Upside-Down Authority and Women in the Church

At the end of my last post I wondered why we humans turn God’s model of servant-leadership into dictatorship when we lead. This idea of “but a leader should be humble, at the bottom of the ladder” reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend one summer.

This was the summer that I began to question my denomination of origin — not with the goal of leaving (though I eventually did), but simply to answer my questions. My friend had plans to be a pastor someday, so I thought he would be a good person to help me understand my denomination. Regarding my questions about women being excluded from pastoral ministry, he said:

Well, being a pastor isn’t about being “in charge” — it’s about service, and pastors are supposed to be at the bottom of the ladder, leading out of humility. So all the women and feminists should stop feeling like they’re being denied some spotlight or authority — being a pastor isn’t about power, it’s about service. What’s the big deal about being excluded from that?”

There are two main problems with this statement.

1. Pretending pastors do not have authority in the church is unrealistic. 

Although my friend is correct in stating that the Jesus model for pastoring is one of servant-leadership and humility, that is rarely the reality today. Most pastors I know (with the exception of my dad and a few others) lead much more like presidents or CEOs than servants.

Even pastors who do lead with humility still wield a tremendous amount of influence. For children growing up in traditional churches, their shiny, white-robed pastors often mix with their image of Jesus and set the tone for those kids’ early faith. And most pastors generally get 20-60 minutes of uninterrupted speaking time from the pulpit each Sunday. So saying there is no authority or power to be had as a pastor is just plain unrealistic.

2. A lack of power or prestige does not make exclusion okay.

Even if pastoring was a low-influence sort of job in real life, does that make it any more just to exclude 50% of the population from it because of their anatomy? Yes, there are many other ways to serve God — but who are we to say that it’s impossible for God to call any woman to any of those ways, whether that be to preaching, legislating, or trash-collecting? I would much rather have a woman preacher who has a true and humble call to serve than a man preacher who seeks the influence that leading a church can give him. Which leads me to my next thought…

Doesn’t humility make a better pastoral baseline virtue than maleness?

I mean, really — if pastoring without a desire for power or control is *so important*, then isn’t it better to have humble servant-leaders for pastors no matter their sex than to be forced by gender exclusion to accept less-than-servanty pastors? Doesn’t excessive pride and desire for power corrupt the pastorate (and the church) more than having a vagina does?

I know I’m thinking practically here, with little biblical evidence. But I’m no Bible scholar, so I’ll let the real ones do that. My point here is simply to say that if it’s so easy for us humans to get God’s example wrong, then maybe we should be a little more careful before we start making rules about who’s allowed to do what.

What do you think? Should pastors focus more on humility? Do you think women can be called to pastoral ministry even if their church doesn’t allow it? Let me know in the comments!

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The REAL cure for affluence-related depression (maybe).

Rebekah recently ghost-wrote a post on the Connected Families blog.  The main thrust was this: in America, kids from families of wealth/luxury/affluence are three times as likely as the average child to experience anxiety or depression. That’s even more than families in poverty!

My best interpretation of this:

  • We’re miserable because:
    • We lack mission, vision, or a sense of purpose because our suburban bubble-world is already thoroughly comfortable and safe, so all we have to do is “enjoy”.
    • When our primary earthly mission is to “enjoy life”, then any time we’re unhappy, we think:
      • our unhappiness is a violation of our highest purpose and birthright,
      • it can only be explained as a failure by us, our family, or God,
      • and we should try to feel happy again by any means we feel necessary.

My sense is that ultimately, the best way for wealthy people to make their lives better is for them to stop focusing on making their lives better, and to look instead (or predominately) to the needs of the world.

  • We’d be happier/better off that way because:
    • Looking compassionately and fairly at our hurting, unjust, and jeopardized world is a limitless source of mission and purpose, of things to do that really, really matter.
    • When our primary earthly mission is “to live out (God’s) compassion and justice in a (beloved,) broken and beautiful world”, then any time we’re unhappy, we can recognize that:
      • our unhappiness is a natural occurrence in a broken world,
      • it connects us to hurting people everywhere,
      • and it reminds us to continue to live in ways that address human sorrow in general.

