In Hebrew eschet chayil translates roughly as “woman of valor” and is found in the opening lines of Proverbs 31. It is a blessing that Jewish women have used to cheer one another on for hundreds of years. This blog series is about highlighting women of valor you should know, or work supporting women you should cheer on.
Study: Female Pastors Are on the Rise, and So Are Our Impossible Expectations For Them
Such encouraging news! The Barna Group in its annual report notes a steady trend of increasing number of female pastors. Unfortuantely, women pastors also were more likely than their male counterparts to report that “congregants’ comments on their leadership were ‘critical,’ ‘judging,’ and ‘unhelpful.'” This is certainly a part of a larger cultural trend, and one in which the author of this piece says the Church is uniquely positioned to stand in contrast to.
Women in Church History: Footnoted and Forgotten?
Speaking of The Junia Project, this blog is full of great stuff that you should totally check out. For Women’s History Month they are highlighting the incredible deapth of women in our church history. Check it out.
Shame On/Shame Off – An Abortion Story Be inspired by the bravery of Jada Schiessl in sharing her own story of living with the shame of a decision made at 16-years-old, and challenged in her call to the Church to do better when it comes to serving scared pregnant women.
Have you heard about the women leading the resistance movement these past few months?
The women who organized the largest protest march in history?
The woman who refused to argue Trump’s travel ban in court and was fired for it? Or the woman who issued the stay from the bench?
The woman who persisted when she was told to stop speaking?
The women who broke from their party for the sake of our nation’s children?
Or the women sitting on airport floors trying to help those who were detained. Some say the gender disparity there was likely 70% female.
A quick google search will yield woman, after woman, after woman, leading and loving peacefully and powerfully. They are getting stuff done. They are speaking truth to power. They are working their tails off. They are healers and prophets, judges and lawyers, mothers and activists, artists, scholars, preachers, teachers. They are inspiring.
CHURCH, WAKE UP!
Can you imagine what could happen to our gospel witness if we unleashed the women in our churches? Can you imagine how many would find the hope and healing of Christ if we valued feminine leadership styles? Can you imagine the transformation in our communities if we supported the creativity and innovation of the women in our congregations?
Trust me, Church, women would lead the revolution and the revival you all are hoping and praying for. Throw open the doors, unbind the chains, and let us get to work.
It happens without fail. Every.Single.Time. When casual conversation with old friends or new acquaintances turns to the fact that I am going to seminary, the next question out of the other person’s mouth is always what are you wanting to do with your degree? As in, what are your post-graduation plans? Why are you spending all this money? What is the job you are hoping to go after?
And every time I smile, slightly shrug my shoulders, and admit I don’t really know. I tell them that going to seminary was the fulfillment of a dream, the opportunity of a lifetime, and the next step on my adventure of being obedient to God’s call in my life.
That was my answer.
But now, five and a half semesters into this journey I’m starting to get an inkling of what might be post-seminary for me. I don’t know how it will bring the income I will need in order to pay back all these student loans, but I do know that my personality, experiences, knowledge and interests are starting to coalesce in ways that are thoroughly exhilarating and not entirely unexpected. God has been paving a path for me for a long time and I can’t wait to see what is around the next corner.
About a year ago God showed up to answer my desperate desire to know who my people are. I’ll come back here soon and share that story, but in the meantime I know with certainty that my call is to serve women, particularly by empowering women to serve in bold and brave ways. So last semester I chose a research project that had me sitting in story after story of women longing to use their gifts to serve and love and teach and maybe even pastor. And in story after story these women were told that the roles in which they could use their gifts were limited, ordained by God and obvious because of Scripture. And my heart broke time and time again.
I wept for the woman who had introduced a dying man to Jesus and was forbidden to offer him the sacrament of communion when he asked for it.
I wept for the woman who had 18-year-old boys turn their backs to her each time she came to teach at her Evangelical University’s chapel.
I wept for the women who admit to feeling limited, discounted, and redirected when they expressed a sense of calling. I wept for the women who persisted, yet were regularly confronted with fatigue, despair, cynicism, and emotional distress that many times reached the level of clinical depression.
I wept for the women who endured what in the secular world would be called sexism, where legal recourses are available for those who experience it, but in the church is often accepted and promoted as God-ordained.
And I wept for the all-to-familiar question should I stay or should I go? For many of us living with misogyny and oppressive institutional structures is torture, but the thought of leaving the home and community and family that is our Church of origin is equally terrifying.
