igniting the ember: emerging women finding their voice

kathyescobar church stuff, dreams, equality, ex good christian women, women in ministry 11 Comments

“women have been taught that for us, the earth is flat, and that if we venture out, we will fall off the edge”  – author unknown

i’ve discovered the world is round. i have survived my venture out (so far) and although it feels like i have fallen off the cliff, i have found there really is solid ground beneath me.  it was fun facilitating the workshop “emerging women finding their voice” at the new conspirators conference in seattle last weekend.  as i mentioned before, julie clawson, who moderates the emerging women’s blog out of chicago, couldn’t travel due to her pregnancy and asked me to fill in.   the workshop ran twice during the conference and were both small but perfect-sized groups for dialogue (my favorite).  i was glad a few guys were there, too. we need to both be in the room to have these kinds of conversations, and i have respect for men who are trying to learn and see what they can do to shift the tide of sexism in the church.  i mentioned previously that they audio-taped it, and as soon as i find out about the link, i’ll pass it on. it’s hard to condense into a simple blog post, but here are a few of the big ideas:

in the workshop we talked about our responses to the words “emerging – women – finding – their – voices”.  the word i most connected with was “finding”.  finding means something was lost. it was once there.  our voice was put in there by God at creation, but all kinds of crazy things have squeezed it out.  sometimes in the moments of spiritual growth and empowerment, we might think we have to go “get it from somewhere else” but i think that is is actually just uncovering what is buried under the rubble and rocks of church, society, and life experiences.   under the rubble is a burning ember waiting to be fanned back into flame.  it just needs to be nurtured, tended to, fueled, to bring what may have been squelched back to life.  and we all know that one burning ember can create a raging fire, given enough fuel.  i believe all men and women were created with a powerful voice (and powerful doesn’t mean just loud).  a voice meant to express itself, impact others, live out passion, affect this world in small and big ways.  this voice is not just for “ministry” in the typical church sense.  to me, that would be a miss.    it is about women finding their voices in all their relationships, with people, with God, with theirselves, in ministry, in the workplace, in the deepest places of their heart.  it’s about stepping into His image in us and quit holding back out of fear, doubt, and insecurity.  during the workshop we brainstormed some alternative words for emerging, finding & voice.  here are just a few words we came up in the first session (i forgot to ask someone to write them down round 2):

emerging:  coming out, courageous, hopeful, arising, blooming, transforming, blossoming

finding: seeking, discovering, listening, recovering. exploring, stepping into

voice: ministry, purpose, deepest song, identity, breath, worship, calling, creative ability, mo-jo, beauty

i want to make something clear:  gender equality is just one important issue connected to the bigger issue of justice and equality for all regardless of color, sex, socioeconomics. i take galatians 3:28 very seriously.  the reason why this conversation is so important to me is that i don’t believe there can be restoration and reconciliation in the church until men-women-black-white-latino-asian-native american-rich-poor-gay-straight-conservative-liberal-hip & cool-boring-educated-married-single-young-old-broken-more healed can see each other as equally valuable, with important voices to bring to the table.  to listen to.  to speak into.  to learn from. 

the only way this can begin to happen is if power (aka: leadership, voice, value) begins to shift.  those with power need to give it up.  period.  make room.  read the beatitudes.  the fine art of these passages has been stolen from the museum and replaced with a ridiculous leadership poster and a few scriptures taken out of context.  people with power need to learn to give it away. don’t be as successful.  ruffle some feathers in your congregations by doing the right thing instead of bowing down to the fearful voices.   seek ways to let others have more than just the microphone now and then.  seek to serve instead of be served.  see the value of a different perspective. honor the diversity. 

at the same time, those without power need to begin to step into it.  this means risking our ego, self-protection, doubts.  it means upsetting the apple cart and possibly losing some friends.  it means sometimes we will have to ask to be a part of certain conversations even when it feels incredibly stupid to ask.   it means some people will say we are “controlling” and “power-seeking.”   we need to learn to live with the negative feedback  and worry about pleasing God, not man.  this means rocking the boat in our relationships, bringing our true selves to our marriages, our jobs, our friendships, our ministries and callings, and not hiding behind a “good christian woman” facade.   (i believe we must do this for our daughters who follow.  these young girls need us to change the course of this ship so that when they get on it it is traveling toward freedom, not slavery). 

charles degaulle said “silence is the ultimate weapon of power.”  i believe that men and women have been silent on this issue for far too long.  allowing ourselves to give time, money, heart to a system that does not value a woman’s voice means we are unknowingly supporting oppression.  i believe it is time for men to begin to say “hey, this isn’t right.  i am not going to stand by and let my sisters/daughters/spouses/friends be silenced.”  i believe it is time for people to start asking good questions about the lack of women’s voices in their communities beyond the typical support roles.  i think it is important that we learn to vote with our feet.  i am so distressed by the number of people willing to stay in systems that continually perpetuate boy-power because it looks and sounds cool, and they don’t realize the subtle theological message that is being sent (i am not throwing stones, i was once there, too, just trying to raise awareness how covert and insidious sexism and prejudice really is).

one other thought that came up during the workshop.  power is not finiteif someone gives up power, it doesn’t mean that there’s now less power in the room. it actually means that there’s more power in the room.  this is the wild and craziness of God’s ways, not human ways.  the giving it up actually ends up as gaining something far more valuable.

so power needs to shift, and possibilities need to increase.  this just means that more and more and more and more opportunities need to present themselves for women to use their voice.  those in power/leadership will have to see in us what we sometimes can’t see or don’t even yet know.   makeesha fisher recently said:  “if you send the message that the voice of the other doesn’t matter, don’t be surprised when given the chance they don’t want to speak.”

don’t underestimate how much tending and nurturing this shift is going to take.   shame is very prevalent for those of us “finding our voices.”  we feel a little guilty for using it because all of the forces around us have told us that is bad, wrong, that our role is raising our babies and being meek and mild.   it’s a little bit like the kicked and abused dog who gets a new owner.  the door to the cage is open but it just a little afraid to come out. it will take a lot of wooing but over time hopefully safety and trust will get created.  possibilities will not happen overnight, but i have great faith that more and more opportunities will open for women, and my hope is that my sisters will give it a try and step into their giftedness, creativity, passion in many wonderful, powerful ways.   i may not see all the change i’d love to see in my lifetime, but i believe the steps that we are taking now will pave the way for those women that come behind us, just as those who went before us helped pave our way, too.

at the end of the workshop i handed everyone a piece of wood, a firestarter, and asked them to write on the wood what they needed to do to fan their voice or another woman’s voice into flame.  to ignite that burning ember.  the responses were beautiful:  men saying they needed to “learn to follow, stop talking about it and just do it” women saying “risk my heart, go for it, support other young women who need encouragement.”

my hope:  little and big fires erupt all over the place in the months and years to come.

ps:  saturday march 8th is international women’s day, women using their voices around the world to impact change for the greater good.   here’s to fanning the flame…here are some blog posts worth checking out:

complementarianism sucks: telling women to stay quiet in the name of Jesus – pam hodgeweide

a world handicapped by half and the voice – makeesha fisher

international women’s day – julie clawson

are women human? sonja

i don’t have the balls to be a leader – kingdom grace

in the same vein, tia lynn also has a thoughtful and well studied series about gender equality – my favorite:  deborah-a fundamentalist’s worst nightmare.