Through a glass darkly

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)KJV

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

More On The Journey From Hierarchicalism to Biblical Egalitarianism

On The View From Her blog one of the posters asked me the question "what's the driving force behind the evangelical egalitarian movement?"

My Answer: "While I do not consider myself a spokeswoman for the entire evangelical egalitarian movement, I can answer briefly what drives me. God has called me to use my callings and gifts for His kingdom in the most effective way possible."
I cited my earlier post here about having to stand before God and give an account of my use of the "talent" entrusted to me by the Master.

What this means, as far as my ministry is concerned, is that I believe I am not limited to serving only in those roles traditionally considered "acceptable" for women - teaching children or other women, helping in the nursery or kitchen, writing notes of encouragement, visiting the sick, stuffing church bulletins, or polishing church furniture.

A traditionalist might ask why I wouldn't be content to perform any of the aforementioned tasks, but the simple reason you will rarely see me doing any of these is that I'm lousy at them. Not one of these activities is something that I have enjoyed doing or shown much gifting in.

Although I do believe that I have the gift of teaching, I never had much patience for teaching small children (eventhough I did it for about 4 years) and many of the women I have ministered with over the years have accused me of being too "intimidating" to have a credible small group or one-on-one ministry to women. The "intimidation" factor stems from my choice of career path and technological knowledge (engineering), my marital status (never-married single), my lack of having children and the fact that I am definitely not your average "foo-foo" gal- all of which leads to a lack of common ground with them and hence, "intimidation." I have instead been better off teaching High School and College students who do not expect me to be like them and are intimidated by an adult authority figure anyway. I prefer to work in groups with men at church because it's what I do all day at work anyway; I understand and speak their language (I often say that I'm truly bilingual -I speak both "man" and "woman" language).

So you see, if I were limited to so-called "women's work", I'd have very little to do for God's kingdom. I have seen women with gifts of preaching, gifts of exhortation, prophecy, the gift to pastor, to be an evangelist and they have used those gifts to edify both men AND women. Yet, we do not interpret God's Word by our experience and it must not contradict what God has already spoken.

To me the evidence that God intended women to remain on the sidelines in supporting roles while men did all the heavy lifting in the kingdom of God was not as compelling as the evidence for our working together, side by side as men and women. The Scriptures that seem to restrict women from certain roles can be argued as not being applicable beyond their specific cultural context by exegetes as faithful to the authority of God's Word as those opposed. We are told in Galatians 3:28 that in Christ there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free. Women are commended in the Bible for prophesying, teaching men (Priscilla teaching Apollos),and leading (Phoebe, Deborah). The Holy Spirit does not distribute gifts based on gender, but as He wills for purpose and glory of God.

To the man who asked me I said, "As a man you should be concerned with this subject[of Women in Ministry], because if you are wrong in holding a more restrictive role for women, you might be hindering the work of Christ. In any case, you should be fully convinced in your own mind of your position by the best evidence available and not merely influenced by preconceived notions of what 'you've always heard' about the role of women."

I invite every serious follower of Christ to accept this challenge, not necessarily to believe what I have said, but to study it for yourself and decide.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Women in Ministry: The Journey From Hierarchicalism to Biblical Egalitarianism

Perhaps as a disclaimer on this subject of Women in Ministry, I should inform my readers that I was once a hierarchicalist (not even a Complementarian, as some Traditionalists prefer to be and are more accurately described) in my views as youngster. I had been highly influenced by my High School/College Pastor who had been a devotee of John MacArthur. The view was that women were not to minister to any male over the age of 12, not to teach, not to lead. As a young adult in my mid -twenties, I sought to have an overseas missionary stripped of her support by our church because she'd had the audacity to be ordained by my denomination and was then a Reverend. (Fortunately, I calmed down when they explained to me that it was so she could better serve the people "over there")

At first, I rebelled against the notion of a restriction; afterall, I had been a student leader and led worship in Junior High(everybody played in guitar and led worship in the group). In High School, all that stopped for all the girls even before we had that particular youth pastor. It didn't bother me too much, but then again I wasn't all that interested in following Jesus, anyway. When I finally did return to a serious commitment to Christ my Junior year in college, I wasn't quite concerned with ministry beyond my female peers, high school girls or small children. Eventhough I was studying engineering at CSULB, I was very much open to the idea of being a missionary with Campus Crusade or getting married and having kids.

