Lists, Ambition and One Last Thing

Much has been made in the last week while I was away about a list of the Top 200 Church Bloggers posted by Kent Shaffer. There is also a cover story done by Christianity Today about 50 Women to Watch coming to news stands near you.

And while I do care that Mr Shaffer’s list was 93% white males, I do not care that word of a woman was no where to be found. I honestly don’t care about ever making his list. I also don’t care if Christianity today decides I belong on their list of women to watch even if I do love me some Rachel Held Evans. I appreciate them attempting to celebrate female followers of Jesus who they feel are making an impact, but I personally don’t care if I ever meet the criteria to make their list. For me having a women’s list that is separate from the men’s list is just more of the “our church lets women lead” mentality that Kathy Escobar wrote about recently. This may lead you to ask what I would do if I were ever to make a list such as this one. One way to react is the way Rachel Held Evans did this week in her post Is Ambition a Sin? She explained:

I weighed in a few times myself, thinking that, as one of just three women who made it to the Top 100, no one could accuse me of sour grapes. I even offered some tips regarding search engine optimization, design, posting schedule, and so on, hoping they might help some women whose content is great, but whose blogs might be blipping just under the radar. If we don’t like the list, I reasoned, let’s work to change it!

I agree on the one hand, working to change it is all well and good but in the end there is no doubt this is Mr. Shaffer’s list and he is free to choose whomever he wishes to be on it and it is no skin off my nose if he only decided to include baptists or pastors or  Chevy owners. I also understand, as he does, that his selection “approach is subjective and consequently flawed.”

So the question remains my lovelies, why don’t I care about making a “top Christian _______” list? The reason I don’t care has nothing to do with lack of ambition or feeling that it is unladylike to self-promote. On the contrary, I want to be an influential blogger period: Christian or not. I want to be the Mumford and Sons of blogging. I want my blog to be recognized because it is making the world a better and more beautiful place. I want it to be widely read because it connects on a deep level and maybe just maybe it reflects a spark of the divine and makes people long for more of that which calls us all to be better. This has never been about being influential with church people for me. This is about being influential with people. I believe with all my heart that God has given me words to speak that are worth hearing or I wouldn’t be here. This blog is and has always been about love; loving God and loving my neighbor; speaking out for freedom for the oppressed, and asking how we can see God’s kingdom come here and now in every corner of life. I want that message to go out to as many as humanly possible. And so…I write, because I have to, because I must, because I believe He wants me to or He wouldn’t have given me this heart, these words or this fracking awesome technology that allows us all to be more connected than ever.

Rachel Held Evans asked her readership how they felt about ambition yesterday and I am glad she asked. In Philippians 2 it says that we should “do nothing out of rivalry (some versions say selfish ambition) or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” It does not say, “Do nothing out of ambition,” but rather selfish ambition. That phrase implies that there is also unselfish ambition. Google defines ambition as:

am·bi·tion/amˈbiSHən/

Noun:
  1. A strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.
  2. Desire and determination to achieve success.

I don’t know about you my lovelies, but that sounds like a good thing to me. As far as I can tell, I am supposed to love and reconcile as many as I can; I am attempting to achieve that through my writing (among many other avenues); Therefore, I continue to be determined and work hard to do what it takes to succeed, including promotion and branding to ensure that my blog is seen by as many people as possible. Make no mistake, no list can determine the value of what I do here on the blogosphere any more than being named employee of the month or father of the year makes it so. The value of Word of a Woman can only be determined by whether it stirs in you, my lovelies the desire to love God, to love your neighbor, to use your life, your talent and all you are to see the world made a better place.

