Learning through Life

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Hampshire, United Kingdom
I love how our day-to-day life can teach us lessons to help us understand our past, challenge our today, and inspire our future. We can learn through experiences, situations, conversations, songs, books, nature ... the list is endless! Live with eyes ready to see, ears ready to hear and a heart ready to be touched.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The one where I 'come out' (Part Three)

*This is the third in a series of posts explaining how and why I decided to 'come out' as an Egalitarian.  This post will make a lot more sense in light of the first post and second post*

When I became a Christian at fifteen I knew it would be a lifetime commitment.  It wasn't a fickle or half-hearted decision; it had been well considered, weighed up, and thought out.  When I sought forgiveness from God and asked him into my life as Lord and Saviour, I meant it.  From then on I would live my life for him.  At least, that has always been my aim.  It isn't always easy, but it is something I continue to strive for.  And always will.

I have never been particularly good at doing things by halves, so threw myself into absorbing everything 'Christian' in order to live the life as best I could.  I recognised the need to change, to put my old way of living and thinking behind me, and I took this seriously.  I socialised in the Christian community, observed the life of more established Christians, and listened to their interpretation of the Scriptures.  I also watched the way they related to each other, and let this permeate into my being. 
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Life was good.  I loved being a daughter of God and I loved the church.

I even loved the challenge of living biblically, and the set of rules that came with it.  Actually, I thrived on them, appreciating the boundaries they created.  Abiding by them meant that I fit the 'good Christian girl' mould and belonged.  This was important to me; I needed to belong.

I threw myself into church life and served wherever I could.  Several years later I found myself running a youth group with my boyfriend (now husband).  We ran a group for the youth from the estate, and I loved being able to share Jesus' love with them in a practical way.  For a number of reasons this group had to close, but my involvement with young people continued when we were asked to lead the Christian youth group (at that time they were split!).  I knew that God had given me a passion for young people, and I felt privileged to have the opportunity to impact on their lives.

I felt in the right place.  I was able to love, motivate, challenge, teach, inspire.  It was what God had called me to do, I was sure of it.  But how did this fit with the instructions of Timothy?  I considered this verse amongst others, and concluded that in this context it was okay.  I led the group under the authority of my husband (a man), and I only taught young people (no 'men').  I could fulfill what it was I believed God had called me to without breaking any of the 'rules'.  Life continued to go well ...

Until a quiet voice began to say... 'I have called you into ministry to pastor my people'.

Surely I misheard.  This must be for my husband?  But he hadn't heard it, and still hasn't to this day.

It didn't go away.  In fact, it grew louder and stronger.  God, you can't mean me, have you overlooked something - I am not a man!  Confused and ashamed, I kept quiet.  Asking God for forgiveness, I prayed that I would have a clearer understanding of his will for my life.  A life that reflected my belief that men lead and women follow.  A life that clearly didn't involve a call into ministry.  And yet, it didn't go away. 

'Some of you here this morning are called to be Pastors' - my heartbeat doubled in speed and I knew God was speaking to me.  But how could this be?  I still kept quiet.

I spoke nothing of it for ten years.  During this time God continued to confirm his call. Visiting ministers prophesied over me in line with what I had already heard. I still kept quiet.   I learnt how to deflect God's call towards my work with the youth.  It was acceptable then.  I still fit the 'good Christian girl mould' and obeyed the rules.  But in my heart I knew I had heard from God, and despite all efforts, I couldn't completely ignore it.

And then the volume and intensity increased.  Every direction I turned, I heard it.  I could no longer find a haven from his voice.  I knew I had to respond.  But how?  What was I allowed to do?   I considered my work with young people, and decided to apply for a course in Christian counseling.  A safe avenue to go down.  But I didn't feel God's peace,  and knew I was still running.  

I am aware that in divulging the above it may well be concluded that my thoughts and actions demonstrate a fear of man, and lack of trust in God.  And I can understand this.  However, as my opening paragraph declares, I really do strive to live my life according to his will.  The difficulty was that his will seemed to be going against what I read in the bible.  This was the tension I had to live with.  I feared that questioning might label me a trouble maker at best, and heretical at worst. 