These were dark days for me and I do not use the word wept metaphorically to describe my reaction to my research. On many occasions I put my books down or set aside the article and cried out to God. This was too much. This culture too impenetrable. The wounds too deep. The theology too entrenched. What in the world could little ‘ole me do? How could one lone woman fight against evangelical culture and Biblical interpretation, especially when women who have tried have been so thoroughly trounced?
But the other thing my research taught me was this: woman after woman pursuing a ministry call persisted because she had support. Because her calling was affirmed instead of questioned. Because she had mentors and role models. Because she had a woman in her life serving in ways that gave her imagination to dream she could do the same.
And it turns our I’m not really alone. The voices for women’s equality in the Church are out there. And they are growing. They are getting louder. The faithful witness of men and women who believe in a blessed alliance are doing the hard work and are changing hearts and minds. So I’m going to add my voice, and I’m going to return to this topic in this little space on the internet with more frequency.
In case you need this today:
You are not alone.
You are called by God who created you and knows your every part.
You are loved by Christ who gave up his life to show us what real love looks like.
You are gifted by Holy Spirit who is at work in this crazy world of ours, drawing us to the heart of God.
Persist dear sisters.
I am on your side and in your corner. You are not alone.
First off, a disclaimer: I am no expert. There are men and women who have been working and protesting and community organizing for many years and I am most certainly a newbie. So the thoughts and questions and conversations here are not polished and not really written from much experience. Rather, they are a humble offering to you as a result of searching for the words and stories to help educate my own two budding activists. In addition, these are words offered from a Christian faith and worldview that to our family is the foundation for all we do.
When plans for a women’s march in my local city were announced shortly after the 2016 Presidential Election, I knew I had to be there. Feeling naïve and frustrated and powerless and frankly scared, putting my feet and my voice to work seemed at least some small action I could take to voice my feelings. I wanted to bring my daughters with me, and my husband also asked if he could come and support the cause.
As we are now a week away from the event, I decided it was time to have some of the why conversations with my daughters. And also to prepare them for what they might see and experience along the march route. I went searching online for some resources, and came up pretty empty-handed. (If you have resources that I didn’t find, PLEASE leave them in a comment and I’ll include them in a list at the bottom of this post.)
As a family, our Christian faith deeply influences our choices. And it is from this perspective that I want to enter into a protest march as well. So here are a few conversation starters I put together to share as a family as we prepare to march. You do not have to be Christian to use this material. In addition, these are humbly offered as starters, if your children are anything like mine their questions and insights will lead the conversation to beautiful, challenging, and humbling places and may even offer you more opportunities to learn together.
A few notes before you dive in:
These conversation guides are written for my family, of which I have myself and my husband (both cisgender) and two school-aged daughters. Feel free to adjust the conversations and the questions for your family dynamic, these are simply a starting place. For example, if you have older children you could talk about sex trafficking or female genintal mutilation. You could also share this resource with your older children and encourage them to pick one and lead a family conversation.
These conversation guides are written specifically for the women’s march taking place January 21, 2017. But of course they can be adapted for any protest your family may be involved in.
You do not actually have to be taking your children to march with you to have a conversation with them. Actually, you should have a conversation with them if you are going, they need to know why this is important to you. And if you are unable to attend at all, these are still great conversations to have because this protest is a news-worthy event.
Ask: In what ways are girls/women treated unfairly here in America?
Ask: Have you ever felt treated unfairly because you are a girl? or Have you ever treated someone unfairly because she is a girl? or Have you ever witnessed a girl being treated unfairly because she is a girl?
Ask: What does the phrase you throw like a girl mean? Is it meant to be a compliment? Have you heard any other phrases that insult girls like that?
Ask: How do you think God feels about people being treated unfairly?
Study a Bible Passages: How Jesus treated Women (chose one or more)
Ask: Why is it important that boys and girls, men and women, everyone, is treated fairly?
Discuss: One of the reasons for marching is that when a large group of people get together, the leaders in charge learn what is really important to the people they serve. To us, it is important that women are treated fairly. That women are treated with justice here and throughout the world.
Ask: What specific message would you share with important leaders about how or why girls should be treated equally?
Make: Create posters together with the important messages your children want to share.
Or here are some suggestions for posters/signs with Bible verses about justice:
“Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like an never-failing stream.” Amos 5:24
“Hold fast to love and justice.” Hosea 12:6 (partial verse)
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” Proverbs 31:8
“Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly” from Micah 6:8
“Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.” Proverbs 22:8
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9 (As quoted by Hilary Clinton in her speech following the election results.)