In the face of the anxiety, depression, and self-harm issues plaguing wealthy children and families, we might say “see, we’re just as needy as anyone in the world”, and invest more resources into meeting our own needs — say, through counseling or more after-school activities.

  • But this misses the point, because it follows the assumption that:
    • Money and service follow pity and misfortune. When I pity a poor person, I send them some money. But when I pity me, I spend more money on me. Whoever “has it good” should help whoever “has it bad”.
  • A truer assumption is:
    • We all live together in a world that has every kind of need and resource, pain and beauty, scattered everywhere and in diverse ways. We can work together across lines of difference to make our world better, and it will make each of us better in the process.

Buying therapies for the symptoms of idyllic luxury might work somewhat, but this is surely less effective than taking the sorts of actions that more powerfully undermine our (and our children’s) sense that everything should be perfect for us. To be more deeply healed, we must bring our bubble-dwelling families, churches, and communities to be involved in the messiness, pain, beauty, and need of the world — the REAL cure for affluence-related depression.

How Contented Is Too Contented?

In the comments on Daniel’s recent post on overemphasizing the “buddy system” as an ethical model, a friend asked the following:

“How content is too content?  I’ve been feeling very happy lately, and it’s making me a little uncomfortable.  Should it?”

I started to respond in a comment but realized I had a lot of thoughts on the subject. So here’s my answer:

First, I think that even pondering the question “How content is too content?” is evidence that you are unlikely to ever be “too content” for very long. If you are truly self-examining to the extent that being “too happy” or “too content” is a cause for question, then I think you are doing a great job of carefully considering the course of your life. Keep on paying attention!

Second, I think a huge part of considering this question involves defining “content”. Do you mean “content” as in “happy and fulfilled and feeling that I am responding well and fully to God’s calling”? Or “content” as in “happy and satiated and feeling that I don’t want to get out of bed ever”? (Confession: fighting this one right now!) Or “content” as in “sedentary, happy, and sitting back on my heels with a feeling that I have arrived and thus can coast through the rest of life”?

I think the “bad” kind of contentedness comes around when we allow happiness to lull us into inaction or a sense of achieved permanency. For example, one way I struggle with contentedness right now is my desire to find one place to live, take root there, and resolve never to leave because I want to be from somewhere and not from everywhere, as I was growing up as a PK. My “poor-me plea” line is, “I’m not really from anywhere — I’ve never lived in any place for more than seven years. I want to plant roots and have a hometown and be FROM somewhere!” Implicit in this near-whine is, “God, after all I’ve done for you, don’t I deserve this? Don’t I deserve being able to rest on my laurels for a while and enjoy my happiness?”

Again, the desire for contentedness is not “bad”. BUT, as we see in my example above, it is extremely easy for a desire for contentedness to “take over” and become an idol, something that we feel God “owes” us. In short, contentedness becomes problematic when we let it block our responsiveness to God’s call.

Let’s return to my “planting roots” example from earlier. Let’s say that Daniel and I have a lovely, happy, financially responsible housing situation that involves living with other Christians (we do). Let’s say that I struggle with feeling like a meandering wanderer with no past roots and I want to make a long-term commitment to a geographical community as a part of my spiritual calling, etc. (I do.) Let’s say that I get so caught up in the importance of planting my roots in my current geographical community that I completely ignore and run from God’s call for us to move to Peru. (This is where it gets hypothetical, but you never know!) At first, my desire for geographical community roots came from a desire to serve God and God’s sheep where I am. That’s a good thing. But as soon as my interpretation of God’s plan for me becomes more important than God’s ACTUAL plan for me, I place my own contentedness higher than God. I no longer want what God wants.

So, how content is too content? …It depends. Do you feel lazily-and-sedentarily contented, like when you never want to get out of bed? Or do you feel actively-and-vocationally contented, like when you feel awesome after a tough workout? Are you sulkily clinging to your contentedness as if God owes you some happy, easy times after “all you’ve done for Him”? Or does your contentedness come from a sense of peace and trust in God’s plans for you, no matter where those plans take you in life?

