Why I’m Sorta Kinda Still a Christian, but Maybe Really Not

church

Photo collage by architect Michael Jantzen who says, “I want to reinvent the built environment in order to extend the reach of consciousness.”

I used to carry a creed in my pocket, a bullet set of beliefs that I lived by. I knew my Bible (the sign of a well worn bible is the sign of a well fed soul…), I could pray anybody under the table as if public prayer was a drinking game. I taught Sunday school, served in missions in a foreign country, stopped cussing, drinking and smoking AND wore oversized shirts to hide my curves so as not to stumble my brothers into lustful thoughts.

Oh yeah, I was a rockstar good Christian woman. Seriously.

It is a long story, not the fairy tale or Guidepost magazine kind of story, of how I began slipping down the slippery slope into a place that the media likes to dub, The Dones.

The Dones are formerly religious people (like me) who are Done with organized, institutional faith. We are done with Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. I once had a job where I became a source of workplace gossip when I managed to get Sundays off as a new hire, that’s how important the Sunday morning gig was to me. (When I decided I was done with church, my boss was actually a little concerned when I informed  her I was now available to work Sunday mornings. “Everything ok?” she asked.  I’m good, I reassured her. “I used to have something I was a part of on Sunday mornings, but now I am not a part of it anymore.”)

It felt kinda like a break-up.

That break-up story is another  blog post, how church  broke my heart over and over again until I finally wised up and got out of the dysfunctional relationship it had become.

I have not been to church in almost six years.

Leaving church did not mean I left the Faith.

However, once I was out of the cage and my faith was free to roam the wildlands of uncertainty, my faith started to shapeshift. For starters, I lost my creed out there in the elements. A gust of wind blew up on me and shredded my list of beliefs right out of my hands. I became mapless. And once mapless, I was forced to explore other vistas that were off the map. I became free from what author Jim Henderson aptly calls, beliefism. 

Fun fact: Merriam-Webster dictionary declared -ism to be the word of the year last year.

I have been living off the faith grid ever since.

Christianity for me became stifling. It was like being a settler in a small valley and insisting that there is nothing to be gained by exploring other settlements out there beyond the yonder. In the movie, The Village, the villagers are taught to stay within the confines of their village or else the lurking monsters nearby will attack them. If they are obedient, the monsters will leave them alone. (spoiler alert : there are no monsters)

You can imagine how much that film resonated with me as I lost my Christian creed.

And yet, despite being a heretic who has betrayed her Christian heritage, there remains in me a firm residue of faith and respect for the Christian tradition and those who adhere to her creeds. Just because me and Jesus would not be matched up on E-Harmony as soul mates doesn’t mean I am not interested. Jesus still loves me this I know, and I love him back. 

No matter what dogmas and doctrines have collapsed in my beliefs structure,  I have a rich heritage from my years as a bible-thumping-demon-stomping-spirit-filled-believer. I still speak the language fluently. I was getting a tattoo last year and during our conversation the tattoo artist began complaining how his born-again sister was driving him and the rest of the family crazy. “She will leave if we as much open up a beer,” he lamented of his devout Christian sibling.

I helped him understand that she was compelled by her Christian conscience and that once upon a time I would have done the exact same thing. “Respect her conscience,” I offered, “She is living by the conviction of her faith. Respect it.” I felt like a cross-cultural guide helping him interpret the weird customs his sister engaged with. Evangelicalism was a mystery to him. It is not to me, and never will be. I was a rockstar evangelical woman for years upon years. I know the lingo, the dress code and the rules of conduct. I sometimes feel haunted by my former evangelical self, like when I order a cocktail in a pub. The ghost of church-past  floats in accusing me of being a backslider.

I’ll drink to that.

Today, if my former Christian self were to meet my current self, she would be concernedxtianbeliefs for my soul. She would see that my current state of living does not match the checklist. I have completely abandoned some beliefs (like the doctrine of hell…. ugh…. never did like that one at all. Was a RELIEF to be done with it!)  while other beliefs remain in a state of flux in the gray. Was  Jesus the Unique and Only Son of God incarnate?

I used to say Yes without hesitation.

Now I’m not so sure what to think about Jesus and divinity, though I remain a fan of his parables and messages (forgive others, love one another, turn the other cheek, be a Good Samaritan). It doesn’t come up so much anymore when I meet people, an examination of faith…. but when it does, when I am asked point blank if I am a Christian, I reply, “I live my life the best I can according to the teachings of Jesus.”

Yes, that’s good, but Are you a Christian? What do you believe about Jesus?

Devout Christians would charge that  I am not a Christian. My former devout evangelical self would agree. But in the world of spirituality (I’m not religious, I’m spiritual)  I am considered pretty Jesus-y. I’m the woman who can drop F bombs all day long, but still will not use Christ’s name in vain or damn someone in the name of God. I do not flinch as some do when Jesus is spoken of and his words quoted.  I myself can still repeat Jesus’ words rather eloquently.

When I am faced with major life decisions, sheesh, even daily life decisions, I still pray for guidance and wisdom. I may have lost my map, but I still have my compass.

About three years ago I was invited to a Faith writer’s conference, even though I am clearly not a Christian writer .

I went anyway since I would know a few people there, people I enjoy and people who enjoy writing like I do. I looked forward to fresh inspiration about being a writer, and I was not disappointed. I still remember fragments from the talk one writer gave about tell The Story, not just the facts….  but when the worship band of young, shiny faced collegiates kicked into gear, something in me tensed up to the point that I quietly left the room and lingered for the next 20 minutes in the lobby. I like music, I really like LIVE music, so I was caught off guard why the onset of Christian praise music got such a rile out of me.

Was it the devil ?  :/

I didn’t psychoanalyze it too closely, but my best guess as to why the music affected me that way is because music is about emotion.  The dysfunctional relationship I ended with institutional Christianity came flooding back when the praise band fired up their first chords. It was like having an old boyfriend try to make out with me. Not gonna happen.

So… I am not a Christian, and yet I try my best to live my life according to the teachings of Jesus as I understand them. I do not read the Bible anymore. I do not go to church. I no longer believe you are going to hell if you don’t incite the right words to save your heathen soul. I am firmly comfortable living off the grid without a map in the wilderness of I-Don’t-Know-Anything-Anymore.

I like Oprah and sometimes tune into her Super Soul broadcasts online. I read spiritual books written by people who do not mention Jesus or the bible one single time in their pages. I use a personal tarot deck for inspiration and to tap into inner wisdom … oh yeah, I am now  a HUGE BELIEVER that we each possess the wisdom we need for our lives if we just pay attention and Listen.

