Why Covering Should Be Left to Umbrellas

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Umbrellas do a great job as coverings, people not so much.

If I had $5 for every time someone asked me, “Who (or what) is your covering?” {i.e. who do you report to and what gives you authority to minister, especially as a woman}, I could afford to attend as much grad school as I like for the rest of my life.  We are talking become a full-time serious life-long grad student.  For at least the next 20 years.  From a private villa in the Caribbean.

I know some folks have simply picked up poor terminology and what they really mean to ask is, “Are you in mutual, open-hearted, transparent, authentic community in Christ?”  But many, perhaps even most, are asking because there is a pervasive teaching that uses the term covering in any number of ways, most of which are oppressive to women and all of them are hierarchical in nature and contrary to the mutuality of the Gospel.   And they are just plain flat unbiblical.

“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus…” 1 Tim 2:5  And the word men there is anthropos, as in human being.  So actually it reads, “…one Mediator between God and people”.

The conversation usually gets awkward and uncomfortable when I respond and assert my “covering” is Jesus. {You want me covered by man… no problem. Jesus fits the description.} The question then usually gets rephrased to ask, “Well, ur, I mean who are you accountable to?”  My response: “Hopefully the same person you are. God. And yes I have great relationships thank you for asking.”  Even though deep inside I’d like to fire back, “and you think it is appropriate to ask me this as the first question of introduction from a complete stranger, because?”

IGrace-bloggraphic-spirabuseseries.jpgI could go into a very long detailed biblical exegesis and explanation of all the history behind and biblical responses to the covering phenomena, but instead let me refer you to a fabulous article Frank Viola wrote on the subject that says everything I would explain and then some: Who Is Your Covering?

Other resources I have found helpful and/or encouraging:

The next time someone asks me what my covering is, I am going to be hard pressed not to reply, “Well, when it rains… my umbrella.”

Have a beautiful weekend friends!

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Shattering the Stained Glass Ceiling

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The only thing lower than the glass ceiling for women is the stained glass ceiling.  And it’s about time both are shattered.

If you are on Twitter at all, you may have run across the hashtag #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear started by Sarah Bessey (who is a fabulous writer) a few days ago. What follows is an online conversation that yanks back the veil of silence to expose misogyny and oppression in the institutional church.  It is heart-rending and infuriating.  But it is also filled with hope.

As a woman who has been in ministry leadership for over 20 years, I want to add my story to the swell. Or at least part of my story.

I am about to get gut-level honest about many things I have never spoken about publicly, so if you don’t like raw… I’ll give you a moment to click over to something else.

Some of what I am about to talk about is hard and all of it is true.  It is not a blanket indictment on the institutional church everywhere.  I’ve had some wonderful, affirming, pure-hearted experiences.  But unfortunately, I can count them on less than two hands.  I’ve had many more experiences that were mixed, like most things fallen and imperfect are.  I hold on to the good and learn from what was not.  And I’ve had downright assaults to who I am as a woman; mind, body and soul.

I did not meet Jesus or come to faith in an institutional church setting and when I did start attending, the denomination I was in was one of the most open to women leaders at the time.  I never had anyone tell me “women don’t preach”.  It never even crossed my mind.  Until one day I was sitting in my university’s intro to ministry course.  And I innocently dropped a bomb in my introduction when I enthusiastically proclaimed:

“I’m called to preach.” The silence was only broken by the professor’s sputtering objection, “You mean you’re called to teach…”

“No, sir, I can do that but I’m really called to preach.”

And I refused to back down.  So I got assigned to intern under a woman who could straighten out my heretical streak and show me the finer nuances of children’s ministry.  I wouldn’t back down for her either.  It remains the only class in my entire academic career I have ever gotten a C in.  I became known as a “lovable heretic”. I think I might put that on my tomb stone one day… “here lies Michele, a lovable heretic”.

In the last 20 years since then, I’ve: (Disclaimer: This list is in no particular order, has no names named and is in no way comprehensive.)

  • Been invited to “share” or “testify” even though it was the sermon slot.
  • Been picked up for speaking engagements overseas and then not allowed to speak because they thought I was a “Michael” not a “Michele”
  • Had a male team member who on more than one attempt tried to nuzzle or bear hug me and whom I physically had to push away. (Which is at the very least, sexual harassment and according to some definitions, a form of sexual assault)
  • Had my character maligned and been personally and professionally attacked for standing up for survivors and the abuse being perpetrated against them
  • Been invited to speak and then given 2 minutes when initially it was an invitation to preach
  • Been hosted inappropriately when traveling on the road
  • Been violently physically assaulted by the male leader of a church I was leading an outreach team to overseas and then later given 24 hours to get out of the country because of ongoing threats from him to the broader organization.
  • Experienced organizational corruption by male leaders who did not protect survivors who reported repeated sexual assault
  • Been labeled as unstable because of defending those I served against abuse and systemic injustice
  • Had original ideas and content stolen or co-opted by male leaders who then publicly exploited them for their own benefit (for the record, I’ve had that from female leaders too- they just were a bit more subtle about it.)
  • And this list could go on another 10 pages.  You get the picture.

