Quick Update: Well, I’m sitting at my desk in Sydney… back from Los Angeles, with a little phrase “A.B.D” or “All But Dissertation” in hand. I was honoured to sing in the Fuller Theological Seminary Chapel team for the School of Intercultural Studies’ 50th anniversary. And Tim and I were so privileged to lead worship on the Marines base at Twentynine Palms (total miracle) through friends John and Elizabeth Pollnow, and at our beautiful “second home” North Hills Church, where Tim was youth pastor while we lived in LA. An AMAZING three-week trip.
As well, we got to help a brand new church in the city of Orange, in the O.C! This church is so cool … I don’t have enough superlatives. Around the corner from Chapman University, it has an amazing, intelligent and compassionate team. It’s re-visioning Pentecostalism in beautiful ways, so I guess it could be called ’emergent’. It’s currently held in a craftsman style Californian coffee shop (free coffee!!!) with Elvis on the walls. I’ve been accused of being a part of the ’emergent’ church movement online, but it isn’t true. This church though, is special, and has some great times ahead. Check it out here.
The pastors, Brenton Fessler and Sean Jackson (along with their incredible wives Rachael and Shirley) asked me to speak on a pretty specific topic. Because it was unusual (and I’m always grateful when allowed to take the pulpit baha) I decided to share. I guess some readers will see this as controversial. But it comes in the wake of a lot of conversation in North America about the role of women in the church. First Mark Driscoll’s years of teaching regarding women in leadership that has influenced NeoCalvinism (and, to be fair, his subsequent reflections), then Bill Hybel’s recent statement that he regretted not supporting women more fully at Willow Creek.
I was nervous. Actually, to say that is the craziest understatement. I was literally standing up and saying “hey! look! over here! I’m a woman!” when much of my strategy, to be honest, has been to de-identify with women’s spaces and roles in the church. I stopped wearing pink in the hope my work speaks for itself. I’m not at tea parties, because I’m in the Professor’s extra credit class. But, after the sermon SO MANY women identified with what I was saying. Including one who came down with her husband and started weeping. (I hope she doesn’t mind me saying this, I won’t use her name). She said to me “I chose to enroll in a medical PhD because facing the sexism in the theology department was too, too hard”.
Um… firstly, crossing over from Theology to Medicine is not usually considered the “easier” route. What does that say about what this woman has encountered?!?! And secondly, I felt deep grief for the church, and all it lost when this woman decided to contribute her gifts to a hospital rather than the church office. How many more intelligent women do this?
This sermon is posted for her, and for other women like her.
I don’t know if you can think of a time when you couldn’t stop what was happening in your brain coming out onto your face? This is what they call an “involuntary emotional response”.
The usual culprits include Anger and Fear. But the strongest of these responses turns out to be Disgust. Disgust is something we experience when something repels, or revolts us.
Disgust is what we may feel in this scenario: we’re walking towards a store, and hear the words, “do you have a dollar?” – and turn around to see a dirty human face. Then we smell them. Even the most compassionate social worker has stated that they find it hard not to let disgust show… even if their brain reminds them this person is made in the very image of God.
I recently watched the movie ‘Inside Out’, and it explains emotions as lever-pulling personified characters. We may have more control than the movie suggests, but still… Disgust is the cutest of the five main characters, in my opinion. Not the most important (as the movie shows), but the cutest.
In real life, though, the effects of Disgust are not cute.
Recently some Christians on Australia’s Gold Coast told me they were going to demonstrate against a Mosque that was to be built in their city. “It’s so disgusting”, they said to me. “How can they come here and worship like that?”
Disgust prevents us eating moldy food, but it also mars our relationships with one another.
Refuge O.C. is studying the book of Daniel under the title “Spicy Faith”, and is now somewhere between chapter 3 and 4. But there’s something we miss in this account of Daniel without reading the emotion. We miss the Disgust.
The elites weren’t acting strangely in Daniel’s case. He was a Jewish man in a Babylonian world. He was a captive, and should have known to act accordingly. He should own the shame of his position, and capitulate to their ways – their King, their rules. The thing is, he believed he was better than them. And this meant their disgust was high.
Maybe Daniel’s arrogance was justified in some sense, as he was selected as among the best of his nation. But in Babylon’s elite circles, he would always be just a Hebrew.
He infuriated them. Unable to digest rich Babylonian foods, he and his Hebrew friends chose to eat vegetables, yet their features appeared better and fatter than all the others in the palace (Dan 1:11). How it angered them when in Daniel 2 he risked his life to fulfill Nebuchadnezzar’s ridiculous request – tell the King his dream, then interpret it.