And that is so very unchristian because as a church-abiding Christian I was taught that the heart is especially wicked and cannot be trusted, so therefore my wisdom and intuition are not to be trusted. I cannot begin to tell you the journey it has been to establish trust in my own divinely inspired inner guidance system. Trusting my higher self is rebellion against the Christendom that used to own my heart, mind, soul and body.

But I am not a Christian anymore. Well sort of. Kind of. But maybe really not.

 

***There is soooo much more to say about this. It is clear to me that I still have things I’d love to talk about in regard to being Done with institutionalized faith. I would really love to hear your thoughts on this one. Are you a Done, too, or do you want to save my soul when you read this? Back in the day I would have judged this blogpost as something written by a bitter, deceived woman. It is true I am scarred up from my years of church devotion, but bitter, no. Deceived? Maybe.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

In Search of a Little god

little g“God is beneath the ordinary details of our lives,” wrote someone somewhere in the great big unending heaven of words known as the Internet.

Yeah, I believe that too, I thought as I skimmed the post of whereever-ness I found it.

That night I sat in my operator chair at work, my fifth month now working graveyard and becoming a day sleeper, just as my dad was when I was growing up, except he was a security guard. I’m a line operator at a Nabisco factory. When the line is running well, as it was this particular night, there is a whole lot of sitting down and reflecting. So as the river of crackers moved passed me, I recalled what I had read, (where did I read it?) and began thinking on it. I am such a champion for the power of ordinary living and the everyday ordinary of being true to who we are. There are so many voices demanding that we live big and large and be super sexy and extraordinary as if human existence is a business that best have a good marketing strategy.  

The God-beneath-the-ordinary is good stuff, I like it, yet it supposes to say that the ordinary tedium of my Everyday Self is a mirage of the real worth found beneath the surface of my boring life.

The God of my understanding is found everywhere, not just beneath the ordinary, but In the Ordinary. 

I sat in my operator’s chair and prayed. “Where are you God? Are you here?”

I’ve looked and waited to find God in the obvious places, in sacred spaces like churches and mountain paths and cemeteries and altars, but what about the factory? Am I a crazy woman to look for evidence of the Creator on a factory line?

I gotta find GOD in the little spaces, in the lower case spaces of my life.  god is not confined to the upper echelons of ritual and might. Jesus proved that with the sorry-ass life he lived as a forgettable carpenter with a bunch of loser friends. Jesus may have been BEGOTTEN of GOD, but he lived like a son of god. 

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It is my unending quest to find the Creator in the humble, forgettable spaces of life, where the most profound of truth is obvious yet overlooked because it lacks capital power. I am determined to raid and plunder every aspect of my human existence to find the treasure of Life Being Meaningful just because ….

life.

god.

love.

What ordinary spaces does the spirit collide with you? Where is the little g of god in your life?

 

 

The Everyday Ordinary of Being True

couragecollage1

collage art by Pam Hogeweide

I have known dozens upon dozens of people who despise their ordinary existence and think that their life does not have much significance.

This is the revolution I am most interested in — the grassroots, invisible reformation of the Everyday Woman and Everyday Man.

The revolution I need is to revolt against the cultural, national and religious forces that have built into my identity a plan for how I need to live and have my being in order to be significant. I am on the road to living a storied life that others may interpret as mediocre. I call it the Everyday Ordinary of Being True. 

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.” 
― William MartinThe Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents

Ordinary living (at least in Western nations such as the United States) is often interpreted as settling for less as if the ordinary woman and man are living lives of quite desperation in having failed to reach their true potential. Purpose and calling become suffocated in the mundane and routine. This is where the vendors of hope find their money spot: selling secrets  how to live your best life now in order to NOT FAIL AT BEING HUMAN.

How is it that we judge our ordinary lives as being insignificant? When we admire nature do we look and say, “Oh that hummingbird is just a bird that flits about doing nothing in particular. When it dies, no one will notice.”

Of course not. We value and enjoy the lovely hummingbird for it simply being an ordinary hummingbird. It does not need to perform to prove it’s worth, nor strive to earn adulation. The hummingbird does not lose sleep fretting over purpose and the meaning of life.

There is an unseen realm of immeasurable significance that belongs to the Everyday Woman and the Everyday Man. In this realm, being ordinary is to be like a hummingbird. Just being True to Who You Are is the epitome of purposeful life.

You are LOVED.

Simply because you exist. – Deborah and Ken Loyd

In Leo Tolstoy’s gorgeous spiritual biography, A Confession and Other Religious Writings, he writes with vulnerability of how at the apex of success in his life he wrestled with despair over the meaning of it all. “What will become of my entire life?” he lamented. Mind you, he was wealthy, well known and dined with the aristocracy of the Russia of his time. He had become a cultural figure and was sought out by the rich and powerful. Despite his influence and prestige, he suffered debilitating depression rooted in despair that all of  life is meaningless.

But his story does not end there.

Tolstoy describes how he began to gaze upon ordinary peasants reflecting on their simple yet content living. He wondered at their peaceful acceptance of daily life and certainty of death. On the brink of killing himself, he had an awakening. The great and mighty Tolstoy discovered faith from observing the humble path of the common Everyday Russian. In time, Tolstoy would renounce his aristocratic life and embrace the simplicity of peasant living. He found God and salvation at the abyss of the mediocre masses living uninteresting lives.

The Everyday Ordinary of Being True  was buried under the rubble of accolades and applause. Tolstoy was freed when he shed extraordinary living for ordinary being.

Being true to who we are might not mean excommunicating ourselves from our lifestyle, but for me it does mean exiling myself from the success-driven messaging from culture and my former tribe  of faith. Oh the woes of American Christianity where power and popularity are trademarks of our prophets rather than commonness. I do not miss the thousands of sermons purged from my brain that instructed me to live great for God. I am content living small in the everyday ordinary of being true to who I am.

A popular writer once emailed me warning me about writing on accepting our ordinary smallness. “You are in danger of giving people permission to settle for less rather than pursue the great plans God has for them.” I considered his admonition, taking it to heart. Was I ?

I wrote him back that he was in danger of contributing to the great shame and self-loathing that many people already struggle with in that they are not superstars for Jesus.

Living without a grand purpose or mission to fulfill is Ok. Some will find a calling. Many will not. I don’t think I ever really have. I’m at peace, for  at the end of it all, it is good to live under the banner that proclaims, I am loved and worthy of existing simply because I am.

I think it’s time to pay attention to our mediocrity and call it what it is:  ordinary life. Most of us most of the time for most of history, are everyday, common men and women who live our lives in unassuming steadiness. We are not the history makers or agents of change. We are not the reformers or revolutionaries or revivalists of faith. We are commoners. The peasants of the kingdom of God who do not look for grandness in the great scheme of things, but are content to possess meaning in the mundane and obscure. 

