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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It’s About His Faith

pexels-photo-1.jpgYou are kind and good and just and I refuse to say anything other than Who You are.  I repeated that line laying on my face in a small apartment in Colorado, when it felt like the fabric of my being was being shredded within me and left to flail in hurricane force winds that had been unleashed in my life.  My nails digging deep into the fibers, gripping the carpet like my life depended on it and in some ways, it did.

No matter what.  I will not say anything other than Who You are.  You are kind and faithful and true and good and loving and present and You are Who You say You are.  No matter what happens or what I feel. I will not doubt You.

It was a dark night of the soul that lasted months.  But it was a bright noonday stroll in a garden eating ice cream compared to the last three years.  This post is about to get really real so if you are not into raw reality you might want to come back later.  OK, I warned you.

You see many of you read the first bit and were probably like, “wow, that’s some kind of amazing faith. Well done for not giving in to those pesky feelings, for not trusting those unstable emotions.”

But actually… that wasn’t faith at all.

It was denial, independence and fear masquerading as piety, trust and faith.  But it was as close a thing to faith that I had that the time and God in His kindness meets us right where we are.

I was so scared God wouldn’t be with my facades crumbling in honest pain so I forced myself to stand in dishonest faith.  I have told so many God would prefer our honest, real doubts lived in relationship with Him to a religious faith lived apart from relationship with Him. But, then, when I was faced with my own pain and doubt and anger and broken places, I just couldn’t let go of the form.  I had great theory.  But I didn’t know Him as well as I thought.

I patched up my broken places, pulled up my bootstraps and got back in the rhythm of being faithful.  I moved a world away to Africa.  I knew enough to know I was going not to fix anything but to learn and love and, well, be faithful.  So often we are admonished to be “faithful” as if our performance is some magic outworking of faith.  When Jesus wants us to be faith-full, filled with His faith that has literally nothing to do with us at all.

I look back on the last 10 years and see so much of God’s grace on everything.  The fact I even said yes wasn’t even my yes, it was an outworking of His yes and His grace in me.

I went through a season in India before Colorado where it was the first time I could recall I heard crickets when I prayed.  A time of His silence, where I was convinced He was kitting on the backside of the universe.  And then I went through that time above in Colorado, where some of what I put trust in started to be stripped away.  And then there were the last 3-4 years.

Years of loss and pain SO profound of so many things gone at once, I couldn’t even find the breath to say anything at all. Let alone pray.  Or anything else.  Was what I walked through God?  No.  It was the product of broken humanity, the fragmented cosmos, evil, betrayal and things we were never intended to have to walk through.  Does God redeem it, transform it, heal it, transfigure it?  Absolutely.  But His faithfulness to do so has had nothing to do with my faith because for the first time I can ever recall I began to wonder if I had any left.

But I found at the end of my faith, it isn’t about my faith at all.  It’s about His.  And He would rather meet me in my very real questions and doubts, in the raw mess of my broken places than He ever would watch me try and be strong and faithful in His name apart from Him.

So be encouraged.  You don’t have to “faith it” till you make it.  God is big enough to take your anger, and pain, and hurt, and doubts and questions without causing Him to change how He feels about you at all.  He simply wants to be with you right where you are right now.  And He loves you far too much to leave you stuck there.

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