If you haven't already realized it, I'm a bit of a history buff. Now, before you make too many assumptions about me, I want to say that I had little choice in the matter. I was raised by a woman who knew the difference between each major conflict of the Seven Years' War
and regularly corrected TV newscasters when they got historical facts wrong. For me, a love of history was a case of both nature and nurture--there was simply no escaping it.
Because of this, one of my odder habits is the overwhelming need to place current trends and issues in proper historical context. Bring up the situation in Crimea
and my mind immediately runs to Alfred, Lord Tennyson's The Charge of the Light Brigade
. ("Half a league, half a league/ Half a league onward/ All in the valley of Death/ Rode the six hundred.") Mention immigration reform and I'll start talking about our complicated history of bringing in certain ethnicities to do our grunt work. And in the growing restlessness of Christian women wanting to work for the Kingdom, I can't help but remember the stories of women who did this generations before us--women like Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, Mary Slessor, and Amy Carmichael.
Recently, I wrote a piece for Her.meneutics
that explains why hearing these women's stories is essential to our own growth. If history can be understood as "The Story," learning about the women who have come before us will help us understand where we belong in it. We'll learn which act and scene we've walked into; and with these prompts and cues, we'll be better able to play our own parts well.
Over the course of the next several weeks, Her.meneutics will run a brief series for Women's History Month that highlights "women of character, courage, and commitment." Each post will focus on a specific woman and draw connection to our own time. These may not be women you've ever heard of, but they are women who, in their own way and in their own time and place, changed history. And if we let them, their stories might change us today.
You can read it in its entirety here.
My husband and I handle sickness very differently. He prefers to hide away in a quiet, dark room emerging only when he feels better. He doesn't want to be mothered; he doesn't want to be waited on; he wants to be left alone. I'm the exact opposite. I'll push and push until I'm near collapse and then expect him to pick up the pieces. He needs to constantly check on me, soothe my fevered brow, and generally play Florence Nightingale until I feel better. The good news is that we are both aware of our tendencies and have figured out how to care for each other despite them. The bad news is that it took several years of marriage and a lot of fighting to figure it out.
Interestingly, we often see this tension repeated in the lives of other couples. One spouse tends to handle sickness one way, and the other in a completely opposite way. But it's not only sickness; we all tend to handle suffering differently. Some of us blame ourselves; some of us blame others; and sometimes we blame God. And in the end, we ask very different questions about our suffering depending on how we process it.
Last week, I wrote a post for Pick Your Portion
based in Job 29 that explores the kinds of questions we ask during suffering. It also explores the limitations of those questions. Here's a sample:In the face of Job’s suffering, his three friends assumed, like many today, that it was the result of personal sin. When Job tries to assure them that he has no known sin in his life, Bildad responds in typical fashion, “Yes, but who can really be righteous?” (chapter 25) In today’s language, “Okay, but we’re all sinners and so anything bad that happens to us is deserved anyway.” The bottom line? Your suffering is always your fault. And by extension, when other people suffer, in some way, it is their own fault too.I think a lot of us see the weakness in this answer. We’re experienced enough to know that life is complicated, that some of us are born with certain privileges, that not all suffering is the result of bad choices. But what we may not understand is that while suffering is not always the result of bad choices, good choices do not inoculate us from suffering either.
And this is exactly what Job is struggling with in chapter 29. After his friends accuse him of sin, Job examines his own conscience and finds nothing. In fact, what he does see there—a life of righteous choices and walking with God—only makes him more confused. "Why are bad things happening to me if I've lived a righteous life?"
You can read the entire article here.
Fellow writers, friends, can I ask you something? Can I ask you to stop relying on sarcasm and swearing to make a point? Sarcasm and swearing are primarily cathartic for the writer and do not serve the reader other than to infect him with the writer's own angst. Once again, I give you Alexander McCall Smith:
Sarcasm could be fun, but... it should be a private vice, not one practised in public. It was like swearing: a private expletive, muttered in anger or irritation, could be cathartic and was harmless, unless it reached a point of corrupting the attitude of the person who uttered it; public swearing drew others into one's circle of anger at the world, exposed them to one's antipathy or rage, and invited them to share both it and the view of the world it reflected. That was a different matter altogether.
