there is no more beautiful art than to see a person, a man, a woman, a child, crafted in God’s image and living as fully into that image of God that only they can fill. it not only makes them more beautiful, it makes God more beautiful.
– christa romig-leavitt
i have had fun writing this series of what could be, but i have to say i have also realized that on the whole, i have said almost all of these things before in more ways than one. what it is doing, though, is forcing me to contain these thoughts into something a little more tangible and in-one-place for once. i also had the privilege of spending an evening with the emerging desert cohort in phoenix this past weekend & sharing a bit of my story, the refuge story. i realized something extremely significant for me while i was there: we are doing this! some of these dreams are really coming true. sure, it is ugly & messy & trust me, not nearly as cool as our website looks. but the bottom line is that these elements really are present in our community. they aren’t just pipe dreams or lip service. that brings me great joy in the midst of the hard work.
so far, what could be, my dreams for “the church”, include: God expanded, pain welcomed, doubt honored, power diffused. (the ones i haven’t written on yet are: love, mercy & compassion extended, justice pursued, creativity expressed & freedom celebrated)
when i see this list i realize how critically important & utterly intertwined each of these elements really are. you can’t just pull one of these out and have the rest of them work. they are interdependent. this is radically obvious when it comes to issues of equality. in my opinion, there’s absolutely no escaping the importance of true blue equality in a community of Christ-followers. if you’re been reading the carnival for a while, you have heard all of this before. if you’re new here, you can read more about some of my thoughts if you just go to the sidebar category “equality” (yeah, i am not ashamed to say, i am a broken record!)
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to me, equality is much more than just gender. sure, gender is one of the most obvious ones to focus on, especially when it comes to those from an evangelical persuasion. until the barriers are broken down between men and women in the body of Christ, a chasm of lost experience, healing, and wholeness will always be present in our communities. i believe wholeheartedly, in every fabric of my being, that men & women should learn how to work & live & love alongside each other as brothers & sisters in the family of God (my friend dan brennan is writing some really important material about cross-gender friendships & their healing power in the kingdom). i think that more healing than we could ever imagine will happen when we take sex and power out of the equation & model to the world the radical equality that Jesus brings to a world frought with inequality, injustice & oppression.
this kind of example then cuts into other forms of equality like: socioeconomics, race, education, life circumstances, just to name a few. the “church”, the beautiful wild body of Christ, is supposed to be the one place where the playing field is leveled & all are equal, i love galatians 3:28-“there is no longer jew or gentile, slave or free, male or female. all are one in Christ Jesus.”
part of changing the face of churchianity will be us getting in touch with just how prejudiced we are about all kinds of things. sexism. racism. classism. dogmatism. we want to say that everyone has a fair shake & we see everyone equally, but the truth is that rarely, if ever, is that ever truly practiced. power & fear has a crazy, insidious way of ruining equality and keeping people marginalized subtly, directly & in every way in between.
so what does equality really look like for us as people, as communities?
yet again, i think it sort of goes back to what i’ve already written on power diffused. so many of the same things apply. everyone has a voice, everyone is welcome at the table, period. i’d also add a few others:
practicing equality means we will have to be very intentional about it. because of power issues, comfort zones, all kinds of other detractors, we tend to follow the easy, path-of-least-resistance ways which overtly & covertly lead to inequality. this means we will have to pull hard the other direction, intentionally asking for new voices, encouraging women, minorities, and other underrepresented folks to step up to the plate and contribute fully. we can never underestimate how foreign this really is for so many who have not ever had an equal voice before. many are more than a little gun-shy. this means that we will have to ask again, again, and again and nurture & affirm people’s contributions in small & big ways. the next part of affirming people, once they are at the table alongside us, is to really listen, learn, and be willing to be influenced by them. in short, being vulnerable to actual change which results as a natural part of being in relationship with them.
we will need to reckon with our prejudices. we all have them. it’s a piece of our humanity & our brokenness that needs continual work. this means we will have to search our hearts and ask God to reveal what they are. we will have to talk about this out loud, in community, with safe friends, to reckon with our tendency to judge, ignore, dismiss, all kinds of things that rob equality in our relationships & communities. i had a dear friend who is part of the refuge who came to me a long while back and asked for forgiveness. i was like “for what?” he said, “for judging you for being a woman pastor. i didn’t think i could listen to you, i thought you were violating the Bible, i thought you were wrong. and i am so sorry.” i will never forget that moment, when my friend reckoned with his prejudice and had the guts to admit what he had been wrestling with. yeah, i couldn’t imagine living out this community without him now. but we wouldn’t have gotten there if he didn’t have the courage to own his prejudice, seek God, and stay in.
we must learn to make it normal. to be honest, we don’t talk about equality at the refuge, almost ever. it’s just part of who we are and what we do. you wouldn’t know that from what i write here, you’d think it was a hot topic every day, but actually that is just for the sake of raising awareness of it in the greater body. for us, we just do it. a while back a big-definitely-not-egalitarian-in-the-slightest-on-the-inside-but-woman-friendly-on-the-outside church had a woman guest speaker come for weekend services. i can’t tell you the number of people who felt the need to tell me, declaring “isn’t that so cool?” of course, they are barking up the wrong tree & i was incredulous, honestly. how could you think that once a year a guest speaker from another organization comes to speak at your church and you are so proud of how they view women? the only way to make these kinds of things normal is to make them normal. to do them over and over and over again until you don’t think to mention it.
i could go on and on. instead, i asked a few of my friends from the refuge, men and women on the journey together, what has it felt like to be in a community where equality (and not just gender equality) is practiced?
here are some of their responses (yep, i know a few of you will be happy about all their capital letters!)
