"I am a Woman of Valor"

'Sis' photo (c) 2010, Graham - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I am a Woman of Valor
by B. 

I am a woman of valor.  Too many years I spent shackled by fear and shame, telling myself and others that I was no good, that I was unworthy of love; but somewhere in the deepest recesses of my spirit was a flicker of something that knew differently.  Emboldened by that flicker of hope, I fought and clawed against the chains that choked and bound me until I could see that they were nothing but shadows, shadows that held no true power over me.  I found the courage to say “No!” to the shadows.  I fought, and I won. 

I am a woman of valor.  I was terrorized as a child – beaten by my father’s belt and bludgeoned by scriptures that were twisted into weapons against my tiny spirit.  I survived the abuse by repeating the words: words that said that I was deceitful and desperately wicked, words that condemned my childish mistakes as rebellion, which was as evil as witchcraft, words that justified the stripes on my back.  But even while obediently parroting these damning phrases yanked out of context, I searched the holy book until I found evidence of another side to God.  I dug and dug and found a Messiah who wept for my pain.  I fought the lies with truth.  I fought, and I won. 

I am a woman of valor.  As a young adult, I discovered that I could no longer trust my brain to communicate reality to me.  Though spinning wildly out of control, I reached out for help, and made the bravest phone call of my life: I asked a neighbor to drive me to the local mental hospital.  When my stay there helped me cope with the crisis but failed to yield long-term solutions, I kept up my search for answers, visiting doctor after doctor until I found a diagnosis and, with that diagnosis, treatment.  I stood up to my mental illness.  I waged open war on the hallucinations that plagued me.  I fought, and at last I began to win more battles than I lost.

I am a woman of valor.  Despite my long-held belief that childbearing was never going to be a part of my story, I am great with child, eager to meet my daughter whose arrival is short weeks away.  Just as the midwife warned me might happen, as I approach labor I find myself revisiting the ancient traumas of my life.  Fear and Shame have resurrected themselves in my consciousness, but this time around, I recognize them.  I know that they are lies.  While I weep for the childhood – and the years of adulthood – I lost, I promise my little girl that her life will be far different.  And I continue to fight.  I am winning.

***

The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, is mom-to-be living in Austin, TX. She is married to her best friend, and finds joy in making things with her hands, whether it's a knitted scarf, a salvaged-wood table, or a from-scratch meal.

This post is part of our Women of Valor seriesEshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone.  Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor.  One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners to be featured this week, I will select several more to feature as guest posts in the weeks and months to come.

The winners of the Women of Valor contest, will receive a flower necklace that is hand-made by the artisans of Hill Country Hill Tribers, a non-profit helping Burmese refugee women in Austin earn supplemental income and learn marketable skills. The necklaces and other new products in their fall line are available on their website now.  I enourage you to  read the stories of these women of valor in their Artisan Profiles and find out how you can become a Hill Triber Patron to support the artisans in their work. 

photo by Charis Dishman

photo by Charis Dishman

 Get your own TODAY!

Read the rest:
Mrs. Foster - A Woman of Valor by Jenn LeBow 
Rebecca - A Woman of Valor by Cheryl Cash 
Sarah - A Woman of Valor by Jenny Everett King
Sky - A Woman of Valor by Jonathan C. 
Sofia - A Woman of Valor by Emily Allen 
Mala - A Woman of Valor by Joy Bennett 
Hulda Nite - A Woman of Valor by Liz Myrick
Dr. Chaney - A Woman of Valor by Hope Estes, Claire Nieman, and Heidi McElrath 

I hope you will consider writing a tribute to a woman of valor on your own blog this week. If you do, leave a link in the comment section so we can all enjoy. I'll be sure to tweet/share some of my favorites. (Note: All the winners of the contest have been notified.)

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/i-am-a-woman-of-valor

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Dr. Chaney – A Woman of Valor

Transient

Dr. Chaney – A Woman of Valor
By Hope Estes, Claire Nieman, and Heidi McElrath 

Dr. Chris Chaney is constantly found in the company of stories. And whether they involve racial reconciliation, sexual identity, or David Copperfield, she always sees them and lives in them through the lens of the Gospel, the most important story of all.

Her life itself is quite a story. She grew up in San Francisco, attended UCLA, UC Berkeley, and took time off to raise two children before returning to the University of Washington to earn a Ph.D. in narrative theory. She began her job as a professor of English at Seattle Pacific University in 2000, where she would become a heroic supporter of students and their right to tell their own stories.

