Many of my peeps know that I got a chance to preach at a church of Christ last weekend. While that may seem like a fun little thing to note about someone's life, let me tell you: this was a really big deal. The main reason it was a big deal is simply the fact that I am female. While most of Christendom recognizes at the very least, female spiritual gifting, the churches of Christ go pretty far in excluding women from all leadership. We don't pass communion trays. We don't lead prayers. We don't read Scripture. We don't even make announcements. And for some reason, it seems typical that even in churches who have moved past some of these barriers, the buck often stops at preaching, even for somewhat progressive non-church of Christ churches. So it was a big deal for that reason alone and when this opportunity first presented itself to me, the weight of that was something of which I was very cognizant.
More than that, I was asked not only to preach in a church of Christ, but also to specifically talk about how the churches of Christ have hurt women. WHOA NELLY. I could write and write and speak and speak and never be done telling that story or feel like I represented everyone well. It's an unending story of horror, and I'm not being dramatic. Again and again I am confronted with how this has ruined people's lives and in some cases, trampled on their precious faith to the point of extinction. This obviously harms and inhibits women but I've also been surprised to find that men are harmed by it too. This issue is serious and palpable and ongoing. It keeps knocking on the door of my awareness (even though I've left the churches of Christ) and I keep answering it like, are we seriously still doing this?!?! Yes friends, WE'RE STILL DOING THIS.
Our adult class time was specific to my story (a Q&A with their regular preacher) and the sermon was a Scripture I chose from that week's lectionary. Class time got into the benefits I received and the harm that was created for me growing up in the churches of Christ. And that story includes the major disadvantage I had in having an outspoken, passionate, leadership-gifted spirit. The more I talked about conflict avoidance, the discouragement of female leadership and keeping a tidy narrative at all costs, the more the bobble heads nodded, especially those of the women in the room. It was validating, to say the least. I was moved by the questions that were asked of me. I was healed by the openness in the men's faces, the nods of the elders and the genuine encouragement in their eyes as I spoke. It also served as like a first date before the sermon, which was a fringe benefit since I did not know the church or the people well. It's hard to speak vulnerable truth to strangers. Some people would rather do it that way but I like to at least get a feel for a group before I dive in, in hopes that my content can bring value to where they are. I need my intuition to "read the room" so to speak in order for that to be effective and class served that purpose.
I don't know what the future holds for me. I will tell you: it felt damn good to preach the word of God. I felt like myself in a way I never have before. I haven't been trained to preach. I'm 36 years old and I got on that stage with no training and thought, "this will be interesting." It was important to me to be open to the process whatever that was going to look like. No amount of preparation was going to give me a peek into how I was going to feel in that moment.
Turns out, I felt exhilarated.
The passage we went through was 1 Corinthians 8 about food sacrificed to idols. I got to talk about community versus freedom. I had often seen that Scripture used to keep people from daring to go outside the tiny parameters of the community box. It was treated like community was more important than freedom and a cursory reading of the text makes that assumption pretty legit. This passage and that idea really triggers me. And that's why I chose it. Amazing how it was one of my four choices that week! The line I ended up saying a few times was that "I've clawed my way to freedom" and I don't want to give it up to be loved or to get approval from others. So what does it look like to hold space for diversity, for differences among the group rather than uniformity? What does it look like to enjoy freedom and be mindful of others? We talked about how women are conditioned to ONLY be mindful of others. How can the community benefit if women are conditioned to not speak their truth? If God has something for the community and gives it to us to share but we are too afraid of conflict or "harming the community" to speak the truth, the community isn't as healthy as it could be and not as effective either. We need to recognize that conflict is not bad! Conflict is critical in a healthy community and we have to be brave enough to speak. We also have to recognize that community is valuable and it's fragility needs to be acknowledged as well. The goal is not to be right. The goal is to have a community that is truly representative of itself and the kingdom of God. That reframes the idea that conflict is a problem and reminds us that it's actually essential.
There were so many little things about the day that I will cherish in my heart forever. I won't share every tiny thing because this is already long, but I do have to tell you one more thing. We were talking a bit about Tim's ministry firing during class and Tim was present. Tim was given the opportunity to chime in, as it's clearly a shared story between us, and he opted not to come up front and speak. When Tim and I went over the Q&A beforehand (I really wanted to make sure he felt safe as a more private person) we discussed the possibility of him speaking up. I left it up to him. And I would not have been upset had he chosen to do so. But he didn't. He stayed in his seat and he watched our kids while I taught and then preached. You guys, I can't tell you how special that was for me. Our relationship has always been pretty egalitarian at home. We don't do weird submission dynamics. We are interchangeable with the kids. We support each other in our work and personal pursuits. But in church, he was the front man and I was in the audience. There really wasn't another way for us in that environment. For him to decide that I was the one who was asked to speak and to not in any way detract from that was possibly the most romantic thing he's ever done for me. And he didn't do it to look humble or because I asked him to. He did it because that's who he is. He's unassuming. He's pro-me. And when it was my turn to shine, he was pleased. So pleased, in fact, that on the way home he said I really needed to find ways to keep preaching as an act of self-care. He said, when he doesn't get to teach enough at work, he feels like he's not utilizing one of his most useful and gratifying gifts. So he makes sure to schedule enough teaching in his work life to feel satisfied. And he suggested I pursue opportunities (at my current church which is run by women) to continue preaching regularly in order to feel a fuller sense of satisfaction in my life. And I hadn't talked about how satisfied I felt or how exhilarated I was at that point. He said that just in response to watching me do it.
And the end of the day, I've already been carved up by my church trauma and I've healed enough to have a pretty decent, whole perspective on them. I've done that by going to therapy and processing my feelings and writing and talking things out with people I know and trust and respect. I've frighteningly put myself back in church, though a very different one than that from which I came. And I've read and read and read. But trauma shapes us. Scar tissue surrounds certain areas of my heart and my soul. And in some ways I'm the better for it and in others, it can be frightening to do anything that looks remotely like the life those scars represent. Going into that building and opening myself up to those familiar knives only to receive the gentle resection of some of that scar tissue (versus new wounds being created) was one of the greatest gifts of my adult life. I will always treasure the peace and the love and the egging on that I saw in the eyes of those men. The male leadership wanting me to speak (not just tolerating me but truly listening to learn) meant everything to me. To be honest, I was surprised by it. I've never ever had men in the church look at me that way before. The women saw themselves in my story and that meant something too. But I live in the world of women and I occupy that shared space daily. What is unusual for me is to witness men in power using their privilege to equip and uphold a woman. AND THAT WOMAN WAS THERE TO CRITICIZE THEM!
It didn't feel like closure. It felt like an invitation. And that scares me a little.