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Stories I ponder: How I changed my mind about women in ministry

Saturday October 7 2017

Stories I ponder: How I changed my mind about women in ministry

In my childhood, in the various places we lived, we went to church every Sunday, and the ministers were always men. The doctors and dentists we went to were all men. My dad worked, my mom stayed home to raise kids and keep the house, and all my friends’ parents had the same pattern.

Oddly enough, out of the five aunts I had, two of them worked full time. One was a secretary, like my mother had been before she got married, and the other one was a teacher. So as a child I dimly understood that some women – a very small number, mind you – worked outside the home in roles like secretaries or teachers. I literally had no picture in my mind, no ability to imagine, a woman working in any role other than a support role or a teaching position.

I became a committed Christian at 19, and soon after that a new InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff-worker came to my campus, Becky Manley (now Becky Pippert.) Becky took me under her wing, gave me all sorts of encouragement, and helped me grow in faith in so many ways.

Becky did a lot of speaking at our college fellowship group and at conferences. She was part of a staff team headed by a man named Fred Wagner. It was always clear to me that Fred was a strong and competent leader of the staff team, and I enjoyed getting to know him at conferences.

As I got closer to graduation, Becky and Fred invited me to join them on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I ended up serving as a staff worker for four years. In those years I often spoke to groups. I led retreats. I exercised a variety of teaching and leading roles, always under the umbrella of Fred’s leadership.

I got married in my years with IVCF. Dave and I left Seattle and served in Iran and Israel as self-supporting missionaries. I did a variety of leadership and support roles in our churches in the Middle East while pregnant and while our first son was young. Then we returned to Seattle, got back involved in our big Presbyterian Church. I taught adult Christian education classes there.  

In this overview of my life, I have now arrived at September, 1982, a life-changing moment. Our older son was almost 3 and our younger son was six months old. At this point in my life, I had never met a woman doctor, dentist, lawyer or ordained minister. I had led many small groups and spoken at many conferences, always under the oversight of a man.

I was aware that 1 Timothy 2:11 says that women should not teach or have authority over men, and I took comfort in the fact that all of my teaching and leadership has been directed by or encouraged by a man. So, with respect that that verse, I felt “safe.” But I definitely had questions.

Those questions motivated me to attend a conference at the Seattle Center sponsored by Christians for Biblical Equality. I arranged babysitting for my older son, and I took my baby with me each day. We sat in seminar after seminar. Sometime I nursed him while I listened intently. I collected handouts and articles.

The speakers talked about various possible interpretations of 1 Timothy 2, along with 1 Corinthians 11 and 14. They discussed the possible meanings of headship in Ephesians 5. They talked about the centrality of Galatians 3:28: “In Christ there is no longer . . . male or female.”

They talked about the fact that people of Jesus’ time accepted slavery, but the book of Philemon lay the groundwork for the abolition of slavery. In the same way, they argued, the people of Jesus’ time accepted leadership by men, but Galatians 3:28 and Romans 16 lay the groundwork for the equality of men and women.

Fifteen years after that conference, I was ordained as a Presbyterian minister, breaking every pattern I learned as a child. I could not have moved toward ordination, or thrived as an ordained minister serving a congregation, without the knowledge I gained at the Christians for Biblical Equality conference.

Resources can change our lives: conferences, books, seminars, classes, sermons, even conversations. Pray for yourself and for those you love, that God would bring life-changing resources into your life and their lives. Pray that God would use you in ways that change other people’s lives.

(Next week: my husband and his sister. Photo of me on my ordination day, 20 years and 2 months ago. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

You may be interested in an article of mine that recently received an award from the Australian Christian Press Association: To be a Neighbour Must Include Listening.

Stories I ponder: We are necessary and superfluous

Thursday September 28 2017

Stories I ponder: We are necessary and superfluous

More than 30 years ago, my husband and I lived in Israel for 18 months, experienced the Sabbath day, loved it, and adopted a Sabbath pattern when we returned to the US. We did this entirely on our own. In the early and mid 1980s we didn’t know of any other Christians who were interested in the Sabbath except as a quirk of Jewish culture.

In the late 1980s and then into the 1990s, Christians began writing about the Sabbath. Both Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson were influential. After our years of observing a Sabbath with no support from others, Dave and I found this quite surprising and encouraging.

In the early 2000s, I wrote a chapter in a book on midlife spirituality about the Sabbath, describing Dave’s and my experience in Israel. After that I applied for, and was given, a contract for a book on the Sabbath. Writing it was such a delight because our experience had been so rich over so many years.