 Own up to your mediocrity. It’s a gift in disguise.(from my former blog, How God Messed Up My Religion, 2009)

 

Losing my Codependent Church Self

St Johns Bridge, Portland, Oregon (photo by Pam Hogeweide)

I live in a city of bridges. Thirteen bridges in all that connect the east side of Portland to the west side of the Willamette River.   I like the bridges in Portland.There is the Fremont Bridge, the Sellwood Bridge, the Hawthorne Bridge, the Morrison and the Steel Bridge, a unique bridge that raises up it’s center part when large water vessels need to pass under.  My favorite bridge, though, is the St John’s Bridge, which happens to be about a mile from my house.

A few years ago the St John’s Bridge was spruced up with some updates and a fresh coat of paint. To celebrate the debut of the newly gussified bridge, the neighborhood threw a street party and closed the bridge for a while so folks could throng to it by foot, bike and skateboard. My daughter and I were there. We trotted with the rest of the neighborhood down the middle of the bridge, relishing what we knew was likely the only time we’d ever be able to do this. When we reached the top of the slope, we paused to look over the rail at the river far down below.

On one side of the bridge we viewed the cityscape of Portland with watercraft motoring to and fro around the river.  We crossed the roadway to the other side and viewed the industrialized areas of the busy river ports below.  So different from one side to the other. It was like looking at two  entirely different rivers.

My relationship with the body of Christ is so much like this bridge. For many years I hovered in the busy waters of church volunteerism spending a great deal of time and energy in service. I felt that this kind of serving was for a higher purpose, for I was serving the kingdom of God, right?  At one point, I became dismayed as I looked at my calendar and realized how many things I was tied into that were church-centered. My faith community at that time had many opportunities to serve and I jumped in on just about anything I could. I was at my church on average three nights a week plus most of Sunday. All of my socializing became church-centered, too. Staring at my kitchen calendar that day could have been the tip-off that I needed to scale back. But I ignored the facts staring me in the face and pushed aside my uneasiness with having built such a church-drenched existence for myself and my family.

One morning in a time of prayer–with all those ministries I helped with I had to keep the prayer tank filled–I heard that familiar  small Voice that rings big inside when I’m paying attention:

Unplug from every ministry you are in. 

These six words flooded my soul like a spotlight in a prison yard. In an instant I was filled with an awareness of how hard I was working for the love of God. Revelation and wisdom covered me right then and there with her healing power unleashing within me.

I love you no matter what. If you never do nothing for Me again,  you are loved.

I am going to prove this to you. Sit down and do nothing.

Tears welled up inside and out. I had no idea that in all of my zeal to serve and overserve, that I had been operating under the tyranny of being performance driven to earn God’s love.  I was undone.

And so, over the coming weeks I did just that, I began pulling the plug on the various ministries I had busied my life with. I gave notice to the children’s pastor from teaching Sunday school and  leading the children’s missions program;  I notified  the pastor for the prayer counseling ministry and prophetic team that I was pulling out, and I resigned myself from the early morning prayer meetings and pre-service prayer times that I had been attending. Yeah. I was a prayer superstar.

All of the leaders were gracious and affirming. “We all need time to rest our souls,” they said.

Thus, I began a new journey into being a Christ follower who Does Nothing. 

It was alright at first, but within a few weeks I began to realize two things:  I was more secure in the love of God than I had realized.  I knew with all my bones and marrow that I was among the beloved…no matter what. I knew with everything inside of me that I could not ever be a productive daughter in the kingdom of God again and that the Almighty was just fine with that. “I love you no matter what,” soared like a banner across my life. I was content.

The second thing that I realized was disconcerting.  I began to see that I was unnoticeable among my church community when I was not Doing Ministry.  My phone stopped ringing. My calendar was a ghost town and my social engagements shriveled up as if I had moved out of town.  What the…?

One Sunday one of the ministry leaders approached me. A little hope surged inside of me that perhaps I wasn’t so forgotten.

“Pam, how are you?”

“Fine, thanks, and you?”

“I’m good. So when are you coming back to the prayer team?  I need people.”

“I don’t know.”

“Well let me know when you do know. I need people.”

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. – Matt. 11:28 (MSG)

And with that, she walked away. I sat there a bit stunned. The view was getting clearer. My place in this faith community seemed to loom on Doing rather than Being.  I was determined to  stay out of the matrix though, and really, there was no temptation to backslide prematurely into ministry of any kind.

Over the next months, two other pastors approached me, attempting to recruit me to their ministry areas. One of them offered me a job. Are you serious?  For years I had yearned to be on church staff, thinking it would be amazing to earn a salary and be truly involved in a vocational capacity.  It was a dream of mine, a small dream, but a dream just the same. As he offered me a job to be his assistant, I leaned my spirit in towards my Father in heaven, silently asking for guidance.   Nothing. Not a word. Not a hint, not a clue.

Yet somehow I knew that I could not yet come out of my spiritual rest. With confidence and total peace I politely turned down his offer.

As time passed,  my relationships with folks in this community became weaker. Pastors no longer called me to consult with me about their vision;  women did not return my calls and Sunday meetings at church began to feel emptier and emptier.  It was bewildering and distressing. I loved church! I loved the people!  What was happening that I now found excuses to skip church?  What was going on?

It finally came to me.  My soul wilderness, as I had come to define this season of barrenness, revealed how secure my relationship with God was, but it also revealed how insecure my relationship with the people of God had become.  As I journeyed on this bridge from being a workhorse for Jesus to becoming just a simple, inactive pew warmer,  my view of myself in the body of Christ became crystal clear.  It was true I performed to be accepted and loved… but that performance was not really for my Creator. It was for his created. In my search to belong and be accepted, I had been willing to do what it takes to be amongst the tribe of the church. And the primary way one becomes Amongst is to Plug In.

Over time, I have come to realize how codependent I have been with every single church I have ever been a part of. Every single one. My broken, damaged womanly soul needs to belong. When I serve, volunteer, show up, work, overwork, pray and over pray, I Am In.

When I unplugged, I was forgotten.

It’s been several years now since I crossed the road from my busy industrialized religious life. I’ve been standing at the rail for a long while, soaking up this new view with a mixture of liberty, loneliness and grief.  Though my acceptance had been conditional, it was, after all, acceptance. My phone rang. My calendar was a mash-up of Christian chaos.  I was sought after and affirmed for my spiritual giftings.

Now, like a wayfarer on a lonely bridge, I am taking my time to recover who I am apart from the machine of ministry. It’s a painful process. My identity was so tangled up with religious activity.  And it was good activity.  I’ve prayed with the broken-hearted, served the poor, cooked for homeless citizens and gave Sunday school lessons to the next generation. I’ve given money, time, energy and talent to the tribe that I desperately wanted to just love me for who I am and not what I can offer.  But like an immature boyfriend who dumps you after you stop putting out,  I was left alone with no prom date.  I don’t like this, yet I am making amends with myself about it. I’m learning to Not be Amongst the very tribe that was my life for most of my adult life.