In 2011, a controversial student group whose goal was to foster safe communication and the telling of stories that would have otherwise been silenced was, itself, silenced. Though the SPU faculty tried to stay uninvolved, when it really mattered, they joined the side of the students—the side of the silenced. Dr. Chaney was one of the spearheads of this effort. "You only have to have one student who comes into your office and tells you they would rather die than be apart from God's love because of who they are,” she would say. “That should never happen."

She decided to stand up for these stories at tremendous personal risk. She co-wrote an open letter from the faculty to the students, which was published in SPU’s student newspaper, The Falcon, and was even willing to have her name put as the first signature. Part of the letter says, “We commit ourselves anew to make a safe place for you to live, learn and grow. And we take heart, like Paul, that nothing—nothing unwise we say, nothing shortsighted we do, nothing unthinking we do—will be able to separate each of you from God’s love that is in Jesus Christ.” These actions directly led to the group’s rescue, but more importantly gave students the knowledge that grace and love were available to them, not just because of who they are but because of who Jesus is. 

Dr. Chaney is a professor whose door is always open and who always offers tea and comfort and a listening ear. She has decided to live out the redemptive story of the gospel with her life and every day she invites all members of the SPU community to live in that story with her. She is truly an instrument of Christ’s grace and mercy, and exercises daily the costly discipline of love. Dr. Chris Chaney is, without a doubt, a woman of valor.

And best of all—today is Dr. Chaney’s birthday! Eshet chayil! 

***

Hope Estes and Claire Nieman are fourth-year SPU students and Heidi McElrath is an SPU alumna. All of them want to b like Dr. Chaney when they grow up, if only because it would make them masters at reading 19th-century literature out loud.

This post is part of our Women of Valor seriesEshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone.  Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor.  One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners to be featured this week, I will select several more to feature as guest posts in the weeks and months to come.

The winners of the Women of Valor contest, will receive a flower necklace that is hand-made by the artisans of Hill Country Hill Tribers, a non-profit helping Burmese refugee women in Austin earn supplemental income and learn marketable skills. The necklaces and other new products in their fall line are available on their website now.  I enourage you to  read the stories of these women of valor in their Artisan Profiles and find out how you can become a Hill Triber Patron to support the artisans in their work. 

photo by Charis Dishman

photo by Charis Dishman

 Get your own TODAY!

Read the rest:
Mrs. Foster - A Woman of Valor by Jenn LeBow 
Rebecca - A Woman of Valor by Cheryl Cash 
Sarah - A Woman of Valor by Jenny Everett King
Sky - A Woman of Valor by Jonathan C. 
Sofia - A Woman of Valor by Emily Allen 
Mala - A Woman of Valor by Joy Bennett 
Hulda Nite - A Woman of Valor by Liz Myrick 

I hope you will consider writing a tribute to a woman of valor on your own blog this week. If you do, leave a link in the comment section so we can all enjoy. I'll be sure to tweet/share some of my favorites. (Note: All the winners of the contest have been notified.)

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/dr-chaney-valor

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Hulda Nite – A Woman of Valor

Left to right: Hulda Nite , Ralph Nite, and Gladys Nite

Left to right: Hulda Nite , Ralph Nite, and Gladys Nite

Hulda Nite – A Woman of Valor
By Liz  Myrick

I always pictured her with leathery hands, fingers calloused and worn from years in the kitchen.  I pictured her in a blue dress with a full skirt, though in my mind her dress would be perpetually covered by an apron that started the day a bright white and became more and more bespeckled by the hour.  I pictured her measuring out the ingredients for her pound cake by hand, plunging her thick, German fingers into the flour bin and pulling out a fistful for the mixing bowl.

In my mind, she is always caught in that period between the wars.  Brought from Germany as a bride and a mother, the proud wife of a US soldier, then promptly abandoned and left to raise her children alone as the depression dug its claws into the land she had only just begun to call home.  To me, my great-grandmother, called Granny by everyone I ever heard speak about her, is an icon forged and frozen in the years after her husband Archie left her alone to raise their three children in his country.

She has always been equal parts German kitsch and Rosie the Riveter to me, like one of the Hummel dolls she collected but with hands and a will both implacable as stone.  She seemed a simple hero who climbed, steadfast, over every barrier placed in her path: the language barrier, the barrier of being a single mother, the barrier of finding work as an immigrant in the midst of the depression. I see her life as the progression of undaunted footstep after undaunted footstep.