-- from The Forgotten Affairs of Youth
My seven-year-old son is a bit of a mystery to me. I’m beginning to suspect that he always will be. He’s more like my dad--a man you could easily believe just stepped from the pages of a Wendell Berry novel—than either my husband or me. Like my dad, he’s quiet. He holds his cards close to his chest, preferring to take everything in and let very little out.
His first grade teacher calls him an “old soul.”
He loves music and is the only one in our family willing to dance around the kitchen with me while Pandora crackles from the computer. But he’s also a worrier, and recently told me that he’s decided not to be President after all because the President has "a lot of problems to solve." When he shows me his schoolwork topped with 100%s and glowing comments, he flashes a crooked grin but then drops his eyes, almost embarrassed. He is proud of himself and he’s eager for me to be proud of him too, but he’s unsure. His confidence is fragile, as if he’s afraid that something will sweep in and steal it away.
If anything, these last seven years with him have forced me to think outside my own personality—to learn to love outside my own personality. My husband and I try to meet each of our children where they are, to learn them, to receive who God has made them to be. We rejoice in their uniqueness and assure them that God has made them exactly who they are for His purposes. But the other night when I was tucking him into bed, my son asked me something that made me doubt all of my parenting to this point.
“Mommy, do you love me to the end of the universe?”
I was stunned. How could he not know? How could he not know that every time I looked at him I saw my father? How could he not know that I secretly preferred the strong, silent type—the personality he intrinsically possessed? How could he not know that I had dreams of him becoming that kind of steady, stable, loyal man that any mother would be proud of? How could he not know that I loved him?
But then I realized. This was not about whether I knew I loved him but whether he knew that I loved him. And if he needed to hear it again, I needed to say it again.
“Oh honey, I love you to the end of the universe and back again. I love you more than you know. I love you just because you exist—it doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do, I will always love you. No mistakes you make, no bad things you do can stop me from loving you.”
His lips slowly formed that signature lopsided smile, and he looked at me with blue eyes that seemed to beg me to confirm that what he was hearing was true. He sighed and simply said, “Thank you for telling me that.”
And then he rolled over and went to sleep.
If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you know that we talk about love a lot. When we’re young, we sing “Jesus Loves Me;” and when we grow up, we sport bumper stickers and wear t-shirts that say “God loves you!” For those of us who take love at face value, all these affirmations can easily sound a bit trite. We're bored with it. Yes, yes, I know already. God is love. God loves me. Can’t we move onto something more profound, even something more practical like five easy ways to disciple children?
But some of us… well, some of us are like my son. Some of us are still wrestling, still struggling to believe this simple truth: Jesus. Loves. Me. Not because of what I do for Him; not because of what I didn’t do. He simply loves me.
If life with my son has taught me anything, it’s that some of us need to hear this again and again. And if some of us need to hear it again and again, then the rest of us need to say it again and again. So to you--you with the lopsided grin and expectant eyes--let me say this: God loves you to the universe and back.
Passages like this from The Forgotten Affairs of Youth
are what make Alexander McCall Smith
one of my favorite writers:Cat glanced out of the window. “Do you ever wonder whether what you do is worthwhile? I’m not saying it isn’t—I’m just asking.”
Isabel gave an answer that Cat had not expected. “All the time,” she said. “Don’t you?”
Cat frowned. “Me? Ask myself whether what I do is worthwhile?”
“That’s the question,” said Isabel.
“Of course not.”
“Well, maybe you should,” said Isabel. “Maybe everybody should—even you.”
“I sell cheese and Italian sausages,” Cat retorted. “I don’t have time to think. Most people don’t. They do what they have to do because they need to eat.”