The interview date for the counseling course arrived and I began to prepare for it.  It still didn't feel absolutely right for me, but what harm would it do?  It would still benefit my work with young people; at least I was doing something.

A week before my interview, God stepped in.  It blew me away.

It was a Friday afternoon and I had Youth Alpha to set up for at church.  I had a lot of chairs to move but I didn't mind at all.  It provided an ideal opportunity to pray for the young people attending.  It excited me and I loved that I could be a part of it.  The Senior Pastor turned up to sort through paperwork in the office.  We had a quick tea break together before carrying on with our work.  Twenty minutes later he reappeared and stopped me.  And then he said it.  Words that I will NEVER forget ... 

'This might not be for now, but I feel God prompting me to ask you, do you feel called into ministry?'  Boom!

I had kept silent for ten years; no one except my husband knew.  And now, God had told someone else: the Senior Pastor, who had taught and modeled male only leadership.  The relief.  The emotion.  The presence and peace of God that filled my heart.

But, there remained a lot to work through - in theory and in practice.  The battle wasn't over.  In fact, with hindsight, it had only just begun ...

You may also like:
Part One in this series
Part Two in this series
Part Four in this series
Part Five in this series

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The one with the Symphony

This morning, as I sat in church, I knew that God wanted to speak to me.  Of course he did, he loves to speak to us doesn't he?  I just hadn't anticipated it stirring me up as much as it did.

God of Justice, Saviour to all, 
Came to rescue the weak and the poor ...

As I stood worshiping God, I felt a nudge to stop.  At times I can get so caught up in the music, the words, the atmosphere, that I forget the One to whom I am singing: The Creator God.  It is all for, and about, Him.  Not me.  So I stopped, and as I did, God spoke deep into my heart.

There is a whole world outside the comfort and stability of our church walls that Jesus came to rescue.  We all know it don't we?  And we continue to sing ...

Jesus, You have called us
Freely we've received
Now freely we will give

We must go live to feed the hungry

Stand beside the broken
We must go
Stepping forward keep us from just singing
Move us into action
We must go

To act justly everyday

Loving mercy in every way
Walking humbly before You God

You have shown us, what You require

Freely we've received
Now freely we will give

Fill us up and send us out

Fill us up and send us out
Fill us up and send us out Lord

(Tim Hughes, God of Justice, Holding Nothing Back, 2007) 

Jesus, fill me up and send me out.  I prayed it and I meant it, and God started to give me a glimpse of where it was he was sending me.

And then, we were reminded of our upcoming Carol service and told to invite people.

The moment passed, and I felt as though a book had been taken away before I had the chance to finish the chapter.  God had been filling me up to send me out, and I felt ready for the challenge.  A challenge that he had been preparing and equipping me for.  A challenge to invite people to the Carol service?

I couldn't help feel as though we were missing the point. We had been asking God to fill us up and send us out, and then perhaps we limited the response.  Was God sending us out to bring people back to the same church at the same time?  Or did he have his own plans?  Was he equipping us for the same job?  Or did he have a different work set aside for each of us? And as I thought about this I felt God say ...

Do you only listen to what people say, or do you also listen to me?
Do you only do what people tell you to do, or do you also do what I ask you to?
Do you follow people, or do you follow me?

God is a creative God, and his people are all different.  He designed it this way.  

He doesn't paint us all the same colour.
He doesn't ask us to play the same instrument.
He doesn't give us all the same fragrance.

If we were all a shade of green, how could we paint with yellows or blues? 
God asks for different colours so that together we can form a rainbow.

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If we all play the flute, how can there be an orchestra? 
God asks for different instruments so that together we can play a symphony.

If we all had the fragrance of a Rose, what of the cut grass?
God asks for different fragrances, to encapsulate the scent of a summer's day.

We are unique.  We have different gifts to use, and different people to reach.  This is God's plan and purpose for the world.  

We need to ask Him to fill us up and send us out ... not to follow the footsteps of another but to carve the path that he has called us to.  A path that will feed the hungry and stand beside the broken.  A path walked in humility with God.  And we need to encourage and empower others to do the same.