The view from here is not so bad. I can see more of the river without the hubbub of port activity cluttering up the waterway. The blue sky blazes down from the Oregon sky. Portland shines in who she is,  her thirteen bridges crisscrossing east to west.  I respect those who do the work of ministry and succeed at it.  I am not one of them. I am just me with my empty calendar and quiet telephone.

*****

Special shout-out to She Loves magazine and the article,  Learning the Unforced Rhythms of Grace that helped prompt today’s blog post. Definitely worth taking a moment to link up and read.

Confession from a Temperamental Christian Wife

July 23, 1988

Twenty-four years ago I went on my first date with Jerry Hogeweide. We were living in Hong Kong, both of us volunteers with the Christian organization, Youth With a Mission. I had been crushing on Jerry for months and was thrilled when he finally noticed me. He, introverted and shy, especially among women, had summoned the courage to invite me to go see a movie.  That first date went well. Mostly.

As we left the theater in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay district,  we had to navigate our way through densely crowded sidewalks teeming with Hong Kong nightlife. Jerry’s step become quick, his pace a fury of urgency as if getting to the subway station was a matter of life and death.  I walked as fast as my 5’4″ frame could carry me, but no matter how much I punched it, Jerry began to get further ahead of me.  It suddenly occurred to me that perhaps he was trying to lose me in the crowd. Maybe he wanted to dump me after just one date.  This thought produced an ache in my chest as the possibility of rejection played out in my emotions. I slowed down my pace.

“Fine. If he wants to cut loose and get away from me, let him,”  I thought with a mixture of irritation and hurt.

Jerry finally turned around. Seeing that I had fallen back into a sea of Chinese pedestrians,  he stopped and waited. “Are you trying to get rid of me?” I asked.

His face said it all before he spoke. So did his feet as he rejoined me. Jerry shifted down from his full throttle stride to a leisurely pace to remain in step with me.

We spent all our free time together for the next four weeks. One afternoon, while enjoying a Saturday afternoon overlooking Hong Kong harbor from a terrace at Queens Pier,  Jerry stunned me with a marriage proposal. We were married two months later.Yes. From our first date to our wedding day was  a mere three month stretch. Yep.The man is a fast-moving human being.

As I write this post I am mindful of all kinds of directions I could go. I could write a tribute to Jerry and tell you the amazing person he is,  a faithful husband and hard working partner, and a true waterman who has introduced me and our children to the sensual delights of playing in rivers and oceans. Or I could  elaborate on my top three tips for staying married and building a partnership over the long haul. Or I could describe the many adventures we’ve been on as a couple and as a family.  Instead, I want to review here on my blog the chronology of Throwing Things at My Husband when I Got Really, Really Mad at Him and how this reveals a maturation in my myself as a woman and as a wife.

Every marriage will experience conflict and every wife and husband will discover how to express and resolve those conflicts. Mine has been to throw things, my husband’s has been to duck. Our marriage has survived for more than two decades because of Jerry’s extraordinary skill to duck. Like I said, he’s a fast-moving man.

Let me review with you in the spirit of True Confessions my embarrassing herstory of outbursts of temper-driven hurls at the father of my children:

1988  First year of marriage. First throw. My wedding ring. I have no idea what the argument was about. Whatever it was, I got so angry that I pulled my ring off and hurled it at him.  Ring survived.  Jerry survived. So did our  marriage. 1988- Later in that first year.  Another throw.  This time I went for harder artillery : a clock. Not just any clock, but a really nice bedside alarm clock that had been a wedding gift.  Clock broke. Marriage did not.

1989-1998 Over the first decade of marriage I threw something at Jerry at least once a year. Various items that were within reach during the heat of an argument.  Such items have included a fanny pack, a pile of folded laundry,  the Bible (yes! at least twice over this time span),  a pen, and a coffee cup, which let me assure you that though I did indeed throw a coffee cup at my husband the cup was empty and I merely hurled it in his direction…not straight at him. As a former softball player, I could have hit him if I wanted to. But I wasn’t that mad.

1999-2008 The second decade of our marriage saw a change in my throwing frequency. I was mastering more self-control and we were also arguing a whole lot less. Jerry only had to duck about once every two years, but man, when I did erupt with the temper tantrum of a four-year old, I let loose. There was the time I threw a full Big Gulp at him when we were on vacation and were a little lost. Just a little, for Jerry has an amazing sense of direction. He was driving, I was shotgun and our young children in the backseat. We were trying to find Moses Lake during our vacation. After stopping to get refreshments at a 7-11,  Jerry was getting frustrated trying to find the lake and he was getting frustrated with me who was trying to tell him to go back to the 7-11 and ask for directions. Men!  Somehow it escalated and BAM!  I slung my Big Gulp into his arm. Soda splattered everywhere.  Jerry growled through clenched teeth, “You’re cleaning that up!”    We found the lake. Jerry jumped in and swam the stickiness away. I jumped in and cooled off. The kids jumped in and had fun despite their dysfunctional parents, and yes, I cleaned up the car before we hit the road again.

My husband and I have never considered divorce… murder sometimes, but never divorce. -Joyce Brothers 

It was another two years before I flung something at Jerry again, an important detail for this highlights the progress I was making in growing out of my penchant for wifely tantrums. Though there was that bowl of noodles I threw at him in the kitchen. Of course I didn’t aim it right at him, just towards his general direction.  Noodles splatted against the kitchen window and all over the floor. The bowl, a red crockery bowl which was a part of my favorite dish set–and let me add the only time I ever broke a dish in a throwing fit– shattered into shards.  It was a mess, and moments later my best friend Kim showed up with her kids and my kids in tow. I had to hide the simmering rage as I cleaned up the mess, lying to her that, “Oh, just a little accident in the kitchen.”  I later confided to her the truth of the mess to which she laughed and told me some of her stories!

That is the last time I ever threw something at my beloved husband.

I know that women reading this will have a range of responses. Some will smile and nod their head in recognition of their own conflict-scarred marriages.  Some might be shocked, for such behavior in their own households is unheard of and would have cause to threaten holy matrimony if someone shucked a Bible at the other. And some might even wonder how my marriage has made it this far when I have behaved at times so unwifely.

I have concealed these facts about my marital relationship from most people. Marriage is a private affair. Plus, for so many, many years I tried hard to be a good, Christian wife and everybody knows that Christian wives do not throw bowls of noodles at the head of the home. I definitely did not share these details at the women’s prayer circles I traveled in. Thus, there was an accompanying level of shame and fear that my marriage was abnormal and headed for the boneyard of relationships.