So life was reduced to cheese and sausages, thought Isabel; that was what really counted. Such reductionism was hardly attractive, but Isabel felt that Cat was probably right about people not having the time or energy for philosophy. Self-doubt was a luxury, as perhaps, was the examined life. And yet the examined life, as the adage had it, was the only life worth living.
She looked at Cat. Ontology, self-doubt, cheese, sausages—it would be best to leave these for the time being.
One Sunday, when I was five, I walked into the sanctuary of our small, conservative church, and there, stretched across the back of the last pew, was the skin of an African python. Our speaker for the morning was a missionary from the Central African Republic, and by the end of the service, I was certain that my future included living in a hut, facing down autocratic tribal chiefs, establishing medical clinics and schools, and rescuing orphans from dark, pagan traditions.
I grew up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in a region dotted by dilapidated family farms and former coal towns. We are the second poorest county in the state and the most exotic animal we ever saw was the occasional bear or mountain lion. But within the church I discovered the world.
I met women like Amy Carmichael
and Mary Slessor
and learned that the measure of womanhood was not your relationship status or professional accomplishments, but whether you lived your life in service of God and others. In elementary school, I knew the flags of over thirty nations—not because of the Olympics but because we hung them from the ceiling every year during our missions’ conference week. I became versed in cold-war politics when for two summers we sent our VBS nickels and dimes to the underground church in the Soviet Union.
The story of Christian missions is a complicated one. When I was young, it was all about adventure and holy passion and converting cannibals. As I grew older, I discovered that mission efforts often ran parallel to and sometimes intersected the darker story of western colonization. I read Achebe
and had to face the reality that when David Livingston
was taking the gospel to free souls in the interior of Africa, the United States was embroiled in a civil war to keep their cousins enslaved.
Until recently, sorting through the complicated picture of Christian missions has been more a question of presuppositions and sanitized history. And to some degree, it always will be; but thanks to sociologist Robert Woodberry, it might be getting a bit clearer. In the latest edition of Christianity Today
, Andrea Palpant Dilley writes
about Woodberry’s work to find a “significant statistical link” between democracy and Protestantism. And after years of detailed research, extensive travel, and with the help of some elaborate computer models, he has.
can be summed up by this claim: “Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations.”
In a word, when I was learning about Amy Carmichael and Mary Slessor, I was learning about the greatest promoters of sustainable democracy.
If my childhood was shaped by the stories of missionaries and conversion, my adult life has been shaped by the stories of soldiers and violence. I was a newly-married 22-year-old on September 11, 2001, still naïve enough to believe that our response would be limited to fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. But over the subsequent decade, our attempts to “bring democracy’ to the Middle East have failed; and if this has taught us anything, it’s that we cannot win “hearts and minds” with guns and tanks. In fact, if Woodberry’s claims are correct, this is best accomplished through the gospel of peace.
But it’s even more startling than that.
According to Woodberry, the missionaries who had the most profound influence on developing democracies were “conversionary Protestants.” They were missionaries whose social work—the work of building schools and hospitals and advocating for the rights of the oppressed--was motivated directly by their evangelistic impulses. In other words, these missionaries did not go to the far-flung corners of the world in the name of social activism; they went to convert souls in the name of Jesus Christ and in the process, changed the world. So my question is why? Why must conversion be a vital part of missiology in order to affect real and lasting social change?
I think the answer is wrapped up in what conversion is. True, gospel conversion is fundamentally about change. It changes how we understand God, ourselves, and each other. For people like David Livingstone and Amy Carmichael, the gospel so profoundly changed them that they ended up changing the world. Perhaps without even realizing it.
At the same time, Woodberry’s research also reminds us that the gospel is not simply about future flourishing. The gospel changes life here and now
by reconciling us to God and each other. When the gospel teaches us to fight greed, violence, and apathy in our own hearts—when it teaches us that we are truly our brother’s keeper because God is ours—the gospel sets the foundation for societies that can flourish. And if it isn’t doing this, you can be pretty sure it’s not the gospel.