My College/Singles Pastor's successor held nearly equally restrictive views on women in ministry so those ideas were reinforced in me even more. As the Lord changed my plans from both missionary work AND marriage (long story for another time and place), I began to move into my engineering career and into those "allowable" roles for me within the church. Around that same time, we had a change in our Senior Pastorate. One of my dear friends and mentor served on the search committee and had warned me that the candidate had "liberal views on women in ministry". "Aha", I thought, "I will skewer him."

I remember pointing my little finger at him during the "meet the Senior Pastor Candidate Q&A" and asking how he could be such a heretic to hold that women could be pastors. He challenged me to read "the other side" that was held by men and women who believed in biblical authority as much as I claimed to. If you know me at all, this was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. A half dozen books later (books by Catherine Clark Kroeger, Rebecca Groothius, Alvera Mickelsen, Craig Keener, to name a few) and I was strongly egalitarian.

Although there were many persuasive biblical arguments on both sides, one of the most spiritually compelling for me at the time was found in Kari Torjesen Malcom's "Women At The Crossroads". Ms. Malcom, who grew up as a missionary in a foreign country, posited the idea, quoting Fredrik Franson, founder of The Evangelical Alliance Mission, that it was to Satan's advantage and perhaps even his strategy to convince two-thirds of the converted world in the church of Jesus Christ (the women) to be "exclude[d]...from participation in the Lord's service through evangelization. The loss for God's cause is so great that it can hardly be described." Such a waste not to utilize their (& our)spiritual giftedness to the utmost out of a fear of potentially disobeying the Lord's intended order for the church.

I looked at this situation in light of Jesus' parable of the talents, where the harshest rebuke was reserved for the wicked servant who, instead of risking his talent in an investment for his master, buried it in the ground. His "excuse" for not doing anything was basically "I didn't want to do anything that would get you mad at me if I made a wrong choice"; that didn't fly with the master at all.

If people who are honestly committed to following Jesus and faithfully upholding His Word can both, in good conscience, disagree, then I will take the risk, doing as much as I feel called and gifted to do by His grace. If when I stand before the Lord Jesus Christ and find that I have overstepped the role He assigned to me, I will accept that my deeds for Him will burn as wood, hay and stubble. I shudder to think of the disapproval for me and others who haven't been all we could be if I am correct, though. It's kind of a "Here I stand, I can do no other' position.

Since then of course, I have read even more on the subject that reinforces my "conversion"; yet, I think like everything else we believe, there are those moments when we decide to stake out a position and little can be done to move us out of it. If I had adopted my position by ignoring biblical authority , as some who promote practicing homosexual clergy are intent to do, I would be in grave peril and would fear the very idea of posting my thoughts.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Reflections of a Single Parent

The following is an excerpt from a friend's email to me. With her permission I have published it here as she does not yet have her own blog.

"It's amazing through all of the disappointment of my failed marriage, to this day I struggle to find where my former husband was any kind of a leader, provider or protector of our family, but I simply can't. Divorce recovery takes a long time and I hope some day I will be able to help our growing community of single parent families. If I try to do that now I would simply be taking away time from [my daughter] and that is not an option. Alas, my heart is the right place for knowing there is a ministry for me to help, but my young daughter absolutely comes first. I love that my priority is in the right place and in the meatime I will be out there getting better educated on the subject.