Around the time I was writing my book on the Sabbath, I re-read C. S. Lewis’s space trilogy. The second book in the series, Perelandra, is set on a planet that has not yet experienced sin. Of course, all good plots involve tension, so a person from our world sets out to corrupt the two sinless dwellers of the planet. Another person from our planet, Ransom, the hero of the story, fights the evil man.

At the end of the book, after the battle has been won, Ransom witnesses an assembly of the angels who oversee each of the planets in our solar system. The various angels give speeches, and two of the speeches gave me language to describe one aspect of what the Sabbath had meant to me.

One of the angels says that God “has immeasurable use for each thing that is made, that His love and splendour may flow forth like a strong river which has need of a great watercourse. . . . I am infinitely necessary to you.”

Another angel replies that God “has no need at all of anything that is made. . . . I am infinitely superfluous, and your love shall be like his, born neither of your need nor of my deserving, but a plain bounty.” [1]

We are infinitely necessary and infinitely superfluous. Humans don’t do very well with paradoxes. Perhaps that’s why so many people resist resting in any form, including the Sabbath.

On the six days of the week, when we work in various paid and unpaid settings, we are infinitely necessary to the people around us and to God. We help God take care of the world God created as we tend to our homes and cars, and as many of us do jobs that involve taking care of the physical world.

We are also necessary because we help God take care of people: our family members, friends, co-workers, and the people we influence or care for at our jobs or in various volunteer ministries. As Lewis says, God’s love and splendor need a watercourse to flow in, and we have the privilege of being places where that water of life flows. Because we are called to partner with God in caring for the physical world and for the people God loves, we are infinitely necessary.

But what the second angel says is also true. God’s love comes to us as pure gift, “born neither of your need or my deserving, but a plain bounty.” We are infinitely superfluous. On the Sabbath day, we get to experience that we are completely unnecessary. God runs the universe for a day each week without our help.

Why is this important? Affirming both of these two realities that we must hold in tension – that we are both necessary and superfluous – helps us work hard without being dominated by ego. This paradox helps us pray diligently without taking ourselves too seriously. It helps us relax into our identity as children of a loving God who are called to partnership with God but not into equality with God. We are not God. Someone Else is.

I am convinced that the Sabbath is the best way to learn this reality. Week after week the Sabbath teaches us this truth experientially, without words, deep in our heart.

I am so grateful I happened to be reading Perelandra just as I was writing about my Sabbath book. C. S. Lewis gave me words to describe the blessing of the Sabbath in a way I never would have thought of myself.

Resources on the Sabbath

My book, Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest

My Bible study guide, Sabbath: The Gift of Rest

Articles I’ve written on the Sabbath
     A Day Without a “Do” List
     The Gift of Rest
     Sabbath Keeping – It’s Okay to Start Small
     The Gift of the Sabbath
     Stopping – The Gift of the Sabbath
     A Day off from God Stuff

Blog posts on the Sabbath

(Next week: how I changed my mind about women and ordination. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. Illustration by Dave Baab.)

[1] C. S. Lewis, Perelandra (New York, Macmillan, 1944), p. 217.

Stories I ponder: My mother and her sister

Friday September 22 2017

Stories I ponder: My mother and her sister

My mother had three brothers, and throughout her childhood she longed and prayed for a sister. The miracle happened when Mom was 11.

The year was 1935, and Missouri was still gripped with the effects of the Depression. Mom lived on a farm, and her parents worked very hard and still struggled financially. My grandmother was extremely busy with cooking, sewing, growing vegetables, canning, and raising chickens. Mom did a lot of the daily care of her beloved baby sister, Marianne.

When Marianne was 16 months old, she got sick with a fever. She began to have seizures and suddenly died.

In the first days after her death, at the funeral, and then in the weeks after the funeral, my mother heard over and over from her relatives and her parents’ friends: “You’ve got to be strong for your mother now.” Or, “You’ve got to help your mother in this hard time.”

Not one person said, “You must be sad, and that’s the right thing to feel.” Or, “This is a big loss for you.” No one, not her parents, none of her many relatives who lived nearby, gave her a hug and said, “Go ahead and cry, honey. You loved Marianne so much. You’ve lost someone so precious.”

So Mom toughed it out, helped her mother like a good daughter, and kept her sadness about Marianne inside.

