Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Living in Enemy Territory

I don't think anyone who reads this blog will think that I am actually comparing my experiences to soldiers behind enemy lines or the civilians in occupied territory, but just in case, this is my disclaimer: The title is only a reference to how it feels to be in the body I was given. It is not an actual attempt to compare my plight to those in much worse living situations than I am.

OK, now to the point of this post. Today, I had a lot on my plate. Errands to run, a job fair over an hour away to attend, cooking to plan and prepare for, cleaning to do in preparation for cooking, an endless pile of laundry, etc. Did I accomplish any of it? Well ... I did laundry, but that's like saying I breathed. Being in  massage school and doing at least 4 massages a week outside of class means daily laundry. But other than that, I went back to sleep.

I'm living with an autoimmune condition exacerbated by stress. There are days when my body will allow itself to be pushed, and there are days when it will not. Today was a day when what my body needed was rest. I re-prioritized some things (the job fair, while I was really looking forward to going, is not vital to my future; my sources of income are lining up nicely without it), and decided that my health was going to have to be top consideration today.

It's been a long and difficult road to get to the point where I can give myself permission to rest and not feel guilty about it. Our society and my family history value accomplishment. "What did you do today?" is a question Americans ask themselves in order to determine whether they have been productive "enough." I come from a line of farmers and ranchers who truly believed that if the sun was up, they had to be working (and many times before the sun rose or after it set). Taking a day to sleep and rest is not in our value system, other than to pay lip service to it.

For years, I have felt like a prisoner in my own body. My endocrine system crashed in my early 20s, causing massive weight gain, diabetes, and hormonal imbalances of all types - adrenal failure, insulin resistance, sex hormone imbalances, neurochemical imbalances in my brain causing depression and anxiety, etc. For 20 years, my body has been The Enemy.

But for the past couple of years, I have tried to change my attitude toward the case of blood, flesh, and bone that houses my soul and spirit. I have tried to love it and to cooperate with it, in hopes that not constantly fighting my own existence would improve my health. And I am gradually becoming more successful with this attitude adjustment. Which leads back to today.

Giving myself permission to rest today was the right decision. It is okay that I didn't cross through all the items of my to-do list. I had to take a longer perspective than just "what did I accomplish today?" The next few weeks are going to require a great deal of energy to get through, and I'm running close to empty as it is. It is not a failure to acknowledge that my body needs not to be pushed past its limits. Rather, it is a healthy choice.

It may sound like I am protesting too much. I might be, because I am still learning how to accept the limits imposed on my spirit by the state of my body. I am learning to be a whole person instead of living behind enemy lines. And I will be a better version of myself tomorrow because I took today to rest.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Room at the Table: An Open Letter to Evangelical Christianity

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

Say it with me – I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day He rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven, where He sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the universal Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.*

This is what we all believe, right? This is the core of the Protestant Christian faith. This is the commonality we all hold, the grounds for our identification as Christians and the hope for our eternal future. This is the bond that ties us together in Christ.

So why do I feel like there is no room for me at the table? Why do I feel like there is no place for me in your church? Why am I an outcast?

“What are you talking about?” you ask, genuinely confused. Well, as the young kids these days say, lemme ‘splain you a thing.

I am a middle-aged woman, never married, with no children. According to 1 Corinthians 7, by definition I serve God rather than a husband (since I have no husband). Great. I would love to serve God! And according to Hebrews 10, I am to be part of a local assembly, which seems like the perfect place to serve Him.

Okay! Let’s see where I can serve. Can I be a pastor? Not according to 1 Timothy, since I am a woman. Can I be a deacon? Again, not according to 1 Timothy, even though there were plenty of female deacons in the early church (see the book of Acts). Can I be a teacher of adults? Nope. Not if it means I’m teaching men (1 Timothy 2).

“But you could teach women or children!” you cry. Really? The Evangelical churches teach their daughters that the highest calling of a Christian girl is to marry a nice Christian boy and raise a passel of nice Christian children. Even that has Scriptural support – again in that little book of 1 Timothy, where Paul proclaimed that “women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.” (1 Timothy 1:15) So let’s review: I am a woman who has never married and has no children. How, then, do you believe that I am qualified to teach your lovely daughters how to be Biblical wives and mothers, since I am neither?

By the same argument, because I do not have children, clearly I am not qualified to teach children because I don’t know how to communicate with them or help you rear them properly (this is actually a thing I have been told, by the way – that I have nothing valuable to say about child-rearing because I don’t have any children). After all, you want proper role models for your children, and there’s something suspect about a woman who has reached the age of 44 and never married.

What about music? Well, let’s look at that for a minute. Theoretically, this could be a place I could serve, particularly since I am a musician with over 10 years of classical training. I have even performed in Carnegie Hall. So let’s look at my experience in this area.

The first time I wanted to serve my church in the music ministry, I was told I could not be song leader because I am a woman. A man who lacked my musical qualifications was appointed song leader over me.

The second time I joined a church choir, I dove in head-first. I volunteered for everything, brushed off my piano skills, toured with the choir, and generally felt like I was part of a community and genuinely serving God and my church. Then I got sick and fell out of choir practice. In a choir of about 30 people, in a church of about 2000, guess how many people called or emailed to check on me when I stopped showing up?


Not one person. No one that I had sung beside, worked beside, laughed beside, worshiped beside, could be bothered to email or call simply to say, “Hey, are you okay?”

So sure, music is a theoretical possibility. But when I am told that I cannot be in a position that might smack of “leadership,” even though I am the more qualified candidate otherwise, or when it is patently obvious that no one values my contribution enough to even make sure I was still alive after a year of not appearing, it’s difficult to think that this would be at all a rewarding form of service.

There may be other areas of service in a local assembly, but as far as I can tell, the only place a church that holds to traditional Protestant thinking about women’s roles would permit me to participate is prayer meeting. Even then, I wouldn’t be allowed to lead one.

The most frustrating aspect to this is who I have been outside a local assembly of believers. I was an attorney for 20 years. I managed more than one law firm, including supervision of employees. I owned my own business. I was a charter member of a business networking group and helped to grow the group to over 30 members. I know how to be a leader, and I know how to work with men, because when I joined the legal profession, women were still an unrespected minority. In any other context, I am qualified to serve in a position of leadership. But because God made me a woman, even though I am a woman who by definition is to serve Him, I cannot use the skills, education, or brain He blessed me with in church.

There is no place for me at the table. I don’t fit in any pigeonhole, and therefore I am expected to sit quietly in the sanctuary, with no voice.

God has called me to greater service than this. He has poured out gifts on me that I must use in service to my brothers and sisters in Christ, and that I must use in service to our King. I cannot bury my talents; I must find a way to multiply them.

Pastors, please, I beg you – open your eyes to the reality of your congregation’s population. There must be a way to allow single childless women to serve by utilizing their skills and their gifts and their God-given talents without violating Scripture. I do not have all the answers (although I do have opinions, if anyone cares).

Meanwhile, I will go in search of a table that has room for me. God will be there, too, and He will bless my wholehearted desire to serve Him.

*The Apostle’s Creed.