What is amazing throughout the last several years is that regardless of those moments of self-pity (sorry), I always came back to the fact that Jesus Christ is the leader, protector and provider of my family, He loves me more than I imagine, and He is the best most compassionate friend when I confess my struggles to Him.

I read the site connections as well about how singles are viewed as temptations or threats. While I agree that is an ugly reality for singles, I'm not sure that includes single mothers. Single mothers seem to be kept socially at a long arm's length because their needs are so great and they are viewed as burdens, and I don't believe the same prejudices are held for single fathers. Social conversations with single moms after church are often short and sugar-coated so [my child] doesn't come across as a burden, and not lose the little amount of socialization she gets. Beyond that, there is no denying [that with]the demands of {my daughter's} day, marrieds and [those with] extended families are better able to manage .

I remember an email I got a few months ago from our Brownie Troop leader regarding a mandatory parent meeting at 8:30 on a Thursday night and the message read "only one parent need attend". Ooh, shamefully I did not take the high road in my reply: "Since I AM the only parent, 8:30PM is out of the question". This is the same mom that gave me grief last year and said that she works too (2 days a week).I have a long way to go! I don't mind my walk alone with Jesus Christ, it's actually a sweet place to be because He is the most wonderful constant in my life.

I have been subject of strange behavior and conversations lately, though. It's been three years and I have finally, quietly let my coworkers [be]aware of the situation. I wish I hadn't said anything but the interjections here and there about my spouse, when there is none, were getting old. One of the guys means well but cannot keep his mouth shut and since he has spurted out some weird comments. Another guy, who was my boss at [my former company] and didn't realize the situation, went on a rant about how he was offered an opportunity to consider managing an estimating department out in [another site, going] on and on about how the entire department was nothing but single mothers and what a hassle that would be. There are a lot of demands on single mothers and I'm sorry that our status implies we too are a such a hassle! No matter what our status is, there are perceptions far and wide. You really didn't need that raise or promotion - you don't have a family to support!

The director of education [of my church] finally replied this week and said my note made her think again about how to reach single parent families and singles in general in our congregation. Whatever happens, it won't happen over night..."

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Search for Me

Recently, I challenged one of my young friends who is a denizen of the My Space form of blogging to try to find my own My Space site. I established a fairly anonymous one to better observe my high school students's postings (see my comments on a previous post - Blogging for God? as to why.) I have told my students that I do this as a means to remind them that they never know who might be reading their sites and "would you feel comfortable knowing your Sunday School teacher is?"

Anyway, the challenge expanded to also discover my Xanga site (which I use to communicate with a missionary friend) and this one. Should she find all three, I am to reward her with her favorite Starbucks beverage. So far, it has provided a worthy challenge for her, so we shall see.

One reason that is difficult for her at all is that I do not use my last name anywhere within the blogs. I do this for various reasons -the nature of my work and the culture of my company, the fact that I am a single woman. I also have a unique last name that less than 100 people in the USA share. When I had some outstanding blessings enter my life last year, my name was "splashed" over the national television, print and internet media. This led to numerous letters, phone calls and e-mails from folks who had easily found me knowing only my name and city, people I did not know from Adam, deciding that I needed to share my blessings with them. Despite Andy Warhol's claim that people only get 15 minutes of fame, my identity is still out there to be Googled and found for years to come.

So dear friends in the blogworld, now you know more about the mysterious Ann.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thanksgiving

Yesterday, our first service worship leader Mark, was relating how Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday because it was the only one of the major religious holidays (Christmas and Easter being the other two) that hadn't been completely hijacked by crass secular materialism. There is no corresponding Santa Claus or Easter Bunny figure for the holiday and even the most non-religious person will, prior to indulging in the gluttonous feast, offer some words of "thanks". (to Whom? is the real question)

I do love Thanksgiving as well, but perhaps for a slightly different reason. Yes, I love the pure ectasy of eating turkey with all the trimmings and the pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top, but I also love the best sense of family that came with the holiday. Some of my fondest memories of childhood are of Thanksgivings long ago.