Everyone loves to talk about how Granny could take a pan out of the oven without a hot pad.  Years of cooking in a busy university kitchen had deadened the skin on her fingertips.  As a child, I considered it just more proof that Granny had been superhuman.  In the heady naiveté of childhood hero worship, I saw her as a statue, raising a scorching pan above her head while her skirt swirled around her knees and her apron strings swung out in a wide arc behind her.  But lately, I’ve been noticing how that image of her obscures the truth of the woman she was.  Lately, I’ve been thinking how many pans she had to burn her fingers on before she stopped yelping as she pulled things from the oven.

I think of her on the evening her husband didn’t come home from work.  I imagine her fumbling over the few words of English she knew, trying to ask the neighbors if they had seen him.  I wonder if she walked the roads, calling for him, and when she knew he wasn’t coming back.

I wonder when she realized that she could not feed her children, that she had to lose them to save them.Did her knees give out when she took her oldest, my grandfather, to live in an orphanage, or when she sent her three-year-old daughter to live with a friend?  When she held the baby to her chest, the only one she could manage to keep, did she say thanks for his comfort or did she only ask herself how she would feed them both?

It would be a year before she could bring her children home again, and even when she did, I imagine she anticipated more hungry days in their future.  Even when she made it through the odd jobs, milking cows and clearing tables, when she became a cook for the university, I imagine she did not see that she would eventually become the Head Dietician and that for decades businessmen from all over Chattanooga would swarm to that dining hall and stand in line with undergrads to buy a plate of her remarkable food.   

I wish I could whisper back through time to tell her how it would all work out.  I wish I could tell her that the faith she and her oldest son discovered together in that neighborhood mission would transform the family for generations.  

I wish I could stand beside her on the day she sent my grandfather off to the second world war, probably looking like his father in that uniform, and tell her that her son would come home all in one piece and marry a lovely woman named Juliet. That her son, the same one who spent a year in an orphanage, would become apastor, a doting husband, and a father who would see four of his own children give their lives to the ministry. 

Lately when I think about my great-grandmother, I see her not as iconic female superhero, but as something far more moving: a broken, challenged, tenacious, fragile person. I see the complexity and bravery she must have shown, but also I see the terror she must have felt.  And now, more than ever, I am proud to say that her blood runs in me

***

Liz  Myrick is a thirty-something wife and mother of two with an English degree and an administrative gig at her alma mater.  She is a person of faith, a champion of the underdog, a believer in fair treatment for all, and a smartass. Not necessarily in that order.  She blogs about rediscovering her faith, learning to live in the moment, raising a son with Down syndrome, and just generally feeling like a square peg in a world full of round holes at These Square Pegs.

***

This post is part of our Women of Valor seriesEshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone.  Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor.  One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners to be featured this week, I will select several more to feature as guest posts in the weeks and months to come.

The winners of the Women of Valor contest, will receive a flower necklace that is hand-made by the artisans of Hill Country Hill Tribers, a non-profit helping Burmese refugee women in Austin earn supplemental income and learn marketable skills. The necklaces and other new products in their fall line are available on their website now.  I enourage you to  read the stories of these women of valor in their Artisan Profiles and find out how you can become a Hill Triber Patron to support the artisans in their work. 

photo by Charis Dishman

photo by Charis Dishman

 Get your own TODAY!

Read the rest:
Mrs. Foster - A Woman of Valor by Jenn LeBow 
Rebecca - A Woman of Valor by Cheryl Cash 
Sarah - A Woman of Valor by Jenny Everett King
Sky - A Woman of Valor by Jonathan C. 
Sofia - A Woman of Valor by Emily Allen 
Mala - A Woman of Valor by Joy Bennett 

I hope you will consider writing a tribute to a woman of valor on your own blog this week. If you do, leave a link in the comment section so we can all enjoy. I'll be sure to tweet/share some of my favorites. (Note: All the winners of the contest have been notified.)

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/hulda-nite-valor

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Mala – A Woman of Valor

We continue our Women of Valor series this morning with a special contribution from Joy Bennett, who sent this story to us this morning from Sri Lanka, where she and a fantastic team of bloggers are reporting for World Vision

Transient

"The Fire in Her Gut"
Mala – A Woman of Valor 
by Joy Bennett 

I met Mala, Woman of Valor, in her small palm-branch-thatched home in a rural village in Sri Lanka. As we sat in the plastic chairs stamped with flowers in the front room of her two-room house, she stood in the elbow between a handmade standing table and the woven palm branch wall of her home. Her curly black hair was pulled back from her face, and she shifted nervously as her daughter, Sewwandi, took a seat in the circle with us.