More than anything Woodberry’s research confirms what the Scripture already teaches us. It confirms that where the Prince of Peace
reigns, there is peace; where the Bread of Life
grows, hunger will not; where the Great Physician
is at work, disease and death flee. And ultimately, it confirms that when the Author of Life is allowed to write the story of our lives, we will finally be free to live in the abundant life
that He has promised.
These are busy days for our little family—days filled with scout meetings, schoolwork, doctor’s appointments, and ministry. I’m also in the final months of a book project; so on top of it all, I find myself experiencing a curious strain of nesting syndrome. My mind is a whirl of spreadsheets and marketing concepts, of deadlines and trying to merge multiple callings into one. I’m learning and relearning how to be mother and wife and lover and writer and daughter and teacher and friend. And most of the time, I feel like I’m failing on all counts. Every morning, I wake up with more on my “to do” list than is humanly possible, and every night I go bed having proven it. But instead of simply acknowledging my limitations, I regularly feel discouraged and overwhelmed. In fact, I have been feeling this way so often that I finally had to face a harsh reality. I am a prime candidate to join that particular type of support group that meets in musty church basements. I need to draw my chair up into the circle and when it’s my turn, bravely stand and say, “Hello, my name is Hannah and I have a messiah complex.”
But I don’t think I’ll be alone there.I’ve noticed a certain agitation among women of my age, a longing to do more. We are tempted to believe that what we are already doing is not enough, that the dishes and laundry and school lunches are not “real,” that ministry that is not global or public or exciting (like reconciling races or saving orphans) is not true ministry. We see the brokenness around us. We want to change the world. We are ready.But I worry. I worry because if this impulse is not properly rooted, it will very quickly lead to burnout.I've seen it in my own life. All that holy passion and zeal, the joy of finally discovering my voice, of finding my place in the kingdom can quickly be replaced by needing to save the kingdom all by myself. And when I can’t—when I’m busy with more mundane things—the guilt creeps in. I hear a voice saying, “You have so much to do. Don't you dare rest yet.” And “How selfish of you—you live a life of privilege and ease. Why aren’t you suffering for the gospel?”I grew up in a context that, for good or bad, heavily emphasized what we needed to do for God. We were told to sacrifice this life for the next, to be sold out, to be surrendered, to be on fire, to be radical. And I was. And I am. But the older I grow and the busier I become, the more I believe that being sold out to God means first learning about my own limitations.In order to work for Him, I must first learn to rest in Him. Micah 6:8 has become something of a theme song for our generation. “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The cause of justice and equality pulses through our veins. We long to “proclaim good news to the poor… to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”But can I say something? Can I ask you to stop trying to save the world? Can I encourage you to embrace your life of limitation? Because here in the weakness, in the failure, in the inability, He is strong. And here, only in your limitation, will you ever learn to walk humbly with Him. And it is only when you learn to walk humbly with Him that you will be able to do justice and love kindness the way that He does. Almost 400 years ago, there was a man who had a tremendous gift. He was a poet and statesman, an active political thinker and even deeper personal philosopher. But then the lights went out. By the time he was 44, he was completely blind. It seemed like a cruel joke--how did God expect him to use his talent for the kingdom when he couldn’t even see to write? “Does God exact day-labour, light denied?” he asked.The answer he found is one that we need today: "God doth not needEither man's work or his own gifts: who best Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His stateIs kingly; thousands at his bidding speed And post o'er land and ocean without rest:They also serve who only stand and wait." God is inviting us to work in His kingdom. He is calling us to something more than this world can offer. But He is calling us first to Himself, to remember that He is the Messiah. Not us. And He is calling us to believe that those “who best bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.” Even if they only stand and wait.
Every year during this third week of January, something profound happens. Every year, I know it is coming, and every year, I continue to be amazed.
