Monday, February 14, 2011

The Woman In Me and the Church

I have struggled with developing a healthy view of femininity for most of my life. I am determined and intelligent and capable of accomplishing many things and of doing them well; my family refers to me as "a mover and a shaker", whatever that means. Yet, despite my qualifications, intellect, and abilities, I can't seem to find my place within the church. It doesn't make sense, really. Each time I try to minister within the body, I cannot get past the gender alarm that screeches, "She's a woman! She shouldn't be allowed to teach men or hold office within the church!" and every time I have asked why I have gotten essentially the same answer, Genesis 3:1-7. Eve fell prey to the serpent's crafty plan and therefore all women should not be trusted with teaching men or in church office. Some gate-keepers gave more carefully worded arguments supported by great theological minds, but essentially it always comes down to this passage in Genesis, the beginning of the powerful, yet powerless woman.

I have heard almost every variation of this argument, but I know that at least one response to this post will still surprise me. Yet, what these people miss is the major implication of that Genesis 3 story: women were made to be powerful influencers.

God made Adam from dust, but Eve He made from bone. He created her to be complex and strong, to give structure to order, to be resilient, to bear a load and be a companion. The serpent picked his target well in the garden. He picked the one that shared a name with God, "Help-Meet", the one who would carry life and vitality within her womb. He picked the one who would think more of her mate than of herself. Many preachers defame Eve saying that she was stupid and couldn't even remember God's ONLY commandment correctly. They don't give her the benefit of the doubt, but I would like to. I have often wondered why Eve gave the fruit to Adam to eat and why she didn't realize what she had done before giving it to him. The answer is there in verse 6, "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate." Putting myself in Eve's shoes, I would think I am giving my husband the best thing I could find. Giving him food that was good for him. Her thought was of her husband and the serpent exploited her natural tendency. The serpent knew that Eve would be seeking Adam's good and knew that was his way in. They ate the forbidden fruit, broke God's law, and sin entered the world. Most preachers ignore this fact, but not in an obvious way. The crafty serpent deceives them as well. Every sermon I have heard on sin entering the world grossly misrepresents what really happened, and yet it took me 18 years to see it for what it really is. Most preachers will indicate that Eve began sinning before the act of eating the fruit. They will argue that Eve "lusted" after the fruit and in so doing, she sinned. But here is the problem, sin didn't begin with lust, it began with disobedience. God never said that they could not look at the tree or admire it, He simply said not to eat of it. And that is what they did, in disobedience. Am I saying that Eve played no role in disobeying God? No. Am I saying that she was a victim of Satan's exploitation of her God-given desires to give her husband the best she could find? Yes. Sin did not originate with humans, that was Satan's creation, he just found a way to pass it along and ruin God's plan. Or at least he made his best effort.

I find that Satan's oppression of women extends far beyond Genesis 3 though. Throughout history, women have been degraded, chained, used, hated, and slapped around. Some would argue that the church is to blame for this, but I do not agree. I think they miss the true culprit behind this misogynistic mindset: Satan. He picked his target in the garden; a way to get at God via the one who shared His name. And the assault continues to this day. Eating disorders, depression, body image, violence against women, equal rights/equal pay, sexual harassment, these are just a few of the ways Satan tries to keep woman, "Help-meet", from knowing her true name. Sadly, these efforts do not stop at church doors. Satan uses Eve's history, the one thing that would stop us in our tracks, to stop us from serving God to our fullest in the church. We agree, saying that the church is right and we shouldn't be trusted, completely forgetting that we have been redeemed from that past.

I think that is why Satan has us running scared. He doesn't want us to live in light of that redemption because if we did, we would be a formidable foe.

I think I am beginning to understand femininity and how beautifully it fits within the body of Christ, the problem it seems, is with the body. It's like only using the right side and letting the left just sit there, useless, burdensome, and wasting. I see so many godly, gifted women in the church who have been told that it's not their place to teach men or hold office, when in their careers they lead (men and women) dynamically. But to the use of these gifts, the church tells them no. Because you are a woman.

I hope and pray that God will begin changing the hearts of church leaders to embrace His name bearers and the distinctly feminine gifts God has given them.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

We are the outsiders

As all my readers know, I am a Christian, but what you probably don't know that I have been struggling with that label for many years. I have seen the church and so-called Christians do things that made me ashamed to identify myself as part of the same group. 