The house had no windows, though the woven branches let in slivers of light. The air was still, heavy, and hot. We perspired through every layer we had on as we listened to their story.

Sewwandi recently took a scholarship exam. If her marks are high enough, she will earn a scholarship that would partially cover the cost of her education. Mala explained that while the education itself is free in Sri Lanka, they must pay for books, supplies, and other fees. Sewwandi lives 3-4 km from school (over 2 miles), so they also pay for a tuk-tuk to carry her to and from. Despite the fact that they share with 7 other children, it still costs 1450 rupees per month. They have to purchase safe drinking water at 40 rupees per 40-liter container (they need at least one container per day). And their home, made of sticks and branches, isn’t water-tight during rainy season.

Mala spoke quietly but firmly as she explained that she and her husband often went hungry in order to feed their children or pay for Sewwandi’s education. She had to leave her boys with a sister so she could work in a coconut estate as a day laborer, while her husband, who is completely illiterate, works in a chili grinding mill.

Our interpreter asked Mala why education was so important that she would work so hard and sacrifice so much. Her eyes filled as she said simply, “I had a difficult childhood.”We leaned forward a little as she began to tell her story.

Mala never had a childhood. Starting at age 4, she worked as a domestic servant alongside her mother. At age 7, her parents pulled her out of school to live and work as a maid with a family an hour from home. She referred to that job as “domestic service,” but she earned just 7 cents a day (300 rupees per month). She cried as she described her father’s monthly visit to collect her pay. Each time he came, she cried and begged him to take her home. But they were so poor even this tiny amount helped. So she stayed until her mother got a better opportunity in the Middle East.

Mala returned home to raise her siblings when her mother left the country. Her efforts enabled her siblings to remain in school through level 7 (6th grade).The merciless grind of those years bred in Mala a passion for bettering the people she loved, starting with her siblings. The four additional years of education they received made a huge difference in the trajectory of their lives compared to Mala’s. For example, Mala’s twin sister is married to a government worker, lives in Colombo, and stays home with her children.

We grew frustrated and angry for her as she shared all the things she had tried to make a better life for them. We asked, “Is moving an option?” since so many of their challenges derive from their remote location. She explained that they had tried to rent a home in Colombo (Sri Lanka’s largest city), but it was too hard. Then she scraped together enough money to purchase a small piece of land much closer to the main road. But the land owner took advantage of her, also selling the property to someone else. When she began to build a house there, the other owner tore it down. When she went to the police, she discovered that the other owner had already bribed them. She lost every rupee.

In spite of it all, the fire in her gut burned fierce as she told us her one dream was for at least one of her children to finish school, no matter what it took.

Before we left, we told Mala that we were so proud of her. We said that we could see that her daughter had inherited her spunk and intelligence. I told her she inspired all of us with her problem-solving and indomitable spirit, despite overwhelming odds.

World Vision is working on infrastructure improvements in Mala’s area that will help change her life. They just completed a new road (the old path became impassable during rainy season), and the improvement plan for this year includes addressing water, electricity, and education. When you sponsor a child through World Vision, your money goes directly to her community, supporting their development work in partnership with World Vision. 

Sponsor a child, and you will also be sponsoring many women of valor, women like Mala. 

Sponsor a child today

***

Joy Bennett has been writing since the second grade and blogging since 2005. She grew up in a Christian home, and says she should know the answers to all the usual faith questions...but doesn’t. She has delivered four babies, handed two over to heart surgeons in the hall outside an operating room, and buried one in a cemetery just a few miles from her home.

Joy is right. Sponsoring a child with World Vision changes not only one life, but many. I saw this firsthand when I traveled with World Vision to Bolivia. (If, like me, you’re a skeptic by nature, check out “Confessions of a Child Sponsorship Skeptic.”)

 ***

This post is part of our Women of Valor seriesEshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone.  Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor.  One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners to be featured this week, I will select several more to feature as guest posts in the weeks and months to come.

The winners of the Women of Valor contest, will receive a flower necklace that is hand-made by the artisans of Hill Country Hill Tribers, a non-profit helping Burmese refugee women in Austin earn supplemental income and learn marketable skills. The necklaces and other new products in their fall line are available on their website now.  I enourage you to  read the stories of these women of valor in their Artisan Profiles and find out how you can become a Hill Triber Patron to support the artisans in their work. 

photo by Charis Dishman

photo by Charis Dishman

 Get your own TODAY!