Christian marriage books did not help. None of them mirrored the kind of conflict Jerry and I were staggering through and none of them offered solace for the individuation of marriage. We did not have a traditional Christian marriage and not a single Christian marriage book I read gave any kind of encouragement for the partnership we were building amidst our stormy periods. I was stymied for the longest while if our marriage and family was dysfunctional and if we contentment with Who We Are could  be realized.

Nearing the second decade of our marriage I somehow discovered the work of Dr John Gottman, a love and marriage expert who has written a number of books.  Dr Gottman’s insights and scientific findings from studying marriages and how couples resolve conflict deshamed me about my marriage and throwing fits.  Gottman doesn’t advocate for physical outbursts like throwing books at your partner, but he does make clear that every couple will find what works for them in managing conflict and their style of effective communication. It was through Gottman that I realized my marriage is not severely dysfunctional as Christian books would suppose us to be.  In fact, according to Gottman’s findings,  Jerry and I have a strong partnership built on mutual respect, commitment and partnership.  Do we argue? Good,says

Our family recently went on a 3-hour rafting trip on Oregon's Deschutes River.

Gottman who has a more than 90% accuracy rate in forecasting a couple’s divorce by observing How They Argue and Resolve Conflict.   I discovered from his work that he has observed what he calls The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, predictors to the demise of a marriage.  They are  1) Criticism  2) Contempt  3) Defensivenss 4) Stonewalling .  I won’t unpack them here, but I’ll tell you that reading his work about these four marriage killers helped me realize that our marriage was much healthier.  Gottman has also developed what he calls a Love Map, which is simply a list of questions about personal details about the other to help catalog what you already know about your partner, as well as a tool to discover more details and stories about one another. Jerry and I took this tool on a kid-free trip one time and had a lot of fun reviewing what we knew about each other.  Who was your best friend in high school?  What car did you learn to drive in?  What would be your dream vocation?  Where did you learn to swim?

Gottman reassured me in so many ways that the storms our marriage has endured are normal and that some marriages are stormy and louder than others. We each create the intimate partnership that works for us and every marriage will go through seasons and cycles.

July 23, 2012 is the twenty-fourth anniversary of my wedding day to Jerry. We’ve weathered a lot. He’s weathered a lot being married to a feisty woman like me. I don’t throw stuff at him anymore.

Maybe it’s time to buy some new dishes.  :)

***

Similar post:  My Failed Christian Marriage

                    Tattooed Christian Women and the Husbands Who Love Them

For more info about Dr John Gottman and his excellent work, visit www.gottman.com (today their website seems to be down)  You can also find him on Facebook  and even on Pinterest. 

Are you a temperamental wife? Ever throw something at your partner? Share your confession here!  Feel free to post a comment anonymously to protect your marriage’s privacy.   

I Am Not a Good Christian Woman. Neither Was Jesus.

i used to be a really good christian woman.  like one of the best.  i said the right things, did the right things, played nice.   the only problem was that what was on the outside & what was on the inside were two different things.i believe evangelical christianity has created a lot of divided women.

women who are cut off from their desires.  who are pulling it together on the outside but crumbling on the inside.  who are constantly feeling like losers, always missing the good-christian-woman-wife-or-mother-mark.  who are afraid to dream. or take care of ourselves. or want something more because it can be perceived as selfish. who love God but aren’t sure God really loves us just-as-we-are because we’ve been bombarded with teaching about our depravity & eve-nature & how we need to be more like proverbs 31.

from Kathy Escobar’s, Ex-Good Christian Women

I am an ex-good Christian woman. Actually. Scratch that. I don’t think I was EVER a good Christian woman.  But I sure tried, and I tried hard for a long, long time.  The Good Christian Woman was that elusive standard that I never could quite measure up to. I know a lot of other women who are the same. We abandon our authentic selves as we strive to be Proverbs 31 head to toe, inside and out. We give ourselves away to a fault. I appreciate the Christian discipline of self-denial, yet when it comes to being a follower of Jesus, women tweak it to a different ideal of losing our self for the sake of who we imagine God wants us to be—the Good Christian Woman. She’s a ghost of an ideal who haunts us to be just like her. Instead of pressing forward in the quest for Christ likeness, women like me get off course in  hot pursuit of becoming the good Christian woman. She is our saint, our matron of all that is holy and approved of by God. She is the vision of true Christian womanhood: submissive, self-sacrificing, humble and quiet. She is who I aspired to become.

But the good Christian woman is a semblance of a human being who does not entirely exhibit her humanity or otherwise we would imagine her with a host of other human characteristics such as leadership, strength, intellectual prowess, and so on. But instead, the good Christian woman is idealized with a few “feminine” qualities that are supposedly more sacred than other human qualities such as a submissiveness and a meek, quiet spirit. Throw in creativity and a flair for home décor and baking and she is downright the most magical woman in the kingdom of God. She can pray, bake and teach Sunday school. All at the same time. With a good, compliant attitude.

Feminine attributes have become Christianized and personalized into a myth, a kind of Proverbs 31 mannequin whom women are challenged to emulate. This does not honor a woman’s personhood. Christ following women are meant to transform into the image of Jesus, but this image of biblical womanhood has taken over.

Cultural conditioning, including church culture, shapes and informs who we think we are meant to be. Women mix up feminine characteristics with Christ’s characteristics. My femininity has always felt a challenge from cultural messaging about whether or not I am girly enough. A tomboy at heart and play, I have just never quite taken a shine to pink fingernail polish or flowy, lacy skirts. When I became a Christ follower at age eighteen, that tender threshold of transition from girl to woman, I suddenly found myself plunged into a new culture with a new vision of what it is to be a woman.

I lean into the rough and tumble of grit rather than glam to this day in my middle-aged years.

Throughout my journey as a Christ follower, I have internalized this image to be a good Christian woman instead of internalizing the Person of Christ. This ideal of a good Christian woman is not a human being—but an invented being. Who invented her? I’m not sure, though I suspect she was born from  a combination of the perfectionistic floggings that drive many women to become who we are not as well as the conditioning from the spirit of patriarchy that always seeks to keep it’s women under control.

Being less than girly my entire life has not just been a cultural affront, but a challenge to reflecting the image of the good Christian woman into my life. She is not who I can ever be. I am no good at being demure. I am neither soft-spoken nor gentle-mannered. I do not restrain my words very well and I lack the propriety to just be silent. I am headstrong and willful and enjoy rigorous debate. I lean into the rough and tumble of grit rather than glam to this day in my middle-aged years.

I have tried hard to follow Jesus. I’ve prayed the prayers for him to transform me into a better person, into a good Christian woman. I’ve chased after her and entreated heaven to help me catch her. But I never have and I never will. So I have had to let her go, to dismantle the boards of the altar that I built for her within. In letting go of her, I discovered not only more of who I really am, the authentic me, but I readjusted my path to finding more of Christ. He is who I follow.