The term Christian evokes a certain stereotype which I try to break, but there is a good reason for stereotypes: they are usually painfully accurate. The stereotypical Christian only listens to "Christian" music, probably has a fish on their car, is a conservative republican, is judgmental, has friends just like them, goes to church every Sunday, wants to marry a pastor (if female), or a Proverbs 31 woman (if male), sees everything in black and white and thinks that Obama is the anti-christ. 

Does this bother any believers out there? It should. It should bother you that the first thing people think when they hear that you are a Christian is "unforgiving", "up tight" and "republican". Why isn't the Christian label associated with compassion, understanding and forgiveness? 

Author Anne Rice recently published a press release stating that she is leaving Christianity. Now, let me be clear, I was surprised to find out she is a believer and not surprised at the reasons why she said she is leaving. She called Christians "quarrelsome" and said she cannot be "anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-science and anti-Democrat". Which is good considering we are to "Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." (Romans 12:9-18)

Why are we so negative that even people who share our beliefs cannot, because of their own conscience, remain within the group? 

I probably will never do anything as drastic as Anne Rice, but her words do make me wonder what is going on with the church these days. I have seen some real hardness of heart from within the church body that genuinely concerns me. The more I learn about social work the more I am convinced that the church has stopped caring about the culture at large, but we have gotten very good at condemning it. Yet what we fail to realize is that we are part of the problem. We have not done the simple things God has called us to do. We think we can do the fixing and make people all better, when really all we try to do is make people just like us. 

My greatest fear is that one day churches will hold all the same people, that there will be no variation within the body because the church killed it.

I continue to feel as though I do not fit into the mold that the Christian label demands: I am a woman who wants a career outside the home, I continue to show grace to my gay friends, I refuse to participate in Obama jokes and I don't claim affiliation with any political party.

I think this song by Needtobreathe sums up my thoughts well:

Shortfalls of little sins 
Close calls and no one wins 
Stand tall but running thin 
I’m wearing thin 

Oh, why are we keeping score? 
Cause if you’re not laughing, 
Who is laughing now? 
I’ve been wondering 
If we stop sinking 
Could we stand our ground? 
And through everything we’ve learned 
We’ve finally come to terms, 
We are the outsiders. 
Oh, we are the outsiders, oh 

I’m not leaving without a fight. 
I got my holster around my side. 
Just ‘cause I’m wrong it don’t make you right. 
No you ain’t right. 

Oh, why are we keeping score? 
Cause if you’re not laughing, 
Who is laughing now? 
I’ve been wondering if we stop sinking, 
Would we stand our ground? 
And through everything we’ve learned, 
We’ve finally come to terms. 
We are the outsiders, 
Oh we are the outsiders, 

On the outside, 
You’re free to roam 
On the outside 
We found it home 
On the outside 
There’s more to see 
On the outside 
We choose to be
On the outside 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Book Review: We the Living

I literally stumbled upon this book in my search for a list of modern classics. I typically don't read books with an original publishing date of later than 1920 (with a few exceptions), and I felt the need to "expand my horizons" so to speak. Expand my horizons it did. I was introduced to new concepts like the "proletarian state" and the "dictatorship of the proletarian" and the use of the term "bourgeoisie" as a pejorative. But more importantly, in this book I found that the human spirit, the God-given drive to live and let live is something that should be cherished and when taken away, life ends in broken spirits, broken bodies, and dulled minds.

The book opens on Kira Argounova (the protagonist) and her family returning to Saint Petersburg, then called Petrograd, at the end of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1922 and the beginning of the bloody rule of Communism. Kira, a bright girl with a sharp mind, decides to attend the Technical Institute to become an engineer. Being the daughter of a "capitalist bourgeoisie" later prevents her dream from being realized because of "purges" in the educational system. The "purge" simply meant that any students whose parents were formerly employers of the masses were expelled from universities and forced to either take government jobs or starve. But Kira refuses to give in to the philosophy that dictates that individuals have no meaning and should do nothing, not even think for themselves, but serve the state. Kira struggles against the Communist tide that sought to overpower her and those she loved. At the beginning of the book (part 1), Kira effectually proclaims to her family and to her classmates, "I will not cease to think! I will not go quietly into the blackness of thoughtless, meaningless submission and sacrifice my humanity for the masses." This ultimately played a part in her struggle for survival. In part 2, we see the curtain open on an older Kira. A woman who knows the power of love for another, the kind of love that would cause her to turn from, "I will not cease to think!" to "Don't think!" simply to save the one she loves more than her own soul, yet that love in the end is not returned. Kira is faced with the harsh reality that she cannot save anyone from the poison of a dead spirit, they have to save themselves. 

