This summer the word "agency" has been on my mind... Our agency is at the essence of our humanity. Deep within our soul, regardless of the external circumstances we are born into, we all yearn for the freedom to chart our course, to have an impact. Many of us feel a calling from God that strengthens our agency and connects it to God's purposes. For those of us who find ourselves in religious contexts which still seek to restrict women's sphere of agency in the world to limited roles, finding one's life path is complicated by sorting through competing and confusing messages. I just read this woman's story of growing up in a Christian subculture very much like my own and wanted to pass it along. Her story, so powerful and so vulnerable at the same time, mirrors the larger story of so many women in the church. We women who were loved and nurtured by the church, who love the church, who found our life call in the church, yet we often feel betrayed by this same church which still in some places does fully embrace our humanity and agency. Laura Buffington shares beautifully the internal and external struggles of hearing and staying true to the calling she learned through the same "submission" that is often used to prescribe women's sphere in the church. It is definitely worth the read and really humanizes the debate some conservative christian settings are still struggling to sort through.
If you grew up sitting around campfires at camp you will definitely relate to her journey! Thank you Kaitlin Hasserly for passing this along.
Reposting from http://www.seejenwrite.com/?p=9119
The summer before my senior year of high school, after extensive conversations with mentors and friends about all the impending future decisions, I sat around the campfire and felt compelled to attach my future to the church. It was the granddaddy of all camp “decision time” options: Full-time Christian Service.
The next step towards a life of ministry seemed to be a Christian college so I ended up at Milligan College in Tennessee. Choosing a college has always seemed like far too important a decision to leave to an 18-year old, but in my case, I think I ended up exactly where I needed to be. After years in public schools, it was both strange and refreshing to learn alongside other people of faith. I loved the powerful experience of Christian community that is unique to the Christian college experience. But more than anything, I loved having a safe place to ask tough questions. We were encouraged to think about humanity, and art, and war, and faith, and what they all had to do with each other. College is where I learned the value of asking the right questions over having all the right answers.
For all the Old Testament stories I had learned growing up, I couldn’t remember ever hearing about Deborah, or Huldah. I started to appreciate how these stories of faithful women survived in a culture that thought of women as property to be traded along with the land and the livestock.
With these new frames around the life of Jesus, the writings of Paul and the picture of the early church, I felt conflicted about the church of my youth.
The first time I spoke to a large crowd was largely by accident. I had been invited to speak during chapel and had politely refused. Or at least I thought I refused. Then I saw my name on the schedule to speak. I was to deliver a “Senior Sermon,” a tradition in the school’s spring chapel lineup. Despite my reservations, I got up and said some words. I was sick the whole next week. Depending on your interpretation, it was either a virus, or nerves, or God’s wrath.
All these tensions haunted me when it came time to find my first job. I still wasn’t sure what kind of job description I could fit in many of our churches. I knew there was a chance I would find myself serving a church that called me the “director” of something rather than a “minister” of anything. I might only be able to teach high school kids or younger. I also knew working at a bookstore instead of a church was a very real possibility. I had watched a number of other female friends leave the Christian church for denominations that would hire them and allow them to use all of their gifts in every area of the church. In some cases, I also saw the job search lead only to wounds and bitterness. Frozen with fear, I played an incredibly passive role in finding my first job. Professors were kind enough to recommend me to churches and, before long, I was considering different options. But truth be told, I only cared about one thing and it had nothing to do with being able to preach. My only sister was dying of cancer and I knew I had to be in Ohio near my family. That was my only condition for a job.
I have now served in this church for ten years. I’ve played different roles as the years have passed, in worship arts and discipleship. I serve as the “preacher” for our weekend services a few times a year, as well as teaching other classes. I have occasionally stepped into traditional pastoral roles, leading people through weddings or funerals. But I have also learned that the official affirmation of church leadership does not end the struggle of being a woman in ministry. Of course, ministry in itself is a difficult life for anyone, but there are issues I face as a woman that the girl by the fire never saw coming.
When I listen in on the conversations going on in churches or online forums about the role of women in the church, I want to mourn, to battle, and sometimes hide. On my better days, I’m at least glad the conversation is happening. So often churches settle on answers without ever going through the difficult work of holding Scripture up next to the world, and their own hearts, and letting them push on each other. On my worse days, I find myself wanting to justify my own life and ministry. I want to defend myself and my choices, to demand that people see me as worthy when the real truth is that none of us are. I want to make the case that it’s exactly the submission people prescribe for me that brought me to where I am. What do I do with the way submission brought me to leadership? What are people afraid God will do if I preach? If I sense God on the move in my life, am I just being fooled?
So if this is the call of the church, what story does our view on women tell the world about who God is and how God works? More importantly, how does the life of the church reflect the reconciling work of God? Are we modeling separation where we should be modeling cooperation? What are we telling the women and the men of the world about who God calls us all to be? Are we settling for a lesser picture of what the church can be, and ultimately a lesser kingdom than God wants to bring?