I’m a Jesus Feminist because …

I’m not sure that I’m a Jesus feminist at all.

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I left home for university in the late 1980s, I was 20 years old, the Movement for the Ordination of Women in Britain was close to victory, Mrs Thatcher was still on the throne and David Alton’s private members bill to change the law on late abortion was crushed to the loud cry of a woman’s right to chose. In the American universities the radical feminist theologians were rewriting the scriptures and the liturgy with gender neutral language and I slowly worked my way through the volumes on the shelf in the short loan section of the library: Rosemary Radford Reuther, God Talk; Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father and Gyn-Ecology. There was a logic at play in some of this writing that threatened to obliterate God entirely and I was more at home in the evangelical safety of, “God says it, I believe it, that settles it”. Somewhere between synthetic wombs and reproduction without men feminist politics made an outsider of me. They got a bad name for themselves when they argued that marriage was institutionalised rape and for a while there the territory looked exclusively lesbian. I wrote my essays and read the journals. I spend a little time sorting through the bigger picture perspectives to distinguish my second-wave from my third-wave feminists and my Biblical and post-Biblical feminists from my Goddess feminists. But it was tiring. Back at the University Christian Union some of us were reading Elaine Storkey and maybe Margaret Hebblethwaite whilst others of us wondered if women should even hold executive office or speak at our meetings.

Somewhere along the way the well thumbed paperbacks, the feminist theologians and the evangelical apologists ended up in a cardboard box at the second hand book store and the man behind the counter apologised. It was a big collection but he couldn’t give me very much for it . People just weren’t reading this stuff any more. I wasn’t reading this stuff anymore. I had four small children and serial postnatal depression. I needed the money: shoes for the kids and an ever growing fiction habit that consumes the afternoons whilst they napped.

These are very nearly years without God for me. He seemed far away most of the time whilst the novels I devoured put me in touch with a life-breathing, heart-throbbing human reality that was easier to believe in. Stories of loss, pain, abuse, grief, of hope, redemption and self discovery. I found authentic humanity from a safe place called fiction and most of the writers I loved were women like me. I wanted to hear their stories over and over again. I did not tire. I love that they found a room of their own between the demands of fathers and husbands, childbirth and illness, madness, poverty and stifling convention, to be who they wanted to be in their stories and their words. The stories they told made no demands and I had room to grow. And I never quite lost hope that the God I thought I knew was really interested in all our humanity, every last dirty scrap.

And so I returned to Jesus more human than I was before and found Him to be more human that I had thought Him to be.

He healed the sick and preached freedom and pulled himself away from the crowd to spend time with unsuitable people, in homes he should not enter and in conversations he should not have had. He was controversial, audacious and subversive and he reached the places in the heart where no one else could go. When he speaks His words you almost hear their sighs of relief as burdens of shame fall away. Social stigmas cast by guilt or political oppression, the law or religion, are lifted from their shoulders and they stand tall. All of this for the sinners and the outsiders. But then he speaks to the women …

Once you notice the women in the gospels, how the writers position them, they’re key, in the flow of the story, as the kingdom grows, you can’t miss their worth. Jesus speaks to women calling them friend, drawing them out of the shadows of social exclusion, the ones born on the wrong side of the gender divide, conscribed to life outside the dignity of personhood because of the law, because of religion and because of man-made tradition. He offers them the names and the status that the law and their religion have taken away and he offers it to them immediately, in time and history as heaven comes to earth and the kingdom is made real before their own sparkling eyes. There is no anger or fury and there are no intellectual gymnastics to be performed. This is simple love, an embodied love that says in actions and in words, you are a person too.

So this is why I am a Jesus Feminist.

If you were troubled when Jesus went into the temple courtyards and turned over the trader’s stalls you need to know that this was nothing compared to the rumpus he was going to create when he finally turned the tables on the powers of darkness, oppression and sin that had enslaved his Father’s children since those heady days in the garden of Eden when the enemy of freedom first whispered those seductive words, “Did God really say?” In the upside down kingdom of the Jesus I love there is a table-turning, lie-busting, revolution waiting to happen that will do violence against every authority, philosophy or social structure that held us back or curtailed our glorious God given freedom to be. You will have to get used to some confrontation, a few harsh words and some small violence in the real business of kingdom revolution. This is not for the faint hearted.

But, if someone did something to you, or said something to you that made you feel less human than you really are let us not shy away. I want to take you to Jesus and see him restore the full image of God in the fully human person that he made you to be.

“We are creating a world where every woman can be who she was created to be without apology, in freedom.”

Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist

For Jesus is making us human again.

Today I am writing in response to Sarah Bessey’s recently published book, Jesus Feminist. The UK edition is due to be released on November 27th and you can pre-order a copy on http://www.amazon.co.uk

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Sarah Bessey is a writer and an award winning blogger at www.sarahbessey.com. She lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, with her husband Brian and three tinies.

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Unborn forests in an acorn cup

“In the very beginning, when this great universe lay in the mind of God, like unborn forests in the acorn cup; long before the echoes awoke the solitudes; before the mountains even brought forth; and long before the light flashed through the sky, God loved His chosen creatures.

Before there was any created being when the ether was not fanned by an angel’s wing, when space itself had not an existence, when there was nothing save God alone even then, in that loneliness of Deity, and in that deep quiet and profundity, His heart moved with love for His chosen.

Their names were written on His heart, and then were they dear to His soul.

Jesus loved His people before the foundation of the world even from eternity! and when He called me by His grace, He said to me, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee.”

 from, Charles Spurgeon

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“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,  just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,  having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.”

from, The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians

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“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.