As I read this book, I realized how much I take for granted. I sit here, stretched out on my favorite comfy "writing couch", in an apartment that I can call both home and mine, waiting to finish a master degree, using my computer to write these words to you. And all this I do freely of my own volition because I am alive. Life, how often I do not realize its value! 
This essentially is the core theme of We the Living: the sanctity of human life. I think this is why this book resonates so strongly with me.This is the very reason I have decided to go into the field of social work. Every life is valuable, no it is invaluable. It cannot be priced, bar-coded, or measured by length, social standing, or fame because every life brings with it the unspoken promise of something. I believe each person has an individual something they bring with them and with it bless the lives of others. 
But here is where We the Living falls silent, it does not offer any explanation of what makes human life precious. I do not know if the author, Ayn Rand, believed in God or not, but if she did she would have been able to give a reason for the sanctity of human life. We are created in the image of the Creator God and we are the only beings that can claim that truth. That, in my mind, is what gives life its value.
When people stop believing in the value of life, evil raises its ugly head. Lenin killed his millions, Stalin his hundreds of millions simply because they valued social gain over human life (ironically). Men who held to a philosophy that claimed to bring equality and peace brought inequality, fear, bloodshed, and war. 

What I took away from reading this book can best be described in two ways, first: the pendulum never swings to the middle. I will leave the full explanation of this to the physicists, but we all know it has something to do with the law of gravity: what goes up, must come down. 
The second is well articulated by Kira and reverberates within my soul,"Now look as me! Take a good look! I was born and I knew I was alive and I knew what I wanted. What do you think is alive in me? Why do you think I'm alive? Because I have a stomach and eat and digest the food? Because I breathe and work and produce more food to digest? Or because I know what I want, and that something which knows how to want- isn't that life itself? And who--in this damned universe--who can tell me why I should live for anything but for that which I want? Who can answer that in human sounds that speak for human reason?...But you've tried to tell us what we should want. You came as a solemn army to bring a new life to men. You tore that life you knew nothing about, out of their guts--and you told them what it had to be. You took their every hour, every minute, every nerve, every thought in the farthest corners of their souls--and you told them what it had to be. You came and you forbade life to the living. You've driven us all into an iron cellar and you've closed all doors, and you've locked us airtight till the blood vessels of our spirits burst! Then you stare and wonder what it's doing to us. Well, then look! All of you who have eyes left--look!"

I have heard it said that good literature is read by the masses, but great literature works its way past bone and marrow and touches ones soul. By that definition, I would say We the Living is great literature.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Equality Now

I'm a little bit of a feminist. I'm not talking about feminazis or the bra-burners, but if I could go back in time I would stand next to Sojourner Truth and echo "Ain't I a woman?"

I couldn't agree more with Joss Whedon when he says that misogyny is not a true part of the human condition and that it takes away from our quality of life. Men and women were created equal, different, but equal. That equality, when it is fully realized, is such a beautiful thing and lives are changed. Right now, Iran is holding a woman, Sakineh, for supposedly committing adultery. There is a large campaign going on to save this woman from stoning and death. Iran has a long history of violence against women and it is time for that to end.