On the third Sunday of January, people all across the country celebrate Sanctity of Human Life Day
which commemorates the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. And the very next day, the third Monday in January, people all across the country celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
which commemorates our complicated history of racial inequality.
On the surface, these two days may seem disconnected, nothing more than an odd fluke of the calendar. But if you look closely, there is a deep and profound connection—one that reaches to the very definition of what it means to be human. Every year, this third week of January reminds us that when society doesn’t view you as a person made in the image of God, it won’t see your children as image bearers either.
This year, this week struck me particularly hard because I had just finished reading Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
Published in 1861, Incidents
is the first-person account of Harriet Jacobs, a woman who had been born a slave but eventually escaped to freedom. Harriet’s story is important because it shows how women uniquely suffered under slavery. Often preyed upon by their masters and unable to legally marry, these women had little hope. But as Harriet's story reveals, if there was anything worse than being a woman and a slave, it was being a mother and a slave.
During Harriet’s life, American society operated under the legal precedent of partus sequitur ventrem
or “the child shall follow the condition of the mother.” Whenever a slave gave birth (even if that child had been fathered by a white man), her son or daughter was automatically a slave, the property of her master who could do with that child as he saw fit. Harriet writes that the slave mother …sits on her cold cabin floor, watching the children who may be torn from her the next morning; and often does she wish that she and they might die before the day dawns… I saw a mother lead seven children to the auction-block. She knew that some of them would be taken from her; but they took all. The children were sold to a slave trader, and… before night [they] were all far away… I met that mother in the street, and her wild, haggard face lives to-day in my mind. She wrung her hands in anguish, and exclaimed, “Gone! All gone! Why don’t God kill me?” I had no words wherewith to comfort her.
And I had no words when I read this.
I immediately thought of my own three children—children who live in a world of innocence and security, who know nothing but abundance and love, who trust me to protect them. How could a society be so degraded, so unfeeling, that something as natural as the bond between a mother and her child was completely disregarded?
And then I remembered. We are not much better.
Ultimately, the laws of Harriet’s society saw her children as less than image bearers because they saw her as less than an image bearer. "The child shall follow the condition of the mother..."
Today, the laws of our society view unborn children in much the same way. And I wonder why?
Could it be that we view unborn children as less than image bearers because we view their mothers as less than image bearers?
"The child shall follow the condition of the mother…"
To all you who are tiring of the fight to protect the unborn, who are jaded by “culture wars” and one-issue votes, let me say this: We are not fighting simply for the imago dei of unborn children; we are fighting for the imago dei of their mothers as well.
To all you who think it is enough
to fight for the unborn, who turn a blind eye to the poor, the marginalized, the outcast, let me say this: We are not fighting simply for the imago dei of unborn children; we are fighting for the imago dei of their mothers as well.
Because as much as we’d like to convince ourselves that we’d have stood for the rights of Harriet and her children; as much as we’d like to believe that we’d have marched shoulder to shoulder with Dr. King himself, if we shy away from protecting those who today
bear God’s image—whether born or unborn—we must not trick ourselves into believing that we would have protected them then. So on this third week of January, do not truncate your vision of justice; expand it.
Do not walk away from the fight because it has been too narrowly waged on one front. Instead, become a true one-issue voter—a voter who sees the image of God in your fellow men and willingly fights the evil that preys on them. To co-opt C. S. Lewis
, the problem is not that our desire to protect the sanctity of human life is too strong; it is that it is too weak.
Do not forget that God Himself once became a child, embracing the weakness and vulnerability of living nine months in His mother’s womb. Do not forget that this same God also made Himself a slave in order to redeem those who were enslaved to sin. And do not forget that this same God calls you to defend “the least of these”
even as He defends you. Because it is in the face of those yet to be born, in the face of the oppressed, in the face of the slave that we see Him.
We see them imago dei.
Sunday mornings in a pastor’s family are the stuff of legend. Besides having to feed, wash, and dress everyone, we are also expected to actually get to church on time. In our family, this means that my husband and I usually end up driving separately (our apologies to planet earth).