In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it. But what is this to me? Truly, the Creator, the Keeper, the Lover. For until I am substantially “oned” to him, I may never have full rest nor true bliss. That is to say, until I be so fastened to him that there is nothing that is made between my God and me.”

from, Julian of Norwich 

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The photographs were taken at Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve, Rufford, Lancashire 

Finding our voice

I could well be the last person in Britain to see this clip from Educating Yorkshire, but I am really glad I watched it.

Last week I wrote about the possibility and necessity of everybody finding their voice, because I’m dreaming of the possibility of all of us telling our stories and everyone being heard.

The clip provides us with a very concrete example of someone who is finding their voice (literally) by overcoming the difficulties of a speech impediment. Most of us do not have to overcome an obstacle like this as we struggle to find our voice, but Mushy’s story provides us with an audible and visual image of what it is like to find a way to speak when we have struggled to find our voice.

Autumn Days

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Autumn is late this year by about two weeks, apart from in coastal Suffolk (my homeland) where autumn has been early.

It looks like she just refuses to perform to schedule. Summer and winter and springtime and harvest are indeed manifold witness to mercy and love, but will we still be singing ‘Great is thy faithfulness’ when the schedule is not what we expect?

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We celebrated Autumn day here on Friday, a relatively new family tradition where we take the time to enjoy an autumnal meal and indulge in some crafts to suit the season. We had guests, made lanterns, mulled cider, roasted vegetables and lit a fire in the garden. I like to think I’m making memories for them and reinforcing a little family identity amongst the business of our changing lives. Lucy moved on to high school in September and we re-decorated her bedroom. Edward started his GCSE work, he played Minecraft and developed a hair style that adds several inches to his height, making him nearly as tall as his dad. Jonathan started college and it does him good, from what I can see it’s all Marxist social theory and ancient Greek architecture. Peter is now in his final year at uni. He loves Liverpool and has a passion for building church there that makes us proud. Andy lost his job, started a company and spent a little more time doing household chores than is usual. We have had more time together and it has been good. Mostly it’s people who make the difference. We hung out with friends as we get to know them better and we said goodbye to other friends which was sad. We watched with interest the great shifting patterns we call family, work, home and church unfold before us, asked our questions and shared our thoughts on pasts unexplained and futures yet to be.

It isn’t unusual to see autumn as a gloomy time of year as we bid farewell to the long days of summer’s pleasures and plenty and we prepare ourselves for the trial of winter. Yet autumn has a splendour all of its own. Gloriously each shed leaf tells us that a tree knows how to protect itself against the cold dark months ahead. The days get shorter and the leaf, robbed of light, can not stay green.  At the base of the leaf, cells laid down in spring have accommodated the flow of water and food but now swell to block that flow.  The chlorophyl, that makes the leaf green, disappears and the character of the leaf is changed.  Within the boundaries of its original shape  the leaf takes on fine hues of fiery red and purple, yellow and orange.  Glucose trapped in the cells of the leaf are helping the tree cling to life for a little longer, helping the tree lay down the stores of energy it will need, deep in its roots, to last out the winter.  A tear line appears between the leaf and the tree, until the leaf is finally blown off in the wind or simply falls under the force of its own weight. Some leaves will even cling there until spring, when the growth of a new bud coming through will finally push the old leaf to the ground.

I have been loving autumn. The relatively mild weather and bright sunny days have pulled a little extra colour into the leaves of the ash, beech, field maple, horse chestnut, oak, rowan, silver birch and sycamore before they finally fall.  And I continually resist the urge to draw parallels between seasons of my life and the changing seasons of the year. As if grief and loss, trials and disappointments could be reduced to a simple comparison with a tree that sheds its leaves. But I will observe as the naturalist observes, the changing seasons of life in all their detail, the predictable and the unpredictable. And I will name them where I can, that, like the sons of Issachar long ago, I too may know the best things to do in every season of life. For we can not escape the seasons any more than we can escape the turning world, for all thing change and move on and we must too.

In the cold and the dark of winter, a tree never forgets what it is like to be clothed entirely in green, leaves upturned like basins to capture the sun.

What I am reading

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I have a day off today and we’re all enjoying a little autumn inspired baking. It’s raining outside but the forecast says it will clear up, so we can get out later and cook some sausages under a starry sky. As for my first blog post of the month of November I thought I’d share a little of what I’m reading because that is always a good conversation starter, especially amongst those of us who read deep and wide without prejudice and with out concern that we have to agree with everything we read.

I felt a little light headed when Alice Munro was awarded a Nobel prize a few weeks ago, what an achievement and well deserved recognition! I’d been reading her and some other female short stories writers over the summer, feeling that this was really the only kind of fiction I wanted to read. I’m especially recommending some collections and a little background reading. The Flannery O’Connor is not for the faint hearted but a must for any Christian pilgrim with an interest in fiction.

The Love of a Good Woman, short stories by Alice Munro

Runaway, short stories by Alice Munro

Alice Munro: Riches of a double life, by Aida Edemariam for Guardian Books

Alice Munro: An Appreciation, by Margaret Atwood

Binocular Vision, short stories by Edith Pearlman (why did no one tell me about this!)

Everything That Rises Must Converge, short stories by Flannery O’Connor (out of print but easy to come by second hand, I include a link to one on-line story)

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Around the internet I have enjoyed,

The Mythical “They”, by Jen Hatmaker

life, God … God, life, by Kathy Escobar

In which the world changers need some balance, a guest post by Sarah Cunningham at sarahbessy.com

The things that take leaders down, by Sarah Cunningham at rachelheldevans.com

To be inconvenienced, by Kristin for A Deeper Story

Christ and Scripture, a blog in four parts by Trevor Lloyd at differentkingdom.com

Please feel free to share with me some of the things you’ve been reading from the book shelf or on-line. The book shelf can never be to full!

You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy books and that’s kind of the same thing.