I am not a good Christian woman. I am a human being, a unique individual with customized features that are all my own. I have been made in the image of God, my singular life a sliver of the grandness of who God is and what God is like. My femaleness is a part of me, but it is not all of me. I do not have to conform to the image of a good Christian woman; I want to instead, conform to the image of Jesus. He was not a good Christian woman either.

***Are you familiar with the good Christian woman? If you’ve met her, hook me up. I want to interview her!!

Tattooed Christian Women & the Husbands Who Love Them

Me in all my tattooed glorious Christ-following self

“I just don’t want you to look like a lesbian,” said my husband as I revealed to him that I was thinking about getting another tattoo. “You know…butch. I don’t want you to look like that.”

I reassured him that the tattoo I had in mind would not decrease my thin supply of femininity nor increase a manliness about me. “I want a pretty and frilly tattoo. Not a cobra or a dragon,” I said to Jerry.

That was a few years and a few tattoos ago. At some point in the marriage, Jerry accepted that I liked tattoos and that I had become skillful in picking good artists and developing tasteful, artistic concepts. Not a single time has he looked at any of my skin art  and said, “Yuk. Take it back.”

Our marriage has a long history of tattoo art. When Jerry proposed to me, I was a young twenty-something living in the exotic port city of Hong Kong. Jerry and I were both full time volunteers with an outfit called Youth With a Mission. As our wedding day approached, I began to fret about the stick ‘n poke tattooed initials of a high school boyfriend on my lower leg. The boyfriend was long gone, but the tattoo stared up at me everyday.  When he first offered to tattoo his initials on my leg I took it as a sign of true love. But months later when our puppy love romance fizzled out, the tattoo began to look more like I had  been branded like a cow. I hated it. And now, years later, I was on the threshold of my wedding day with the  man who would be my partner for life.

“I want to go to Wanchai and get this covered up with a rose,” I confessed to Jerry one evening. He had assured me that the tattoo didn’t bother him,  but I pressed the point because it bothered me.  And so, one sultry Hong Kong night, we headed down to where the sailors like to go and found Ricky’s Tattoo Parlor who advertised with a  hand-painted sign, We specialize misfit tattoo.   I took that to mean fixing misfit tattoos. Not creating them!

And so, one of the first decisions we made together that concerned my body went fairly smoothly. But as the early years of marital bliss evolved into decades, my desire for for tattoo  art increased.

I began to get small tattoos–always in consultation with Jerry for his blessing–hidden on the lower part of my legs. It always felt a bit awkward talking to him about it. Was I getting his approval first? What if he said No?  What if I didn’t talk to him about it at all? How does marriage partnership deal with body stuff? What if he wanted a nipple ring (ew!!) ? How far do we go with sovereignty over our bodies in the marriage relationship?

We’ve been married twenty-four years. I  still don’t have definitive answers on this.  I can only tell you what’s worked for us and it’s this:  Mutual Respect.  I respect Jerry in that I consider his feelings and thoughts about tattoo art on my body.

Relationships and marriages are partnerships and we each have to find our way in belonging together yet not owning the other. 

After all, he will have to look at it for the duration of our marriage and we are in it for life. I don’t want to put something on my body that will turn him off or disgust him. However, all of the tattoo images I like are  simple and feminine. I like flowers, swirly plumes and stars and paisleys and images of women. I have pretty tattoos. Whenever I show him my latest addition he always responds positively. Like last year when Traci Manley of New Rose Tattoo finished a large Japanese style floral piece on my upper leg. “Wow, that’s amazing!” he said and then wondered if perhaps he might want to add a tattoo to his humble collection (he has two).

Donna and her tattooed legs

I am not the only tattooed Christ following woman with a husband who is under-inked or virgin skinned. My friend Donna is also a tattoo afficionado, while her husband Chuck decidedly is not. They, too, have been married twenty-four years and have learned to navigate their partnership through the canyons and highlands of the marriage journey. Chuck, like Jerry, accepts that his wife likes to have tattooed skin. Our men honor us with their respect. They recognize that we own the house of our body. We share it with them in the marriage relationship, but at the end of the day, each of us is  are in charge of the skin we walk around in.

Donna's anchor tattoo on her forearm

I think most marriages get this. We don’t try to control the other’s body functions or body health. We may encourage one another–did you take your vitamins, did you go to the doctor for that, wanna go work out with me?– but in a healthy, mutually respectful partnership, we submit our preferences to the other. I would love it if Jerry was heavily tattooed (with the kind of tattoos I like!).  I enjoy an illustrated human being to look at, and I look at him everyday. But Jerry is in charge of his body and he would prefer to only have a couple tattoos scattered around his frame. Do I get to tell him No, I want a tattooed husband. Go get inked. Now.  

Of course not. That would be ludicrous. And why would it be ludicrous?

Because it’s Jerry’s body. Not mine.

And so, my body belongs to me. I get to decide how to decorate it. I may be married, but I am in charge of me and Jerry is in charge of himself. We check in with each other out of preference and mutual respect for one another.

“My boyfriend really wants me to get a tattoo?” said the young woman in line at the grocery store. People often tell me their tattoo stories when they see mine. “But I’m afraid of needles. He says it will make me more sexy, but I don’t want to do it.”

“Then don’t do it,” I tell her. “It’s your body. Not his.”

"Not June," one of Donna's tattoos. She had this inked in reference to the joke she shared with our friend Vivian that Donna is no June Cleaver. (and I'm sure her husband Chuck is glad she's not!!)

She nods  and as I look at her, I see my 16-year old self sitting at that kitchen table with that guy Eddie who I let mark my body as his own.  “He doesn’t own your skin,” I add as she moves forward in line.

“I know. But it will make him happy if I do it. He’ll even pay for it,” she says as if this is a selling point. “Maybe I’ll get a small one on my lower back. That’s what he really wants me to do. He even has it picked out for me.”

“I don’t know you, but I’m going to give you some advice anyway,” I told her with the boldness that only women in their forties can get away with among women in their twenties. “Never get a tattoo for someone else. It has to be for you. What you want. What you like and what you can live with. It’s your body. You get to decide.”

I hope she sorted that out.  Relationships and marriages are partnerships and we each have to find our way in belonging together yet not owning the other.

