over, under, beside

kathyescobar equality, ex good christian women, friendship, healing, incarnational, leadership, spiritual formation 6 Comments

over under beside

“there is always warfare in our hearts; there is always the struggle between pride and humility, hatred and love, forgiveness and the refusal to forgive, truth and the concealment of truth, openness and closedness.  each one of us is walking in that passage towards liberation, growing on the journey towards wholeness and healing…”

– jean vanier

thanks for the great comments on dan brennan’s interview about cross-gender friendships.  one reader commented on facebook “i have no idea why this is still so controversial”.  i think that often related to all kinds of topics in the church–we tend to be scared of so many things.  look at the rob bell bruhaha, for example.  if someone starts questioning what has been originally taught and many have just accepted as the norm, all hell breaks loose (just had to throw in that word).  it makes me laugh on one hand because it feels so ridiculous & makes me cry on the other hand because of the time and energy we spend on picking apart scripture when the world is crying out for love, hope, and help.   the bottom line, in my opinion, is we are fearful people.  we have not been taught the kind of wild trust, deep peace, and extravagant love i believe Jesus was pointing us to.

i think we need new leaders who can model a different kind of love than what’s been taught and cultivated.  the other day as i was walking i had this thought come to mind.  most humans are taught to live “over” another or “under” another but very rarely are we encouraged to live in the power, freedom, and hope that comes from being truly “beside” one another. it’s part of the human problem.

Jesus came to set us, the captives, free.  real freedom, in my opinion, comes from learning how to live beside one another in peace, hope, and love.  Jesus’ radical gift has been sorely misused by people bearing his name, and instead of offering freedom to the world, we perpetuate systems and cultures that bind and disempower.

leaders are taught to be “over” their group, flock, people.  i believe in leadership but i think it is greatly mis-modeled.  we have cultivated a very flawed model of leadership in most christian contexts where leaders are on the top, with great authority, and use power in a way that keeps people neatly tucked “under” them.  it protects them from vulnerability.

i am not blaming this all on leaders, either.  i see how easy it is for people to want to put themselves “under” a teacher, leader, guide’s authority and guidance.  the problem with this, though, is that can be do disempowering.  it puts a great divide in power and i think ultimately diminishes people’s dignity and value.  i also think some people like it that way because it lets them off the hook.  by staying “under” they don’t have to step in and out to free living and risk making themselves more vulnerable.  it keeps them protected.

i have heard from many women over the years who like the idea of being “under” their partner in theory, because it somehow would make them feel more protected.  i also think that it keeps them from having to rise up and into their freedom.  they can blame their husbands for not leading enough, being strong enough, or all kinds of other enoughs.  i remember saying the same things many years ago & i think it kept me from having to actually step into what God was challenging me to step into. i am so thankful for God’s healing, an awesome husband who was open to change and healing, too, and brave women who encouraged along the way.

a core tenet of true friendship and relationship with one another in authentic, healing christian community is that we learn how to live “beside” one another.  we let go of having someone be “over” us or put others “under” us and see each other’s dignity, value, and worth first.  we unplug from unhealthy power dynamics that keep us safely nestled above or below others in spirit and make ourselves far more vulnerable.

i wholeheartedly believe in mutual submission and there are times where i have to put myself “under” someone else’s decision even though i don’t agree, and in other situations, they do the same for me.  it’s not that the lines between under and over are concrete and impenetrable for certain situations, circumstances, and roles.  i know people can share all kinds of Bible verses that point to church structures & roles and i am not saying that there’s no place for it.

what i am challenging, though, is our natural human tendency to default to it because it’s easier.  it organizes people. it puts them in their place.  it keeps people separated.  it keeps us from love.

the central idea to me is that we do all we can to participate in “beside” relationships, men with women, men with men, women with women, where each person is empowered, strengthened, and has a chance to learn more about loving and being loved. so much healing and freedom can come when we practice journeying “beside” each other.

it is in these equal beside relationships that i think God’s love is deeply reflected and something deeper is being healed.  our souls are more set free.  our dignity and value is strengthened.  in the Upper Room, Jesus sat beside his disciples and reminded them, “i no longer call you my servants, i call you my friends.” Jesus, who most easily could have put himself “over” them, sits beside them and offers the gift of friendship.