us to see patterns of where we are both giving and receiving life and death in our world and is useful in detecting how we are being formed as we engage God’s work of justice.

 5. And fifth I suggest the practice of restraint. We live in a world of instant gratification and immediate response. So, rather than always caving to the impulse of responding immediately, I believe it is beneficial to set up parameters for ourselves that create time and space before we offer something in return. And in this interim, it is helpful to ask ourselves questions like, “Am I wanting to respond in order to assert power over the other?” or, “Do I notice that I am being anxious and fearful about something and wanting to respond out of that feeling?” or, “What are the greater implications of a particular kind of response?” The only caution with this practice is that we cannot allow so much time to elapse before we respond that it becomes one more form of power over the other and induces anxiety in them.

I want to close by emphasizing two things. First, these practices are not primarily about our formation as individuals or about our own personal agendas for social justice, as grand as they may be. The church exists for the sake of God in this world. Our individual decisions have communal implications. They impact people and their understandings of God in ways that cannot possibly be known. Our daily decisions afford us the opportunity to give life, as well as, take away life from other people. This is a high and holy calling. We are participants in God’s work of making all things new in this world. So how we go about social justice, not just the end result, bears witness to a God who is reconciling the world to God’s self. We are ministers of reconciliation. In spurring social change, we are taking risks, people are getting hurt, and reconciliation will be an integral part of this work. How we handle this reconciliation before a watching world is just as significant as achieving justice in the end.

Lastly, I want to reiterate that while these rhythms might seem to slow us down and work against a life actively in pursuit of social change, they actually help the work of justice not be just one more impetuous action driven by fear and power. Our moves of justice must be grounded in our identity in God and in God’s ultimate vision for justice in our world, and that takes time.

 

 

 

 

 

Voices of Experience: Making a Way to Faithful, by Dr. Samjung Kang-Hamilton

From the Global Women Connecting blog: Dr. Samjung Kang-Hamilton reflects on an extraordinary walk with a faithful God.

Adjunct Professor of Religious Education and Children’s Ministry, Dr. Kang-Hamilton teaches and does research on the partnership between churches and families in the spiritual formation of children, youth, and adults.  She also studies and lectures on issues in cross-cultural ministry, women’s ministry, and international ministry.  A native of South Korea, she has worked with a Churches of Christ mission team there.  In the United States, she has served in churches in New England and has taught in the public schools of Newton, Massachusetts.  She provided leadership in the Korean-American community in the Boston area.  She is an active member of the University Church of Christ in Abilene.