This is one of the things about Christian marriage : I was taught that my husband owned my body and that I owned his. This was based on the verse from I Corinthians 7:4

 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

I have heard many references to this over my church-drenched life being taught

Tattoo art by Traci Manley of New Rose Tattoo, Portland, OR

that in the marriage relationship, you give up rights to your  body. But here’s the rest of the passage:

It’s good for a man to have a wife, and for a woman to have a husband. Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder. The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality—the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to “stand up for your rights.” Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out. (The Message)

Context is everything. The writer here is not telling us that your spouse has say-so over your body. The writer is advising married couples towards a partnership of mutuality and sexual unity. But through the filter of Christianized patriarchy, many women have been conditioned to accept that what their man says Goes, that their husband has authority over their lives and even over their bodies. One can imagine how short the leap is to an abusive relationship in a dysfunctional, unhealthy marriage. A person with a controlling temperament (or one who’s overly submissive) can easily take this message of giving up the rights to your own body to a toxic place of dominance.  I do not believe that Paul, the writer of this passage, had that in mind. The core message of the Christian Gospel is Love One Another.  

Tattooed women are women who are publicly declaring sovereignty over our bodies. Tattoos are territorial markers : this is my skin. The husbands who love their tattooed women are men who respect that boundary. They are men like Chuck and Jerry. That kind of mutuality in a marriage is far more permanent than any tattoo will ever be.

******

**Here’s the companion article to this blog post, Tattooed Body and Soul

My Failed Christian Marriage

***this post kicks off An Unladylike Week in the Blogosphere with blogger and author Rachel Held Evans leading the charge. For my first blog post, I am offering something I have rarely done on this blog and that is give readers a peek into my marriage. I wrote much of this post last year during the writing of my book. It ended up on the editing scrap heap and has now found glorious resurrection in being published today. I hope it will demonstrate how what we believe very much matters, especially in the most intimate of our relationships. And please be sure to follow Rachel’s blog this week. She’s also posted the hashtag #mutuality2012 on Twitter to help folks find one another’s posts. Be sure to check it daily. I know I intend to! Together we are building momentum that will carry us forward into forms of church where women are honored in our full personhood!!!

*************

A few weeks before I got married, a friend asked me what kind of partnership we were going to have. “What do you mean?” I asked. Her question puzzled me.

“Well, do you believe in submission or in partnership?”

“Submission, of course. That’s what the Bible says.” It was so clear to me that Christian women were to submit to the headship of their husbands that I had not given any thought to it whatsoever. It would have been like asking, “Are you going to sleep in separate bedrooms?” “The Bible teaches mutual submission,” she quietly replied. “My mom and dad have a partnership and they’re Christian.” I didn’t want to debate my friend about whether or not her parents had a biblical marriage, especially with prenuptial bliss filling my nearly wedded heart. I brushed her off with a dismissive quip. “Glad that works for them.”

I had high expectations that in our marriage, Jerry would be the leader and I would be his helper. He would provide headship in our relationship and I would respect his authority as the leader of the home.

To be an obedient, true Christian woman who honors the Bible meant I took verses like this to heart:

Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman. (1 Cor 11:3)

We never talked about this, but since we both were Christians why did we need to? It would just come natural since this was God’s created order for men and women. I relished the thought of being Jerry’s submissive, respectful wife.

I’d been studying Christian couples since I became a believer at age 18. I was more than ready to be Jerry’s helpmate and have my Jesus-sanctioned happily ever after. Having a husband meant someone else could call the shots about my life. I welcomed the prospect of having a personal manager, coach, and spiritual advisor all wrapped up into one hunky husband who’d take care of me for life. All I had to do was cook, clean and make babies. We’d be just fine.

But… it didn’t quite work out that way.

It’s not that I didn’t try, because let me tell you, I tried. And Jerry tried, too. He tried to fill the role of being my sugar daddy, but he wasn’t very good at it and frankly, I found that I really didn’t want to give up control of my life to another human being, even one whose name I had taken as my own. The head/helpmate model of marriage was not working for us.

Pam & Jerry Wedding Day, 7/23/88

But here’s the thing: I could not have defined this for you at that time had I tried. My perceptions were dulled from a veil of fogginess that hung over my eyes like dirty lace curtains. I just couldn’t see right. All I knew was what I felt, and I felt crappy. I felt like my Christian marriage was not very Christian. Did this mean we were headed for dysfunction and divorce?

I had heard inferences of marriages going rogue when the roles of husband and wife were out of God’s created order. One woman at a Bible study once described how women who lead force their husbands to be quiet and become passive. She said, “It’s like emasculating a man when a wife takes over and insists on calling the shots. She needs to let him be the leader of the home.”

I heard variations on this from the pulpit, too. When biblical examples of women leaders were called into question, for example, it was determined that they were only in a more public position than the men around them because the men had failed. Wayne Grudem and John Piper note this in their book, where they interpret Deborah’s leadership described in the book of Judges as an “indictment of the weakness of Barak, and other men in Israel who should have been more courageous leaders.” (Restoring Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, page 72)

It was in this kind of evangelical, patriarchal sub-society that I measured and judged my marriage, myself and especially my husband. From this point of view, Jerry looked weak and I came across as a rebellious wife who wouldn’t submit to her husband’s authority. These tensions swelled inside of me, coloring the atmosphere of my marriage and perception of my husband as well as myself.

I thought our roles would be clear, that he would take the lead in most things like the reins of our spiritual development as a couple and lead our marriage in devotions and prayer times while I would fill the role of a domestic diva, cook and clean and manage the hospitality of our home.

But a prayer life between us did not develop. Jerry is so private when it comes to prayer that he has never been comfortable praying out loud with others. Through the lens of the headship/submission model that insists God calls men to be the head of the home and women to live under their spiritual covering, I could only see that Jerry failed. That I had failed. My marriage was tainted with a sense of anxiety that we were an unhealthy, unbiblical effed-up couple who would be lucky if our marriage survived another five years.

I didn’t speak of these things. It was too ambiguous, too murky. I didn’t divulge it to other women either. I was intent on protecting Jerry. I didn’t want people to see him as weak and less of a man just because he didn’t pray with his wife or speak up in public more than I did. It was confusing. There was a social order, an unspoken code that men are to be more expressive in public with their wives supporting their husband’s sphere of influence in demure domesticity. I just wasn’t cut out for that. Jerry wasn’t cut out to be the family spokesman. I’ve always been the wordy one in the family, but instead of recognizing each others gifting I internalized an image of Jerry and of myself as being flawed. We were messed up. Our marriage was messed up. This was the ghost that haunted my marriage for more than a decade.

I tried to find a way to adjust our marriage course, fearing the worst was up ahead for us. We seemed to be doing ok today, but according to the Christian relationship experts,, we were not. I’d read a few Christian marriage books hoping for encouragement in either how to make things better or that we were actually ok, but instead each book simply regurgitated the message that to have a healthy Christian marriage the woman must submit to the headship of her husband. It made me want to scream.