Of the first kind of contentedness, I want none! (In the big-picture, that is. In the small picture, I want it all the time.)

Of the second kind of contentedness, the kind that comes from having the “peace that passes understanding down in my heart” (Where? Down in my heart!), I want more!

So go ahead and be content — but make sure it comes from God and not from you.

A Deep Question From An Old Friend

Recently I received a letter from a friend. While going through some papers, he had found a letter I wrote him while I was a camp counselor almost six years ago and he decided to respond to it anyway. (Super fun!) Apparently we had been discussing some pretty heavy stuff back then, because one of the questions he asked me was this: “How has God informed the decisions you’ve made daily? How has he influenced you in your interactions with your husband and your decisions, including [leaving] teaching and your return to Minnesota? What and who is God to you?”

What a fantastic question!

It took me by surprise a little at first, but after a few re-readings and some thought, this is what I came up with. I hope you enjoy reading my answer to the question — but I also hope that you will take the time to answer it for yourself.

——————

To your question about how God has informed my decisions and who God is to me, first let me say that I don’t really understand God. Not fully. That’s probably why God is God and I’m just little ol’ me.

But what I do know about God — what I believe, and what guides my whole life and all my decisions — is that God is a good God who desires above all things for we his children to be close to him.

I believe that one day we will be very close to him, in heaven. The way I bring the feeling of God close to me now, here on earth, is by choosing actions that I believe serve God’s ultimate purpose and desire for the world, which is that it be good and right as God is good and right.

So when I choose content writing over teaching, it is partly because it makes me happy but even more so because when I am happy I am more productive in bringing about God’s kingdom. When I teach, I am overworked and exhausted and constantly wishing I could actually help my students. When I write for non-profits, I am confident and productive and constantly seeing evidence of the ways that my work helps organizations help families love each other and stay afloat. THIS (my current work) is how I best help my students (or at least kids like them): I serve in the ways that make the most difference in bringing about God’s good kingdom in their lives.

48 Titles From My Future Blog

Ok. I read a super cool blog post this morning that had some great ideas for being a better blogger… and by “great ideas” I mean new, inventive ones that aren’t the same basic repetitive ones EVERYONE blogs about. The one that really stuck with me was this: “Write lists of titles.”

GENIUS.

Because, of course, I have all sorts of things that I like to think and talk and write about — but as soon as I think, “Man, I should probably write/post another blog post, since it’s been a while…” my mind goes blank. (Probably because, as I learned from Rachelle Gardner this morning, “Desperation makes a very poor muse.” True dat.)

So today, I would like to share a list of titles that I hope to someday actually author! Leave a note in the comments section if there’s one (or several) that you’d like to read, and I’ll try to bring them into being sooner than “someday”. =)