One last thing…

Mr. Shaffer did publish a response to the female bloggers who objected about not being included called, Open Letter to Christian Women Blogs in which he attempted to explain the list at least in regards to the exclusion of more women’s blogs. Unfortunately, in my opinion he missed the point in his response post. I could go into all the details but that would be missing the point of my own post. 😉 I will just let you read it for yourselves and make your own decisions. I will however make one point. In her response post on the Her.meneutics site, Laura Ortberg Turner relays this discussion:

In an e-mail exchange with Shaffer, a Christianity Today editor inquired as to why Her.meneutics was not on the list. He responded in a way that is indicative of a false dichotomy between “church” and “ministry” within our larger church culture:

“It hasn’t been included because we’ve subjectively decided it doesn’t focus on ministry topics frequently enough. The value in our list (although flawed) is its relatively narrow scope of topical focus. You write good posts, but they tend to be focused more on sex, relationships, adoption, politics, etc. than they are on topics rooted in ministry.”

Mr. Shaffer, this is where you completely lose me. You said that Her.meneutics was not included because their posts “tend to be focused more on sex, relationships, adoption, politics, etc. rather “than they are on topics rooted in ministry.” Really? How are these not topics rooted in ministry? I know no human, male or female, who is not personally invested in relationships, sex, adoption and/or politics. I personally reject the notion that there are ministry and non ministry topics; that posts (or anything else) can be pigeonholed into exclusively secular or uniquely sacred. I would even go so far as to say that you cannot have a blog as a follower of Christ that isn’t about a ministry topic.

In the end however you view the lists, they are subject to the list makers and the criteria they set. So why worry about whether or not I am deemed worthy by Mr. Shaffer or Christianity Today or any other person or group of making their list? Seeing my blog on a list is not my ambition. Love and Liberty and Reconciliation…now those, those are my ambitions. If I happen to end up on some “top whatever list” some day, I will most likely file it away with my Miss Congeniality award from high school, my ADDY award and all my other atta’ girls. They’re nice and all, but in the end, they don’t mean much. What survives in the end isn’t the lists or the accolades but the love and I want to be known for as much of that as possible.

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Grab your Loop and Run like Hell -or- Hang Ten

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. – Dr. King

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The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. – Alice Walker

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As I reexamined that memory on light of justice I was beginning to realize that I wasn’t being neutral at all. My lack of conviction had been an accomplice to the unequal treatment of women. My diplomacy was misguided. In my quest to maintain peace and unity, I had become a woman with a divided mind and heart.  – Pam Hogeweide, Unladylike: Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church.

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over time, we have been sold a bill of goods on what it means to be a christian woman.  we’ve been domesticated, tamed, caged, and limited.  we haven’t been properly valued or empowered or nurtured.

so here i am, in a place i never thought i’d be. an ex good christian woman. wreaking havoc on the norms that women are supposed to have in the church, encouraging women to get their voices, pursue their dreams, quit waiting for their husbands to lead them and live a passionate life for God no matter what other people tell them they can or can’t do. to seek change for their lives, quit doing the same old unhealthy thing in their relationships and learn a new way. to seek God’s love and approval instead of human’s. it’s been hard for me to make the shift. i still feel shame for feeling this way. even as i write this, i am wondering what person is going to say how unbiblical i am, how if i just knew my role and leaned into it i would have God’s perfect peace. you see, good christian women are filled with shame. shame for the things we do do, shame for the things we don’t do. and i was a great christian superwoman. – Kathy Escobar

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Stop waiting for someone to say that you count, that you matter, that you have worth, that you have a voice, that you have a place, that you are called. Stop waiting for someone else to validate the person that you already know you were made to be.  Stop holding your breath, sister, working to earn through your apologetics and memorized arguments, and your quietness, your submission and your “correct” doctrine what God has already freely given to you.

Because, darling, you are valuable. You have worth, not because of your gender or your calling or your marital status or your labels or your underlined books or your accomplishments or your checked-off tick boxes next to the job description of Proverbs 31.