One night, I was reading yet another marriage book in hopes of finding a map that would make sense of my relationship with Jerry. When the author insisted that a man who won’t lead his family in prayer is a man without convictions, I froze in my reading tracks. I was lying in bed, next to my sleeping husband. In the room across the hall slept our two young children. The quiet night seemed to shift as I wondered about my marriage once again and the Christian mold of headship/subservience.

I had struggled with trying to fit the role that my religious culture insisted upon, but to no avail. It was like trying to squeeze my size 16 body into a size 12…worse; it was like trying to fit my husband into a three-piece suit when he is a t-shirt and Levis kind of man. It was ill-fitting.

But this night, something clicked. Or maybe snapped. I suppose it depends on your point of view. I laid there in my bed next to my husband, the man who was committed to living life in partnership with me, and who gave me the space to be the woman I had been created to be. I thought of this author indicting him as a man without conviction because he did not fit the Christianized version of the he-man-priest husband.

With a flare of fury in my gut, I threw the book across the bedroom. Thud! It hit the wall before hitting the floor. Jerry didn’t even flinch, oblivious to the internal battle raging in bed next to him. Flinging that book across the room was like throwing off the strait jacket of patriarchy that I had attempted to stuff my marriage into all those years. My marriage would no longer be subjected to the demanding code of traditionalistic Christianity. Nor would my identity.

Jerry and I had a solid marriage. Why I hadn’t I seen it before? I was a faithful wife, he a faithful husband. We were committed to one another and to our children. I was finished trying to emulate the ideal Christian couple, whatever that meant. It might work for some, but Jerry and Pam had our own, customized version of what works in a marriage. God, I was beginning to realize, must not be as rigid about male/female relationshipsthan we suppose him to be.

A fresh wind of liberty blew into my home and marriage that night. I had crossed a threshold into a new era of married life. From that moment on, I began to enjoy the strength of my marriage to Jerry rather than fretting over its lack of patriarchal propriety.

I had a dream a few years ago of Jerry and I showing up to a banquet. When we signed in, we were directed to different dining halls, one for men and a separate one for women. Not only that, but Jerry was given a shirt to wear that matched all the other men and I was given a pair of shoes that matched the other women.

We went to our different dining rooms, but soon after I sat down my feet began to hurt. The shoes didn’t fit right. Nothing felt right. I finally left in search of Jerry only to find him in search of me. We peeled off the shoes and shirt we’d been given and dropped them in the garbage on our way out of the banquet hall. Once outside the building, we began laughing like high schoolers who had just played hooky.

Jerry and Pam at the Oregon Coast, 2011

Getting out from under the submission/headship teaching brought joyful liberty for me in my marriage. I no longer hold up my marriage against an ideal that it can never live up to. It’s not who Jerry and I are.

I met a couple not too long ago. The wife is a strong leader of a thriving ministry. She is vivacious and instantly charms the room with her presence. Her husband is much different. He has a mild personality and is soft spoken. He does not play an integral role in her ministry, but instead helps hold the fort down at home. He also works full-time, but when it comes to leadership, his wife is a natural.

She is often swarmed at church by many who want to connect to her, while he takes care of picking up the kids from their Sunday school classes. In a headship/submission model, it looks like they both are failing in building a biblical marriage. And I feel for them, for I know that they are part of a faith community that tells its men to man up and its women to get out of the way. I hope they both know the joy of accepting one another and celebrating the unique union each marriage is. There is no cookie-cutter biblical model.

I read a quote somewhere about every marriage being a remarriage since the relationship changes and shifts over the years. This is certainly true of mine. I had been a young bride willing and wanting my knight in shining armor to save me from myself. I wanted a man to lead in managing my life for me.

Instead, I have a partner, an equal who is free to be who he is and who honors the woman I am and the unique giftings I possess. It is good to be Pam and Jerry. It is good that our Christian marriage failed.

 

****Here’s a link to a short interview I did with Jerry asking him about the unique pressures of being a Christian husband. I think you’ll enjoy hearing what he has to say!

 

 

Womens’ Theology Camp {a photo essay}

Several times at one of my Women’s Listening Parties theological concepts have been brought up. I noticed that women hung on to the edge of their seats as they learned that the Bible is actually brimming with theological messaging that affirms a woman’s full personhood. The Word of God apparently is not sexist after all!

So a few months ago I began thinking about pulling together a Womens Theology Camp, a concentrated time together of women learning about a theology for themselves from other women.  My first one, hosted coincidentally during a Super moon cycle on Saturday night, went way beyond my expectations.  My new friend, Diana Dettwyler, who is a professional photographer, brought her camera and captured some images from the evening. Also, my friend Sarah Morrigan LIVE tweeted the Womens Theology Camp and even storyified it. You can access her wonderful capture of the evening by clicking HERE. 

About 30 women gathered at Arbor Lodge Coffee House for an evening of theology and discussion.

I was grateful for the eclectic group of women who came together, and on a Saturday night! We had women driving in from communities 2-3 hours away. I loved it! Most women I knew from my circle of social contacts, and also my regulars who come to my Womens Listening Parties.
There were also a number of new women whom I’d never met before who joined us.

Jodi Hansen taught us Inductive Bible Study methods. Does the Bible really say that, she wanted us to ask.

Deborah Loyd, a professor at George Fox Seminary, showed us how the Bible is full of feminine imagery of God. We just need to know how to look for it.

 

I had an amazing time facilitating such a rich time of study and discussion. What we believe matters. It shapes our thinking and our actions. Theology matters.

Women were there to soak it all up and to also contribute to the lively discussions that followed each session.

I was thrilled with how attentive the group remained and how engaged in the discussion times following each teaching session.

Strong, intelligent savvy women felt the spirit of liberation the entire evening. Women are not meant to be the subordinate gender. We belong along side our brothers.

My friend Mimi Schaper brought it all home for us by leading us in a time of song and reflection at the end of the evening. "Oh sisters, let's go down, down to the river to pray...."

An amazing, satisfying evening of theology, fellowship and encouragement!

One of the primary reasons I organized the Womens’ Theology Camp was to address the theological barriers women face when determining how to address inequality. When we believe the Bible is the word of God and we are taught that it teaches “woman submit to man’s authority,” then it can be problematic for a woman of faith to resist oppression to her person. She has been taught that inequality is normal, that it’s not even oppressive gender inequality but it is the “created divine order.” Women struggle with how to cope with the tension of this mismatch when their theology no longer matches their conscience. Yet most women do not know how to theologically address these tensions. This can result in a sense of resignation, a kind of “let’s just go along to get along” mentality due to the fogginess from a lack of theological understanding. But when women began to discover that the Bible is a book that is pro-woman and pro-equality, it can be freeing on many levels to their being.

It was a wonderful gathering. I am especially grateful to Arbor Lodge Coffee for generously hosting our Womens’ Theology Camp.

We’ll do it again in the fall!!!!!