Read the rest:
Mrs. Foster - A Woman of Valor by Jenn LeBow 
Rebecca - A Woman of Valor by Cheryl Cash 
Sarah - A Woman of Valor by Jenny Everett King
Sky - A Woman of Valor by Jonathan C. 
Sofia - A Woman of Valor by Emily Allen 

I hope you will consider writing a tribute to a woman of valor on your own blog this week. If you do, leave a link in the comment section so we can all enjoy. I'll be sure to tweet/share some of my favorites. (Note: All the winners of the contest have been notified.)

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/mala-woman-valor

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.

Confessions of an accidental feminist

'Woman in a swimsuit waving while standing on a large rock on a beach, probably Washington State' photo (c) 1932, University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections - license: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/

I always laugh a little to myself when I receive a Google Alert informing me that someone on the internet has criticized me as a “bitter, angry woman” intent on destroying the Church with my “radical feminist agenda.” I laugh because if these bloggers actually knew me, they would know that I’m more goofy than angry, more hopeful than bitter, and far too disorganized to lead a movement. If they knew me, they would know that I don’t fit into their distorted stereotype of what a feminist looks like, that I don’t hate men or burn bras or crave power, that I—like most feminist—simply believe that women are human and should be treated as such.  

Most of all, if these critics knew me, they would know that it isn’t feminism that inspires me to advocate gender equality in the Church and in the world; it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

 Truth be told, I feel a bit out of my depth when I speak with “real feminists,” the kind who have actually studied feminist theory, who have read deeply and broadly about issues related to gender equality. I come to those conversations with an abundance questions, eager to learn more from men and women who have done their homework, who provide the vocabulary and the history to describe my own experiences. I am eager to learn because feminism is not my background. Instead I studied English literature, writing, and Bible at a conservative evangelical college that taught me from Day 1 that feminism is an anti-Christian worldview to be distrusted and categorically rejected. 

And so it is ironic that many Christian complementarians/patriarchalists—(who advocate hierarchal gender relationships in the home and church)—seem to assume that egalitarians like me—(who support mutuality in the home and church)—must have gone off to a secular universities, majored in women’s studies, and come back to impose these “cultural values” onto Scripture and the Church.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with this story, it is not my own.  I didn't learn to be a feminist from Margaret Atwood or Simone de Beavoir. I learned to be a feminist from Jesus.  

It wasn’t a formal feminist education that taught me that ontological equality cannot be separated from functional equality. It was the boy in my youth group who, after I delivered a testimony in front of my classmates, complimented me on my speaking skills and said, “You  would be a great preacher, Rachel; too bad you’re a girl.” 

Too bad you’re a girl. 

It wasn’t a formal feminist education that taught me to be frustrated with gender stereotypes. It was all the women’s Bible studies that focused on domesticity, motherhood, sweetness, and submission, and that thrust upon me flower-speckled books that turned Proverbs 31 into a job description befitting June Cleaver rather than a poem of celebration befitting an ancient Near Eastern royal wife. 

It wasn’t a formal feminist education that taught me about rape culture. It was the preachers and evangelists who insinuated that girls who dressed immodestly were “asking for it.” And it wasn’t a formal feminist education that taught me about victim-shaming. It was the response of evangelical leaders who,  when confronted by abuse survivors about troubling language regarding submission and sex, dismissed their concerns as silly, chastising them as “bedwetting feminists,” stirring up division.

It wasn’t a formal feminist education that introduced me to the whole virgin/whore dichotomy. It was Sunday school teachers who said that girls who had sex before marriage were “broken,”  that no self-respecting Christian man would ever want them after that, and it was the Christian books and conferences that consistently portrayed good Christian girls as helpless princesses in need of rescue. 

It wasn’t a formal feminist education that taught me the value of a man who can recognize his own privilege. It was my husband who, frustrated by the hurdles he watched me face again and again, finally threw up his hands last week and said, “It seems to me that the only thing you have to do to be controversial in the Church is to say something true and be a woman at the same time.” 