I imagine them around a fabled table, in suits, no doubt, pulling the chairs in tight and tighter, until they are the only ones left there, crowded around a tiny table in an airless room that feels small and smaller. Me? I stand outside, in the wilds, banging my pots and pans, singing loud and strong, into the wind and the cold and the heavens, there is more room! There is more room! There is room for all of us! And then I’ll slide right up next to you, I’ll hook my arm through yours, I’ll lean in, I’ll whisper right into your ear, quiet, loud, it will sound like I’m singing or like I’m preaching, and I’ll say, there is room for you.  – Sarah Bessey

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At first I thought this would be a good letter to the 16 year old me and then I realized that in spite of the struggle and the difficulty and the muting, I am who I am right now for a purpose. Lovelies we were born for such a time as this. Do you get how exciting this is? Do you get how your struggle has brought you to the point where you are standing atop the surf board, salt air in your face, hanging ten as you ride toward the shore with the wave of equality and freedom at your back propelling you into a future where there is ROOM FOR US ALL?

We stand once again at the terminator of history. The terminator or twilight zone or gray line is the moving line that separates the illuminated day side and the dark night side of a planetary body. We are coming out of the darkness and sit expectantly in the gray zone, but instead of merely waiting for the light to arrive I picture us like the people who unfurl those huge flags at the Olympics opening day ceremonies. When the music starts they grab their loop on the flag and they run like hell for the other end of the field until the full beauty of the banner is visible to all.  I picture each of us, Rachel and Sarah and me and you and Pam and every woman God has made, grabbing the loops to our collective banner, yelling into the air, “FREEDOM!!! (like Mel Gibson in Braveheart)” as we run like hell for the goal line. I picture the stands full of people watching and waiting to see what kind of banner it will be. And let me tell you when it is finally displayed for all to see, when the full picture comes into view, WOW, my lovelies is it something to behold! The colors of the lives of the men and women made in Gods image bleeding together and showing a picture, the image (if you will) of God! Holy crap. Can you just picture it?

Now, imagine all of us, men and women, young and old with Jesus in the middle, our hands on the loops of the terminator of history running like hell for the horizon pulling the light of the new dawn across the whole surface of the earth. Do you hear us? Shouting and singing and proclaiming justice for the oppressed and freedom for the captives? C’mon. Grab a loop and run with us. And look! He is making all things new.

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This post is part of the Rachel Held Evans synchroblog event, One in Christ: A Week of Mutuality.  You can follow this event on Twitter by entering #mutuality2012 to read all entries by participating bloggers.

The Closest Friends I’ve Never Met and an Unladylike Manifesto

These days I have lots of friends I have never met and I am surprised by how much a part of my life they are. A few months ago I stumbled upon a blog by Rachel Held Evans (I am not even sure how). Then I got her book on Audible.com and she rode shotgun with me while I eagerly listened to her every word. Together we laughed and we cried. Rachel is actually someone that I have had the privilege of meeting and lived to blog about it here.  After a couple months of reading Rachel’s blog and several others it lead me to, including Sarah Bessey’s, I had an epiphany of sorts… I had something to say! For those who actually have met me in person it will be hard to believe that I would be at a loss for words, but because of past experiences over time I unwittingly became (or tried to appear to be…) ladylike. For me, most of the time meant biting my tongue. I am a natural talker and strong woman with leadership skills that don’t involve kids, crafts or tea and little sandwiches. Outside of my church life, this was never a problem, in fact it was seen as a strength in most areas: high school, college, bar tending, and in the art departments where I worked after college. No, it was only in my church life and with my church friends (I never thought I kept my life separate and I most ways I didn’t but when it came to my behavior and how much I spoke up and took a leadership role I was definitely leading a divided life) that I felt the need to be less _________ and more ___________ than I am. You could fill in those blanks with all kinds of words. I was always either too much (Alise Wright) or not enough (Rachel Held Evans). At one point I even had a friend (someone I admired and whom I love very much) write down verses and talk to me about how I needed to speak less and be more dispassionate about what I had to say. That one act both upset me greatly and muted me for a long time. I became somewhat convinced, in a very conflicted way, that there was something wrong with me. It took me a lot of years, the support of my husband and a lot of listening to the voices of other women who were tired of being quiet, dispassionate and ladylike to finally be okay with releasing my true and authentic voice: the one God gave me.

