In these days after Easter, Jesus has risen, and I am thinking especially of my sister colleagues in ministry and in work of all sorts for the gospel across America and the world, as we again enter into the grind of ministry following Holy Week. This one is for you.
I see you. I see you rising early and pulling on pants and flats or a dress over your head, wondering if it goes with your clerical collar or if your outfit is OK to wear to preach without a clerical collar — wondering if you can add a belt to your dress so you have somewhere to clip your microphone; lifting up your hair to position said microphone, which is almost always designed to fit a man’s head, a man’s ear.
I see you nursing babies in your office, or in the church bathroom between services, or ducking your head to fasten on a breast pump, or measuring out formula to pack in your purse next to your sermon manuscript and wallet.
I see you park in the church parking lot before anyone else arrives, wondering if you parked too close or too far, unlocking the doors, checking your alb in the mirror.
I watch you as you nod in response to awkward compliments and subtle jabs, as you worry if anyone heard what you meant to say, as you frantically make eye contact with your spouse, as your heart swells when the little girl tells you that she, too, wants to be a pastor, and her eyes shine when you look at her and so do yours.
I see you drag yourself past your back door after services end, wearily emptying the dishwasher or filling the sink with dirty breakfast dishes and dish soap. I see you kissing kids goodnight, I see you in your chair, answering emergency care calls and rushing to the hospital after you’d already put your pajamas on.
I watch you lift up your colleagues; I hear you speak truth. I put you on each day as I put on the Armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes (cute and comfortable ones: mine are Adidas Superstars) to carry the Good News, the helmet of Salvation, the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.
You stand around me like my own armor, reminding me that I am not alone.
You speak truth when sometimes the world is not ready to hear it, not from you. The ones who are ready, you cherish them and hold them in your heart: the senior women whose love and wisdom fills you up, the young men who champion your leadership, the old men who invite you to speak and really listen when you do.
Maybe the world is still not ready for you, my sisters in ministry, as it was not ready for Jesus, but he came and he spoke and he ministered anyway, like you do.
As I write this, I look out my window at the Methodist church across the street. Their dynamic woman pastor resigned her call recently. Down the road, a church mourns the death of its dynamic woman co-lead pastor, a sudden death caused by complications of a heart attack. She was young, in her 40s, as is the pastor who left the church across the street.
As I write this, the Christian world is praying desperately for the health of dynamic woman leader and writer Rachel Held Evans, who was placed into a medically induced coma after doctors discovered she was experiencing constant seizures. RHE, as she’s known, is a beacon of light for Christians all across America. Her health scare has been shocking and scary, especially for those of us who write and challenge American Christianity as she does so bravely, knowing we may do so because of her work.
As I write this, I remember the texts I exchanged with the dynamic female leader who used to be the lead pastor at the church where I serve as an interim teaching pastor. Her leadership was courageous and powerful. She resigned her position about a year ago.
Surrounded as I am by this great cloud of witnesses, a cloud of witnesses who has been trampled and persecuted and prosecuted and derided, for everything from leggings to hairstyles to weight to the sound of our voices — I can’t help but think the American Church stands at a threshold when it comes to women’s leadership in the church: not only in the overt patriarchalism of conservative churches, but also in the so-called progressive churches.
As I watch these dynamic leaders suffer for their brilliance and their courage — as I watch you suffer for your calling to ministry — I have to point out that this is not a story about individual women. It’s not only about Rachel or about Angela or about you.
We are confronting a cancer of bias; a perhaps, at times, unconscious reaction to #MeToo and Trump’s presidency and female gains in graduate school and income and costs of childcare and impossible parenting standards and devaluation of teachers and an impossibly toxic yet superficial social media environment.
I feel called to bring these stories to light and to challenge the American church and her leadership to root out this evil. I hope you’ll join me. But even if you’re not ready to share your story, know you are never standing alone. We stand together.
I want to leave you with a Bible passage God called me to this morning, as I put on my own armor and black eyeliner and Tupac t-shirt (Keep Ya Head Up) and white blazer for women’s suffrage, and I walked into the open arms of the women’s Bible Study that has held me aloft in my church.
God kept whispering to me today: clay jars, clay jars, clay jars …
I turned to 2 Corinthians 4: … we have this treasure in clay jars …
You, my sisters, are this treasure. Sometimes the clay jars — our outward bodies in which we carry this unspeakable treasure — feel exhausted and worn down, confused and heavy-laden. But God’s promise to us is that we hold the treasure in ourselves nonetheless, in our bodies that are not naturally sinful but naturally holy. And we will not be crushed, forsaken, and driven to despair.
I invite you to dwell with me today in the words of this text. May they strengthen you as they have strengthened me.
2 Corinthians 4:1-18
“Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
13 But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—“I believed, and so I spoke”—we also believe, and so we speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18 because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”