I was three-years old the first time I heard Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” on the radio. In 1971, Dad (though not a fan of rock and roll) thought it quite funny, and we heard it several times during a family trip that year. Forty years later, Janis Joplin remains one of my favorite female singers – scratch that, make that favorite singers period – of all time.
Janis sure wrestled with her pain and her demons; a fight she soon lost in this world. But, she was incredibly gifted, too. One of her greatest gifts was that she refused to conform; she played by her own rules; and she risked being very unladylike to make the music God placed within her.
One of the most inspiring and challenging preachers I have ever heard is also a dear family friend – Rev. Karen Thomas Smith. That’s right: her name is Karen. The daughter of a Baptist preacher-man, in the mid-1980s Karen attended a Baptist college and then went on to non-Baptist divinity school to prepare for the ministry herself. Karen grew up in a denomination which was fighting internally at the time about the “proper place” of women; today, she is among the growing ranks of female clergy who dare to know that “their place” is wherever God leads them (for the record, like her dad she’s a Baptist preacher).
One of Karen’s greatest gifts (and she is very gifted in many ways) is her stubborn determination not to be confined by social expectations. Even today she risks being seen as unladylike – both in America and around the world – because of her openness to the Holy Spirit.
Pam Hogeweide is a “virtual” friend, a writing colleague, and the author of the new book, Unladylike: Resisting the Injustice and Inequality in the Church. Pam is sort of a mixture of Karen Thomas Smith and Janis Joplin. Her multi-colored tattooed arms and her style of dress suggest she’d fit right in at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival; First Respectable Church of Anytown – not so much. Yet, the preacher-like conviction with which she writes reveals an intimate relationship with Christ and with our Holy Scriptures.
Unladylike is Pam’s wrestling match with a largely male-dominated Christendom in which women still have “their place” (“polite oppression” Pam calls it). With stories, humor, research, and a Spirit-led, biblical passion for justice, Pam celebrates women who dared to play by a different set of rules within the patriarchal Church, and she challenges women and men together to follow the way of Jesus which tends to buck convention and tradition.
If you’re looking for a good resource for a small-group study on the role of women in the church, or if you’re working through this issue yourself and want to read a great book on the subject, be sure to get a copy of Pam Hogeweide’s Unladylike.
If you’re looking for a Baptist preacher to fill your pulpit one Sunday, I can connect you with Karen Thomas Smith (note, though, that her schedule tends to be quite full – most of the year she’s pastoring outside of the United States).
And if you’re looking for an incredible soul-filled bluesy voice, you can’t go wrong with Janis Joplin.
But if you are looking for God’s work in the world to be limited to a private club for men, then you are in for a very big surprise. For brave, unladylike women everywhere – thanks be to God!
Bert Montgomery is a writer, minister and college lecturer living in Starkville, Mississippi. His new book is Psychic Pancakes & Communion Pizza (2011, Smyth & Helwys).