Make a Noise: It’s Women’s History Month

Hey church! Did you know it’s women’s history month? We did, and one our favorite pioneers in the faith is a woman named Pauli Murray who in 1977 was the first African-American woman ordained to be an Episcopal priest. Although she, like many women of her time, was fed-up with the slow road to progress, she was committed to making the church a safe space for all. “Do whatever you have to do,” Murray once pleaded with a colleague thinking of leaving the institution, “but let the church put you out.”

At our Talking Taboo launch party, we asked guests to make a noise about what they’d like to get frank about at church:

Here are some of their answers:

…media influence on women

…sex

…work-life balance

…taking care of ourselves, too

…real hospitality

…care for the earth

…the human imperfection of sex, no matter the genders involved

…desire

…racism

…judgment

…women in the pulpit

…childlessness

…the fact that our pews are full of victims and perpetrators

…sexual violence

…gender inclusive language

…reproductive justice

What would you add to the list? What would make the church a safer space for you?

What are you holding back?

post by co-editor Erin Lane, from her blog holyhellions

Consider that most fear
is not fear of failure:
rather, it’s fear to live fully,
in full power.
– Clarissa Pinkola Estés

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For a decade and a year, I’ve had the feeling that I’m holding something back.  I told a friend this over pasta salad at Parker & Otis and she said, “Maybe it’s because you’re an introvert.” This is one explanation. Another explanation is that I am afraid of something. This is the more likely explanation. I am afraid of showing up in church as my full, true, complicated self. I am afraid I am too much to handle.

I am afraid you won’t be able to handle me. You won’t know what to do when I say during the prayers of the people, “I am mad (and I have been mad since I was eight.)” You will want to comfort me, make it better, make the madness go away but what you don’t understand is the madness is a part of me. I wish you would ask “Tell me why you’re mad,” or “What does it feel like to be that mad?” or “Where does the madness live in your body?” Instead, I fear I’ve rendered you helpless, put you out, made you uncomfortable. I didn’t want to do that. I just wanted to be mad.

I am afraid I won’t be able to handle me. Silence is a romantic kind of thing. Sometimes it’s easier not speaking my voice. It’s easier not knowing if there are a few good souls who can hear my story and say it is theirs, too. It’s lonely to say in a small group “I am always finding and losing myself in marriage,” and to hear in response, “How old are you? You’ll learn to comprise.” It is as if I am a caricature of my generation rather than a real person. When I speak about who I am, what I love, and the questions I hold close, I risk feeling more alien than before I spoke. I can hardly bear the disappointment of finding out there is no echo for my longing here. I’m already mad enough.

I am afraid that God won’t be able to handle me. I’ve always believed that God can handle anything. I also believe that God loves what is holy, and if I could just decide to be more holy, more obedient, more intentional, I wouldn’t be such a mess. I would show up in prayer contrite not confused. I would show up on my blog confident not questioning. I would show up in worship controlled not abandoned. It’s not that I think God can’t handle me; it’s that I behave as if I can handle me without him. I wouldn’t want to make him mad.

To celebrate Women’s History Month, I’ll be co-leading a Talking Taboo workshop at Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan on Sunday, March 16th from 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. Joining me are two contributors, the Reverend Jennifer Crumpton and Poet Aja Monet; together we will ask the question “What am I holding back?” and “How can I start showing up?” at church.

Because a holy life or a “wholly” life takes public practice, not private perfection. It starts with a decision to show up, then another to test that feeling in the quiet, and then another to speak your knowing out loud. It continues on like this with a lot of bumps and bruises as your complicated self gets tangled in my complicated self, but it always ends in a live encounter. And isn’t a live encounter the best any of us can hope for in church? That moment where the spirit of God breaks through the b.s. and we can say to the person beside us with awe, “That shit just got real”?

It only takes one person to show up as her full, true, and complicated self at church to make it a little bit safer for everyone else to do the same. The only thing holding us back is our fear, and fear can’t handle a love like ours. God’s love is too much.

Perfect love casteth out fear – 1 John 4:18

On Being Weak

Woodard-Lehman - Headshotpost by contributor Tara Woodard-Lehman, full article published at Huffington Post

I am a woman. I am a leader. I am a Christian. And when I hear the words of Jesus, “This is my body, broken for you,” I want to holler back, “Right back at ya, boss.”