In my childhood, I heard about Marianne often. I didn’t know anything about grief or the grief process, but it was evident to me that my mother was still sad about the loss of Marianne. When I was in my early twenties, and Mom was in her late forties, she started volunteering with hospice.

In her town at that time, hospice sent teams into the homes of dying patients. Each team had a doctor, a nurse, a social worker and a volunteer. Mom trained to be one of those volunteers. She often sat with patients while caregivers got out of the house, and other times she visited with caregivers. After the patient died, she followed up with the family members.

The hospice volunteers were frequently invited to attend seminars about death, dying, grief and mourning. Those seminars provided Mom with the chance to grieve the loss of Marianne. Mom served with hospice for more than two decades, and as those years passed, I could hear a difference in the way Mom talked about Marianne and her death.

Now, when Mom talks about Marianne, her grief is about the fact that she and her mother never mourned together about Marianne’s loss, that they never cried together. She grieves that her family didn’t talk about Marianne very much after she died, didn’t share what they missed about her.

We know so much more about grief now. We know sharing grief is so much better than enduring silently alone. We know feelings of grief are intense, which is normal and healthy. We know the feelings need to be felt, not shoved aside. We know how important it is to talk about loved ones after they die.

My mom’s story illustrates all those important points, and shows that it’s never too late to grieve.  

Her story also illustrates the significance of where we choose to serve. I get so upset when congregations expect accountants to keep the church books and school teachers to teach Sunday school. Our choices about where to volunteer at church or in the community give us an opportunity to explore areas of our life that haven’t been developed as much as our work skills.

Maybe the accountant needs to serve on the church grounds crew. Maybe the childless man or woman needs to serve in children’s ministries. Maybe there’s unfinished business inside a person that can be explored through a place of ministry, like my mom experienced. Maybe serving in an unexpected way will bring healing, and that particular ministry will be energizing because of that healing that’s happening. That was certainly the case for Mom.

Do you have grief that has never been expressed? Do you have unfinished business for which you have found resolution many years after the event? Have you experienced healing as you’ve served in some way? It’s never too late to grieve and never too late to find healing.

(Next week: We are essential and superfluous. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. Photo: My mom in 1976, shortly after she began volunteering with hospice.)

If you’d like to ponder more about how to feel feelings without being overwhelmed with negative thoughts, you might enjoy a series of posts I wrote earlier this year on "My new spiritual practice: Separating thoughts from feelings." The first post is here, and it’s followed by four more posts that develop the idea further.

Stories I ponder: My father-in-law and money

Friday September 15 2017

Stories I ponder: My father-in-law and money

My husband Dave has vivid memories of his parents’ arguments about money. Dave would lie awake in his bed hearing the arguments, wondering if his parents would split up and he would end up at the orphanage down the street.

Dave’s dad, Hubert, was born in 1913 and had some rough years. Soon after the depression started, his mother died, and his father fell into alcoholism and stopped providing for Hubert and his brother. The two teenagers left their home in Ohio, rode the rails to Iowa, and found work on a farm. Later they returned to Ohio and found jobs at a machine shop.

Over the years, Hubert became a self-taught engineer. In the later years of his working life, he designed expandable vehicles like bookmobiles. Because of his lack of formal education, he watched younger, better educated people advance above him in the company. He didn’t get the raises they did, and Dave’s mother was very worried about retirement. That’s a major part of what the arguments were about.

Hubert became a Christian in his late thirties. Dave remembers that when his mother would yell about money, Hubert would always answer, “God will provide for us.” He had some basis for those words. The owner of the company had always promised Hubert that he would take care of Hubert.

Hubert retired at 65 in the late 1970s, and a couple of years later the owner of the company died. In his will, he left Hubert $100,000 of stock in the company. Shortly afterwards, the company was sold, and stock holders received four times the previous value of their stock. Hubert used part of the money to build a modest house, and he invested the rest in the stock market. He enjoyed the market run up in the 1980s and early 90s.

When Hubert died in 1996, Dave and his siblings inherited more money than they could have imagined from a man who never graduated from high school. That money has given us freedom to do many things we wouldn’t have done otherwise. I am deeply grateful for the many ways our life has been easier because of our inheritance from Dave’s dad.

I ponder this story so often because it bugs me, and I can’t entirely figure out why. I should be saying, “Hey, look, Hubert trusted in God, and God rewarded that trust.” And a part of me does believe those words.