IGrace-bloggraphic-spirabuseseries1.jpgThe stained glass ceiling for women is very real, often abusive and suffocatingly low.

Before you dismiss this as the ramblings of a rebellious, bitter woman (and I do know most of you would never do that), I want you to know those who have wronged me and those I love have been and by grace, are being, continually forgiven.

But forgiving is not forgetting.  It is not an excuse for a systemic, pervasive injustice so far from the heart of God, it betrays His very Kingdom on deep and fundamental levels.

There is no biblical mandate for being sweet and nice, although that is culturally what we are taught, especially as women.  In most places I have been, strong women with a strong prophetic voice are not viewed as Deborahs, but Jezebels.  So we are trained to embrace a psuedo-form of meekness.

And some of the loudest advocates of the stained glass ceiling for women in the church are other womenChristianity Today is running a series about women writers who don’t have “biblical” authority and their unhealthy influence from the blogosphere.  The flagship article of the series, written by a woman leader, states that: “In this new cyber age, authority comes not from the church or the academic guild but from popularity…. it is a crisis of authority, especially for women.”

Really?

How does this stained glass ceiling start to get shattered?  One woman at a time refusing to live under it, be silenced by it, or settle for being defined by it.

Women do not have separate but “equally important” roles.  If history teaches us nothing else, it screams separate can never be truly equal.

Genesis 2:18 says, “And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”  This verse is often interpreted that women exist to be helpmates of men, which is almost always an inferior connotation.

The word for helper is the Hebrew word ezer.  Two-thirds of the usage of this noun biblically has God as the designated helper.  In three of the uses, ezer can be translated as warrior.  Mounce states, “With so many references to God as our helper, it is obvious that an ʻēzer is in no way inferior to the one who receives help. This is important because this is the word that God uses in Gen. 2:18… According to God’s design, therefore, the man and the woman, the husband and the wife, have been designed by God to stand together and help each other fight the battles of life. And God is there as the divine ʻēzer to fight with them.”

So, yes I am 100% egalitarian in my beliefs about women in any role in leadership in the institutional church, or outside of it.  I do not believe in the concept of covering except by Jesus Himself.  I do believe in community with real, honest, messy accountability that is born in the place of mutually honoring relationship.

The view of women in many places within fundamental Christianity has greater similarities to the views concerning women in fundamental Islam or Judaism, than it does to the heart of Jesus. (Yes, I know that is a loaded statement. But in my experience it is also an accurate one.)  Jesus came to set women free.  In fact, He might even be considered one of the world’s first feminists. Just ask Mary as she sat at His feet or the woman at the well as He encountered her in perfect love and truth shattering cultural and religious norms.

Much of what the institutional church views as “biblical” womanhood is a man-made systematization of the curse in Genesis. Sarah Bessey explains it so well: “The curse that was laid upon Eve–her desire would be for her husband, and her pain in childbirth would be greatly multiplied–even shows us how patriarchy, subordination, and pain are part of the Fall. They were never God’s original intent; they are a consequence of sin.”

Shattering the stained glass ceiling is a profound and prophetic call back to the life of Jesus and the freedom of the Gospel.  It is a mandate born not in the structures of man, but in the original intent of the heart of God.

Selah.

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What Pez Dispensers & the Prophetic Have In Common

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I’ve been back in the USA for a little more than 3 years.  Much of these three years has been spent finding my footing again on many levels, fighting ongoing health battles and reevaluating what following Jesus looks like when my mission field is in the backyard of my childhood home.  I’ve also done a lot of watching and praying and sitting and observing and having tough talks with Jesus about what it really means to love and serve and be after His heart.  I follow falteringly.  I walk imperfectly.  I’m always arriving but never fully arrived.

I haven’t said much here beyond spilling my internal journey on a page from time to time.  There has been much on my heart to share but the timing has always been… not yet.  Until now.  I’ll be back in these parts sharing with you more about this messy, beautiful adventure with Jesus unpacking my own culture from a new perspective.

