Howard eBooks/Simon & Schuster
“I didn’t need another fashion show or makeup tutorial, another chance to
fill in a blank in a Bible study with a pink flower on the cover.”
The first thing you notice about Sarah Bessey’s gracious writing in her new book, Jesus Feminist, is that she is not angry. If you are familiar with her lovely, inspiring blogs at sarahbessey.com, you already know this. I did. Her writing about life, faith, her marriage, social justice in Haiti or her connection with other women has that same down-to-earth quality that makes us gasp at Anne Lamott and Amy Voskamp – two vastly different women that, like Bessey, makes everyday life appear to be so sacred. Enough so that whether you are reading about the Kingdom of God from the hip, urban, passionately political Lamott, the Midwestern farm wife and earthy mother Voskamp or from Bessey, the Canadian charismatic appalled by “women’s ministry” craft night’s pink ceiling, it’s a Kingdom of God different than the one so often described in Sunday School.
Too many of us were taught to focus on Mary silently pondering the miraculous birth of her son instead of the Mary who started bossing around the servants at the wedding of Cana, who interrupted Jesus’ ministry time and time again to seek clarification, who defied Roman soldiers to remain at his cross when he died and who worked closely with doctor Luke to write the most accurate account possible of her son’s life and resurrection.
Perhaps it’s because Bessey grew up without the baggage. She admits that growing up, “I was completely comfortable with the title ‘Pastor’ in front of a feminine name…I grew up without knowing that anyone thought women could not or should not lead or preach or speak or follow the clear calling of God for their life.” Once she was confronted with an American church that taught prescriptions against women leaders, it sent her into a tailspin and a crisis of faith that she had to rationally unpack. Lucky for the rest of us.
Disclaimed as nothing “scholarly” or exegetical, Bessey’s book patiently goes through the poster-child passages that are used to mandate headship or submission or silence or authority. Bessey swipes them all aside with the overall mandate that followers in the image of God are to be rooted in the Vine and bear the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Not based on gender.
“We are not living biblically by stuffing our true gifts and callings and passions into worn-out clichés, turning scriptural encouragement and invitations into new roles. Our work in this life grows from the tree of his great love for us, birthed out of a growing and real relationship with Love itself…Once you taste Love, you are ruined for the empty shells of religious performance and conditions.”
Like many Christian women, Bessey admits that she “tried to earn my way to a weird sort of Proverbs 31 Woman Club, I collapsed into exhaustion and simmering anger, sadness and failure. This was not life in the Vine, this exhausting job description; this was not the Kingdom of God, let alone a redeemed woman living full.”
Some of us have been stuck there. Stuck with the exhausting job description of the Biblical woman. The women who see failure after failure of male pastors who are living out the exhausting job description of the Biblical man – instead of a sharing and honoring model of mutual leadership, spiritual give and take like the image of the Trinity. Some of us, have left the church because, as Bessey writes, “I didn’t need another fashion show or makeup tutorial, another chance to fill in a blank in a Bible study with a pink flower on the cover.”
Others are willing to wrestle with the church, like Jacob, to get our blessing; to seal our inheritance. Bessey, instead calls us all to, “Rest in your God-breathed worth. Stop holding your breath, hiding your gifts, ducking your head, dulling your roar, distracting your soul, stilling your hands, quieting your voice and satiating your hunger with the lesser things of this world.“
Just go be the Kingdom of God in all ways possible, she concludes. It’s the invitation I’ve been waiting for all my life. Haven’t you?