Why are women so often the focus of hate around the world? More often than not, women are viewed as dangerous. They are painted as the reason that sin came into the world and as a stumbling block to holiness and righteousness. Well here is some news, they are right in thinking that women are dangerous. Yes, we are dangerous because we have love, life, warmth, healing, gentleness, and strength within us and to those who spew hatred, those things are very dangerous.
Yet this effort to make women less than what they are does not end with the overt efforts of injustice by countries like Iran. No, our own American culture continues its own attempts neuter women to make them just like men, or at least a little less womanly. In today's culture, women are told that in order to be successful, you must be cold and calculating, unfeeling and self-focused. A successful woman will look no different from a man. I beg to differ. A successful woman is loving, warm, concerned with the welfare of others, eager to help others, and able to withstand the worst that life can throw at her. I know many such women, yet none of them would be labeled "successful" by our cultural standards. Perhaps what needs to be changed is our definition of success, from being an ideal to the reality of being who we are, completely and truthfully.

"Because equality is not a concept. It is not something we should be striving for. Equality is a necessity. Equality is like gravity, we need it to be able to stand on this earth as men and women. And the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition, it is life out of balance and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who is confronted with it. We need equality, kinda now." -Joss Whedon

Monday, July 5, 2010

International Justice Mission

Hello everyone, I realize it has been a while since I've posted, for which I apologize I have been quite busy since my semester ended. Now to pick up where I left off. I want to share some information about an organization called International Justice Mission (IJM). 

"International Justice Mission is a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. IJM lawyers, investigators and aftercare professionals work with local governments to ensure victim rescue, to prosecute perpetrators and to strengthen the community and civic factors that promote functioning public justice systems.
IJM's justice professionals work in their communities in 12 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America to secure tangible and sustainable protection of national laws through local court systems." 
But that is just a snap shot of what they do. They also provide rehabilitation for individuals rescued from the sex slave trade and give them skills training to give them jobs to keep them from being victimized again. The work IJM does in each country is truly extraordinary because it is lead by nationals, not Americans who do not know the language and culture. This is what sets IJM apart from so many other "good will" organizations like the Red Cross or Samaritans Purse. IJM is not a group of doe-eyed Americans wanting to make life better for the less fortunate, it is an international group of legal professionals who know the political, legal, and cultural climate of countries like India, Romania, etc that work to free victims of violent crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice. Essentially, IJM brings freedom and empowerment to the victimized so that they are victims no more and equips them to be strong members of their communities. 
IJM places an emphasis on holistic care, meaning they care for a persons body, mind, and soul, as well as the environment and community the person resides in. This emphasis is what has drawn me to this organization and is the reason I want to work for them in the future. I have a great deal of respect for this organization and all they have accomplished over the last decade. If you want to learn more about IJM and the work they are doing around the world, visit : and read the accounts of those who were helped by IJM. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What is a Social Worker?

I realized today that I have neglected to write about social work! I apologize and will try to make up for it.

For some of my readers the above question may sound a little boring, but trust me, even social workers don't know the full extent of their own field of practice because it is constantly expanding. Most people associate social workers with child protection agencies who come into the home and tear families apart, but that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what a social worker does.

The best definition I have heard is that a social worker is a resource. Social workers are community based and are charged with knowing about community resources, such as transportation for the disabled, translation services for the hearing impaired (sign language), support groups for substance abusers and their families, job services for criminals on parole, counseling services, etc. This list could go on and on, but basically social workers are there to help people who don't know where to turn, or maybe they have fallen in a "gap" inbetween services and don't know what to do, or maybe they just need some basic education about something they are facing but don't know who to talk to. A social workers job is to reach out and meet the needs of individuals and organizations in their community. This can be done through a variety of different ways, for example, a school social worker is charged with helping students and their families with needs related to school involvement. When issues arise that are outside that realm, the social worker is expected to know who to refer too and still expected to follow the situation to provide any assistance the family or individual might need.

Let me give a historical example of what a social worker does by talking about one of the most famous social workers, Jane Adams. In 1889, Jane and a friend started a settlement house in Chicago now known as Hull House. This was a place that immigrants (mostly Polish) came and learned skills such as sewing, reading, writing, health care, and received training in English taught by prestigious professors from neighboring universities. All at no cost to participants. Hull House continued to grow over the years to serve over 2,000 people every week, ranging in age from toddlers to older adults. Hull House became a well known community resource that everyone, not just Polish immigrants, used.