So let’s get this party started by talking about the nature of prophetic ministry it is often approached in the charismatic corner of Christendom.  {For my friends in other streams, this post may seem strange.  But you might find a morsel or two anyway.}

Before I go farther, allow me to say I believe wholeheartedly in prophetic gifting for today as revelatory gifting and not just declaratory gifting.  But I believe all revelation must be lined up with God’s character and His truth as revealed in Scripture.  I believe there is most definitely a place for personal prophetic ministry in the context of genuine community and relationship.  But I believe the chief purpose of the prophetic is to equip the Body to hear and see and know God for themselves.  And I believe there is a ton of bad teaching, poor doctrine and messed up methodology that passes as “prophetic” in many places and muddies the waters.

In the last decade of traveling and being around many flavors within the charismatic streams in the USA, I have regrettably witnessed a fair amount of abuse and a whole lot of manipulation surrounding the prophetic.  I am picking and choosing stories out of order and changing details so as not to reveal identities of those involved.  Because the point is the lesson being learned, not the identity of those involved in me encountering it.

I have been in many settings where a speaker with a prophetic focus to their ministry promises every person in the meeting a “personal word from the Lord” in that meeting or conference.  I am not saying that God never does this.  But every time that I can recall being in a setting where this was the overtly stated or the publicly understood purpose of the meeting, many of the “words” given were mostly mixed at best.

I do count this different from feeling led to pray for everybody in attendance.  Praying for someone does not or should not necessarily create the expectation of an on-demand personal prophecy.

There is such an emphasis of being able to perform on cue in some circles, training in the prophetic is closer to training in divination than genuinely hearing God’s voice.  I know that’s a crazy strong statement.  I am sorry, but if someone puts a business card face down in the center of the room and wants you to “discern” its information, you are being trained to tap into a soulish realm and operate in a form of divination.  You might get right information, but it will be from a wrong source.

Correct information does not mean a spiritually on-target prophetic word.  The spirit of divination can give incredibly accurate personal word.

I have often been in settings where what passes as a personal prophetic word starts out fairly vague and general, often as a little encouragement.  I can see you are so important to God. {And yes you are.  And yes He wants you to know that.  Nothing wrong with encouragement.  But where it goes from there is where things get sketchy.}

Many people who genuinely DO have a measure of prophetic gifting also have very strong intuition.  They can accurately read people and situations and subtle nonverbal cues, often without ever knowing they are doing it.  Intuition is a gift that can be incredibly powerful.  But it can also lead to confusing the issues in someone’s soul with what God is saying about them. I’ve seen far too many unwittingly prophesy out of the desires and emotions of the person being ministered to and call it a word from God.

A “prophetic” word starts off vague as those giving it watch the reactions and cues from the person being ministered to, and then the word gets a little more specific and so on and so forth.  Often without ever knowing that is what they are doing.  But some know exactly what they are doing.  Even more alarming are the places even train people to do this.  When it gets to that point, there is very little difference between a personal prophecy and a psychic reading.

I was once in a meeting where someone on the ministry team gave me a prophetic word that prophesied an event based on my greatest fears in that particular season.  The person prophesied my fear back to me as a thus saith the Lord.  If I had not stepped back, after dealing with the emotional assault that came with it and said, “Hey, God. Um, what the heck?,”  I might have accepted what was spoken instead of breaking it off and canceling any spiritual dynamics that the word(curse) set in motion.

As I’ve been praying about starting to write more from my ministry experience in the last decade, the phrase “pez dispenser prophecy” kept coming up.  I had to look up what a pez dispenser was.  For any of you whose pez knowledge is like mine, a pez dispenser is a small candy dispenser usually with a cartoon or figurehead that flips back to pop out a sugary pressed candy pellet.  It might be sweet, even informative and delivered on demand, but it is pure sugar rather than nourishing substance.  Consume it at your own risk.

I do not see in Scripture a public meeting solely given to all the participants passively receiving a personal prophecy. Sometimes prophesy flowed from worship or prayer, but never the mass dispensed version we have today in some circles that make the “prophet” or the “prophetic ministry time” the central focus.  That makes me wonder if the current model is setting us up for mixture from the start.

I have received some powerful words from others in prayer.  I mean totally pure 100% Jesus promises that are precious. But never in a setting where receiving a public personal prophecy was the meeting’s primary focus.  Ever.

I always take every word given back to Jesus and ask Holy Spirit to speak into it directly.  Show me in Scripture, line it up with His character and ways.  We simply cannot judge a prophetic word based on perceived accuracy of the information itself.  It always has to be taken back to the One Who is the Word and measured by Him and Him alone.