Conversation #2: Signs and Symbols
Activity: Google search “Women’s March Poster Ideas.” Look at the images together. (You may want to pre-search and be prepared for what you’ll find. There are images of women’s bodies, including breasts and reproductive organs. There are posters with the word “pussy.” There are other terms they may not be familiar with. As your children will likely see posters of all types at the march, having conversations ahead of time will prepare you all.)
Ask: What images/messages appeal to you? What images/messages are confusing?
Discuss: You are in charge here with what you want to share with your children about the messages being promoted.
Note: There are likely march partners with views not shared by your family. How do your values influence how you should treat people with differing views? Can you still march together? Can you find common ground?
Conversation #3: Protest as Disruption
Ask: What do you know about the protests of the civil rights movement? What activities did they engage in? (Suggestions: marches, sit-ins, rallies, boycotts, etc. Overall, they were peaceful activities.) What do you know about the leaders of the civil rights movement?
Watch: this great video from Kid President about Martin Luther King, Jr. Also, I haven’t watched it but heard from a great source that this full length movie, The Watsons Go To Birmingham, is a great primer on the civil rights movement as well. If you have older children, Selma is an excellent movie to watch together.
Discuss: Martin Luther King Jr. is a famous leader of the civil rights movement. But he was also a Reverend, or a Pastor. Reverend King’s faith influenced everything he did, including the work he did to fight for civil rights. He had faith and prayed and preached about God’s love for everyone. His belief in non-violence to promote change was based in his Christian belief that we are to love our enemies and forgive those who hurt us.
Ask: How should our faith influence us to work for change when we see things that are wrong?
Ask: Will it be easy to fight for change? (This would be a great time to remind your kids that they will likely face some challenges on march day, that they will be tired and hungry and that their feet will hurt. Ask them what they should do when they get tired and want to give up.)
Discuss: Fighting for change is hard work and takes a lot of time. And you may have people who disagree with you. Powerful people didn’t want the change that civil rights leaders were fighting for, and powerful people never like change because that means they will have to lose some of their power.
Ask: What does the phrase “speaking truth to power” mean to you? How does that describe protesting?
Discuss: Protest is about interruption. Sometimes it makes people uncomfortable or angry because it interrupts their comfortable lives. Remember, we are gathering with a large group of people who have permission to shut down areas of a city and walk on the road. This will interrupt people who had plans to drive on that road! But God is no stranger to interruption: that’s what God did with Jesus. Jesus came to our earth to interrupt our comfortable lives and teach us how to love and serve him and one another.
Ask: How would you respond if someone argued with you that you shouldn’t be protesting?
Pray. Spend some time this week praying as a family. And pray as you head out for the protest. And then when you get home.
My prayer for you is that this sparks within you a hunger to learn and to grow and to engage in healthy dialogue around issues that matter to you and your family. May you have courage to invite your children into the journey with you.
And then woke up this morning still carrying the crushing weight of grief and worry. It sits in my gut like an anvil. It makes my hands shake when I try to type and my eyes water over at a kind word or gesture.
As I pulled the covers up over my shoulder last night I remembered the last time I had cried myself to sleep: when our son Tony was taken from us. This crushing weight, this mind-numbing worry, this panic for the future, it all feels very familiar.
So what did I do then? How did I get up and go about life? How did I not lock my doors and shut my windows and keep my family safe inside this bubble that I think I control?
Here’s what I did then:
I was very tender towards myself. I didn’t rush to get dressed or put makeup on or get back to business as usual. I let myself grieve. I sat on the floor and sobbed. I laid on my bed and shouted at God. I let myself feel.
I dug into Scripture. Into the truths found there. I spoke them aloud even if I didn’t believe them. I let friends speak them to me, even if they made me mad. I knew that ultimately hope and healing would be found within, so I kept going back to those words.
I prayed. Sometimes with words, most often with tears. I prayed for my son and for the family he left behind–especially the sisters who didn’t understand his abrupt departure. I prayed for the family he joined. I prayed for the social workers and the people who worried for me. And I prayed for my enemies: for the ones who took my son and scrutinized my actions and told me I wasn’t a good mother.
I nourished my body when I could. I gave it long walks and good cheese and the best chocolate.
I looked for God’s faithfulness. And when I looked I found it in big and in small ways. I opened my eyes to the wonder that is God’s constant care of me and I was renewed by the gratitude it brought about in me.
I’m going to be tender towards myself. I won’t be rushed to get dressed or put on makeup or get back to the business as usual. I will let myself grieve, to cry and wail and sob and feel what I need to feel.
I’ll return to the Book that gives life and hope and healing. I’ll speak its words aloud, even if I don’t believe them right now, because I know I will again.