This last Sunday was no different. My husband had already left with our two boys, leaving my daughter behind with me as I finished getting ready. For some reason, I was feeling a bit spiritually disheveled that morning and so I did something I’ve never done before in my life. I asked my daugher to read to me while I was doing my hair and makeup.
It went something like this: “Phoebe, get your Bible and come here to my bathroom. Now, open it. What day is today?... I know it’s Sunday. What day of the month is it?... The 12th? Okay. Find Psalms and read me chapter 12.”
So much for intentional parenting. Thankfully, God is always intentional, and in the next few moments, my baby-girl-turned-fourth-grader read me words of life and hope. Psalm 12,
like many of the psalms, opens with a lament for the brokenness around us. “The godly one is gone,”
David cries. “The faithful have vanished from among the children of man.”
And how does David know this? Is it the violence he sees in the streets? Is it the sexual promiscuity rampant in the marketplace? Is it that the wrong parties rule in government? No, David knows that the world is broken by the words he hears. “Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.” They say, “With our tongue we will prevail, out lips are with us; who is master over us?”
According to David, evil men have a weapon and it is their words.
I’ll admit it: I don’t think about words this way. Even as a writer and blogger, I tend to undervalue words. Maybe it’s some sort of linguistic inflation that occurs when I write: the more words I produce, the less valuable they seem. In my world, words are a dime a dozen and what can they really accomplish anyway?
Apparently, a lot.
The truth is that despite being all around us, words are powerful. They are powerful because they are tied directly to our true selves. Jesus taught that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
So more than simply being a set of sounds or shapes, our words are actually the embodiment—the incarnation—of our hearts. What we say with our mouths or type with our fingers reveals what is going on inside us.
And suddenly we understand why David feared them so much. The evil in men’s hearts takes form in the words they use; worse still, evil men will use their words to act out the evil in their hearts. But this truth—that our words are directly tied to our hearts—cuts both ways. It is also why David can proclaim that we will be saved by the words of the Lord. “’Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will arise,’ says the Lord; ‘I will place him in the safety for which he longs.’ The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace.”
The safety we can find in God’s words isn’t in the words themselves. It’s in what these words reveal about the Father’s heart toward us. It’s what they reveal about His power, what they reveal about His faithfulness. When David says that “the words of the Lord are pure words,” he is reminding us that unlike all the deceitful, untrustworthy people around us, the Lord Himself is pure. He is faithful.
And suddenly we understand why John called Jesus “the Word”
of God. Jesus Christ is the embodiment—the incarnation—of the Father’s heart. What we could not see, what previously had had no form, reveals itself to us in Him. To paraphrase His own words, “Out of the abundance of God’s heart, Jesus is.”
And this is why the Lord can guard us from the evil around us. Even as the wicked prowl, deceiving and flattering on every side, we will be saved by the final Word of the Lord because His words represent His nature. His words are trustworthy because He is trustworthy. His words are pure because He is pure. And because He justice, His words will never be “just” words.
Even if they are delivered to us from the lips of a petite 9-year-old girl on a frantic Sunday morning.
Doris Day in "Teacher's Pet" (1958)
Over the holidays, I took a bit of time away from writing. In a pastor’s family, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are one full-out sprint. There’s all the normal busyness as well as a full calendar of Advent-related activities—pageants, cookie exchanges, evening fellowships, and caroling. Once we hit Christmas Day, though, things tend to settle down, and I have time to visit with family and do extra reading.
One of the books I discovered over the holidays is a collection of vignettes about the women of the New Testament. I was prepping for this year’s women’s Bible study at church and like any good teacher (who is consistently running just shy of deadline), my first stop was the Amazon search engine. I typed in “Women of the New Testament” and one of the first entries was written by, of all people, Abraham Kuyper.
