Monday, June 21, 2010

I am woman; do not quench the Spirit within me!

(This post may be a bit 'preachy,' so I apologize for it's length and perhaps it's tone, though not for it's content.)

In many Christian church congregations, including the one I have been attending, women have all too often had the Spirit that burns within them quenched, quite rapidly and effectively. As a result, more than half of the labor force of the body has been devalued, paralyzed, and disqualified from God's work. How can this be God's plan? How can women not feel oppressed and spiritually depressed when our gifts are not acknowledged or affirmed?

God does not love or gift women any less than He does men. The scriptures have been distorted for so many years to 'keep women in their place' that many, even women, have bought into these spiritual lies. The extreme of this are the polygamist cults that twist and abuse scripture to say that men need many women to 'serve their needs,' but all discriminating practices which do not allow women to use their God-given gifts are of the same vein.

This view of women - that they are inferior to men - is not a Christ-like view, and it cannot please the God who gifts us all. Sincere christians have, throughout history, distorted scripture to 'keep control over' people they believe to be their inferiors: Jews, who 'crucified Christ' so should be wiped out in the Holocost; people of color, to support the use of slavery... But, more than any other group of people, scripture has been falsely used against women. 1 Timothy 2:12 was used to keep women in the US from voting for far too many years. Ephesians 5:22 has even been used to justify physical and sexual abuse of women by their husbands and fathers. No truly Godly man today would justify the use of those scriptures in that way. Yet, some of these same men deny women spiritual equality in their churches. The result is lower self-esteem and higher depression rates of church-going women than in women in the rest of society. Also, there is a higher rate of domestic abuse and violence in 'religious' homes than in any other segment of society in the US, except that of homes of alcoholics.

When a woman feels the Spirit urging her to serve God, using the gifts to lead or teach that she uses out in the world, yet she is told by church leaders to 'keep silent in the church' or that her gifts can be better used in the nursery or the kitchen, how can that not be seen as a quenching of the Spirit? And how can the church not be held responsible for that sin? (1 Thessalonians 5:19)

In a time when women were socially viewed as little more than property; as evil, ignorant, and 'dirty,' not even worthy of educating, Jesus came to show the world a better way. Yes, even a better way to treat women, sharing God's love with them as equals.

Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman as an equal; one who had erred, but who was worthy of his time, attention, teaching, and love. Then he urged her to teach others. His first command to be 'evangelical' was to this woman.

Women were welcomed among Christ's followers, an action which surely angered the religious leader of the day. If He was in our congregations, can you see him silencing a woman's devotion to God and the use of her gifts? Many women sat at His feet to learn, and Martha was gently rebuked by Him for urging her sister 'back to the kitchen.'

The story in John 8, of the woman brought to Jesus to be punished for the sin of adultery, is one of my favorites. Where was the man, by the way? Probably among her accusers, ready to join them in stoning her! Jesus did not condemn her to death, as the men wished Him to do. He forgave her, silencing her accusers and showing that women have equal access to justice, forgiveness and love in God's eyes.

I am not urging a feminist revolt in the churches, or saying that women should take over positions of control. But Galatians 3:28 declares that there is "no longer male and female," that we are "all one in Christ." If that is not an urging for us to all be free to use our gifts to serve Him, I do not know what it is! How painful it has been to me, and to some of my sisters in the Body, to sit back and see that the church would rather use an unwilling and un-gifted man to do service than to use a highly gifted and willing servant, just because she happens to be a woman. What a shame that practice is to and for the Body of Christ!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Gift

To have a gift... to be 'gifted'... to use our gifts... We church-going or spirit-listening people are very aware of these concepts. We are on the lookout for 'gifts' everywhere, for and in ourselves and others. But a thought came to me as I was weaving yesterday that seemed to be a blinding new thought. "This is my Gift - to give!"

I'm almost ashamed to admit that it felt like such a new thought. How very American and materialistic of me, to think that gifts, even spiritual and personal ones, are just for me to receive, even if I have received them and have tried to 'use them in His Honour.'

I have always said that our creative talents (for lack of a better word) are God's gifts, or presents, to us. And for us to not use them would be to dis-honour the Giver. But my thought yesterday took me a big step beyond that belief. I now see that I am expected to give something back. My work in the studio, my weaving and my painting, is not just for my pleasure. It is all that I have to give as a gift. I have nothing else to give; no personal wealth, no brilliance in service of mankind or special knowledge. All I have to give is the work of my hands. So I must give it.

I thought of the holiday song, "The Drummer Boy," who 'had no gift to bring' (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum) so he gave the gift of playing on the drum. That was what he needed to give. Beethoven needed to give the Fifth Symphony. Shakespeare gave stories to ignite imaginations for eternity. J K Rowling gave an epic childrens tale that has already become a classic. Jane Austen, from her relatively love-less life, gave some of the greatest love stories ever written. Einstein gave all that he knew and dreamed and imagined. They all fulfilled their purpose - which was to use what was given to them to give back. None of them knew that their gifts would benefit and bless the world beyond their time. That was not their purpose. The results of our giving are always out of our hands. But we are expected to give.

I have always 'given' - have always tithed generously from any material wealth or gain. But I now see that that is not enough. It is my work itself that I understand to be the gift God wants. It makes me see my work quite differently.

I have a very small plaque in my studio. On it are the words "Great Art Is Created Not To Satisfy The Viewer But The Creator." Of course, that can be taken several ways, but I have always seen The Creator to mean God, not just myself. But to think of all my work as a gift to Him makes the plaque even more meaningful. When you make a gift for someone, you think of them as you create, hoping they will like it, eager to please them with your results. Today I moved the little plaque from the window ledge, a bit dusty and neglected, to sit on my loom, where it will be visible as I work. I will try to remember that the work of my hands is my Gift - not just a valued and enjoyed received Gift, but my only precious Gift to give.