This week, I was invited to three women’s events.
As a missionary-minded Christian, interested in relieving oppression, I went.
Call me a burgeoning feminist.
But the events weren’t quite what I had hoped for.
At a forum on women’s leadership (which was quite good), we ended with a male institutional leader joking that we might get “bossy.” He actually said this, about a young female co-leader, after he interrupted her and did not allow her to give her closing remarks.
He thought it was funny.
I have yet to hear a man called “bossy.”
It is an intensely female word.
Usually indicating leadership. Or ambition.
When discussing men, we say “strong leader.” “ Ambitious.”
Not women. The word itself signifies that there is something inappropriate about feminine leadership.
I have known bossy men.
When I brought it up I was told, “oh, don’t mind Joe. That’s just how he is.
It’s part of being a strong leader.”
At another event for female leadership, I heard a prestigious woman refuse to take credit for her achievements, a corporate leader (first in her position) say that we needed to be very careful assuming that anything was sexist, and a Hispanic leader proudly relate that her family never calls her by her name.
She is “doll” to the people who love her best. And proud of it.
I left bewildered, but grateful.
At least someone called for the meeting.
And then I went to a church event.
It wasn’t billed as female only, but my husband and the sound guy were the only men in the room.
I heard the founder of a spiritual network that builds real relationship and close community insist that “we are not a church,” and “I am not a pastor.”
During her teaching time.
And I wondered, what is a church?
Because a gathering of people, in community, around the Scriptures, sort of fits my definition.
I guess the fact that we were women is what negates it.
As I looked for the event, which was centered on Christian yoga, we ended up at the wrong campus of a very large church.
I talked to two preschool teachers, coming in for a meeting.
Then I asked a group of men leaving their Bible study.
“Have you seen any yoga people?” I queried.
“Oh, yeah, there were some women over there,” one said.
The preschool group.
“Were they yoga people, or just female?”
I didn’t let him off the hook.
“Oh, females,” he said, sheepishly.
Church, there are reasons millennials are staying away.
In large numbers.
We have a long way to go, baby.
When I was seven, a little boy threw a rock at me.
Because I was white.
I hit me behind the right knee, in the soft spot. Left a mark. And really hurt.
But what hurt more, to an innocent first-grade girl living in another culture, was knowing that there was absolutely nothing I could have done to prevent it.
I didn’t know, that then, as now, people who look like me had exploited the beautiful Puerto Rican island, charging high taxes but providing few government services, exploiting lower minimum wage requirements, and living high on the hog while those who worked for us struggled.
I didn’t know I was a colonialist.
I didn’t know that the reason I attended private school was because the schools on the island weren’t considered high-quality enough for my middle class parents.
While I revelled in a multicultural world and learned history differently than my friends back home (Christopher Columbus looks a little different standing in the ports where he landed), the Native Americans in my country, that Columbus christened “Indians” were dying quiet deaths from desperation and alcoholism.
While I learned Spanish and had my first crushes on Hispanic boys, their cousins were carrying out terrorist attacks in the US due to inequities.
That when I gave my heart to Jesus and pledged to become a missionary going into all the world, that others were dying at home, due to racial injustice in my own nation.
I didn’t know.
But I sure do now.
Or, at least, I’m starting to.
They call it getting “woke.”
And the Christian in me is actively believing and praying for another Great Awakening. Many of my Christian friends are. Diligently.
I don’t know that we realized that we might be the ones that got woke.
I don’t guess we knew we were asleep.
Racism. I was taught, returning home to Texas, that the civil rights movement had won, the racism was gone and we were all equal.
But a quick glance around my third grade classroom, with people sitting in groups according to skin tone, would’ve shown that to be a lie.
It wasn’t gone. It was so much a part of our daily life in around Houston, Texas, that we became immune to it. It became invisible to us.
The first step in racial reconciliation in America today is this: we have to believe that racism actually exists. It has to be revealed to people like me, in the middle class or even higher, with light skin and great schools, who grew up in fantastic churches where there just, um, weren’t very many black people.
Not everyone lives in the same America.
Because any honest look at America will show us that there are differences in the way people live. If you look at income, academic achievement, incarceration, even diseases, people of color fare worse–on almost every measure.
Regarding how and why people of color have it worse, there are only two possible explanations.
Number one is that there is an invisible wall stopping people from succeeding. This is so painful to those of us who didn’t construct it that we don’t want to acknowledge the possibility. And, to be fair, we truly benefit from it. But most of us don’t even see it.
The other possibility is heinous. And that is to assume that somehow people of color are somehow not as smart or as noble. Their failure to achieve is due to defects in character, ability, or just plain poor choices.
If you take a minute to think, that doesn’t even make sense. So, if we assume that character isn’t linked to skin type, and intelligence isn’t linked to the amount of melanin you have as pigment, then we have to stop and realize that the only real possibility is that the playing field isn’t level. The system is not just for our brothers and sisters who have slightly different amounts of brown in their skin than we do.
I came to know little bit about this, like I did when that rock hit me behind the knee, when I began to work as a female professional in Fort Worth.I was shocked to find out that even when my qualifications, expertise, and achievement statistics were greater than those of my male colleagues, I was treated in meetings as if I was a little girl. My comments were tolerated, my insights ignored. That is, unless a male colleague repeated them and took credit.
In America women function normally in careers, jobs and professions until they reach a certain level, beyond which the consensus is that it’s inappropriate for them to go. I liked to joke, when I was younger, that I didn’t believe in the glass ceiling until I hit my head on it three times. But it’s too true to be funny. And I like to think that, just like that rock against the back of my leg did, those experiences give me a small window of insight into what it might be like to be black in America. But I admit that they give me just enough insight to realize this: that I don’t know what it’s like, at all.
I don’t know what it’s like, if I step into the elevator, for everyone there to assume I’m there to steal something.