These days, I am much less “ladylike” (Webster: feeling or showing too much concern about elegance or propriety or lacking in strength, force, or virility) and also much “less divided” as my friend Kathy Escobar (who I get to meet in October!) said in her recent post (you must read it, you must read it now!). It is one I am printing out and keeping to read and reread whenever I need it, kind of like my emergency chocolate. Like my friend Kathy, today I am happy. She writes,

the thing that makes me happy right now is that many people i know are finding freedom and becoming less divided.  we’re breaking free.  we’re finding our way.  we’re loosening shame’s grip.  we’re stepping into who God made us to be.

These are a few of the closest friends I’ve never met, let me introduce them to you my lovelies, you will never meet a finer, more fierce, more passionate group of leaders anywhere. There’s Kathy and Rachel and Sarah and Alise and Jo and so many more. It is in large part because of these women that I am able to be truly free to serve Jesus with all that I am. It is my great privilege to join their voices and add mine to their mission to bring freedom to all God’s children, men and women together.

Today one of these women, Pam Hogeweide wrote a brilliant post in response to The True Woman Manifesto which was posted on truewoman.com. I want to share it with you. It is truly inspired.

Unla­dy­like Manifesto

  • We believe that male and female are cre­ated to col­lab­o­rate, co-lead and co-exist in a mutu­al­ity of sub­mis­sion to one another. (Gen 2:18 – 23,Galatians 3:28)
  • We believe that gift­ing is appointed accord­ing to the will of the Holy Spirit and that call­ing is deter­mined by gift­ing, not gen­der. (1 Corinthi­ans 12,  John 20:1 – 20)
  • We believe that the power of the Gospel restores men and women in right rela­tion­ship to one another to live, serve and lead side by side rather than in patri­ar­chal hier­ar­chy. (Gala­tians 3:28, John 4:7 – 39)
  • We believe that the voice, influ­ence and author­ity of women is meant to be fully unleashed in accor­dance to the full per­son­hood that women pos­sess. Male  head­ship is a myth. (Joel 2:28 – 29, 1 Peter 2:9 – 10)
  • We believe in the mutual sub­mis­sion and part­ner­ship of mar­riage where nei­ther has author­ity over another by virtue of gen­der. We reject the headship/submission model as a bib­li­cal truth and instead embrace the lib­erty and wis­dom of def­er­ence to the other. (Eph­esian 1:22, Eph­esians 5: 15 – 33, 1 Peter 5:5)
  • We believe that the lead­er­ship of women is needed in full part­ner­ship with the lead­er­ship of men in all are­nas of cul­ture and church. Women were not cre­ated to fol­low any­more than men were cre­ated to lead. (Num­bers 12:15, Judges 4 & 5, 2 Kings 22:13 – 14, Acts 2, Romans  16:3 – 4, 7)
  • We believe that Jesus mod­eled a rad­i­cal agenda of respect­ing women’s full per­son­hood in how he treated them as noted in the Gospels. Jesus went against cul­tural and reli­gious norms in his treat­ment of women. (Luke 13:10 – 17, John 4, Luke 8:1 – 3, etc.….)
  • We believe that men and women of faith ought to resist the injus­tice of inequal­ity wher­ever it is found, includ­ing the halls of the church. Jus­tice is a king­dom of God value and is the lan­guage of love. (Hosea 2:19, Amos 5:15, 24, Micah 6:8)

 

Conversation Over.

Yesterday I took a road trip to Waco with one of my favorite people to hear Rachel Held Evans speak at Baylor University‘s chapel service. Let’s just say, I went expecting awesomeness and I was not disappointed. We didn’t just get to hear Rachel speak at chapel, we also got to head to “The Bobo” (The Bobo Spiritual Life Center) and participate in a brown bag lunch Q & R session. When I walked into the room I noticed there was an open seat next to RHE and well, I’m not gonna lie, I totally almost ran to sit in it. There were several things I took away from my day at Baylor.

 1. Truett Seminary is emergent and egalitarian friendly! Who knew, right? Yesterday I met Ryan Richardson and his lovely wife Kristen. He is an Associate Chaplain and the Director of Worship at Baylor and she is an Associate Chaplain and Director for Formation and Baptist Student Ministries. He enthusiastically told me that Truett Seminary has been quite egalitarian for several years. Ryan is responsible for scheduling the chapel speakers and has brought in speakers like Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt and, of course, Rachel Held Evans (twice!).