But another part of me chafes. Maybe it’s the contrast with my own upbringing in the area of money. My dad was in many ways the opposite of Hubert. My dad attended church, but in his financial dealings he trusted in his own competence with money management. My brother and I were taught from an early age how to manage money. Maybe the story bugs me because I trust in my own competence too much and God’s provision too little. I hope that’s not the case.

Maybe the story chafes because I have been very influenced by the opening chapters of Nehemiah. In the face of obstacles in rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, Nehemiah says this: “So we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night” (Nehemiah 4:9). They prayed and they acted. I believe that’s what we’re usually called to do, some combination of prayer and action. So maybe I resist Hubert’s seeming passivity about money before he received the inheritance from the company owner. Maybe “God will provide” doesn’t feel like enough to me. Maybe I wish Hubert had been able to express what he was doing to save for retirement as well as trusting in God.

Maybe I resist miracle stories that seem too simplistic, because they set up an expectation that life in Christ will be filled with miracles that always make our lives sunny and bright.

Or maybe the story reminds me of a little boy lying in bed at night feeling scared, and I hate knowing Dave suffered that way.

Despite writing this blog post and pondering Hubert and money yet one more time, I still don’t know why the story bugs me. Maybe my musings about it will trigger some helpful thoughts in you about money or miracles.

(Next week: My mom and her sister’s death. Photo of Hubert Baab in 1974. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

One year ago on this blog, a post that got a lot of feedback on the blog and on Facebook – Quotations I love: Fear and regret are thieves.

Stories I ponder: A tale of two grandmothers

Friday September 8 2017

Stories I ponder: A tale of two grandmothers

Just over thirty years ago, when I was a part time seminary student and stay-at-home mom of a baby and a toddler, the editor of our church newsletter asked me to write an article about grace and truth in the Christian life. I wrote an article about my two grandmothers, and I called it “A Tale of Two Grandmothers.” The editor didn’t seem very pleased with it, but she printed it. I think she was looking for something theological rather than anecdotal.

I don’t have that article anymore, but I remember the gist of it. As I think about it now, I’m not sure that the differences between my grandmothers actually relate to grace and truth. See what you think.

My grandmothers had a few things in common. They were both born in the 1890s, got married in their early 20s and had kids and grandkids. They both attended church and talked to me about their faith. Apart from those facts, they were really different people.

My dad’s mother, who we called Nona, was short and plump. (Nona was the sister of Aunt Lynn from last week's post.) Grandma Katie, my mom’s mother, was tall and slender, and had been known for her beauty as a young woman. Nona was raised with servants, and while she had kids in the house, she had someone helping her with cooking and cleaning. Grandma Katie raised her children on a farm in poverty during the Depression. Her life consisted pretty much of endless work: gardening, canning, cooking, cleaning, sewing, and raising chickens.

Nona had a few favourite dishes she liked to cook, but she always seemed a bit tentative when she cooked. Grandma Katie taught me how to bake cakes and pies, and she also taught me how to crochet and knit.

The two women had a very different approach to their faith as well. Nona was one of the most peaceful and loving people I’ve ever known. She communicated unconditional love to me. Her sense of peace and love resonated when she talked about church. She enjoyed going to church, and I picked up the implication that she enjoyed being loved by God.

Grandma Katie strove for excellence in everything, even her faith. She read the Bible all the way through every year. During the Depression, she tithed on the small amount of money she earned from her chickens and eggs, even though my grandfather was not a churchgoer and probably resisted any commitment to tithing. She always wondered if she should have been a missionary.

Back in my thirties, I thought the difference between them had to do with grace and truth, that Nona lived by grace, and Grandma Katie was consumed by a drive for truth. I still think that’s partly true, but now I think the issue is more about rest versus striving. Both are major themes throughout the Bible.

Ponder this pair of verses: “For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:29).

Then contrast those two verses with these two: “I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). “Let us run with endurance the race that is set is before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

It seems to me Nona embodied the first two verses and Grandma Katie embodied the second two. Resting in God and striving to obey are themes with pretty much equal focus in the Bible. Which one comes easier to you? Why? Do you want to change or do you like it that way?

Do you have people in your life who seem to represent different styles of being a Christian?

(Photo: Grandma Katie and Nona at Dave’s and my wedding in 1976. Like many in her generation, Grandma Katie never learned to smile when photos were taken. I think Dave and I were encouraging her to smile as we leaned toward her. Next week: My father-in-law and money. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

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