Daniel was able to describe the dream in entirety, from the gold of the sculpture’s head, to the clay of its feet, and he gave it meaning.
He did so through YHWH, the name-less and statue-less God of the Hebrew people. For the showbiz astrologist Babylon world, this was like turning up at the Emmys dressed in a pair of jeans and a teeshirt. Ughhhh. Disgusting.
But the result of this was that he was made chief administrator (Daniel 2:48-29). And Daniel sat in the gate of the King.
The Bible shows Daniel’s prayer the night before his interpretation. These words before facing Nebuchadnezzar are telling; he knows he has the answer. But in 2:19-23 he cries out,
“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
For wisdom and might are His.
And He changes the times and the seasons;
He removes kings and raises up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise
And knowledge to those who have understanding.
He reveals deep and secret things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him.
That last line is beautiful in explaining Daniel’s state of mind. Astounding, even.
Interestingly, in 1 John 5 it says “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all”. And so, I guess we could assume that the main experience of any Christian is light. In 2 Corinthians 6:14, the question is asked, “what friendship has light with darkness?”
But here, it is clear that Daniel experiences God as present in darkness. Even in his exile from the land – even in the courts of Nebuchadnezzar, with its bazaar of idols, snake charmers, and strange religious observances. Despite Daniel’s marginalization, God is still found.
When he is ostracized and disgusting, in the darkness where nobody notices except to criticize, in that place Daniel declares “light dwells with Him”.
After Daniel’s public interpretation of the dream, the King created a sculpture made entirely of gold. This was no accident. Daniel had diagnosed certain destruction for this kingdom. Babylon, as represented by the gold head was to be destroyed by an inferior kingdom of silver. And, each in turn Daniel declared other inferior kingdoms that would usurp the King’s power. Bronze. Iron. Iron and clay.
In response in Daniel 3:2 we read that the satraps, the administrators, the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces (breathe now!) attend this dedication of the golden image King Nebuchadnezzar had created.
But in Daniel 3:11-12, three men do not gather around the King to congratulate him with the sound of their horn, flute, harp, or lyre.
They are easy enough to spot because they are three darker-skinned men, who are not served by the Babylonian king’s arrogance against YHWH the God of Heaven. They are Hebrew boys who were also captured and taken into captivity by Babylon. These men have nothing to lose.
You know, it’s kind of easy for me to read the marginalization within the book of Daniel. I find it because I have, like Daniel, stood in places to speak truth but it has been ignored. I’m not betrayed by the colour of my skin. But in our world there are some voices that can speak truth to power, and there are others that should not.
It seems ridiculous to say that my most marginalizing experiences have been as a smart Pentecostal woman. It IS ridiculous, because the Pentecostal church is known for its equality, stemming from the understanding of the church as Spirit breathed from Acts 2:
“In the Last Days,” God says,
“I will pour out my Spirit
on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
also your daughters;
Your young men will see visions,
your old men dream dreams.
It’s not just Pentecostal denominations, that’s for sure. At Fuller Theological Seminary I’ve met women from all over the world who share “experiences of darkness”, so to speak. They have stood in places where they felt very alone, and where their voice was not accepted or respected.
You may not have noticed but many women adjust themselves to their context. They learn the ways smart women should speak, and the ways they should not.
Someone has recently articulated this in what is called “women’s meeting language”. They noted that women often have to reframe their language in a way power brokers will accept.
For fun, the Washington Post outlines the famous quote by Patrick Henry at the Virginia Convention in 1775 “Give me liberty, or give me death.”
But a woman in a meeting would say: “Dave, if I could, I could just — I just really feel like if we had liberty it would be terrific, and the alternative would just be awful, you know? That’s just how it strikes me. I don’t know.”
And Franklin D. Roosevelt’s statement, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Woman in a Meeting: “I have to say — I’m sorry — I have to say this. I don’t think we should be as scared of non-fear things as maybe we are? If that makes sense? Sorry, I feel like I’m rambling.”
I also love the Twitter parody account @manwhohasitall that shows ridiculous standards placed upon women, tweeting “…Can you be a dad and still feel sexy?” and “…Being successful is about being equally as handsome on the inside as out.”
I’m standing here speaking on this issue not because I’m a “raging feminist” as my father-in-law phrases it, but because your pastors, Sean and Brenton walked this path with me.
Let me explain. We joined a facebook group for young pastors. In this forum, we were to write any question, or thought, for our colleagues to answer. Mostly, it was administrative questions, or theological ones.
And I was enrolled in an intensive degree that required me to apply questions to my own Christian context, ie Pentecostalism. So occasionally I would, feeling desperate and alone in my apartment with a looming PhD deadline, post a question. The response on that site became a cliché that we eventually made into a running joke.