Fill us up and send us out - as an army of people - marching to your drumbeat Lord. 

Friday, 18 November 2011

The one where I 'come out' (Part Two)

*This is the second in a series of posts explaining how and why I chose to 'come out' as an Egalitarian.  This post will probably make a lot more sense in light of the first post.*

Sugar and spice and all things nice, that's what little girls are made of, right?

As a young girl I used to detest this verse because I felt it commanded me to fit in a box with all other girls: girls that fashioned pink dresses and matching hair ribbons, girls that skipped merrily along holding their Barbies, girls that played house wearing mummy's high heels - girls that were nothing like me!

Me in my football pjs
I seemed to be made of something entirely different.  I wore a red tracksuit, kicked a ball, climbed trees and often had mud in my fingernails.  But I was still a girl. 

Throughout my childhood I preferred the company of boys, not because I thought they were better, or wanted to be one, but because they generally enjoyed the same activities as I did.  They went to the park to play football, rode in the woods on their BMX bikes, and swung from the tallest of trees.  I say 'they' but really I mean 'we'.  At the time it wasn't 'them' and 'us', no gender divide, we were just a group of kids enjoying the innocence and freedom of childhood.

And then, things changed.  I moved up into the next class at Junior School and found I could no longer play football during the break.  Footballs were only allowed on the top playground, and only boys had the privilege to use it.  The bottom playground could be used by all.  Suddenly, I was forced not only away from my friends, but into place of extreme boredom and discomfort.  I didn't want to skip!  I wanted to play football!

So, I did what any ten year old would do - I marched down the corridor and knocked on the Head Master's office door.  Fueled with a sense of injustice, I proceeded to voice my anger.  Of course, in my ten year old world, it was all about me:  I thought the rule unfair.  I couldn't play with my friends. I wanted to play football.  I was good at football.  I wanted to be able to do what I wanted in my breaktime.  I was cross!!
Image Source

I don't remember the Head Master's exact answer, but I do recall him asking the opinion of a couple of the boys. Would they be happy with a girl playing on 'their' playground?  I think about it now and my blood boils, but at the time they answered 'yes' and I was happy.  I could continue to play football with my friends, and once again life was good.  I was their equal ... and it carried on that way.

Until I became a Christian.

At the age of fifteen my friend invited me to a Christian youth group. I had never before been interested in Christianity and knew next to nothing about it, but the group sounded fun so I decided to give it a go. However, I made it absolutely clear to all involved that I had no interest in the 'God stuff', and I really meant it.  God had other plans though.  Six months later I recognised and acknowledged the Truth, and committed my life to Jesus.  Forever.

This commitment changed everything: I belonged to a new family, had a new social schedule, and a new set of rules to follow.  I was a new creation; the old 'Jo' had gone.  This new life excited me, and I threw myself into learning as much as I could.  I learnt about forgiveness and grace.  I learnt about God's love and the cross.  And I learnt that God created men to lead and women to follow. 

I longed to please God, and at the time assumed this meant believing, accepting and living everything I was told.  Why wouldn't I?  I had never read the Bible before, but they had.  I put my trust in their knowledge and soaked in their wisdom.  I simply accepted.

I read the Bible, listened to sermons, spoke with Christians and observed their way of life.  I wanted to be a good Christian - I stopped swearing, smiled at shop assistants, and washed the dishes without complaining.  I also accepted my new role as a Christian woman.

It felt uncomfortable.  It felt unfair.  It felt wrong.  I had always believed in equality, and I couldn't quite make it fit.  But Christianity was about sacrifice and surrender and the laying aside of one's own thoughts and feelings - and the ten year old who fought for justice in the school playground must now be ignored. God had ordered things differently, and who was I to question it?  I told myself off, buried those thoughts deep inside, and prayed they would stay there.

And they did.

Because no one told me that it was ok to read the Scriptures, and question their meaning.
No one told me that God is big enough to cope when asked 'why?'
No one told me that Christians are not always in agreement with each other.
And no one told me that being a 'good' Christian didn't mean disengaging my brain, surrendering my character, and becoming a carbon copy of somebody else. 

