this monday march 8th is international women’s day. i’ve written a post in honor of it the past 2 years (you can read them here & here) & really wanted to write one this year, too. there’s something powerful about a bunch of people thinking, talking, sharing, listening, learning, about the same topic at the same time. i am not aware of a synchroblog this year, but i might have just been out of the loop & am going to be out of town for the next few days, so thought i’d post today anyway. it’s interesting, too, how this post has evolved. it’s been all over the place, and i am sure that i will share some of the other ideas that floated across my mind in the future but it ended up much more personal than i had expected after an odd but good experience i had yesterday that is so connected to this whole thought of women & the church & the world.
i was at a lovely gathering with some friends who do some great work here in denver on behalf of the poor & oppressed. they are good & kind to me in all kinds of ways. but i was the only woman there. this is not an uncommon feeling to me and in the past i used to take it as a point of pride. now, i see it as a sign that something is wrong. there’s something broken in the system somehow. this group of people are some of the dearest ever, but i realized as the post-group conversation continued that i felt like crying. as i looked around the room i noticed that every single one of those guys had been “wanted” by their organization. recruited, nurtured, included. and how i longed to have that same feeling. sure, i am invited into these meetings because i’m in the trenches with people in hard places and they like me, but i think i have always felt left out because i’ve never been really truly asked to be part of the ongoing work that they are doing. this has absolutely nothing to do with them; there’s no “job” for me there anyway, but i noticed that there was something way bigger going on inside of me that was completely unrelated to this conversation with them.
it is a really cruddy feeling to not be wanted.
and as a woman in christian ministry it is a familiar feeling. i remember how empowering it was 7+ years ago when i first got the call that said “we want you to come and be part of this staff , we need you.” i felt wanted. included. recruited, invited. and when that all went awry and i basically “exited’ that world i know what it feels like to not feel “wanted” anymore.
yes, my community wants me. yes, my friends across all shapes & sizes & beliefs want me. yes, you lovely and faithful readers at least appear to want me. yes, God wants me. yes, once in a while i get a gig or an opportunity that makes me feel a little-extra-wanted.
but on the whole, in the wider system, in the great big christian “church in the sky”, i don’t feel wanted.
how could i? how could so many other women?
there’s a strong and powerful undercurrent in the patriarchical, hierarchical systems that have permeated the church that says to women “we don’t really want you.” well, actually we do, but we want you “if you will play by our power rules” or to “do the grunt work that needs to get done, take care of the kids & keep the world spinning round at church & at home.” but we don’t really want all of you–your powerful, creative, beautiful gifts & powerful, wise, nurturing voice side-by-side us as equals together.
yes, people can start throwing out scripture verses about now about equal in value & different in roles. i am not here to argue this with anyone. we can kindly agree to disagree.
but i feel very confident about this: there are a bunch, and i do mean a bunch, of women who feel unwanted in the place that they should feel the most loved, most valued, most treasured, most encouraged, most free–the wild & beautiful body of Christ. this goes across giftedness, passions, strength, loudness, leadership-ness, etc. in typical christian systems, women have been stripped of much of their value beyond what is useful to the system–which tends to be controlled by men. and i know why they stay; because crumbs from the table are better than no food at all.
yesterday i was struck with that feeling of just feeling hungry.
and tired. on behalf of myself. and behalf of all of the women that i would love to see nurtured, invited, encouraged, recruited, valued, and truly set free.
and of course this stretches far beyond the reach of just the church. we all know that there are millions upon millions of women who are unwanted around the world and in the cities we live in. beautiful daughters of God who are mistreated, unvalued, stripped of their dignity & painfully used as a regular part of their experience here on earth.
so it’s quite easy to say “well, look at how good you have it, be thankful, you could be born in afghanistan or iran or a whole lot worse situations than this.” of that, i have no doubt. trust me, i am thankful beyond measure for my life, my community, my freedom to live out what i believe. but at the same time, i absolutely believe that my freedom & their freedom & your freedom is completely and utterly intertwined. when we are in bondage, they are in bondage. when we are unwanted, they are even more unwanted. when we are more free, they have a chance to be more free. i can’t get away from the harsh reality that the typical christian system keeps the poor, the marginalized, the underrepresented trapped & silenced in all kinds of painful ways.
maybe this is why the women in the gospels were so radically connected to Jesus; they knew the system was brutally bent against them & that somehow, some way, the power of his message set them free. they felt wanted.
and yes i do feel wanted by Jesus. i just sometimes don’t feel wanted by the reflection of his body here on earth. i heard his powerful presence in the car yesterday, in a deep place in my heart: “i never, ever, ever, feed you the crumbs….and kathy, never, ever, ever feed someone else them either.” i know for me this means to do whatever i can, in my own limited ways, to invite fully my brothers & sisters to the table in all their strength, in all their weakness, in all their power & all their lack thereof, in all their beauty, in all their ugliness. to make room. to help others feel wanted.
yet wanting people doesn’t mean saying it is enough. it means actually doing the hard work of creating the space and inviting those who have never had a space at the table, restoring dignity & hope, learning about how deeply engrained these power differentials are, fanning into flame intentional ways of bringing forth what’s been silenced, to begin to respect how without each other we can’t possibly reflect the kingdom of God.
and, most importantly, embracing that the women around the world & in our cities & neighborhoods & families can’t be free when we’re not free & we can’t be free when they’re not free.
i am so grateful for the freedom i have experienced over the past few years & will do what i can to pass it on. at the same time, yesterday i was struck yet again with the magnitude of the problem far beyond just women in leadership–that’s just one small symptom of a much bigger problem: the pervasiveness that years upon years of inequality & oppression & not-being-truly-wanted-and-valued has created for women across all shapes & sizes & walks of life and experiences.
anyway, i think i’m becoming a liberation theologian in all kinds of ways. and as we celebrate international women’s day as a world, my hope is that the church, the reflection of Jesus Christ–what’s supposed to be the most inclusive, valuing, free-ing force on this earth–would pave the way for setting women free and demonstrate with actions that we are wanted.
what do you think?
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ps: i have a guest post up at the evolving church conference blog. it’s in toronto april 10th. i can’t go, but i am sure it’s going to be a great convo. the theme is the kingdom economy. the post i wrote is called new wineskins for new wine. comments are always appreciated & help others learn and think and consider beyond just what was originally written.