Apparently in the midst of reforming turn-of-the-century Dutch society, establishing an entire branch of theology, and pastoring multiple congregations, Kuyper also had time to write on women of the Bible. (Abraham Kuyper: Statesman, Theologian, and Father of the Modern Women’s Bible Study?)
I snagged a 1933 English edition (complete with “Suggested Questions for Study and Discussion”) for a little over a $1. Presumably Kuyper wrote his Women of the New Testament
in the late 1800s (I couldn’t find an exact date), and so it’s not surprising that he affirms a fairly traditional understanding of womanhood. What is
surprising, however, is that his traditionalism has been thoroughly informed by the gospel and in some respects, doesn’t look like traditionalism at all.
Take this gem from the chapter about Mary of Rome. In writing about the work a woman is called to as a Christian, Kuyper says: A woman who really loves Jesus must place all she has upon His altar… therefore Jesus may expect that those who love Him exert their energies strenuously to help His sacred cause to prosper. In this matter, too, talents are too frequently buried; gifts are allowed to lie fallow, and energies to remain latent. This does not imply that a woman must forsake her home… but a woman frequently proves to be amazingly ingenious and energetic in the care of her husband and children. She should give full expression to that same ingenuity and energy in her endeavors for the Lord. (p.86)
He reiterates the same thought in discussing Priscilla, who with her husband Aquilla, actively taught and discipled early converts: A woman such as Priscilla was, is a potent influence in any congregation to which she happens to belong, and we might wish that we could point out ten or twenty such women in each of our larger congregations. From her position in the Word of God, she affirms that a woman, also a married woman, has another calling besides those of dispatching daily duties and engaging in activities of mercy. A woman, too, must have faith, and that faith must borrow its strength from a knowledge of the truth… In that lies the strength of a Priscilla. She knows the truth, and knows how to present it with perfect clarity. Beside, she has the ingratiating tenderness of feminine appeal, a quality no man has… (p. 105).
There is a lot of debate about the role of women in Church and society. And while I’ll quickly identify as a conservative, I’ll also quickly admit that women who use their gifts to teach the Scripture—whether through writing or speaking—can sometimes feel like their femininity is a weakness. Teaching is something they do despite being women rather than an outgrowth of their full personhood which includes being a woman.
But for Kuyper at least, Priscilla’s womanhood was an asset that allowed her to communicate the truth in a distinct way—in a way no man could.
Thinking about this reminded me of another woman I read about over the holidays who “expounded the way of God more perfectly.”
For Christmas, my husband gave me a copy of Laura K. Simmons’ Creed without Chaos: Exploring Theology in the Writings of Dorothy L. Sayers.
(Don’t assume too much about us—he also gave me the first three seasons of Duck Dynasty, the juxtaposition of which reveals more about me than I care to admit.) Dorothy Sayers
is best known for her detective stories, but she was also an academic translator and lay theologian who actively argued for orthodox Christianity in the public sphere. Simmons writes that Sayershad a unique combinations of talents: a keen theological sense coupled with tremendous writing skill and a concern for how ordinary people understand Christianity. In an increasingly complex and fragmented world, we need these gifts more than ever. (p.12)
So to all you Priscillas and Dorothys out there who have been gifted to communicate the word of God, do so; and do so out of your femininity. Do not be afraid of your curves or what Kuyper calls the “tenderness of feminine appeal.” Do not believe that you must adopt a masculine voice or be something other than you are to be heard. At the same time, do not hide behind your femininity; do not give yourself a pass for sloppy work or careless study because you are “a woman” and less may be expected of you in theological circles. You must do the work because, in the end, logic and clarity and beauty are not masculine concerns but human ones.
Do the work because you love Jesus and you are offering Him your talents and energies. Do the work and engage in it with all He has created you to be—including your womanhood. Remember that being a wife or mother or aunt or sister or niece or daughter is as much a part of God’s calling on you as your ability to teach His Word in the first place. Because if Abraham Kuyper has anything to say about it, your womanhood might just be the very means by which you communicate it best.