“What has it felt like to be in a community where equality is practiced? Honestly, it has been a challenge for me. I am so used to finding leaders to idolize and place on a pedestal, that being a part of this community has provided a place for me to practice equal relationships. Instead of following human beings and practicing idolatry with little regard to my spiritual growth, I can concentrate on seeking God as an individual practice and alongside of others.”
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” I don’t think much in terms of equality, but rather of love. These work together toward the same thing, life in the Kingdom of God. The local version is life in and out of The Refuge, which doesn’t have a confining boundary anyway. It’s just a way of life, I guess. The ongoing opportunity to pull the log from my own eye becomes a daily devotion. It is good to say “Hi”, and mean it. Always a chance to listen, and then downshift another gear and REALLY listen. When doing things, sometimes I take a chance and lead. Sometimes I take a chance and follow someone else’s lead. Practicing equality is mostly about practicing humility. The kind of humility which allows beautiful and sometimes odd relationships to flourish, in service to the Kingdom.”
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“Equality came to me as a surprise. I had to be away from the Refuge for a season. When I left I had a good professional vocation and a family. When I returned I was going through a messy divorce and lost my job. It was and is a hard time. It’s no surprise that I needed shoulders to cry on and a lot of ‘high maintenance’. But, in this season of pain, I began to realize that I wanted to return to Christian discipleship. In the world of ‘church USA corp.’ my first tasks would have been to reacquire a place of correct ‘stewardship’; get a high paying job, and get ‘back on track.’ None of this has happened. I’m fiscally completely out of the mainstream of our culture. My divorce legal work has been all pro bono, of necessity, and I get food from a food bank. I live in an 8’X45′ trailer with a roommate. But at The Refuge, in some strange way, I have become a leader. I’m not a leader in name but in relationship. I have learned that leadership is not something you can earn, manipulate, or achieve; though I had spent a season in my former church experience doing just these things. The community, in love, naturally grants true leadership. It comes from weakness and openness and defenselessness. It is not a quid-pro-quo of power; rather it looks powerless. It is a sharing in that I fully recognize my weakness and my need for help, which opens a path for my brothers and sisters who need my help. I have not been appointed nor announced to position but have been anointed by conversation and relationship. True Christian leadership is ‘church USA corp. leadership’ turned on its head. Kathy calls this, rightfully, equality. The Bible calls it servant leadership, ‘the first will be the last’. The idea of ‘the last’ means a lot to me right now. And when you really experience this equality it is in a community of friends that look to you for support and guidance while, at the same time, you desperately need the same from them. Until we give up the ‘lead, follow , or get out of the way’ choices offered by the typical corporate church model, I don’t think we can really truly in the deepest place in our hearts, be ‘free in Christ’.”
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“I was at what I call a ‘normal’ church just a couple of weeks ago with my husband who was leading worship for one of the church’s services. A man walked into the room during the sound check and it was clear he was someone as he strode in with confidence and walked up to the stage to talk to my husband (he turned out to be the lead sound/tech man). He made eye contact with me, and as he drew near I stood up to introduce myself to him; it was clear by his expression and his quick introduction that he in no way intended to actually introduce himself to me, let alone talk with me. Later before the service there was a time of prayer and as I stood to join the others leaders I noticed that I was the only woman. This made me realize how much equality I have every time I meet with my friends in the place of The Refuge. I have wanted this equality for a long time; in some situations I have experienced it within a framework of theatre or work or marriage but never have I experienced it within faith. Doing so has been lovely and empowering and scary and beautiful. I never asked The Refuge to consider me equal – they just did. I never asked The Refuge to consider me for more than women’s/children’s ministry – they just did. I have been given a gift. I was scared to open it. Scared of what it might mean to have myself fully able and fully acceptable in this place of faith. But, oh what a gift! To see myself through the eyes of equality and to see others through eyes that are more focused. To sift through the veil of gender, age, color, sex, financial status, etc. and to peer through to the heart and the mind of a child of God. There is no more beautiful art than to see a person, a man, a woman, a child, crafted in God’s image and living as fully into that image of God that only they can fill. It not only makes them more beautiful, it makes God more beautiful.”
yeah, equality is beautiful. here’s what i hope:
that we’d be courageous people willing to reckon with our prejudices and take radical risks to practice equality across gender, race, socioeconomics, and any other areas that create inequalities which keep us from seeing and loving one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
God, help us notice inequality & strive to be practitioners of equality in our relationships, our communities, in risky, new and creative ways.