It wasn’t a formal feminist education that introduced me to the corrosive effects of patriarchy. It was crying with HIV-infected widows in India and listening to the stories of abandoned wives and mothers in Bolivia. It was knowing that my friend Jackie had to get a body guard for the first Sunday in which she preached at her church. It was receiving desperate emails from women whose husbands and pastors told them that submitting to abuse was part of their God-ordained role and who had nowhere else to turn because their church would shame them if they stepped forward and reported the abuse.  It was marriages that struggled to function as hierarchies, when both husband and wife longed for a partnership.  It was being told that “vagina” was the same as a swear word, so I best not use it in my book. It was being told by people in the Christian publishing industry that I shouldn’t be writing a book about womanhood anyway because I’m not a mother.  It was mega-church pastors who said that what the world really needs now is a more “masculine Christianity.” 

I didn’t learn about patriarchy from the feminists. I learned about patriarchy from the Church. 

 But here’s the good news: Just as it was the Church that introduced me to patriarchy; it was the Church that introduced me to equality. 

I will forever be grateful to brothers and sisters in the faith—Scot McKnight, John Stackhouse,  Mimi Haddad, Sara Barton, Gordon Fee, Ben Witherington, Kathy Escobar, Carolyn Custis James,  Richard Clark Kroeger and Catherine Clark Kroeger—whose love for Scripture reintroduced me to the themes of equality that had been there all along. As I began to delve deeper into these passages, into this gospel story of which I am a part, I saw with fresh eyes and heard with fresh ears that the good news of Jesus is good for all. Indeed, it is good news for women. 

I learned this not from a class in feminist studies, but from Jesus—who was brought into the world by a woman whose obedience changed everything; who revealed his identity to a scorned woman at a well; who defended Mary of Bethany as his true disciple, even though  women were prohibited from studying under rabbis at the time; who obeyed his mother; who refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery to death; who looked to women for financial and moral support, even after the male disciples abandoned him; who said of the woman who anointed his feet with perfume that “wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her”; who bantered with a Syrophoenician woman, talked theology with a Samaritan woman, and healed a bleeding woman; who appeared first before women after his resurrection, despite the fact that their culture deemed them unreliable witnesses; who charged Mary Magdalene with the great responsibility of announcing the start of a new creation, of becoming the Apostle to the Apostles. 

I learned about equality, not from Virginia Woolf, but from Junia, described in the New Testament as “outstanding among the apostles.” I learned it from Priscilla, who partnered with her husband to plant churches and teach famous apostles like Apollos. I learned it from Phoebe, a deacon, who may have been the first to read and explain the book of Romans.

 I learned about equality even from Paul, who taught that with the resurrection, something radical had changed—not merely ontologically, but functionally—in the relationships between slaves and masters, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, rendering those whose identity was once rooted in hierarchy and division brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ instead; who put a radical gospel-spin on the Greco-Roman household codes, breaking down the hierarchies so that slaves and masters, wives and husbands were charged with submitting “one to another” with the humility of Jesus as their model; who taught that power was overrated and that service will be rewarded; who surrounded himself with women he called “co-workers.” “teachers,” and “apostles”; who managed the staggering influx of widows and women into the Christian community by providing guidelines to ensure that Ephesian churches remained distinct from the pagan cults of the day, but who still expected trained women to prophesy, to teach, and to lead. 

I learned about equality from Peter, who drew from the words of the prophet Joel to describe the post-Pentecost world: 

"Your sons and daughters will prophesy, 
Your young men will see visions, 
Your old men will dream dreams. 
Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, 
And they will prophesy (Acts 2:17-18)."

I suspect that advocates of religious patriarchy perpetuate the narrative of a “radical feminist agenda” because it is easier to dismiss calls for equality when they appear to come from the “outside” than when they come from a response to gospel itself. 

But this is my story, and I’m sticking to it. I am a follower of Jesus first and a feminist second. 

While I have been learning more about feminism and the influence of amazing women like Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth, feminism is not where I started.  I am an accidental feminist, for my liberation did not come from  Simone de Beauvoir or Betty Friedan, but from Mary and Martha, Junia and Priscilla, Phoebe and Tabitha. It came from the marvelous and radical recognition that if the gospel is good news for them, then maybe it is good news for me too... 

...and that maybe that boy in my youth group was wrong.

Maybe it’s good that God made me a girl. 

***

To learn more about the biblical support for gender equality, see: 

Submission in Context: Christ and the Greco-Roman Household Codes
For the Sake of the Gospel, Let Women Speak
Women of Valor: It's About Character, Not Roles
Is Patriarchy Really God's Dream for the World?
and the rest of the Mutuality 2012 series

comments

http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/accidental-feminist

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.