For more than half of my life, Thanksgiving meant putting extra leaves in the dining table either at my Grandmother's or in later years, our house. It meant the heavenly smells of my Grandmother's baking cornbread and biscuits in the days preceding so that she could make her cornbread stuffing. It meant walking around the Antelope Valley (where my grandparents lived) in the cold, crispy autumn air. But it also meant the odd assortment of relatives and guests that would arrive for this splendid feast - sometimes it was my mom's relatives, but mostly it was just my immediate family and the grandparents.

When the celebration moved to our house in Torrance, the place settings became more numerous, as my dad's sister and paternal grandmother where added along with friends, boyfriends, girlfriends and other "orphaned" souls. I remember the first year that both my grandmothers were in the kitchen at the same time and how Grandma (paternal GM) was quizzing/challenging Grandmother (maternal GM) on all the whats and wherefores of her giblet gravy.

After my mother became sick, my younger sister assumed the mantle (still with deference to Grandmother's leadership) of cooking the Thanksgiving meal until she got married. With my mom gone and Grandmother in a nursing home with dementia, we lost our tradition for a while - even going to Grandma's or my dad's sister's was definitely not the same -until my sister divorced and subsequently bought her own home. She then again began hosting "The Big Meal", thinking nothing of inviting 20+ guests. She invites friends and friends of friends, family members and their family members that are no relation to us. It is different but she always pays homage to Thanksgivings of the past, sometimes intentionally by announcing that she's using Grandmother's recipe for stuffing or gravy. To the "real" family though there is a much more subtle reminder of our childhood Thanksgivings, Susie's dining room table and chairs were Grandmother's, the very one that we would put the extra leaves on Thanksgiving for all those years.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A Bit of Personal Good News

Forgive me for this piece of vanity.
This week, my boss calls me in to let me know I've received a promotion and a raise. In company lingo, I am now a level 5!!! Eventhough my salary is still a ways behind most of my peers, I feel much better knowing that management made an effort to rectify my situation. (Others have attributed "my situation" to my gender or the fact that I have never jumped from job to job.) Whatever the cause, it was a little frustrating knowing I was performing the same job as a "5" but for 20% less than he (most of all them are "hes" in my line of work) is making.

And for those that thought I should be glad to "suffer" because I am a single Christian woman and afterall, "you're a single woman -you don't need as much as a married man supporting a family"(Believe me I've heard that, but if the company practiced that openly, it would have serious legal consequences -that sort of practice is against the law.), here's a thought- my male Christian co-workers aren't paid less than their peers. As for my suffering in silence as a Christian, I have mostly been silent, complaining once a year to my boss when he hands my "better than average percentage raise" which I know dollar-wise is still less than what the guy with the larger base salary got with his average percent boost. The gap between us worker bees just got bigger.

The EETimes has published their annual salary survey if you're curious, BUT I would warn those paid by non-profit organizations not to look. Although I have never met an engineer in the profession for the money (you're better off going to B school if that's what motivates you), EE salary is a direct reflection of how valued you are by your company. We are often seen as expensive pieces of equipment to be moved around as needed - the company tells those in our management as much. To be of lesser value is a very bad thing -why not replace you with a "newer" model if you need to be cheap?