I don’t know what it’s like to tell my son to be very , very careful driving at night, or in wealthy neighborhoods, because his life might be at risk.
I don’t know what it’s like to tell my daughter never to talk back to the policeman because she might die. I have no idea what that feels like.
We have excused atrocities until we are numb. This is the strategy from Hell.
And it seems to me that for many white Christians the question is this: is it a sin, that when your brother is dying, you do nothing?
A sin of omission.
DEAL WITH IT
What we need in America is a witness. The Holy Spirit has been calling, for generations, for a real choice from those who have the power regarding the twin sins of slavery and racism. For the descendants of Western Europeans to realize that we are brothers to our family with brown and black skin. That it’s not just glass ceilings. It’s glass walls, glass tunnels. It is past time to dismantle the structures in society that keep people down.
It is time not just to awaken from sleep. It is time to get on our faces before God. To cry out and repent of the sins we have committed. When Jesus spoke of the terrible act of leaving a man bleeding by the roadside, it wasn’t the thieves he castigated. It was the religious, the rich and the legalistic who walked by, because they were busy. and the only person in the story who spent his own time and resources to restore, was the only person Jesus praised.
Interesting that the Master chose a hated minority to play hero here. Making the point that love has no color.
We see signs that say, “No justice, no peace.” I say, “If we don’t deal with it, we can’t heal from it.”
We must find our way back to justice; we must become champions of the oppressed.
It’s not a popular Scripture in American evangelical churches, but the Bible says this:
“”Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.”
But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court?”
James 2:2-3, 6
The King James actually says, “it is the rich who oppress you.”
Not something you are likely to hear at a “Biblical Values” meeting of Christian Republicans.
After we open our hearts for God to reveal it, we must deal with it.
We have to find wise and just policies for loving our neighbor, for truly being our brother’s keeper. With a level playing field, black, brown and red talent can take off, making contributions and enriching our society.
And then, we must heal it.
Everyone of us must confront the sins of our own hearts.
Racism. Bitterness. Apathy. Anger. Discrimination. Prejudice. Legalism. Religiosity. Slumber.
Ephesians 5:10-14 Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them. It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret. But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. Everything that is revealed by the light is light.
Therefore, it says, Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
We’re waking up. To a better tomorrow. Together.
So, once again, we see Jesus. Being absolutely crazy.
He had just commanded us to pray that the Father send Laborers into the Harvest. (Matthew 9:38)
And, in typical Jesus style, he immediately (hearing from that same Father), set about bringing the answer. He called his own twelve guys, instructed them, and sent them out.
Matthew 10:5 (The Message version) Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge: “Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.”
Matthew 10:16-17 “Stay alert. This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove. “Don’t be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don’t be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they’ve done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.”
So, yeah, Jesus WAS the answer.
And, here, He created the answer. To a really big problem.
But what He said seems seriously crazy. And, er, not at all how we would do it.
Are still doing it.
So let’s look at how Jesus would do evangelism.
If He were directing it. Because He is.
Matthew 10:5 Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge: “Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.
Touch the untouchables. My apologies to my friends from India here, but I thought that only India had a caste system. Had people who were “untouchable.” Oh. Wait.
I think that the most radical thing Jesus said here was that reaching the “untouchable” people right in your own neighborhood is way more important than taking a big mission trip to another continent or culture.
Now, if you know me, you know that I was called to serve as a foreign missionary doctor when I was 7. And missionary endeavors that are cross-cultural and effective are sort of a big deal for me.
But somehow, that wasn’t Jesus’s priority. “Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood.” Wow.
Check out the same theme, in Acts, chapter 1.
Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judæa, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Jesus’ charge to the disciples here ended with the ends of the earth.
But it didn’t start there.
It started…in Jerusalem.
Right. Where. They. Were.
And this is the take-home: If you don’t openly share Jesus where you are, why should He send you anywhere else?
A witness doesn’t have to be obnoxious.
They do have to tell the truth.
Would you recommend a great movie to your next-door neighbor?
Sure you would.
But have you ever mentioned what a great Savior you’ve heard about?
So there’s the problem. We’ve all seen “witnesses” we wouldn’t want to be.
Competitive. Judgmental. Not really, “Wow, check this out!” But more “I know something you don’t know….” (Sing-song voice here…). Or, even worse, ‘My religion’s better than your religion!”
Throw up. That is NOT the Gospel of God.
It was never, and I mean NEVER, meant to be a vehicle for our own pride.
But when it’s done with love, humility and respect for the other person, nothing can outshine it.
And it doesn’t take mad skills.
Just love. And willingness to try.
2). Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchable. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously.
I know, I know. I’ve gone all charismatic on you.
But this is Jesus.
And His recipe for going to the lost included healings, miracles and, er, “kicking out demons.” Wow.
Now we can do some healing through missionary doctors, nurses, hospitals, etc. And that’s good. Great, even. Christian history is full of noble healthcare workers who laid down their lives in this way.
But that wasn’t always how Jesus did it. In these chapters, He performed real miracles.
And trained his staff, before they were even born again, to do so as well. And they didn’t always seem very spiritual.
And I think that that’s the secret.
When He tells us to do something amazing, it has nothing to do with our goodness or power. Just our obedience. Willingness. Faith.
I’ve seen some amazing things.
You will, too.
3) You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.
No, Jesus didn’t plan for us to build a zoo. But He did give us pretty clear directions.
He wants us to be smart. As cunning as a snake. This might include things like learning local customs and laws, whether at home or abroad, before you take to the streets to preach.
Or give away a car. (I almost went to jail in another nation for that one, once.)
Maybe it means not being naive about human nature. About what unbelievers, and sometimes, believers, might do. Out of jealousy. Spite. Competition. Ouch.
And yet, while being so very aware you of the pitfalls, we are never to walk in pride. Not carry ourselves as if we know more than others. And that’s cool.
