Tag Archives: words

There’s a Girl in the Room.

I don’t usually post about things that get me riled up online.  There are plenty of angry people on the internet already, and since the temptation to be articulately nasty is one of my besetting sins, I do a lot of counting to ten and clicking over to funny cat pictures when I’m reading about the discussions about gender roles in today’s church.

angry cat

Today, though, I’m making an exception.  Dr. John Piper is an author and preacher whose theological writings have blessed and challenged millions, myself included.  However, virtually every time he decides to make pronouncements about the modern application of his theology, I want to beg him to please, please stop talking.

I’ll let you listen for yourself:  http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/ask-pastor-john/do-you-use-bible-commentaries-written-by-women

The first part of the podcast is rife with the usual assumptions and overstatements common to his viewpoint – men are like drill sergeants!  Women are like city planners!  It’s just confusing and wrong when women try to teach and preach like drill sergeants!  (Or something along those lines – I was laughing too hard to remember it verbatim.)

However, toward the end I stopped giggling because my jaw dropped in astonishment when he explained why he is comfortable reading and teaching from Biblical commentaries written by women, but he would not allow the same women to teach the same material from the pulpit.  He says that the book “puts her out of my sight, and in a sense takes away the dimension of her female personhood.”

Takes away the dimension of her female personhood.

This surprised me, coming from the man who teaches that we are intrinsically male or female, and that our roles in family and church life are permanently and irrevocably determined by our maleness and femaleness.

It’s tempting to joke that all I have to do to be a God-approved preacher is go into the next room, where I’m out of sight of anybody who might be offended – ta-daaa!  My female personhood is balanced out, and I can teach now!  It’s also tempting, as other women have done, to wonder exactly what it is about my female personhood that is a problem when men can see me, but not when I’m on the other side of a book or the internet.  (The answer here is generally “boobs.”)

But the reality isn’t quite that amusing.  In the movie “Erin Brockovich”, a woman diagnosed with cancer asks the poignant question, “Ya think if ya got no breasts … no uterus … you’re still technically a woman?”  The answer, of course, is an unequivocal yes.  Even the staunchest complementarians draw the line at saying that a man who has survived testicular cancer, but at the loss of the relevant body parts, is now disqualified to teach – he is still a man.

We are still men, still women, even when we are sick or old or childless or unmarried or (dare I say it) not all that romantically interested in people of the opposite gender.  We do not stop being men or women for any of these reasons, and we darn well don’t stop being them just because we’re not in the same room as John Piper.

I am a woman.  I love the Lord, and I love His Word.  In earlier seasons of life, I’ve taught and done well at it, by all accounts of the people I’ve taught.  Even though this season of life has me listening and healing instead of talking, I am still intrinsically a teacher – and still intrinsically female.  I don’t believe that combination of traits is an accident.  I think that if God has given me things to say and a woman’s voice to say them in, then it’s because he wants those words spoken in this voice.

We are his hands and feet, but we are his voice too.  These hands are small.  These feet have red nail polish.  This voice is a soprano, and it’s the voice of a mother, a sister, a daughter, an aunt.  If God decides at some point that people need to hear it, then I hope they hear what He wants them to hear.

And on the off chance that Dr. Piper decides to drop by my little Quaker congregation and I’m contributing to the discussion that Sunday, then I will set up a chair for him in the hallway, pray that he will be blessed, and talk loud enough for him to hear.

To Err Is Human

This morning I did not go to church.

I did not read my Bible.

I prayed quite a bit, but I didn’t sing any Christian songs.

Not so many years ago, I would have been pretty sure there was a sin in there somewhere.  Staying home on a Sunday morning when you didn’t have a fever or something gross and contagious was simply not done when I was a kid, at least not in our family.  Granted, my dad didn’t have the option of skipping church for anything less than the most dire circumstances because he was the pastor.  But it wasn’t just being the preacher’s kid – most of the kids in my Sunday School were in the same boat.  No fever?  No vomit?  Quitcher bellyachin’ and put your good shoes on, we’re goin’ to church.

It’s not a bad pattern, all things considered.  There’s even Biblical precedent for it, when we’re reminded not to “forsake our own assembling together, as is the habit of some.”  Or, in modern English, “Don’t skip church, like SOME PEOPLE, you know who you are.”

There are plenty more good patterns where that came from.  “They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”  Read your Bible every day!

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night.”  Twice a day is even better!

As a teenager, I was never quite sure just how much Bible-reading and church-going was enough, so I decided to err on the side of caution and did it ALL.  Somewhere along the line, though, the myriad well-meaning instructions drowned out the true voice of those Scriptures.  There are so many books, so many sermons, so many words about the forms of our faith.  There is immense value in those words, and I love reading about how other people have brought rhythm and structure to their days with their disciplines of faith.  But it’s easy to get so lost in the form that we forget the eagerness and the delight that are meant to be the driving force behind the daily study.  So quickly we fall into going to church because it’s Sunday, instead of going because the Church is going to be there.

When this habit starts being built more of guilt than of joy, I think it’s probably all right to break it now and then.  Today was one of those days.  I had a major musical performance planned for the afternoon, and I found myself gripped with an unexpected attack of nerves.  This was well past queasy-tummy territory and approaching immobilized.  I dropped my children off at church, and then I came home.  I sat in the sunlight and read a book.  I prayed a little.  I had a late breakfast.  I prayed a little more.  I realized that I was useless at the moment, so I set my alarm for 45 minutes and got back in bed and pulled the covers over my head.

Not too surprisingly, God found me under my blankets, and I emerged feeling considerably better about life in general and the upcoming concert in particular.  Was that church?  No.  But was it sin?  I still have to say no.

In erring on the side of caution, I have spent over thirty years erring on the side of law.  I think it is time to err on the side of grace.

Shhhh.

Silent.

Quiet.

Still.

Peaceful.

Not synonyms, although there is quite a bit of overlap to their meanings.  I am finding that not-talking is not the same as quiet, and that silence is no guarantee of stillness.

I come from a rich tradition of words – beautifully crafted, mentally stimulating, deeply expressive words.  Words to explain, to clarify, to enlighten, but also words to shape, to influence, to steer.  Sometimes words that obscure, words that camouflage, words that sanitize.  And when the evangelical movement is having a bad week, its strength is its weakness, and this facility with words becomes weaponized – barbs and rebuttals and shotgun blasts of language that leave gaping holes in targets and observers alike.

Let me be clear – I don’t want to cut myself off from this tradition.  As long as I have mental capacity and breath in my body, that breath will be voiced in words that make sense.  I simply am not wired for “God is good, God is great, Hallelujah (repeat 47 times)” – I am wired for words.

I think, though, that I might do well to take a cue from my musical life, where the rests are nearly as important as the notes.  If there is no silence, the notes quickly become a barrage of noise.  The quiet passages are necessary for the loud ones to be appreciated, and the softer melodies have beauty all their own.

I need this quiet.  I have come from so many years of noise – church services where I am cowed into unresponsiveness because of the deliberately constant noise.  (God forbid there be “dead air” on a Sunday morning.)  My “quiet times”, not too surprisingly, have come to reflect this constant motion, and my prayers and reading are so full of words that there is no space left for listening.

I want to find out what is in the silences, and perhaps more importantly, what is not.  I need stillness more than I need words sometimes.  Now if only I can get myself to stop talking…