I quickly felt that my questions were unwanted. Not because they weren’t good as discussion points. But because I had a female face on my profile picture.
The first response, which was usually as quick as lightning would be “why don’t you ask your senior pastor that question?”
Well, my Senior Pastor at the time, Doug Green, laughed when I told him that. He was a sounding board for some questions within my program. Holding a doctoral degree and as the chair of the board of Vanguard University he’s helped me many times. But even he would smile, realizing the difficulty of the questions Professors were asking, and say, “I have no idea. Tell me when you find out”. 2am in the morning was hardly the time to be calling my pastor.
The second response would be “why do you even need to know?” With an emphasis on you.
Many times comments indicated that the best type of female leader was the one that didn’t ask big or futuristic questions. Men are the accepted visionaries of the church. In fact, these pastors regularly assumed I was the children’s pastor gone rogue.
The third response would follow my attempts to clarify – I was enrolled in an international PhD that required me to answer the question, and I needed help to meet my deadline. The response would often be anger, directed at me for hiding my identity, and trying to confuse the people posting. “Why would you do that?” one pastor asked, “Post on the forum as something you’re not?”. Nope, I didn’t. It’s clear on my profile page for anyone who looked. All you saw was a female face, and you assumed the facts.
I guess I should have been using the usual disclaimers (hey guys, sorry to disturb you, but I’m just wondering, if you would maybe take a second …) used in “women’s meeting language”. But I didn’t.
I’m so grateful for Brenton Fessler and Sean Jackson’s friendship, because they would laugh hilariously at my interactions the next day. They didn’t deny it happened – instead, they’ve given me freedom to address this topic. They wanted me to speak from these experiences in their church pulpit, in their very first year.
In my study I’ve been privileged to sit across the table from some very famous scholars. One of them is Professor Donald Miller from USC, who is not a Pentecostal, but who wrote a book Global Pentecostalism with Tetsunao Yammamori after years traveling around the world observing Pentecostal churches. He has some great things to say about the strengths of our type of church. It’s much quicker to get a summary from me than read the book. But, when I bring my experience into a conversation with a senior pastor, it is often incredibly hard for him to hear me… can great wisdom come wearing a skirt?
Isn’t this how God works here in the book of Daniel? The messenger is an important part of the message. King Nebuchadnezzar’s warning from God is born first by Daniel and then by Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
I’m not perfect, that’s for sure. But I can sit brokenhearted in a meeting as I tell the truth, and watch a circle of powerful men with harps and lyres yell “long live the King”. My words can be discounted simply because of a body I carry them in.
The reality is, we all want to stand on the side of those with power. We want fame, prestige, acknowledgement. But when we read the Bible, we have to read this text in the way it is written. And here as Richard Twiss phrases it, an Aboriginal boy has to address the President. And be rejected by him.
How often have I, like the Babylonians, refused the messenger, and therefore the message? So, here I find my marginalization and my privilege, all of it, reflected within this story.
What do you do with this world – with power, and with bodies? It is all so confusing. The three Hebrew men that refused to bow to the golden statue, must have wondered this… how can living according to truth still end with being thrown into the flames? I don’t know. I seriously don’t.
All I do know is that in Daniel 3:25, there is One who appears in the fire. He is described as “a Son of God”. This reminds me of something John wrote on the island of Patmos:
… in the midst of the seven lampstands is One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death”.
You know, I can’t give five tips for being a woman in a world that discounts the contribution of women. But I can say that time and time again, I find my Saviour in the fire.
When I think of ways bodies marginalize and privilege us, preventing us from understanding deep spiritual truths, I think of the cross. I think of Jesus, and his body, broken for us.
The cross is disgusting. It is repulsive. It should make us turn away. And yet, it is the central symbol of the Christian faith. It has become truly beautiful.
The black theologian James Cone says it in a way that helps us understand,
“Jesus’ beauty on the cross invites us to learn that bodies can be beautiful in ways we hadn’t expected – or were afraid to think”
What do you do when you encounter some “ugly put downs”? You come to the One who knows. You come to the foot of the cross, you come to communion. Come to the One who is with you in the fire. Come to the One who is alive forevermore.
And today, we together remember that He is that broken body, but resurrected. Because eventually, something does change. A miracle takes place. Life breaks forth. He has overcome.
The thing that disgusts the world is the very thing God chooses to use as his messenger. Whether the message is accepted is not up to us. But all will be measured accordingly. Because YHWH will not be denied. And this is God demonstrating judgement, and this is God showing true justice. But in the meantime take heart,
He knows what is in the darkness,
And light dwells with Him.