Starting at home.
Believing for the miraculous.
Combining great wisdom with great humility. Or at least trying to.
Gee, maybe it’s just me.
But that doesn’t seem like the way it’s often been done.
But we can try.
And I think we’ll see something amazing happen.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
And THAT is what it’s all about.
Matthew 10:5 Jesus sent his twelve harvest hands out with this charge:“Don’t begin by traveling to some far-off place to convert unbelievers. And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public enemy. Go to the lost, confused people right here in the neighborhood. Tell them that the kingdom is here. Bring health to the sick. Raise the dead. Touch the untouchables. Kick out the demons. You have been treated generously, so live generously. Matthew 10:16-17 “Stay alert. This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove. “Don’t be naive. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation—just because you believe in me. Don’t be upset when they haul you before the civil authorities. Without knowing it, they’ve done you—and me—a favor, given you a platform for preaching the kingdom news! And don’t worry about what you’ll say or how you’ll say it. The right words will be there; the Spirit of your Father will supply the words.
It was a cringe-worthy moment.
I am ashamed to remember it.
It was the last night of a large, border-medicine mission trip.
Where I mentored ~40 medical students, in how to care for folks in a low-resource environment. How to use your faith, and Christian love, with your medical training. How to lead someone to Jesus in a makeshift exam room, without coercing them (even gently) because you are the doctor. Never abuse your power.
And ten of these students were with me, all day every day. I mentored them even more closely.
We had amazing experiences. And heard horrifying stories.
The abuse of the Juarez drug cartels. People fleeing for their lives. People using their faith to survive kidnapping, attempted murder, the destruction of their businesses. Some of it by the official police. The complex world of illegal immigration, in that context.
And, as doctors do, we coped. With humor. Sometimes inappropriate humor.
And I passed on a very inappropriate inside joke, from American labor and delivery and obstetrics.
It was called “hispanicus hystericus,” and referred to a Latina woman who panics during labor.
I had no idea how hurtful this was; I knew it was inappropriate. And I meant it to be kept private, like a lot of inappropriate things. I would never have admitted that it was BOTH racist and sexist. Not even to myself.
But the Bible doesn’t promise to cover our sins.
Luke 12:3 What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
Yeah. Thanks a lot, Jesus.
And so it was that my occasional, inappropriate, both-racist-and-sexist joke, that was mean to stay just between us, got repeated on testimony night. Out loud.
I love humor, but this wasn’t as good as I had thought it was.
I asked one of my star students, who had led several broken and grateful people to Jesus, and eternal salvation, that week–with great love and compassion, what he had learned.
“Um, Hispanic Woman Syndrome?” He queried, nervously.
What followed changed my life forever.
In the uncomfortable silence, a voice rang out.
Jackie Velasquez was a second-year resident who had come along to help teach the students.
She never came back.
But into that embarrassing moment, her clarion call to right burned itself into my brain.
Into the tortured social constraints of an ethnically diverse church and mission field testimony service, it resonated.
Clear and loud.
I told her it was my fault.
She didn’t believe me.
She never forgave him.
And I learned something that night.
The hard way.
Years before, I had voluntarily joined an oppressive church.
Because it was so energetic. So invigorating.
And because I was fully hooked and committed before the pastor began to teach about sex roles.
Women at home.
Needing to be excellent in their housework. Because if they weren’t, they were just lazy.
How women needed men to protect them from their natural instinct to be foolish.
How every personal decision needed to be informed by the principles taught by the apostle.
That got really weird, eventually.
And after the suicide-deaths of two Jesus-loving, people-pleasing young women, my world was shattered.
I eventually left.
And then freaked out.
It took years of counseling and personal growth–after all, I had left the apostle.
And therefore, the Word of God.
Um…not so much.
But it took time.
And beginning these mission trips was part of my tip-toeing back into the Church, after many years away.
And that night, in her indignation and (truly) righteous anger, a second-year Hispanic resident handed me a gift.
I have learned to say, simply: “Not OK.”
When things happen around me. “Not OK.”
When folks I like and work with make racist, or sexist, remarks. “Not OK.”
It is a powerful tool.
I only regret that I took my own (inadvertently?) racist and sexist words for me to learn it.
And thank God, I am learning.
Proverbs 31:8 Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.
“To the outcast on her knees, you were the God who really sees…
And by your might, you set your children free.” (Michael Card, “El Shaddai,” as recorded by Amy Grant)
Growing up in church, I can remember meeting many beautiful women.
As a little girl in rural and suburban Texas, there were so many ladies that you just wished you could be.
Not all of them, though!
Most of the church ladies were…just moms. Overweight, dumpy moms.
(I had no idea, then, that I had already internalized so much sexism).
But every now and then, you would sit next to a truly beautiful lady.
Blonde, with blue eyes. And pretty clothes. And she would be so nice to you.
And you would go home, feeling like you met Cinderella. And wish that you could be her.
And, over many years, in many churches, I accumulated a lot of these role models.
My role models were, of course, culturally determined.
The more someone looked and acted like Cinderella or Grace Kelly, the more I admired them.
And it’s cool to be beautiful. And kind.
But I think, looking into the Scripture, that something has been lost here.
Because the Bible didn’t leave us any portraits.
Not of hairstyle. Or eye color.
And God could have emphasized anything he wanted to.
What he chose to record were acts of courage and faithfulness.
That were potentially costly. And reflect real leadership.
So God chose courage, faithfulness and leadership.
And while we certainly value those things, and I have heard a lot on faithfulness, I haven’t heard much on courage and leaderhip taught, very often, in Southern women’s meetings.
And I don’t mean to be a critic; I have loved my church life and all of the leaders, teachers and other men and women I have worked with.
What do we value, in women, as a culture? Passivity. Personal appearance. People pleasing.