So I kept quiet, accepted their teaching, and worked hard to fit into their mould.

Until I started to hear God speak ...

(Part three to follow)

You may also like:
Part One in this series
Part Three in this series
Part Four in this series
Part Five in this series

Monday, 14 November 2011

The one where I 'come out' (Part One)

I write this post series with a degree of apprehension, not because I am ashamed of the content, but because I suspect it may produce a few uncomfortable waves on what has always been a fairly calm sea.  It may cause the boat to rock.

So why write?  Because, in the attempt not to create ripples for others, my internal boat is being tossed about ferociously in a raging storm.  The extreme motion is nauseating, with thoughts and emotions churning, waiting to be spewed during an unexpected moment of weakness.  And when it happens, there will be little time to run into a place of inconspicuousness - it will be messy and people will be caught in the line of fire. 

Whilst this would cause vexation and discomfort,  it wouldn't be the end of the world.  Embarrassed apologies would be offered, the mess cleaned up, and the smell fade with time.  The incident would soon become a distant memory and life would move on.

But this is what I am afraid of.  Life moving on, and nothing really changing.  The risk is then that the very same attitudes and experiences that have caused anxiety, heartache and confusion in my life, could far too easily become entangled in the experiences of others.  Is this really what I want?  Do I wish to see others struggling to navigate the familiar stormy waters?

No, I really don't.  Not at all.  It hasn't been fun.  It has silenced me and held me back.  At times it has caused me to question and even hate who I am.  Strong words, but it is time to be honest.   No more hiding at the bottom of the seabed in the hope that the storm will pass, and the fierce waves surrender to calmer waters. 

Running away wont help.  Exploding over it wont help.  As I see it now, there is only one answer to the problem, and that is to open up the discussion in an open, honest, and loving way.  I acknowledge that this will be uncomfortable for some, just as it has been for me over the years, and I hope that my thoughts will be received with the graciousness with which I will aim to write.  I am not looking to offend or cause irritation, but merely to share a journey traveled in order to encourage a change in attitudes and practice.

But what about unity?  This has been something I have literally lost sleep over.  What if my speaking up causes discomfort and upset?  What if it leaves people in a place of confusion, being forced to consider the crossroads in their own journey of understanding?  What if ignorance was bliss and I burst their bubble?

But, what if my honest speaking has an alternative effect and begins to challenge oppression?

Should it be completely overlooked for the sake of unity?

How might those being oppressed answer?

Does love encourage us to hide oppression or expose it? 

I know what I think.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour (Luke 4:18-19).

I had no idea this preamble would take me to this verse.  Originally, I expected only to share a journey of conformity and confusion in order to offer a glimpse of hope to those riding the same storm.  However, having given my fingers permission to type what is truly in my heart and mind, it seems the foundation upon which these words are formed, is the desire to see the above verse realised here on earth.  I can no longer gloss over these words, leaving them in the hands of someone else.  It is time to accept this is my responsibility.

My own journey involves oppression.  Perhaps not to the extremity experienced by so many others, but enough to hold me back, and force me to create a persona that says 'this is fine', whilst in reality it hurts.  And I know I am not alone here.

The cause of such oppression?  My being a woman.  More specifically, my experience of what it means to be a Christian woman.  

Over the next few posts, I intend to share my journey from being a fairly wild ten year old who fought for gender equality in primary school, to becoming a Christian and obediently accepting female subordination as being God ordained, through to the gradual reexamination of the scriptures and my arrival at a more informed understanding of them.

I now believe in equality.

I believe men and women are equal in value and that roles should be given based on character and gifting and not on gender.  

I am an Egalitarian.  

Still prepared to read my journey?  I hope so.  I seek to encourage a willingness to reexamine scriptures, attitudes, and mindsets - not because I want to be seen as 'right' - but because I believe Christians have a responsibility to release the oppressed - and sadly, this is the experience of many women today.


You may also like:
Part Two of this series
Part Three of this series
Part Four of this series 
Part Five of this series

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