Hopefully that gives you a better understanding of what it is that social workers do. Any time someone experiences a transition in their life, like a baby being born, a diagnosis of cancer, or the passing of a loved one, a social worker would be equipped to help you navigate that transition, or if they can't they at least would know of or be able to find someone who could. Social workers can be found in almost every field, education, different types of industry, buisness, research, they have an effect on legislation, immigration, social services, medical and health care related fields, counseling, mental health, etc. And this list is constantly expanding.

Now you might be wondering, with all the possibilities, what I plan to do with my social work degree. That is the beauty of social work, I have many different interests and just as many possibilies. I am looking into the possibility of doing research in the field, right now I am interning at a gerontological doctor's office (a doctor who specializes in people over age 65) which I really enjoy, I also have a background in working with people with disabilities and would like to do some disability advocacy and help reform ADA legislation. I would like to work for International Justice Mission to help rehabilitate women and children who have been freed from the sex slave trade. And international adoptions interest me, as well as educating foster parents about being a foster parent. I would also like to work on a church staff as a church social worker to help coordinate services within the church and coordinate efforts of the church to meet the needs of the community. This and so much more!

I hope this gives my readers a better picture of what a social worker does. If you have any questions feel free to ask, or if you have been helped by a social worker I would love to hear your story. Take some time to check out the links. I will be spot lighting IJM in my next post because they really are a phenomenal organization.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bible College Knowledge But She's Still Got Book

I know, random title but it was the first thing that popped in my head as I sat down to write this. I'm going to tie it in, I promise, just stick with me.

This is my third week of fasting and praying and God has shown me more about myself than anything else. I realized something as I was praying the other day: I am a very cerebral person. I'm sure all my readers already know this fact, but to be honest I have been a little oblivious. My prayers, up to this point, have been very theologically sound, very focused on God and his character, and very full of Scripture, and yet I still have felt that I am not...connecting. Like I am talking to a professor instead of a friend. 

That's when it hit me, prayer is relational. Why? Because God is a relational God. How do I know that God is relational? Let's start at the beginning, Genesis 3:8 "And they heard the sound of the LORD* God walking in the garden in the cool of the day..." Can you imagine? What would it have sounded like to hear the Creator God walking in the garden? And this all powerful Creator was looking for Adam and Eve. God, Elohim (meaning: God as Creator, Preserver, Transcendent, Mighty and Strong), came looking for those created in his image. He wanted to be with them, talk with them, listen to them, and wanted them to be with him. He wanted his creation to enjoy his presence up close and personal. Then we find out the sad truth, "..and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?'"  This hits me all over again as I type this, the divine "but". That word is key here because God already knew that Adam and Eve had sinned. He knew exactly where they were and why they were hiding, he didn't need Adam to tell him because God is all knowing, seeing the hearts of men (1 Samuel 16:7, Psalm 51:9-10).

BUT GOD, what wonderful words! Acts 10:39-41, Acts 13:29-31, Romans 5:7-9, 1 Corinthians 1:26-28,  1 Corinthians 7:6, 2 Timothy 2:19, "BUT GOD being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our sins has made us alive together with Christ- by grace you have been saved" Ephesians 2:4-5.

Second, lets look at Jesus for proof of God's personalness. My favorite passage in Luke could be used here (Luke 7:11-16), but instead I want to cite John 4:5-26- the passage known as the woman at the well. Jesus, the very Son of God who was yet fully God and fully man, spoke to this woman who was half Jew. Now, understanding the cultural context is key. Women were not valued in this time period, and Samaritans were looked upon as mongrels- dirty half-bloods. Jesus spoke to this woman in love, not condemnation, to open her eyes to truth and forgiveness. Jesus already knew her and how she lived. He did not need her to tell him about herself, but he wanted her to tell him. (He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back." 17"I have no husband," she replied.
   Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. 18The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.") 

I feel as though I have lost this sense of a personal God. Not a god that I can make into my own image, but a God who is never changing, knows me down to the very hairs on my head, and yet wants to hear about my daily struggles. I went to a small Bible College where I learned many things, I learned the importance of exegesis, how to study the Scriptures, apologetics, and even how to ask questions. One thing I forgot to do was to connect my head with my heart. I think this is one of the big reasons why I do not understand prayer. In order to "get" prayer, I need to reconnect with the One to whom I am praying. Just as in Hebrews 4, my great high priest knows every depth of what I feel and think, BUT he wants to hear it from me.