None of these meets the Biblical test; God simply doesn’t emphasize them. And being passive or a pleaser actually cuts across the grain of the Biblical accounts of godly womanhood. And the teachings of Scripture.
I recently taught a series of local Bible studies on Biblical women. Abigail. Ruth. Deborah.
When I got to Deborah, I found something very interesting.
The woman in my Sunday night gathering, at a local yoga studio, had never heard a sermon on her. They represented four different local churches.
Deborah was a mother in Israel.
She was a judge, like Samuel. That means (and we like to sugarcoat, or ignore, this fact) that she was anointed by God to lead the nation.
Just like Samuel.
I heard a sermon once where the preacher said that this was because Israel was so evil, in those days, that God couldn’t find a man to lead them.
Interesting thought, but, um…the Bible doesn’t actually say that. Like, anywhere.
The history of Christianity parallels the history of western science. Fascinating, actually.
After a time of great learning, science was lost.
Because much of it had been learned in Eastern and Middle Eastern nations, and Europe didn’t trust it.
And after an initial flare of glory in the first three centuries, Christianity was muffled. By institutionalized and politicized religion.
Now, I don’t blame the Catholic Church for the Dark Ages. They were the only church around.
I think any of us could have done it.
In a zeal to keep knowledge pure, they banned science.
In an effort to avoid doctrinal error and cult-like practices, they took the Bible away from the people.
Only the priests could read and teach it.
And we got the Dark Ages.
We have similar veins in Christian culture today, Protestant or Catholic.
And, if we’re not careful, we think it’s automatically spiritual to reject science. And education.
To mistrust those from different backgrounds.
To centralize authority and interpretation of the Scriptures in a few trusted male leaders.
And to keep women in their place.
But God had an answer for the Dark Ages.
It started with Martin Luther, we are told.
I theorize that it probably started before that, with prayer by faithful witnesses whose names we will only know in Heaven.
But it started. And God mightily used Father Luther.
“The just shall live by faith.” It was a revelation.
The light came on.
And out of that came the Reformation.
Followed, and paralleled by, the Enlightenment. Education was back. In a big way.
Western science took off, and became the model for the whole world.
And God has progressively revealed science and technology to mankind ever since.
And, spiritually, that “justification by faith” lightning bolt started a fire.
Followed by others, over the centuries.
Until, in the 20th century, we again saw miracles on a large scale.
The move of the Holy Spirit.
The Missionary movement of the 19th century.
The Word of God, preached through every possible technology, every available voice.
And spiritual knowledge has expanded and grown.
We keep taking steps into the Light.
But, it seems to me, that someone has been left behind.
Half in shadow.
Christian women, in my lifetime, have been taught a set of values that are more Victorian than Biblical.
Taught that, while US law holds us accountable for our decisions, actions and finances, the Bible says our husbands should actually make our decisions for us.
That we are to be quiet. Always.
That having a voice of authority, and using it, are….questionable.
In Genesis 16, God spoke to a woman.
Her name was Hagar.
And she had been bought and sold, and used for sex and breeding.
By, um, God’s man of the hour. Abraham. With his wife’s participation.
And then she had been treated harshly by her owner.
To the point that, while pregnant, she ran away.
Into the desert.
And there, alone and destitute, with no means of survival, God spoke to her.
Genesis 16:7-11 The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, “Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?” “I’m running away from my mistress, Sarai,” she replied. The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her authority.” Then he added, “I will give you more descendants than you can count.” And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael which means ‘God hears’, for the Lord has heard your cry of distress.
Abraham and Sarah’s actions weren’t without consequence…
Genesis 16:12 This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.”
Ishmael would go on to become the father of most of Israel’s modern day enemies, including the Arab peoples.
It would be to a band of “Ishmaelites” that Joseph would be sold into slavery.
And it would be Ismael’s descendants with whom Israel would struggle in the future.
But God, knowing all of that, thought that justice for this one abused woman…was worth it.
He heard her.
But, wait…there’s more.
Genesis 16:13-14 Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?” So that well was named Beer-lahai-roi which means “well of the Living One who sees me”. It can still be found between Kadesh and Bered.
Hagar had not been truly seen as a human being by her owners, her forced “family.”
She had, apparently, not been seen in her childhood, to the point that she ended up as a victim of human trafficking.
But God…saw her.
Psychologists say that to be known, really known, by another, is the thing humans crave more than anything.
It drives us into inappropriate sexual relationships.
It underlies our fantasy-wish for fame.
The answer to that hunger is….
God sees you.
He knows you.
And He can create springs in the desert of your life.
And get the message you need right to where you are.
And even bring blessing out of the evil that’s been done to you.
Abigail…recognized that her husband was a fool and confronted a King who was about to commit a hot-headed sin. Read about her; God honored her for it.
Ruth…was a stranger, of another ethnic group, who worked, and loved, out of loyalty to one old, financially broken woman. She took the initiative to find a job,and went out with boldness and consistency. Read about her; God honored her for it.
Deborah…led a nation legally and in battle. And was a prophetess, who led them spiritually. She was bold and courageous, and brought deliverance to her people. Read about her; God blessed her for it.
And, if it seems to you that the current evangelical church might not put these woman on a “Top Ten Godly Woman List” if they weren’t already in the Bible…you may be right.
The Christian woman still stands in the shadows of our sexist Greek and Roman heritage.
But God sees.
It’s time to step into the light of Biblical truth.
Courage, compassion and leadership.
And maybe, just maybe, we can claim our inheritance among our brothers…and still be beautiful.
Job’s daughters did.
Job 42:12-15 So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning….And in all the land were no women found so fair as the daughters of Job: and their father gave them inheritance among their brethren.
I didn’t date a lot in high school. I was in a couple of great youth groups that taught the difference between dating and courtship. And, honesty, the trauma of my own parents’ divorce probably made me hesitant, too. So I committed my life to Jesus, and didn’t really…date.