More On The Church & Singleness

I had a second response to yet another person's rant but I deleted the e-mail. This gal had abandonded the Church (for her this was the Roman Catholic Church) as it had "nothing to offer singles" and was dominated by out-of-touch male priests.
I empathized with her, although I am not Roman Catholic but pointed out that some of her difficulties were not caused by adherence to Scriptural teaching, but to cultural ideas. My previous blog description of the de-facto ostracization of singles by marrieds in the church is not sanctioned by the Biblical text and is in fact contrary to the way Christ would have us treat one another.
Besides the fact that the RCC elevates marriage to one of her Holy Sacraments and the Church offering holy orders for the religious Catholic single, it has no room for the divorced Catholic since re-marriage within the Church without an annulment is verboten. Obviously Catholic Singles ministry is limited to the never married or widowed single.
The Protestants do not have the same theology for a celebate priesthood, a sacramental marriage conveying sanctifying grace or an anathema for the divorcee.Yet being an Evangelical all my life has not led me to believe that we treat singles much better.
What can't we see that our unquestioning embrace of offensive Christian traditions causes unbelievers to turn away from the very place they need the most? I'm not talking about the Gospel or Jesus, non-Christians should be offended by the Cross. I'm talking about non-Christian singles being turned off by the Church's idolatry of marriage.
We seem to forget that we serve the Single Man from Nazareth.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Church & Single Adults

I have a friend who recently was "ranting" on the sorry way that the Church reaches out to singles particularly single parents. This is my response:

I hear you… the Church as a whole is quite poor in how they minister to singles in general, single parents in particular. The difficulty arises in that they elevate the two parent family beyond what is intended in the New Testament church. Marriage is preferred to singleness (although Paul states that singleness is the preferred condition for those serving the Lord) and couples are "pushed" into marriages before either partner is ready because they don't want to be labelled "old maids". Once the couple gets married, the church busybodies want to know when they are going to have children- childless couples are looked down upon in the same manner as singles as "an aberration" in the Church family. Unfortunately, our society as a whole has created hyper-sexualized "adults" who are emotionally still adolescents at age 25, who in turn get married (in the Church, the only biblically acceptable outlet for sexuality) and have kids. No wonder, the divorce rate for evangelical Christians mirrors the rate for the unchurched. Regardless of the number of single parents actually in the church, the numbers in our community are exploding.

That being said, because the Church has this over-idealized vision of family, anyone not conforming to this ideal is forced to fend for themselves. Divorced persons, particularly women, tend to lose not only the financial stability of marriage, but also the support network of friendships and Church relationships (small groups, Sunday School classes, fellowship groups which might be geared for couples). Related to that is near certainty that the economic loss related to the divorce settlement forces one or both parties to relocate out of their church community area to a more affordable one. This causes the Church to view divorcees as transients in the church community.

Ministry to single parents must by necessity be intentional and incorporational into the larger body. The trends of the last thirty years has been to carve out specialized ministries to singles as an answer to perceived "felt" needs; this has led to a "ghettoization" of singles/single parents away from the church body as a whole. My feeling is that while it is good to offer additional assistance (parenting helps, support groups, divorce recovery, financial training), segregating singles away from marrieds is neither healthy nor good for the Body of Christ. Ideally, loving brothers and sisters would come alongside the newly single and their family -men acting as "big brothers" to fatherless sons and daughters. I am also of a mind that those who lead ministries must have a particular passion for the group they are ministering to/with rather than filling a "slot".

I commend you for wanting to do something about it (when you have time) but realize that very few outside your own circumstances will even see the need as you do because of the reasons I've mentioned -that may include your education director. I would recommend that you begin praying to find some like-minded folks with whom you could start to build a ministry at your church. Don't just look for other single parents, but also perhaps some married people that have a heart for reaching out in this way. After you have established a core group of quality potential leaders (5-8), begin networking within the congregation to find those who would like to be a part of it. Advertise in your bulletin or newsletter. Above all, fight the notion that divorced people need to have their "own" exclusive ministry, separate from the rest of the body -it should be a subset, not an appendage to the congregation. Churches that reach out with the goal of making everyone a part of their community in this way are the ones that are healthy and growing.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Gus