 2. While Rachel was talking she said something that caught my ear. The Bible is a conversation starter not a conversation ender. We often make the Bible something it never says it is. We call it a guide book, a blue print, a manual and a constitution, when in reality it is none of these. I like McLaren’s picture of the Bible as a library.

 First, we must displace the habit of reading the Bible flatly. In a constitution, Article 5 has the same authority as Article 2. When the Bible is read this way, Jesus’ life and words are pressed down and flattened to the same level as those of Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul, and Jude. In this approach, the words of and about Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, and Jude are all “inspired Scripture,” so they all have the same value and authority. This elevation of the Bible above Christ is remarkably common in conservative churches, where it would never be stated so baldly, but is nevertheless rampant. In this light, it’s interesting to analyze the use of the words “Bible” and “biblical” in names and discourse. Think of the subtle (but potentially significant) difference between a Bible church and a community of disciples of Christ, or a Bible college and a discipleship college, or a Bible teacher and a disciple-maker. Think of the difference between arguing that an idea or behavior is biblical (meaning one can use constitutional reading techniques to justify it) and claiming that it is Christ-like. One might argue (by avoiding everything we’re recommending here!) that it is biblical to commit genocide by quoting Deuteronomy 7, but one could never claim it is Christ-like.

When we view the Bible as a library, we are free to place more importance on the words of Jesus over the words of Paul or the words about genocide. Jesus is -and was – God made flesh. He is the perfect representation of all we are to strive to become. We are encouraged to have the mind of Christ, not the mind of Moses or even of Paul. Rachel talked about this again in her post yesterday about Christian Smith’s book, The Bible Made Impossible. Please forgive the quote within a quote but I thought it was a good insight.

In The Bible Made Impossible, Smith tackles the problem of  “biblicism,” which he defines as “a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.”

Biblicism falls apart, Smith says, because of the “the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism,” for “even among presumably well-intentioned readers—including many evangelical biblicists—the Bible, after their very best efforts to understand it, says and teaches very different things about most significant topics…It becomes beside the point to assert a text to be solely authoritative or inerrant, for instance, when, lo and behold, it gives rise to a host of many divergent teachings on important matters.”

3. Another point she made that I loved was that the Bible does not layout one path to biblical womanhood (or manhood for that manner). She pointed out that often today, the 50s ideal of June Cleaver is lifted up as the model of biblical womanhood. In reality, the world and time in which the Bible was written had never seen the likes of June Cleaver. In fact, you can search high and low in scripture and you will not find a single woman who fits that model. The Bible is full of woman and about the only thing that is for sure is that every one of them is unique and different and has her own gifts just like all of us. I don’t know about you, but I am so comforted that God doesn’t choose to give women just one blueprint of what biblical womanhood is all about, but instead provides many vastly different examples of what it means to be an Aishat Chayil! Woman of Valor!!

4. I was also struck by the story Rachel told about the ceremony she and her friend had honoring the women of the Bible who were victims of violence perpetrated in the name of God. She talked about how we need to remember them, how we need to honor them by telling their stories. It is easy to read over the difficult passages of the Bible and forget that these were real people with real lives who were made to suffer in the name of God. I don’t think these stories are included in our library we call the Bible because it is the way things were supposed to be.  Rather, these stories serve as examples of what horrible things can be done in the name of God. I think these stories are warnings. God’s way of saying, this isn’t me, this isn’t what I want…stop it. “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” Ultimately, God sends his son because the message just doesn’t seem to be coming through. Jesus comes to love, to sacrifice, to ransom the captives and set at liberty those who are being oppressed. He comes to save not to condemn. He comes to forgive sin not to throw a stone.

There were many, many more things that I took away from my trip and hopefully I will get a chance to share more of them later. Suffice it to say that if Rachel is coming to somewhere close to you, I encourage you to take a little road trip to see her. Conversation over.