Until the summer after I graduated high school.
My best friend, at the time, was a truly amazing, gifted, humble, kind, positive young man named Peter. He happened to be Hispanic; I hadn’t noticed. We shared together, for years, in a ministry team at a Christian camp, (and during the school year, church) kitchen. We had SO MUCH FUN. I can remember rolling down giant hills of grass, only to rush in just in time from our breaks and greet a suspicious supervisor with innocent smiles. I remember water fights while cleaning the bathrooms. Flipping canoes on purpose, just to give the lifeguards something to do.
Camp is a great place to go. And serve. And meet lifelong friends.
And, that last summer of our high school years, “Pete” asked me to go steady. For the summer.
So we did.
And it was a little awkward. And sweet.
I decided to go to an intensive Bible school, next door to the camp, before college.
And I would come out from all-day ministry curriculum to find a bag of warm cookies from the camp kitchen tied to the antenna of my Volkswagen bug.
I dearly loved this boy, but I wasn’t in love with him.
So, at the end of the summer, we headed off to different universities.
And I “broke up” with him.
And in doing so, I lost a friend. One of the regrets in my life.
But on its heels, I had another shock.
My estranged Dad, picking me up at camp for one of our frequent, though awkward, visits, dropped a bombshell on me.
“I’m so glad you broke up with that Mexican boy.”
What? Did I hear that right?
My open-minded, Spanish-speaking father, who never met a stranger?
The man who took me to Puerto Rico for part of my childhood, and raised me in two cultures?
He must have seen the shock on my face, and shrugged his shoulders sheepishly.
And, while I rarely confronted by Dad, because of the precarious nature of our relationship, I was incensed for my friend. And I said,
“Dad, I didn’t know you were prejudiced.”
And what he said next both disappointed and impressed me.
He said, “I am. I don’t think I can help it. It’s part of how and where I was raised.
But, Karen, I didn’t raise you to be.”
I had to give it to him. At eighteen years old, and close with my father, this was the first inkling I ever had of it.
And, while I could be (and was) disappointed that he didn’t work on himself, I was impressed that he wanted something better for the next generation.
So I have watched myself, over the course of my life. I am now about ten years older than he was the day he dropped that bombshell. And he has gone to his heavenly reward.
And I have to admit that I am a sexist.
Oh, I don’t want to be.
And that I’m probably a racist. (God, I hope not). Thought I actively work not to be.
Because prejudice, in this day and time, isn’t something obvious.
Prejudice, and its brother, discrimination, are very, very subtle.
My father told me a story once.
He and my mother got married while he was working in another state. Michigan. And every time he called for an apartment, it was “already rented.”He was so confused.nd a co-worker told him, “Jim, you have a deep voice. And a very southern accent. The landlords think you’re black. I bet if you go in person, they will rent to you.”
The first apartment he visited in person was available. Because he was white.
And when he would tell the story, I could tell that he was not OK with that. Even in the 60’s.
When I was in school, in the 70’s and 80’s, we were taught that prejudice and sexism had been conquered. That they were gone. The Civil Rights movement had triumphed, and opportunity was now equal for all. And my (few) black friends in our upper-middle-class suburb seemed to prove that this was true. And I didn’t believe in the glass ceiling. (Until I later hit my head on it 3 times, but that’s another story).
So I went off to college. A white one. But I didn’t realize that. The “black school,” PrairieView A&M, was a few miles down the road in another town. Oh, we had diversity. Just not much.
But, as I began to study education, I was challenged by my professors. To explore my own behavior. Did I cringe when a casually dressed black male got on the elevator with me? Hmm.
We videotaped ourselves teaching. And we had to count the number and type of questions we asked different students. And look for patterns of prejudice. Do you ask more math questions to boys? More complex questions to white students? It was eye-opening. Because these behaviors are so deep in the unconscious that we really don’t mean to be prejudiced. We just are. All of us. About somebody.
I have an amazing daughter. She is the athlete I don’t think I ever could be. A genius at math. And science. And a fiercely defensive personality. An ideal sweeper, or defender. And, one day, in an elite teen soccer training, I overheard her coach talking to a team dad. “You know, girls don’t have the spatial reasoning guys do. You have to coach them differently. They just can’t read the field.”
I was too shocked to say a word. I am not a stage mom. Not a helicopter parent. But it troubled me that this young man believed that. Because, if he didn’t believe they could do it, he would never teach them to do it. Self-fulfilling prophecy, because then they…wouldn’t be able to do it.
And I once made a perfect score on a national achievement test–in spatial reasoning. As a 16-year-old girl. And her father is an engineer. And Barbara was, actually, excellent at reading the field. So I screwed up my courage and walked over to this precious young coach.
“Coach, did you say that girls can’t read the field?”
“That’s right,” he said. “They just don’t have the spatial reasoning.” This was in the 21st century.
I looked him, gently but firmly, in the eyes.
The words hung in the air.
To his credit, he thought about it.
And then he said, “You know, she can. I hadn’t thought about it before. But she’s the exception.”
And maybe she was.
But I don’t know if she was the exception because her parents are both excellent spatial reasoners, or because she was raised to believe she could be. The lines get blurry.
But it was my oldest daughter who busted through my own prejudices.
You see, there are things you don’t know about yourself.
I didn’t know I had a temper…until I got married.
I didn’t know I could be prone to anxiety…until I became a mother.
And I didn’t know I was sexist. Until I had a little girl.
Joanna, or “Joey,” wasn’t an extrovert. She was happier in her bassinet than she was snuggling with me. And that rocked my world. Not in a good way.
She is beautiful, articulate and kind. But she wasn’t the type to dress in pink and make polite conversation over tea.
And I had to confront my own ideas of what a girl should be.