48 (or so) Titles From My Future Blog

Why I Left the Lutheran Church (or maybe “Why I Left the Secret-Code-Name-So-I-Don’t-Piss-People-Off Church”)
Why I’m Terrified of Drug Cartels, but Still Like Mexico (or “The Thing That Terrifies Me More Than Anything On The Planet”)
Why I’m Glad I Married a ‘Weirdo’
Why Reconciliation Is the Best Thing Since EVER.
How I Accidentally Made A Million Dollars (Wishful thinking there!)
Why The United States Education System Is Broken (maybe someday I’ll be able to write “And What We Can Do To Fix It” !)
Why I’d Rather Work For Connected Families Than Be A Teacher
The Biggest Reason Religious Education Wins Over Public Education
The Thing That Frustrates Me Most About Christian Leaders
Why Connected Families‘ Message Explodes My Face With Awesomeness
Why Mental Organization and Workspace Organization Don’t Always Go Together
924 Things I Never Knew I Learned In College — Till They Were Really Useful
293 Reasons Why It’s Important to Major in a Subject That Interests You, and Not in One That You Just Choose In Order to Have a Job Later (insert my life here)
Why I Despise 50 Shades of Gray, Even Though I Haven’t Read It.
On Why I Am A Feminist… and What The Heck That Means
The Mistaken Faces of Feminism (Or at Least the Ones I Dislike)
Pros and Cons of “Conservative” Ideals
Pros and Cons of “Liberal” Ideals
The Preacher and the Patriarchy: A Personal Reflection
Why Lakes Are Infinitely Superior to Swimming Pools
Why Media/Ad Portrayals of Women Make Me Mad.
How to Use Your Learning/Thinking Style to Your Advantage
Why Being Multi-lingual is AWESOME (or “Why the USA is dumb for not requiring more foreign language proficiency”, or “Why immigrants are way smarter than most Americans give them credit for”)
Why I Care About My Country, But Am Not A “Patriot”
Music That Helps Me Get Work Done
Why “The Sing-Off” Was Way Better Than American Idol Will Ever Be
Why I Think The Government Should Get Its Nose Out of the Marriage Business
Is the US a “Christian Nation”? (Research required! I believe there is a book by this title…)
Why My Generation is Put Off by Traditional Evangelism (and/or Traditional Missionary-stuff)
394 African Authors that Everyone Should Read (because I doubt your high school and/or college bothered to teach you about a continent that is home to 1/7 of the world’s population. Whoops.)
Why Ngugi wa Thiongo Rocks My Socks
203 Ways White Supremacy Hurts White People (not my original idea… but one I love because it explains so much!!!)
987 Weird Things That Help My Brain Function Properly
239 Books I Appreciated Much More Once I Was An Adult
Why I Read Shakespeare For FUN! =)
398 Ways White People Were Asshats to First Nations Peoples (And Why We Should Call Them Whatever the Heck They Want to Be Called)
Why “Whiteness” Is A Total Crock
Why We Can’t Just “Move On” From The Oppressive Sins of Our Past
Why I Love Post-It Notes
On Privilege, and What To Do Once You Realize You Have It
[related] Why I Hate and Love My American Passport
“Yes, I Really Mean It When I Ask for Socks for Christmas”
Why Small, Mass-Market Paperback Books Make Me Happy
Why e-Readers Explode My Face With Awesomeness
482 Reasons Why Water is The Most Tasty Liquid On The Entire Planet!
My Husband is So Awesome That You Don’t Even Understand… No, Really.
752 Life Lessons from the Bike Ride Kid (“I Feel Happy of Myself!”)

I seriously recommend this exercise to anyone who loves to write but struggles with choosing topics. Who knew I had almost 50 blog posts lurking inside me?

Don’t forget to “vote” on your favorites in the comments if you want to read them sooner than whenever I get to them!

Pursuing What Matters.

DISCLAIMER: I don’t say any of this to be harsh or arrogant. I myself have been and will continue to be highly guilty of pursuing erroneous goal(s) — of not pursuing what matters. My point isn’t about “who is better than who”. My point here is about “what we ought to be doing”. I’m not talking about status, I’m talking about responsibility.

In sports we can see how senseless it is to pursue an erroneous goal.

Have you ever watched a soccer game when one of the little players got confused about what the goal of the game was? I’ve seen or heard stories about kids who habitually or occasionally pursued wrong goals:

  • Kicking the ball out of bounds as soon as possible,
  • Hogging the ball as long as possible,
  • Kicking the ball as far as possible,
  • Dribbling & kicking the wrong direction, scoring on the wrong team’s goal,
  • and so on.

In sports, we can see that no matter how good you feel about yourself when you achieve your funny erroneous goal, no matter how badly you long to achieve it, it’s not what you ought be pursuing. It’s not what should be be guiding your actions. Period.

Living real life with erroneous goals is similarly senseless. I believe that real value and real purpose exist. And so I believe real, worthy goals can exist. Unlike in sports, these goals doesn’t appear on a visible scoreboard. But that doesn’t make them non-real. P

The furthering of my well-being is an erroneous central goal.

A worthy goal is oriented toward what matters.

If I matter, everybody matters. Whatever (or Whoever) makes me matter also makes everyone else matter.

If people’s well-being matters, then my own well-being is approximately one six-billionth of what matters.

Even if someone mattered more than everyone else, there is only a one in six-billion chance of that someone being me.

So acting as if I matter more than others is utterly erroneous. The furthering of my own well-being is a very erroneous central goal for life.

The furthering of my own well-being is, however, a fully valid sub-goal. If my central goal is doing what’s best for everyone, then I must look after my own needs as well as others’, because I can’t help others if I’m dead. Selflessness is a poor substitute for unselfishness.

  • True selflessness would mean that I never attended to my own needs,
  • whereas true unselfishness would mean that I never attended to my own needs any more than what I can fairly discern as being ultimately best for everyone.

In other words,

  • Selfishness treats my own betterment as the central goal.
  • Selflessness treats others’ betterment as the central goal.
  • Unselfishness treats betterment in general as the central goal, and treats my betterment and others’ betterment as complementary sub-goals.

My actions reflect my goals. When a prepubescent soccer player develops a ball-hogging habit that doesn’t lend itself very well to winning the game, it’s because she’s focusing on the wrong goals. When I, as a middle class person in a wealthy country, develop a comfortable picket-fence lifestyle whose costliness hamstrings my ability to contribute to the bettering of humanity, it is because I am pursuing my own betterment as my central goal rather than as a supporting sub-goal to the central goal of the betterment of persons.

(Note that by “persons” I do not exclude God. My own view is that God has personhood, and is the “Whoever” that makes us matter, specifically, by loving us. The writing above sounds a bit like secular utilitarianism/humanitarianism, but in fact, it aligns nicely with the Westminster Chatechism: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”. Good for God, good for humans. Well-being in the deep spiritual sense.)

~95% of us over-focus on the goal of improving our own well-being.

We are too selfish. No one will ever reach the “perfect” balance-point between serving their self and serving others, and the question of “how much is too much” will never have a solid answer. But let’s be real; most of us know which side we err on: we are too selfish.

Human nature, whether because of evolution or original sin or both, is very selfish. Natural selection tends to allows only you to to be altruistic toward your blood relatives or people that can pay you back, because any gene that doesn’t ultimately favor itself — that doesn’t favor its own propagation — disappears from the gene pool. So unsurprisingly, most of us focus more on ourselves than is good for everyone. For now, I’m saying that’s 95% of us.

~90% of us should work on sacrificing more.

You’ll notice the 5% gap; that’s the people who err so slightly on the side of selfishness that there’s no way to know it. Those people aren’t perfect people — any one of them could have some other catastrophic, tragic flaw. It’s just that they don’t have any way of figuring out whether to sacrifice more or less. I’ll draw a picture:

Unless I have strong, strong reason to believe I’m in the tiny margin of people who are too sacrificial / ascetic / giving / minimalistic / etc., or in the almost as tiny margin of people who would have a hard time knowing which way they’re erring, then I should probably assume that my selfish, status-and-advantage-seeking human nature has got the best of me and landed me in the purple, and I’ve got some simplifying & sacrificing to do. That is, of course, assuming that everyone matters.

It’s really tough to justify leveraging my privileged position in this world primarily for my own benefit when doing so disproportionately hurts others. Why?

Because my own benefit only matters if human benefit matters. Which means that suffering large declines to others’ well being in return for small improvements to my own is simply a bad trade. There’s nothing to be said for it. It’s like ball-hogging and taking pot-shots on a soccer field, preventing ~3 of your teammates from scoring, just so you can score 1 more goal for yourself. It’s silly. It’s senseless and indefensible. It’s harmful and damaging and sad. And I do it too. I’m in the purple bar on the graph. I’m in Purple-Bar-Aholics Anonymous.

“Hello, my name is Daniel Schulz-Jackson, and I’m a purple-bar-aholic”.

At the end of the day I have to conclude that everyone — not just certain people with “a heart for service” — EVERYONE is called to act as if everybody matters, to act with the central goal of “Good” rather than “good for me”. Figuring out how can be difficult, but the difficulty is no excuse to abandon the attempt.