Is She Going to Make It?

This week I’ve invited Jennifer Jepsen, my co-pastor at Left Hand Church, to write a guest blog.  You can follow her at http://jenniferjepsen.org

Is She Going to Make It

“The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.”
Audre Lorde

So far I’ve preached nine sermons. Each one is a birth – the preparation a labor, the delivery a relief. I preached this past spring on the relationship between Mary and Martha, and how as a Christian woman I’ve been coached over the years to believe that being a Mary is the Christian woman’s ideal, our gold standard. It is very confusing to me, as someone who carries significant parts of both Mary and Martha that Jesus would appear to rebuke Martha, while uplifting Mary. Wasn’t Martha just doing what she was supposed to do as an obedient women in the patriarchal culture of the day? I too can sit at Jesus’s feet, but I also know the importance of being productive, while respecting the tick-tock of the clock. As a mother with three children, pastoring a church, there are things to accomplish and gazing at Jesus all day wouldn’t fly well with my family and co-pastors.

The premise I offer is Jesus, in touting Mary’s dedication, is instead upending the patriarchal expectations of the day and inviting Martha to be with him. Jesus is inviting her into a relationship of restoration and renewal, of respect and inclusion. Jesus is calling to her toward rest – a luxury, I suspect.

We women still function within this patriarchal model. We rank ourselves in a room based on our bodies and accomplishments, our clean and wonderful children, the lines on our face, and grey in our hair. We participate in gossip to equalize the room, while injuring ourselves with fear of saying too much and doubt in our abilities. We try to play the patriarchal game too, but since our power is minimal in the world of men, we operate out of shame. We operate out of scarcity. We operate out of self-deprecating humor and downright anger.

And as I navigate this new world of pastor, the world of men is real. Many church systems have been built on the metrics of men – numbers, quality control, timeliness, etc. Churches, on the outside, are efficient, tidy, and things get done. Programs are built, meetings are had, people are processed in the name of Jesus. All contributing to the bottom line and to the good of the organization. If a church is growing, it must be healthy right?

The Church is equal parts She and He, and yet we function in this masculine-centric hierarchy oftentimes no different than any other system or corporation in America. And I wonder, is She going to make it? Is the Church going to come through this crisis of culture?

Only if we can return to our feminine roots – to the Church as a redeemed Martha.

I am now in the company of many remarkable and accomplished and talented women who adore Jesus. All would qualify as both Mary and Martha, the best of both. These women are building and leading and pastoring and mothering, redefining the hope of the Church, redefining the hope of the world. We are redefining the metrics, seeking abundance, setting aside the tapes of scarcity that speak messages of our worth being defined by appearance and accomplishment and age. Our worth is defined because we are.

Abundance is untrustworthy and suspicious. We are conditioned to believe there must be be winners and losers. Abundance is a new and unwieldy language that supersedes metrics. With no rank or hierarchy, abundance declares there’s enough with plenty of room at the table. But as women, as the Church, we have to reclaim abundance. The metrics of rank have no place in this space, it’s too beautiful and open. We cannot translate the patriarchal game of ranking and measuring, a foreign language of gibberish. Playing the game kills our souls and reduces our offering. This feminine work cannot entirely be computed or grasped, measurable data cannot define. This feminine work is ethereal and spiritual and air and light, weighty and fierce in the best of ways. Abundance is mother. Abundance is tender. Abundance is fierce. And abundance is an all-encompassing force of Love.

The shameful messages of scarcity in this patriarchal church culture are real and pervasive. And the She of the Church is suffering. She is withering under the current weight of the game. She won’t hold much longer. She can no longer compete over who has the best fashion or the cleanest children or masculine metrics. She must unleash and become Herself. She must know what it means to sit longingly at Jesus’s feet, while knowing her worth and value are in being, while affirming the beings of everyone else. She cares not for the accomplishments and the efficiency. She cares for the whole of people, the healing of the world.

She is a Mother.

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For All That Shall Be…

There is never a point at which you find your “authentic self.”  If authenticity is a destination, then you get there when you die.  I have little interest in the destination of authenticity, but I am committed to the journey.

I have recently been settling into myself in a way that feels more and more comfortable. This body is my body, and it feels like I’ve had it forever.  It is a good feeling, and this week, a helpful feeling.  When your soul is all stirred up, It is good to feel at home in your body.

Last week several people heard me mentioned in the credits of the NPR Radiolab series, Gonads.  Those who receive the Radiolab newsletter also found a paragraph devoted to me and my TEDxMileHigh talk.

I did a two and a half hour interview with Radiolab that was not used for the series.  I thought it was the best interview I have ever done.  Molly Webster knows how to ask the right questions.  They did not share their reason for not using the interview.  I have no plans to ask, but I do have my suspicions.  They have a lot more to do with me than with Rachael Cusick or Molly Webster at Radiolab.

I thought the series on human reproduction and development was brilliant.  It included amazing scientific information on a plethora of issues related to human reproduction.  I particularly enjoyed the segments on how our bodies become gendered, and what it means to be intersex.

As I said, I do have my suspicions about why they chose not to use my interview.  It was not because the interview was lousy.  I know when I’ve blown an interview and I did not blow the interview.  It was something else.  And again, my thoughts are mine and mine alone.  They say more about me than about the folks at Radiolab.

I think the science related to the cause of gender dysphoria is a lot less definable, and therefore a lot less compelling, than the science behind the other subjects profiled in the series.  When it comes to the reason we are transgender, we just don’t know what we don’t know.

There are indications the cause is prenatal, and indications it is genetic, but the studies have been too small to be definitive.  I do not want to write about causes of gender dysphoria.  I want to write about how it feels to have such a difficult diagnosis when we do not know where it comes from, where it resides in the body, or what brought it about.

Last week I was talking with two good friends who are gay.  Both said if they could go back and change their sexual identity, they would not do so.  There might have been a time in their adolescence they would have thought about it, but not in their adult lives.  I do not share their feelings.

I would love it if I could have avoided putting my family through the hell they have experienced. I know they prefer the current reality to me being dead, but really?  Those are the only options?  In my case, I’m afraid they were.

The pain I feel about the grief I have caused waxes and wanes.  No one in my family holds it over me.  To the contrary, they have been wonderfully supportive.  The pain is more internal.  Seems to me it’s not okay for one person’s authentic living to negatively affect another person’s authentic living.

If I controlled the universe, I would have made sure I was born a female.  If the only option was to have been born a male, then I would made myself comfortable in that body.  Heaven knows I tried for enough decades.

But I do not control the universe, so I must play the hand I have been dealt.  I play it with as much integrity as I can muster, and occasionally I become angry that we don’t even know the bleeping reason I am this way.

My son Jonathan and I are working on a presentation we will do together in a significant venue later in the fall.  We’ll be able to tell you about it next month.  But the first draft of our talk is due next Monday, so I’ve been working on it at the same time I have been writing this blog.

For the talk we are giving, we are using portions of his upcoming book, She’s My Dad.  The book is raw, and beautiful, and redemptive, and effing hard for me to read. But here’s the thing.  Most suffering does not have a clear cause.  It just is.  No one did anything wrong.  No one is at fault.  We are so focused on assigning blame in our culture that we forget most suffering is existential, and existential suffering must be born with a measure of grace.

I will never know the reason I am transgender, and I will never fully understand why my family has to suffer so.  It is what it is.  But I do try to proceed with a measure of grace, and on my better days I can repeat the words Dag Hammarskjold penned shortly before his death:

“For all that has been, thanks.  For all that shall be, yes.”