Funny how I never had to do that with my sons. I didn’t have as many preconceived ideas where they were concerned. It didn’t occur to me that that was sexism. But it was.
My amazing, beautiful, communicative Joanna now works for Google. As an engineer.
Because we learned how to let her…be her.
The way God made her.
And I had to learn, before I unintentionally harmed her, to confront and release my prejudiced expectations.
And so it was, that when I came to medical school, I came to Parkland Hospital.
And learned that, while black lives definitely matter, they were very different from the life I had lived. I saw people treated with unbelievable rudeness, discourtesy, and even disregard.
By white male doctors. Who were “too tired to be nice” that day.
I once saw a surgery resident cancel a clinic. Because he felt like it.
And I had to look in the eyes of a Hispanic grandmother that had been waiting for him, in a hard plastic chair, for six hours. Really.
Carrying it forward, when I entered residency, I asked to be placed in the clinic no one wanted.
In the “black” neighborhood.
And I learned more than I ever imagined I would. Policy matters.
Welfare is a trap.
And people can’t help being black. Duh. And they’re aren’t always at fault for being poor.
Or even pregnant. (I could tell you stories…)
Poverty is a killer. And it affects people of color disproportionately.
I don’t know why.
But I’m not sure it’s all their fault.
But the biggest lesson I learned in trying to learn how to communicate to urban black people in a lower income neighborhood…was that they weren’t as different from me as I thought. All they asked for was honesty, and a little respect. What works in the suburbs…works in the ‘hood. We are all people.
I could tell you so many stories, over the course of my medical career.
About speaking truth to power.
About losing jobs and committee assignments for pointing out that our policies were uneven toward men and women, whites and minorities.
But the story I want to tell gives me hope.
My oldest son is a West Point grad. (I like to mention that).
And, when he got there, one of the first things they learned was to respect diversity.
And manage their own prejudices.
Once, while he was home on leave, I took him to see the race-themed movie, The Help.
And I warned him it would make him angry.
But in the first fifteen minutes, when a white suburban housewife begins to go on about “darkies” needing separate toilets because they have “different diseases,” he came out of his chair.
His fist were doubled.
His jaw was clenched.
His body was taut.
And I had to remind him to sit down.
And finish the movie, because, really, it gets better.
And he did. And it did.
And I realized something.
He was way ahead in his understanding of racial injustice than I had been, at his age.
And, I think, that unintentionally I have done what my father did.
Raised my children to be better people, and less prejudiced, than I was. Am.
Jesus, help us.
In The Help a dark-skinned nanny helps a little white girl overcome low self-esteem.
Because she isn’t as pretty and social as her mother wanted; not what she thought a little girl should be.
“You is smart. You is kind. You is important,” she repeats with her, over and over.
And it’s true.
But I want to leave you with a powerful thought from a much more traditional female heroine.
Incredibly, my favorite advice for dealing with racism, sexism, and other discrimination, comes from…Cinderella. Sigh.
(The live-action version).
Where her dying mother’s advice is, “Have courage. And be kind.”
Have courage. Sometimes you have to point out discriminatory patterns.
And be kind. Because the people you’re confronting…Probably. Don’t. Know. They’re . Prejudiced. And they will be defensive. And hurt.
It is a great formula for promoting social justice. Confronting, gently, while loving.
Speaking the truth in love. Educating. Raising awareness.
Another famous mother once gave great advice, to a son.
Proverbs 31:1 The sayings of King Lemuel contain this message, which his mother taught him……
Proverbs 31:8-9 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.
The Bible isn’t liberal. Or conservative.
It’s just true.
And we are charged to bring justice for those who have no voice.
If we have any voice at all.
And the first place to confront prejudice, of any sort, is with ourselves.
I heard this word this week. In a church service.
One pastor, encouraging another pastor not to be afraid of the multiplicity of things God had for him to do. It was a lovely, challenging, mentoring moment, and I thought about…
Of course I did.
We all have so many things to do. Modern society is full of roles to take and hats to change in and out of. For men and women. Young and old. (I even remember reading about preschool stress syndrome once). Now we get work emails on our phones, nights and weekends, too. But when it comes to multi-tasking, no one has the strain young mothers do. (And I’ve been through med school AND residency, just for comparison). Maybe my oldest, during boot camp and then Special Forces training, approached this level of unforgiving intensity. But it was limited to 2 or 3 months.
But, Dr. Karen, you say, you had 5 children. All at once. Surely it isn’t that hard for mothers with 1 or 2.
One child rocked my world. Some people never recover.
And two? Two is where I went quietly insane.
Just kidding, but some days it felt like it. And it cured me of perfectionism. Forever.
After the second child, numbers 3, 4 and 5 were cake. But maybe it was me that had changed.
(I’m told it goes to another level at the sixth; I never felt led to try it out.)
And, I know that some of you reading still long for a marriage or a child. Don’t despair. You are not forgotten. And this article is for you, too.
Because God stretches us all.
This senior pastor, ministering to a pastor from another nation, quietly said, “Don’t be afraid of the multiplicity of things God has for you do.”
Such a simple statement.
And it struck me to my core.
Because I’m entering another busy season.
With Christian yoga workshops, teaching womens’ conferences, out-of-town women’s classes, ESL outreaches, and regular weekly ministry to young urban women. While also working full time. Oh, yeah, and I’m writing a book on the side. And, just to make it fun, in April I am due to retake my Boards. It’s been 10 years. And the American Board of Family Medicine sent me a lovely newsletter yesterday. They’re probably getting rid of the test. In 2017. Sigh. This year, those who are scheduled get to take it. Smile. They politely recommended studying 10-15 hours per week, graciously admitting that the test doesn’t match real-life practice very well. (Some years, 1/3 of practicing, experienced docs don’t pass.)
So I’m busy.
And I know I’m following the Lord in these things. Not just busy because I didn’t pay attention and took on too much. (Been there. I don’t like it.) This is a holy busy.