I’ll pray. I’ll pray for my friends and my neighbors. I’ll pray for Holy Spirit power over my fears and panic. I’ll pray for those who lost and those who won. I’ll pray for my enemies, and ask God to grow in me a tender heart where I do not see anyone as such.
I will nourish my body with movement and with good food. I’ll let myself rest. I’ll drink a Starbucks without regret.
I will continue to look for God’s faithfulness and proclaim it when I find it. Because I know it is here.
I’ll sit with my children in their feelings too. I’ll show them a woman grieved and grieving, but a woman who will use this grief to fuel her actions. I will answer their questions and hold them tightly. I will remind them of what I know: they are loved fiercely by the God of the universe and the parents to whom God entrusted their care. We will work together to choose faith over fear.
I’ll find work to do. Laundry and sweeping. Cooking and crafting. Reading and writing. This is holy and I do it not to distract myself from my pain, but to work my way through it.
I will look for love. Always. It is there, it is here. It is all around.
When we lost Tony a friend shared these words with me. They comforted me and challenged me in the way Scripture seems to: inspite of everything, keep doing good.
In her gracious and humble speech today, Secretary Clinton invoked these words from Scripture, and in a similar way my friend had, reminded us to keep doing good. “My friends” she said, “let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary and lose heart, for there are more seasons to come and there is more work to do.”
So dear ones, if you are grieving with me today let us grieve and cry and work through our pain. Wallow. Sit in it. Wail if you need to. You have my permission to feel whatever it is you are feeling. But at the end of it, we must get back up. Let us not give up or run away. Let us continue to do the good work that God has called us to. Let us together promise to choose faith over fear, to love with abandon, and to look for God’s presence and care because I promise if you look you will find it. It may be in unexpected places and unexpected faces, but it is there. And together we will not only find it, we will become it.
I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was sitting on the stage at my church waiting for my rowdy group of kids to be picked up. We had just wrapped up another night of Awana ministry and the kids were running wild around our sanctuary. My coworker came to sit beside me and say hello before departing with a “see you Thursday night!” I must have looked confused because he stopped and gestured assuringly, “You know, at the pastor’s Christmas dinner party.”
I simply shook my head as my heart sunk: I hadn’t been invited.
There is a really cool God-story connected with how I got this job as Children’s Ministry Director. (When I tell it now I usually call myself a Children’s Pastor, but that’s another story for another day. As is the one about how I got the job.) It was my first “real” job after college graduation if you don’t count my internship that turned into a 6-month contract and a summer spent at day camp as a women’s lead counselor. I loved this job working with kids (and their parents, and leaders, and volunteers, and paid staff) and was passionate about growing the ministry and myself as a leader. I worked hard and it showed with glowing reviews both from parents and my supervisor.
But during my first months there I began to realize that there was something different about me in my role. These differences became especially clear as a new youth pastor was hired. While I had a similar education, led a similar-sized ministry, and worked just as many hours as he did there was things he was included in that I was not (including a higher salary and a housing allowance). Was it because he had children and I did not? Was it because he was a man and I was a woman? Was it because his role was labeled “pastor” and mine was only “director?” I had a lot of questions that went unanswered, mostly because they went unvoiced. I was new and I was young and never felt confident enough to push. So I just prayed a lot and kept doing my work with excellence.
But that night sitting on that stage my youth pastor friend reacted strongly to my admission that I hadn’t been invited. He took it upon himself to call up our senior pastor who was hosting the dinner and make sure my name (and my husband’s) was on the invitation list. And I don’t know what kind of back-room deals went on regarding me, but it didn’t take much longer for me to be included in the weekly pastoral staff meetings and the monthly pastoral staff lunches. Even when I was the only woman in the room for years, I worked hard to do more listening than speaking. I learned to use my voice wisely so that when I spoke up, those guys listened. And because I was in the room I was able to advocate for my ministry, for the kids and the families I was charged with the care of. And I got to read the prayer cards each week, bow my head, and enter into pastoral care for the families I loved.
And all it took was one man standing up and saying “she needs to be included. Her voice is important and we need to hear it.” I am forever grateful for this man who stopped long enough to see me, and then went to work on my behalf.
Christian men, we need you. Your sisters are working hard and faithfully living out our callings in the building of God’s kingdom. We need you to be our friend, and our advocate. Speak up. Invite us into the room. Tell the stories of how our words or actions have mattered to you. We need you on our team, fighting with us and for us.
Because we all benefit when leaders are unleashed. When men and women work together based on giftedness and not on gender. When a multitude of voices are included and encouraged.
Who has been an advocate in your life? How can you be such an advocate for someone else today?