That may not sound very scandalous to you, but in my context, weakness is not something to be proud of. It’s something to conceal, hide, mask, ignore or overcome.

Admitting to weakness is risky. You become exposed. Known. Found out. Vulnerable. Not only that, but confessing your weakness could mean you lose some very real things: job security, respect from colleagues, maybe even health insurance.

I shared a bit about this struggle a few weeks ago, when I participated in a two-part teleconference regarding the anthology, Talking Taboo: Christian Women Get Frank About Faith.

The conference, hosted by WATER: Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual, began with each participant describing what was taboo in our own contexts. I discussed how my chapter “Broken in the Body, Slain in the Spirit,” was an attempt to name some of the ways I am weak, in both spirit and flesh.

At first, I regretted not writing about something more obvious, more sexy, more hot topic-y. After all, I could have addressed the stigma of being an ordained woman in ministry, or a working mother, or a progressive-christian-evangelical-feminist-Jesus-loving-pentecostal- reformed-presbyterian who loves Cheetos. And wine. Together.

But honestly, the thing most difficult to name was my own weakness. Both as a Christian and as a woman in leadership, I was most reluctant to name my own frailty.

In a culture that dubbed women the “weaker sex” and a Church that called women the “weaker vessel,” the last thing I wanted to admit was that I was weak.

My only alternative was to embody strength, demonstrate power, and exhibit self-confidence. My only option was to practice what others have called, effortless perfection.

Or so I thought.

To continue reading “On Being Weak,” click here

Bringing up race at church

Maria Dykema Erbguest post by Maria Dykema Erb, Senior Coordinator for the Master of Science in Nursing Program at Duke Univeristy

I had what I consider a pretty normal childhood. I grew up on a dairy farm with my parents, immigrants from the Netherlands, and four siblings. I never had everything I wanted, but I always had what I needed—fresh air, acres of land to play and wander, homegrown vegetables from a 300-foot-long garden, fresh milk from our own cows, a freezer full of our own farm raised beef, and dogs, cats, donkeys, ponies, and even a couple of peacocks as pets. Although I always felt loved by my family, friends, and community, my identity as a Korean-adoptee was absorbed by the Dutch, conservative Christian culture in which I grew up.

Central to my existence as a young girl was my family’s membership in the Christian Reformed Church. Attending church twice on Sundays was expected of everyone as a way to begin and end the Sabbath with God. My friends and I attended the Champlain Valley Christian School from grades 1-8 so, as prescribed in Proverbs 22:6, we were trained up in the way we were supposed to go.

Once I was in high school, although never directly communicated, I was expected to make a public profession of faith. This would allow me to (a) take communion on the first Sunday of the month, (b) date one of my single farmer friends and eventually become their farm wife after high school graduation, and (c) start birthing a bunch of farm children to help around the homestead. But I was a rebellious child, and this was not what I would choose for my life.

Race, racism, power, and privilege have been some of the most difficult things for me to talk about in my church communities. Although I never became a professing member of the Christian Reformed Church, my husband, Keith, and I did attend two Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches in Vermont that were predominantly white congregations. Whenever our family – Keith – a bi-racial adoptee, our three multi-racial children, and I – walked into either of these churches, we were always noticeable, and it was always noticed when we were not there.

Conversations about race always fell flat whenever we brought it up in church.“We don’t see color.” “We are all God’s children.” “We are all humans.” “Why do we need to continue to focus on difference? We’re all the same.” I never felt that I could be my whole, true self, when it came to my church community. If there was any place I could be my whole self, where people accepted and appreciated my faith and differences, it was my workplace: the ALANA (African, Latino, Asian, and Native American) Student Center at the University of Vermont (UVM). Ironic, isn’t it that I’d feel more at home in my place of employment than my church?

My favorite program that I coordinated for the ALANA Student Center was Sisterhood Circle—a monthly intergenerational gathering of women of color who were UVM faculty, staff, and students. During a shared meal of homemade soup, we could talk openly about our beliefs and faith systems and be affirmed in our authentic identities. Through our common bond as women of color, we didn’t have to explain what it was like to experience daily micro-aggressions related to our race or ethnicity. We didn’t have to explain what it was like when people commented on the shape of our eyes, or touched our hair, or made certain assumptions about us based on our physical appearance, like marveling that we spoke clear, unbroken American English. There, in that circle, it was familiar, a time of reflection, communion—it felt like church to me.

Since moving to North Carolina, we have found a welcoming church community that is predominantly white, but has more diversity than we’ve previously experienced. I’m still dipping my toe in the water when it comes to bringing up issues of race. I try to build relationships with people before cracking that door wide open. There is much to understand and learn about marginalized racial and ethnic groups, and how churches today need to become culturally competent to better serve all members in their increasingly diverse congregations. It’s important for these places of worship to understanding the dynamics of power and privilege. It’s also important for leaders to know that good intentions may not always equal the intended impact on those we are trying to reach out to in our congregation and local communities.

Affinity space with other women of color continues to be a high priority for me – and one of my greatest joys. But I also feel called to being a part of the diverse community of the local church, to challenge the notions of stereotypes, build relationships cross-culturally, and work toward racial reconciliation.

After all, the church might not always be everything I want, but it’s what I need.

Telling the Forbidden Truth: A Review of Talking Taboo in Sojourners Magazine

Applereview by Rebecca Kraybill in the Feb 2014 issue of Sojourners Magazine. To read the full article, click here.

THE WOMEN IN Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith aren’t just frank. They are courageous, clever, and wildly passionate.

This anthology, edited by Erin S. Lane and Enuma C. Okoro, asks 40 women under 40 to respond to the question, “What taboos remain in the church at the intersection of faith and gender?” The result is a collection of stories by women of faith (Baptist, Presbyterian, Mennonite, Catholic, Unitarian Universalist, and more) in a variety of roles (pastor, mother, writer, teacher, student, and more).

The women share times they have felt shamed, alienated, discouraged, or alone as women seeking a home in the church. From addressing domestic violence to lust to pregnancy to the role of a woman pastor’s body, the stories are raw in the way first-person narrative calls upon honesty and vulnerability to trump perfect prose or style.

Anthologies often stick to one structural extreme: Either they are rigid and theme-driven, or loose and nomadic.Talking Taboo follows the latter. Lane’s introduction promises no arc of narrative, no solid take-away message. The stories are here, she writes, because women are agreeing to “speak for ourselves.”

To continue reading Telling the Forbidden Truthclick here.

Revisiting Diversity: Why we want it and how it happens

UntitledIn November, blogger Rachel Held Evans called out the organizers of The Nines conference for their lack of diversity; only 4 out of 112 people scheduled to speak at the conference were women. Todd Rhoades response? “We asked quite a few women that didn’t respond to our speaker invites.” It’s raised the question across the Christian blogsophere of how we go about diversifying representation of Christian voices in the media. It also prompted Rachel Held Evans to publish a list of 101 Christian Women Speakers that included seven of our own Talking Taboo contributors. We as co-editors asked ourselves similar questions about how to invite women of varied ethnicities and sexualities to contribute to Talking Taboo in a way that didn’t make them out to be tokens.

Below is an excerpt of an interview we did recently with the Christian Post (click here to read the full article) addressing some of these challenges and what we hoped would come out of an anthology of 40 different voices.

“What are those things that are off-limits in many of our faith communities that we want to bring to light by using our own lives as a canvas? Answering this question was one of the impetuses for the book,” Lane explained in an interview with The Christian Post.

Lane, and fellow editor Enuma Okoro, let women choose their own topic on which to write, and received submissions that ranged from a female pastor writing about how her congregation perceived her pregnancy to a domestic violence survivor chronicling her marriage and divorce.

They also tried to intentionally seek out women of color, inexperienced and published writers, and those that spanned the theological conservative, liberal and evangelical divide.

Okoro personally reached ought to Christian non-white women who worked outside of traditional ministry fields such as Hollywood, the news room, and the arts.

“I invited many more women of color than were able to say yes just because of the timing of the Talking Taboo project with other things with which they were involved. I am thrilled for the non-white women who were available to accept my invitation to participate in this project,” Okoro told The Christian Post in an email. “In my opinion, I still would have loved even more voices. What we have is not enough. But it’s a start and for that I am grateful.”

Overall, Lane sees the work of the Church as becoming a more inclusive space for women and other groups that may have traditionally felt marginalized by it. She challenges many of the men in church authority positions to take time to hear the different voices in the book.

“There are 40 really different women and I don’t think you can read it and feel like I got a handle on young women in America but it challenges you to say ‘Ok, here are the real things women are going through in the church and if we want the church to be ‘relevant,’ it has to be about listening,” she said…

Ultimately, Lane wants the sharing that occurs in her and Okoro’s book to be one that can be held in person.

“I think what limits blogging and Talking Taboo as a book is that it’s a conversation that’s public but it’s not always happening in public,” said Lane. “I think we need spaces in our faith communities, physical space where we meet and worship and pray for there to be a public imagination cultivated for women in all parts of the church. That’s what I hope is the next step for the book.”

We believe in order for these conversations to occur, it will take gutsy leaders and committed followers who understand that safe conversations don’t just happen. They include purposeful invitations to those who don’t typically get a place at the table. (Think not just in terms of gender and racial diversity but educational and age diversity, too.) It’s normal for such invitations to go unanswered or unappreciated if there is not sufficient trust yet between diverse groups of people.

Once people are in the room together, ground rules need to be established that create a space that works for all – verbal and non-verbal alike, extroverts and introverts, too. Asking people to abide by the “I Speak for Myself” principle and only using I statements when speaking is one way to encourage sharing that is not to be analyzed, corrected, or debated. Another principle you might agree to abide by is “Treat silence as a member of the group,” allowing for pauses between each person’s sharing rather than the typical interrupting and end-of-sentence clipping that often happens when people are clamoring to get a word in. Finally, it is important that ground rules about confidentiality are agreed upon ahead of time. Will there be a time to follow-up on what’s been shared? Or is it important that this conversation exists only for the duration of the gathering?

And of course, you’ll need to decide ahead of time upon a framing question that is open enough for anyone to answer but specific enough for anyone to grasp. If you’re using the book as a guide, you may cull our discussion questions in the back of the book for ideas, such as this one: When have you felt out of place in your community of faith? How did your community help or hinder you from being drawn back in?

What other ground rules in your experience help create safe conversations for a diverse group of people? Please share with us below.

You can also join the co-editors and other Talking Taboo contributors for the first of two conversations via W.A.T.E.R. teleconference on January 8th, 2014 from 1pm-2pm EST. Click here to receive dial-in information. 

I’m Muslim, but a lady is a lady, right?

okoro headshot (credit-EliaPhotography)post by co-editor Enuma Okoro, full article published in the Guardian US

It’s the season when nearly a third of the global population is preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I am a Christian and I love this time of year, but not necessarily because of the focus on the Christ child. Don’t get me wrong, I am awed by the doctrine of the Incarnation, but to be honest, I get much more excited about Easter, the resurrection and the idea of a God that can redeem even death.

Rather, what I love about the current season is the spotlight, however brief, it shines on a poor, courageous young girl named Mary. Maybe it’s because I love any excuse to give a platform to any woman typically regulated to the margins of socio-political, ethno-cultural and religious narratives. We gloss over the significance that for at least a few chapters of the traditional Judeo-Christian narrative Mary, a second-class citizen as a woman in her historical period, is given a voice. And her voice is one that not only converses with the divine, but sings of God’s remembrance and provision for the marginalized.

Whether we choose to admit it or not, the reality is that women are still marginalized in religious traditions centuries later. Women of the Abrahamic faiths are still working, not only to speak aloud, but to have their voices heard and recognized as valuable and necessary. I wonder what it would look like if women across faith traditions began talking together about this shared challenge.

In my own recent personal experience, a young woman walked up to me while I was greeting folks during the church coffee hour after a discussion in Paris about women of faith telling their difficult stories.

I stared for a second too long at the dichotomy, she, a Muslim woman in her 20s wearing a turquoise colored hijab holding my book titled, Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith. I asked her name and signed the book. Then I asked if she was a member of this church. I knew the answer but didn’t want to make any assumptions. I am too familiar with being on the receiving end of rash judgments.

“No, I’m just visiting. I’m Muslim.” She said pointing to her hijab.

“Of course.” I replied. “Are you from Paris?”

“I just got here a month ago. I’m getting my Masters,” she said.

“That’s great. Where were you before Paris?” I had too many questions but had to start light.

“Yemen. I’m from Yemen.”

As we talk, I am continually caught off guard by how beautiful she is. Her small face is perfectly framed by the hijab and I find myself admiring her brown eyes and her perfect eyeliner. I’ve been trying for months to get that cat eye she created.

“So I have to ask you, as a Muslim woman, why are you interested in this book?”

She laughs at me and replies:

Well, I’m Muslim, but a lady is a lady right? I’m curious if I will find overlaps with what we Muslim women find hard to talk about in our own faith tradition…

To continue reading “When a Christian and Muslim Met in Paris,” click here

 

Let me watch your kids

erin (web ready)-248post by co-editor Erin Lane, originally published on Q Ideas

I’ve written before about being a young Christian women who doesn’t have children. I suppose the more interesting thing to folks is that I am a married woman with no plans on having future children of my own. In Talking Taboo, I venture so far as to call our choice not just a lifestyle preference but a sacrifice, and one that serves the common good.

The common good is a concept that is as illusory as it is necessary. I understand what it means and am able to give voice to it on a larger scale only in as much as I can witness it playing out locally. I could spout arguments as others have about how our remaining childless is good for the environment or good for women, but the best argument I can give for our choice is that it’s good for my neighbor. This I’ve seen with my own two eyes. I’ve heard it with perked ears.

We were hiking along a leaf-littered path, making our way up to the hermitage. I was on the heels of our pack leaders, two women who looked to be in their early forties. They chatted easily with one another, and I eavesdropped behind them. This, I determined, was less awkward than side winding around them and forging a path to the top of the mountain alone. We were after all on a church women’s retreat. “Community time” was part of the point.

It didn’t matter that they were taking about their kids, and I had none.

The theme of our retreat was celebration. The context was the Sabbath. Jennifer, our speaker for the weekend, told us of her time living in Jerusalem as a Christian single woman and how the city became a ghost town on Friday afternoons as people scurried home to prepare for their weekly day of rest. Sabbath wasn’t just a day of self-care, as it is sometimes practiced in the United States. It was about a community resting in rhythm. Singles and marrieds came together to eat, drink, and bless each other as one family.

“You can join us, you know,” the one in the running jacket said looking back at me. “But you might be bored.”

I laughed, awkwardly, and propelled my pace. “I don’t mind hearing about your kids.” Women are always apologizing to me for talking about their kids. They want to assure me that they’re not “that kind of woman.” I want to assure them that I think motherhood is a vocation to mull over just as much as mine is as a writer.

The other woman with a fleece tied around her waist caught me up. “We were just saying how there’s no way we could take a Sabbath with small children at home.”

Running woman continued. “I can give Dan time off from the kids to relax, but that means I’m taking them to the park or dreaming up an art project or just supervising free play. And then we switch, and I go for a run or grab a glass of wine but there’s no way we can really rest together.”

She tilted her face up to the hills, as if she were talking to herself now. “Those young women talk like it’s easy to rest. But Saturday isn’t restful.”

I strained my neck further so that it stuck out ever so slightly between them. “That’s where I come in.” Even as the words came out of my mouth, it sounded like a strange thing to say to these strange women I had just met. I had only been going to this church a little over a year but, still, I said, “That’s where a woman without children comes in.”

Without kids of our own, we practice the ministry of availability. When the sign-up sheet at church goes around for our night of ministry to the homeless, my husband and I always take the slot no one wants – the overnight guests. We are the ones with back’s strong enough to sleep on couches in the church parlor but old enough to handle a crisis together between either male or female guests. We don’t have to arrange a sitter for the dog we leave at home, and we can catch up on sleep in the quiet of our house come morning.

Without kids of our own, we practice the ministry of flexibility. It is that season of life when many of our female friends either have a belly full of baby or breasts full of milk. Young ones with new names are popping up down the block and across town at rates we’ve never before witnessed. We are learning there are feeding schedules and sleeping schedules and nary a moment for the happy hours and dinner parties of yesteryear. Fine, we say. Let us come to you. Not doing dairy because Malificent has reflux? We’ll thicken our broth with flour. Not sure when Alastair will wake up from his nap? We’re just watching Nashville, so text us when you’re ready. We have time. We’re not going anywhere.

And finally, without kids of our own, we practice the ministry of hospitality. We welcome the stranger in other people’s children. “I don’t want to staff the nursery during worship,” a young mom once lamented to me. “I’m always at the nursery.” Just because I don’t have kids, doesn’t mean I don’t like them—or understand the gifts that they are.

It was like I said on that long walk up to the hermitage. Let me watch your kids. Let me help you to be available to your partner. Let me help you be flexible with your friends. Let me help you be hospitable to the stranger in me. It’s not that you can’t practice these ministries as parents, only that it looks different when you are committed to a nuclear family.

We’ve gotten some flack for our decision to remain childless that’s hard to understand. People argue it’s not natural. That it’s selfish. Or that it’s endangering the future of the human race. I don’t think the future of the human race has ever been served by all people making the same choice. It’s the diversity of our choices that allow for us to rest in rhythm as a community. It’s when the music starts to play and we begin to tap our feet and after listening for a beat, we can say, “That’s where I come in.”

To read my essay “Married Without Children” on the theological reasons behind our choice, find a copy of Talking Taboo at Amazon or a bookstore near you.

Coming Out: Christian, Minister, Ally

Woodard-Lehman - Headshotguest post by contributor Tara Woodard-Lehman, from her blog on the Huffington Post 

I just walked back to my office after a heart-breaking Transgender Day of Remembrance service at Princeton University.

During the service a well-known prosecuting attorney spoke of a recent case regarding a young person who was murdered because they didn’t conform to someone’s notion of “appropriate dress” for their gender. The prosecutor also shared how the Latin root of the word “passion” means “to suffer.” For her, this young life was snuffed out because they were living a life of passion; a life of suffering.

Throughout the service, I began reflecting on another word, “compassion.” Com (with) and Passion (to suffer). At its root, we see the deeper meaning of the word and the call it invokes, “to suffer with.”

On days like today, when I hear gut wrenching stories about those who are brutally tortured, beheaded, sliced, and maimed because they don’t fit into cultural prescriptions of gender dress or behavior, I wonder what it means for me to be compassionate.

How can I remember those who have been dismembered, simply because of their gender non-conformity? What in the world does it actually mean to ‘suffer-with’ in this context?

I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean to pity. That would be ridiculously condescending. I’m quite sure it doesn’t mean to speak on behalf of the Transgender community. That would be presumptuous and pretentious.

So what it does it look like for me to practice compassion, and not just feel it?

Can I, a straight woman, actualize compassion in this context? Is it even possible?

I may not be the most stereotypically feminine woman in the universe. I wear sensible shoes and have a traditionally male occupation. I’m the primary breadwinner and primary driver of my vehicle. I speak with conviction and zeal. I walk with deliberation and purpose.

Sure, I’ve had haters over the years who’ve said things like, “It’s no wonder you don’t have a boyfriend. You’re just too masculine.” Or, “Maybe if you didn’t act like a man, you’d actually find one.”

But in the end, I’m hardly oppressed. For the most part, I meet my culture’s expectations of what it means to be feminine.

I may walk “with purpose,” but I also sway my hips. I may speak with conviction, but my voice is predictably “feminine” in tone and tenor. I enjoy wearing stockings and skirts; I adorn myself with scarves and jewelry; I’m afraid of mice; I’m addicted to Pinterest; I’ve even popped out a couple babies.

How can I, a “straight” married minister and mother of two who drives a minivan, actually “suffer with” my LGBTQIA brothers and sisters?

I suppose all I can do is this: Seek to find meaningful ways to stand in solidarity. Listen deeply. Offer my silence and space and presence and advocacy. Speak words of life and love. Speak against words of hatred in my religious community. And finally, publicly, “come out” as one who believes God’s love is too deep for any human boundary and no one is beyond God’s wide embrace, and say that without fear. Or better yet, say it despite my fear.

Because to be honest, I’m afraid to speak about issues of sexuality and gender non-conformity in public spaces, online or otherwise. I’m afraid of the backlash. I’m fearful of the condemnation I’ll face. I dread being told, once again, I’m going to hell for even mentioning issues of gender identity. I’m afraid coming out as an Ally will give more ammunition to those who already eye me with suspicion, or consider me “unfaithful” and a “heretic” because I’m a woman in ordained ministry.

But despite the potential backlash, I acknowledge I’m still the privileged one. I still have a choice to ignore the violence (physical, emotional, and spiritual) against the TG community. The cost for me is nothing compared to the cost of those who face daily discrimination, exclusion, hatred, and brutal acts of violence because they don’t look or sound or behave like some think a “female” or “male” should.

Though I may not be able to practice com-passion as fully as others, I’m pretty sure silence is not the answer.

So, for now, I do what I can: humbly seek to create space for others to name their pain. I may not make seismic change, but I can take some small steps. Like writing something that isn’t just cute or clever or comfortable on a blogpost. Something that may likely illicit more trolling comments than Facebook “likes.”

And I can invite others, like you, to join me.

Join me in this whole beautiful, hard, important, and sometimes messy com-passion thing. Join me in suffering with, standing with, and laboring alongside all LGBTQIA folks who live passionate lives of suffering.

And as we do, perhaps someday we can live into that long awaited day when com-passion won’t be necessary, because suffering will be no more.

Should Men Be the Head of the Household?

Becker headshotguest post by contributor Amy Julia Becker, from her blog Thin Places

I am honored to be a contributor to this new collection of essays, Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith. I wrote my essay about the question of male “headship” in marriage. Today I’m sharing an excerpt.

We got married young, at 22, three weeks after my husband graduated from college. It was a beautiful day, with the sun peeking out from behind pale gray clouds. The pews were filled with beautiful people, many of them churchgoers, from every point on the spectrum of Christian belief. There was my mother-in-law and her cohort from New Orleans who had come of age in the 1960s and asserted a woman’s right to choose whatever she wanted for her body, who used gender-neutral language to refer to God, who worried that Peter and I were too conservative with our Bible studies and evangelicalism. There were our friends from Christian fellowship groups in college, who volunteered for Young Life and passed along Passion and Purity and challenged us when we slept in the same bed during weekends together throughout our long distance courtship. Many of their faces looked alike, but the theology underneath spanned divides of history and culture and practice.

And then there was the service itself. On the one hand, we were wed by a female pastor in an unspoken but public affirmation of the potential for women to lead within the church. At the same time, we asked one of my roommates from college to read Ephesians 5:21-28, the longest passage in the New Testament about the relationship between husbands and wives. Although it begins with the conciliatory, “Submit to one another out of reverence to Christ,” it also contains the controversial lines, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.” But we weren’t thinking about headship that day. We chose the passage for its description of the relationship between husband and wife, a relationship of mutual love and respect, of giving and receiving to and from one another. We chose the passage because it taught us about marriage as both a source of great joy and a hard path to walk. And we chose it because it assumed an indelible link between the covenantal vow of a husband and wife and the covenantal relationship between Christ and his church.

Before that day, I had wrestled with the roles Scripture allowed for women, within the church and within society. I wanted to be able to trumpet the egalitarian ethos of my faith, to explain the ways in which Jesus’ ministry subverted social norms, including those surrounding women. And yet I also believe that Scripture is the authoritative Word of God, and my own cultural norms and personal feelings do not, must not, trump Scriptural truth. So Paul’s words that “women should remain silent in the churches” troubled me. I learned that scholars disagree about his meaning, and that there is a contextual possibility that his admonition was directed towards a specific group of women who disrupted church services. And when the woman who married us offered a gentle defense of her ministry, with stories from Deborah and Esther to Mary Magdalene and Priscilla, I became convinced that a faithful reading of Scripture could affirm women’s leadership in every aspect of church life. I memorized Galatians 3:28: “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I came to a firm conclusion about women in the pulpit. And yet I hadn’t wrestled with the roles of men and women within marriage itself. Even though we chose Ephesians 5 for our wedding service, I have avoided the question of male headship within marriage since the day we wed. It pops into my mind every so often—when a friend makes a comment about understanding herself as a member of “the weaker sex,” when I see children wander away from the faith as adolescents and notice that their dads didn’t participate much in church life and wonder whether Peter needs to be the spiritual leader in our household for our kids to embrace our faith, when I wonder if it makes a difference if Peter or I sit, literally, at the head of our dining room table. But it’s not something I talk about, and I’ve started to wonder why . . .

To know what I conclude on this topic, or to read more from other women, grab a copy of the book at a bookseller near you.

And I’m curious–how would you complete this essay?