This happened to me once before. When I first came to Eagle mountain Church, I was a new-to-practice doctor. With five active, involved teens. And the Lord had me show up nearly every time the doors opened, because I needed it. And others …needed me. I joined the choir. Our choir director at the time was raised in the golden era of Black Gospel music in Chicago. And it was nothing like the “spirituals” I had learned from a very white high school choir director. This was a lovely, multi-racial church, and my fellow choir members didn’t have my Methodist/Baptist background. They were raised COGIC. (Pronounced “Kojik”)
I thought COGIC was a cop with a lollipop. (Kojak, anyone?) It isn’t. It stands for Church of God in Christ, and people from this church know Gospel music.
And COGIC people sing by ear. And I’m an alto. That means I was singing harmony. By ear. And I had to listen to the women around me for my part, watch the director, and try to keep my heart focused on the Lord. It was tough, but I could do it. And then, one day, in rehearsals, the director politely informed us that he wanted us to sway. In time. Together.
And, silly as it sounds, this is the point where I had to make a decision. I could’ve said, “This is too hard. I can’t do it.” I could have said, “I’m too busy”. “This isn’t my style of music.” I could have walked away from a team I was called to be part of, out of fear or embarrassment, or, even worse, a sense of inadequacy.
Or I could respond in faith. If I know I’m called to be here, and the director asks something of me, I can reach out to God for ability. Even if I don’t have it.
And I did. And, in those years, I learned to have a lot of fun worshipping God with music I had been unfamiliar with, swaying, smiling, singing and worshiping. In tune, while watching the director. And we made good music.
And, as I said above, I was involved in So. Many. Things. In those years. At home. In our schools. At work. In the community. At the church. And, one day, while we were rehearsing, and I was enjoying the musical challenges, the Lord spoke to me.
“This is not an accident. That you’re here, in choir, being stretched.” And He went on. “I want you to take this as a life lesson. Right now you have a lot of things to keep your mind on. But always watch me, like you would a choir director. I’ll cue you. And use your faith when it seems like too much to do.” So I did.
And I loved my life.
There have been other seasons. Seasons of rest. Seasons of healing.
The Bible says,
Psalm 31:14-15 But I trusted in thee, O Lord:I said, Thou art my God.
My times are in thy hand.
There are a seasons for everything. And I enjoyed them. Especially rest.
But now, I have come full circle , again. To a seasons of busy, varied productivity.
A season of multiplicity.
And I realized something.
The same God who made Adam and Eve, who Blessed them, who commanded them to be fruitful, said,
It’s a commandment.
And, just maybe…
MULTIPLICITY= MULTIPLY, in the CITY
So, in the years, when He challenges me with a multiplicity of things to do, in the city I’m currently called to serve in, I’m being very Scriptural.
Warmth and light filled the room, while snowflakes danced in flurries at the windows.
To the right of the platform, a giant Christmas tree twinkled hundreds of golden lights from its branches.
The twin video monitors scrolled matching electronic snowflurries and encouragement.
Christmas had come to CityChurch.
I sat near the front in the nearly empty auditorium while George prepared to play the keyboard, watching 4 or 5 adults move around the room getting ready for the service. High-energy updated Christmas carols fill the speakers, worshipful in their intensity.
Later that afternoon I would find myself across the street in a massive dilapidated warehouse, boxing hundreds of books, toys and clothes for kids who live…downtown. Without a lot of resources.
Behind me, the pastor’s wife walked in with 2 of her young daughters. Warm and secure in their winter finery, they giggled and laughed while a teenager teased them about crushing on boys. She happens to be white; her daughters black. No one notices, in this culture of love, service and frequent adoption. Many of the kids adopted by CityChurch families were once kids on our bike food routes and in our Bible club programs. When life falls apart, it seems like God taps someone on the shoulder to step in and help. We adopt kids we know. No one plans it; it just happens.
Next troops in the adult Sunday school class, fresh from meeting in the cafeteria. A CityChurch mix of skin tones, with clothes ranging from suburban to ghetto. Some faces ravaged by life; others serene. After class, they all look calm and peaceful. An older Hispanic woman is crying; she takes the seat next to me. The second row where I sit fills in with black and brown faces, mostly women and children. We hug each other.
At the back of the church I see a 13 year old black ballerina. Oh, she’s dressed for church, but in a bun and full stage makeup. A former dance mom always knows. Her brand-new sweatshirt reads “The Nutcracker.” Today, while I am boxing books and toys, she will be pirouetting before hundreds. Her mother doesn’t share her skin tone or genetic makeup either, but I have never known a more loyal dance mom. (And I’ve known a few). Our ballerina was probably once a kid on someone’s van route. I don’t know her story’s beginning, but I believe it will end gloriously.
Suddenly a wave of small children come in from preschool Sunday school, laughing and talking. Playing with each other without regard to height, gender or skin tone. By now the auditorium is almost full. Across the way, a white face and brown face, belonging to 2 of our female teenage church musicians, enter the sanctuary arm in arm.
The state of the art video cameras begin to roll behind me.
In the corner, our AV guy, the pastor’s brother , is DJ-ing with headphones on. Unaware of anyone else, he dances to the beat. He is middle-aged, balding and white, but the music is spot-on.
As the service starts, the pastor takes his seat…at the drums. Today he is shaking his official sleigh bells radically; two Hispanic preschoolers in the row in front of me shake the jingle bells on their Sunday school candycanes in time with him.
Later, he will take the pulpit and talk about how God sent the Christmas angels to…shepherds. Not middle-class, suburban, cartoon-character shepherds. But the down-and dirty, the pirates and construction-workers of their day. Making the point, without words, that God’s priority is the loner, the outcast, the desperate. The not-so-well-dressed, not-so-respected.
It is a message that resonates here.