I have a cat named Gus (actually it's short for Augustus, as in Augustus Caesar). Gus is a 15 year old Ginger Tabby - Laura has a picture of him posted on her blog. Poor Gus hasn't been feeling too well lately, the doctor says his liver function is off ; he thinks it is Cholagiohepatitis (a liver infection) so right now he's on two kinds of anti-biotics and Prednasone. He's back home after a stay at the animal hospital where they attempted to find out what all was wrong with him. X-rays didn't show anything but the doc's concerned that he might have an intestinal tumor. I'm hestitant to have the doctor do too much more as that might require surgery on the old boy and there is not much we would do anyway for a kitty of such an advanced age. His brother Julius (died 7 years ago from kidney failure) was treated very aggressively for his Lymphoma when he was diagnosed at age 2. Of course Julius was young and had health insurance so the chemo treatments were not extraordinary care - the biggest hassle was taking him down to the OC for treatment. A dear lady (now in heaven herself) prayed for my kitty to be healed of cancer and he was. What that taught me was that no concern is too small to bring before the Lord and He cares about the things that concern us.
So if you feel like praying for my furry friend Gus, go for it.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Critique on Modern Feminism

A friend forwarded a copy of Maureen Dowd's column "What's a Modern Girl to Do?" and asked for comments.
The following is my response:

As usual, MoDo can certainly describe the symptoms of the disease, but she can never quite get at its root cause.
The feminist movement's greatest flaw was not that they wanted to have it all or even be just like men, but that they wanted to have all these things and more stripped of traditional morality.
In rejecting Judeo-Christian mores as an artifact of patriarchy, they also jettisoned its demand for virtue, loyalty, fidelity and chastity.
The modern feminists embraced "sexual liberation" with the Pill and abortion on demand as the means to true freedom and fulfillment. Some said you didn't need a man at all for sexual satisfaction and embraced lesbianism as the means to their fulfillment. You don't even need a man in your life to get pregnant; just go down to the sperm bank and make a withdrawl. The lie of "Sex and The City", Cosmo, Playboy/Playgirl is that you can go from one meaningless sexual encounter to another without consequences. Sure, maybe these gals don't get an STD or have an unplanned pregnancy, but in treating and then trading sex as a commidity, they have helped to stigmatize women as sex objects. In rejecting the notion that men and women are "image-bearers" of a Holy Creator, humans are reduced to mere animals, subjected to their evolutionary cravings. When you don't have a Transcendent Being defining who you are, you are left confused and rudderless. How does a man know who is supposed to be, how is he to treat and care for a woman (and his children) if we are each just a law unto ourselves, the mere product of our DNA?
It's why people look to books for guidance such as the ones mentioned in this article, "How to Get A Man", "The Rules". People look to something outside themselves to tell them how to think and behave because if we don't get it right, we'll have a crummy life on this planet.
To get at the root cause, we must look at the original purpose that God put man and woman in this world. He placed them here to fill, subdue and rule the world together- both the male and the female, both equally made in the image of God. It was the entrance of sin into the world that upset the design. The curse on man to have to work for a living in "painful toil" all the days of his life, while to the woman, He gave pain in childbearing. To them both, He gave marital turmoil, "Your desire will be for your husband (literally to be the one in control, including sexually) and he will [try] to rule over you." [italics and emphasis, mine]
As a Christian, I believe that Christ came to remove the effects of the Curse and that He shows us a more excellent way to live as men and women in relationship with one another. We are to "consider the needs of others as more important than our own", we are to practice mutual submission to one another out of respect for Christ. We are to reflect the Fruit of the Spirit -love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we were to practice these things and not give into our selfish wants and desires thould be no "battle of the sexes", no sexism, no hedonistic lifestyles. Men would know who they are and not feel threatened by more successful wives. Women would know that their husbands would not be replacing them with younger, Maxim type models because inner beauty would be more highly prized than outer beauty.
My suggestions are not advocating a Theocracy where the women suddenly become second class citizens; true feminism, especially as advocated in the 19th century, was often led by very godly women who sought to have society reflect their biblical egalitarian principles and was only later hijacked by the godless hedonists of the latter 20th century. Unfortunately, all society now reaps the so-called benefits sown by the Friedans, Steinems and Helen Gurley Browns of that generation.