We may read a lot about complementarian versus egaliatarian marriages in theory, but what does an egalitarian marriage look like in practice? That’s the purpose of this series: a glimpse of how roles based on giftedness and not gender, how mutual submission and genuine partnership can look in the midst of a real-life relationship-ours.
While we’re not really into the spooky/scary stuff of Halloween, the Gemmer family has always been into dressing up. Early each fall we sit down as a family and decide what the girls want their costumes to be, then we divide up labor and make a plan. Nothing against those families who chose to let their kids explore the costume aisle at Target to pick their Halloween duds, but we just think homemade costumes are much more fun.
But we are also a family with two parents who are busy and have multiple commitments to keep. Just because Darin’s job supports our family with a paycheck, doesn’t mean my volunteer job is any less important. And while I may be the one “at home” with the munchkins, our two heads put together are much more creative than my one.
The first year we really dove into the homemade costumes was the year Daisy decided she wanted to be a butterfly and Dani jumped right aboard that bandwagon. Darin had a vision that involved flexible pvc and tulle, and I was happy to be in charge of antennae and black clothing. This costume was a big winner and the girls loved all the compliments they received, even if they had to walk sideways to get through any doorway they encountered.
The following year we were way into Pippi Longstocking, and Dani had fallen in love with a horse costume her Gran had sent her. With Dani’s costume already taken care of, Darin took on the making of the Pippi wig and once again I was in charge of clothing. I found the dress and some way-big boots (Daisy fits into them now, 4 years later she’s wearing them as actual shoes) and sewed some patches on a play apron they owned. But the star of the show? Darin’s amazing handiwork at her wig.
That evening as we were trick-or-treating in the neighborhood, Darin overheard a couple of parents talking about Daisy’s costume. They had done a costume parade at school earlier in the afternoon and the parents were agreeing that Daisy’s costume was the best in the school. You better believe my husband took great pride in overhearing that comment.
By now Darin was starting to get a reputation he needed to uphold. The next Halloween Dani wanted to wear her new Rapunzel dress so we convinced Daisy to become the chameleon pal – Pascal – from Tangled. Darin took full ownership of both Dani’s wig and Daisy’s costume. You can’t see it here but Daisy’s chameleon not only lit-up, it changed colors. It was a perfect for trick-or-treating in the dark, it was just too bad that Daisy got sick that year and wasn’t feeling up for a trek around the neighborhood. And Dani’s wig? Masterpiece!
The summer of 2014 Daisy spent developing her own superhero alter-ego and really wanted to dress the part of “Rainbow Zap” for Halloween. Since my sewing skills are much better than Darin’s, I took ownership of this year’s costume and sewed a cape, wristlets and mask. Dani found a Peacock costume in a consignment shop that she fell in love with and since we had store credit to spend I couldn’t say no. Somehow Darin got out of costume work this year!
One more Halloween, one more costume conversation. Dani was excited that it was her turn to wear the Chameleon costume (easy, check!) and Daisy was really interested in dressing as her favorite My Little Pony. Darin agreed to tackle her costume if I would search out some ideas for him. While searching I stumbled upon an Etsy listing for a homemade costume, in Daisy’s size! What a gift. Knowing we couldn’t do a homemade costume for any cheaper than this one was listed, I hit order and Darin counted his blessings.
Sometime over the past year since I’ve been in Seminary, Darin has taken up crochet as a hobby. He was tired of sitting alone bored most evenings while I studied, but knitting wasn’t his favorite. But when he moved over to crochet he was all in – making hats and scarves and other fun things for us and for gift giving. This isn’t a typical “manly” hobby, but one that is affordable and practical and one that Darin really enjoys.
This year he created a Gru (from Despicable Me) character for camp and the girls loved it so much they wanted to do family costumes when Halloween rolled around. And Darin, once again, had a vision for their costumes that was unmatched. He crocheted them each a hat, adding yarn-covered jar lids for goggles, and chenille stems for the crazy purple minion. The costumes fit our family personalities quite perfectly.
At the school carnival Dani happily told everyone who complimented her hat (once again Daisy was sick) that her dad made it. While they received several questioning looks (Dani told me one guy tried to convince her that she was wrong, that it was her mom who made the costume) it is so fun for me to see our girls gleefully extolling their Dad’s creative talents.
We work together to create costumes each year, because we are both creative. We both have something to bring, not based on our gender, but on our God-given gifts. And our whole family benefits when everyone gets to use their gifts to the fullest.
Can’t wait to see what Halloween 2017 brings our way!
Want to know more about egalitarian marriage and how this model is fully Biblically supported? Click here.