Everyone in the room is a believer, or considering becoming one.
Trusting God is something we work on. Trusting people is harder.
But if we can be together as a community through the ups and downs of life, it gets a little easier.
And if we can address isues of race and poverty and crime and jail and marriage and sexuality and pain with love and wisdom, we are stronger together.
Our wisdom comes from the Bible.
Our love comes from the Holy Spirit.
Our identity comes from Jesus.
Everything else is negotiable.
Merry Christmas, y’all.
Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
What does it mean to replenish?
A brief bit of Internet research yields the following:
re·plen·ish: rəˈpleniSH/ verb. fill (something) up again.
Jesus was really into this.
In speaking about his life’s mission, after hearing a voice from heaven, after 40 days of fasting, after absolutely refusing Satan’s shortcuts, after beginning to do miracles, he began to teach. And this is what he said:
Luke 4:16-20 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
So, several years ago, my pastor preached a series of sermons on “Bulldog Faith.” You know, how a bulldog never, ever lets go of something once he sinks his teeth into it. And he used the example of a struggling football team to do it. You now, the ones the Gipper would inspire at halftime, and they would go out and–well, you know.
And God began to speak to me. You see, I liked to study my pastor’s sermons. I took notes. And I went home, and read them, and studied them, and took them apart. And as I studied faith, and victory, and football (Yes, I am from Texas) one day, I heard Him say this. “You know, Karen, you play pretty good defense. But you don’t really play offense.”
So I said, “Teach me, Lord. What do you mean?”
And He said, “Well, if Satan attacks your family, or your health, or your finances, or your family, he’d better watch out. You’ll come after him with both guns blazing, and be effective against him.
“But you rarely wake up in the morning and go after him.”
I sat there, stunned. Me? Go after Satan?
But I’ve learned to listen when my Father talks to me. You see, He knows more than I do. Um, yeah.
So I said, again, “Lord, what do you mean? Help me to understand.”
And He took me to Luke 4. To the scripture above. About how Jesus outlined his life mission.
And He said, “Karen, do you know anyone who is blind?”
In so many ways.
“Do you know anyone who needs deliverance?”
Just let me tell you.
And then it hit.
When I help someone else be restored, I am taking ground from my enemy. I am in his territory, making a drive he can’t stop.
To preach the gospel to the poor.
It starts with salvation.
People need, more than anything, to be restored to God.
This is spiritual warfare.
I have no other explanation for why Christians, who will jump on Facebook to tell you anything from what political party is Godly to what company to boycott, become inexpicably shy when it comes to sharing their faith with someone.
We have allowed our enemy to redefine simple speech about Jesus as somehow different from other kinds of sharing.
But it isn’t.
And people need it. Oh, how they need it.
Jesus is the foundation and cornerstone of a life in God. Redemption. Restoration.
And, once He is in the picture in someone’s spirit, His Holy Spirit can start doing the rest.
I once led a man to the Lord during a clinic visit for depression. Because it was the answer. To the problem he came in for. But he and I both knew that he had some other problems. Serious ones.
And, just before we prayed that life-altering prayer, he burst out.
“But what about my ...problem?” We both knew what he was referring to.
So I bowed my head. And asked.
And then I looked him straight in the eyes.
“Let’s do this first. Jesus can take care of that.” And he received The Lord he so desperately needed.
To heal the brokenhearted.
As I write this, we are in the middle of a silly controvery. Starbucks is commemorating the holiday season this year with red cups, wihout any snowflakes or Christmas trees. (The snowflakes are on the cardboard collars that go around the cups this year, but never mind).
And this seems more important than the homeless, hurting and broken.
Think about it.
To preach deliverance to the captives.
Maybe the person who gives you the most trouble at work, or church, or wherever…is exactly the reason you’re there. If they are “captive” to bad habits , personality or psychological problems, preach deliverance to them. With your life. With your love. With your words. Don’t be afraid; just be kind.
Like Cinderella, if you’ve seen the live action move: “Have courage.” And… “Be kind.”
And recovering of sight to the blind.
RESTORE. It’s what we’re here for. The Apostle Peter said that the Lord wasn’t slow about returning for us, but that he wanted all to be saved. If your heart is singing, “Come, Lord Jesus,” your feet should be taking you places to spread the gospel. The mission field. The grocery store. Your, ahem, friends.
To set at liberty them that are bruised.
Armies liberate cities. They free people from the enemy. It does no good to be in Satan’s territory if we don’t make any encrosions or liberate any captives. Don’t hide from the bruised; help them.
To preach the acceptable year of The Lord.
It seems to be that the whole world knows we are in the end of days. Not just Christians. Jews, Muslims, the Mayans…time is running out. And, because of that, we have the most glorious oportunity. In this time, God has provided salvation, heaing, everything a person truly needs, with blessings above and beyond.
Let’s tell them. And beat Satan at his little propaganda game.
So, back to the football metaphor for this war.
I don’t pretend to be a football expert. But I have children. One of my sons played football. And he tried to teach me. And my husband had played football; he knew much more than I did. But the real football expert in our family, at the time, was a fourteen year old cheerleader. She knew the stats. The teams. The players. The plays. I enjoyed watching a football game, just to hear her talk with her brother. And I tried to learn. Really, I did.
I didn’t learn much, but this much I got.
No one wins a football game alone.
Jesus didn’t. The victories he wrought were shared with 12 guys. And he taught them how.
So, how do we replenish the earth, together?
The world loves Doctors Without Borders. In French, Medicins sans Frontieres.
The basic idea is good; these doctors place people before politics. Before political boundaries.
What could we do, as the actual Army of God in the earth, if we took a similar view?
Healers Without Borders.
Restorers without Limits.
This is war. But not with people. With the ultimate terrorist. And the battlefield is human lives.
In the words of Todd Beamer, who gave his life to take out some low-level terrorists: