Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women by Sarah Bessey
This book was suggested to me specifically because I did not grow up in a church culture that limited or silenced women. My friend, Jen, wanted to know what I thought about it. Overall this book read more like a memoir for me, than permission to lead or claim my voice in my own church. I enjoyed reading Sarah's story and there were definitely parts that touched me.
Her heartbreaking account of her miscarriage made me stop to catch my breath. Last year two of my good friends and their husbands suffered the devastating loss of miscarriage and so even though the pain was not mine, I felt it for them all over again. For me, I could relate to her brief account of the roller coaster emotions that come in mothering babies. I remembered back to when my daughter was little and how both difficult and joyful that time was for me.
Sarah said, "What mothering taught me about God is that we need to relax into this relationship." I learned this twenty-two years ago and over and over since then!
"God gently mentored me in eschewing performance and impossible obligations and outsider standards in favor of freedom and creativity. Lived loved, we relax our expectations, our efforts, our strivings, our rules, our spine, our breath, our plans, our job descriptions and checklists; we step off the treadmill of the world and the treadmill of religious performance. We are not the authors of our redemption. No, God is at work, and his love for us is boundless and deep, wide and high, beyond all comprehension. He remains faithful."
Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber
I got the chance to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak to a small group of church leaders about five years ago before she was given full-on celebrity status by the media. (I think it is the event she mentions in the book.)Yes, her unique voice shined and it was an interesting conversation. She was asked to come and speak about her newly formed ELCA church, House for All Sinners and Saints, in Denver. The main thing I took away from that day was her comment to the whole room that the Gospel is big enough for many types and incarnations of church. She wanted to be clear that what she is doing is not more authentic or more "real" than other churches. She affirmed that God's grace is present in the variety of ways we "do church" whether we use a grunge band or traditional hymns, modern art or stained glass, impromptu testimonies or sermons crafted by pastors. She does not see "her way" of leading and being community as the only way. (It is interesting that I do not remember her self-described confession of a failed Rally Day from that day I heard her speak - probably because that is a common story in every church. You put your heart and your energy into something and people don’t show up. You grieve it and then you move on.)
One section that really touched me was when she told the story of helping a family after hurricane Katrina. She, like so many of us, (me included) get caught up in our own narrative – it’s all about me. Whether it is how I am helping this one family, how I experience church and other Christians, how I am appreciated in sharing my Super-hero talents and treasures with others, etc. Her honesty helps us see ourselves in similar situations. God works through us in ways we can’t imagine - even when we have a hard time getting out of the way.
For me the power of both of these books is how God met these two women where they were. Their stories help us see God doing the same thing in our lives. For some people this is a new revelation and for others a holy reminder to see again. Our stories are always connected and intertwined because that is how our Creator first imagined us. We are not self-sustaining islands. We and our stories are the branches on a vine that keeps growing and creating and connecting.
I recommend both of these books to inspire you to rediscover the sacredness of your own story. Our stories don’t start with us. They begin “In the beginning…” with breath and Word and light. Holy beginnings all starting in the same way and yet being lived out in infinite ways that can only be dreamed by God.
A postscript: I have known so many exceptional pastors. So many of you inspire me to be a better leader, more forgiving, and to serve with humility. You are not cookie-cutter pastors. You represent all the demographics – many years of experience, new to ordination, straight, gay, man, woman. There are so many exceptional pastors out there. There are easily a dozen churches in which I would like to be in community and worship in every Sunday! I hope books like these help shine the light on all of you.