Monday, February 20, 2012

For the days, when facing Goliath feels too big

I finally heard it for myself, in a place where I can no more pretend to ignore it.  My stomach coiled, anticipating the trajectory of the answer,
“Can women be elders?” 
The question wasn’t mine, yet it was asked on my behalf.  Though I already knew the answer, had read the official stance on the website, had heard the explanation/justification/rationalization from the lead pastor.
Sitting in the room, a circle of chairs wound ‘round the non-working fireplace to give the feeling of community, I felt the crushing heaviness again.  The kind that pushes down so hard you can’t even lift your head.  There was a line of black electrical tape on the floor in front of me.  In that place, it divided the beige carpet.   The carpet on the left, exactly the same – made in precisely same way, for exactly the same purpose, for the very same room – as the carpet on the right.  Only burdened with the dividing black line much later, by hands other than the builder’s.  A division with a distinct, likely temporary, purpose.  But as those words fell from the mouth of authority, that black line was all I could see. 
“Women who want the title aren’t the kind you want
as spiritual leaders.”[1]

I was recently told that Israel’s King Saul was chosen, in part, because he was literally head-and-shoulders above his countrymen.  His height and strength to be a symbol for them of justice and righteousness; he was to be their hero in battle and their clarion call to worship.  And yet, when Goliath stood in front of the Israelite army, Saul was back in his tent.  Choosing to not fight.  Saul versus Goliath could have been a match for the ages: Israel’s mightiest versus the Philistine’s greatest. Instead, while their heroic leader stuck to his tent and Goliath hurled taunts, the Israelites’ courage faltered.  No one strode out to meet this giant’s challenges.  No one moved.  No one uttered a sound.[2] 
Because scripture is God’s story, I can’t give any why that isn’t implicit in the text (cf. John 3:16).[3]  I can’t say why the Israelites stood by, why Saul cowered in his tent, or even why Goliath was allowed to insult the Israelites at all.  But I can imagine a human why.  A fleshly logic, emotive born, that held each warrior fast to his place.  Why I would have stood there:  Goliath was too big.  Too mighty.  Too imposing to fight.  And the fact that their leader, their national hero, was nowhere to be found could only give further evidence that this was a battle already lost.     
Some days, the days when the banner hangs limp, when wounds are too fresh and spirits too weary, armor too dented and too many friends lay stilled, the days when Goliath’s mocking sounds too much like truth. 
Days when it feels easier to lift wrists readied for shackles than to pick up sword and spear and shield only to press on, forward into a battle that seems already gone.
I get it, this passivity of the Israelites.  On those days, I want to let go, to surrender to powers far greater than I.  I want avoid battles that are too taxing, asking too much of me and my kin.  I want to stand fast in my spot, not stepping one breath out of the line of my brethren.  I stand before Goliath and am too discouraged to muster.

Yet, the things that are most worth doing are the hardest.  And sometimes require standing up, on behalf of those who otherwise cannot.  Not for the sake of division, but rather in the hope and spirit of grace and unity.  Because in the struggle against the way things are now, we might carve out a way things should and will one day be.  A heavenward orientation that was designed in the beginning, restored through the incarnation, and looked for in the age to come.  And even in the face of a persistent and mighty oppressor, with leaders sometimes hiding and heroes silent, hope remains.  Hope remains because I chance to stumble upon encouragement, timely and direct, from others within the body of Christ.  Reminders that not all endorse the silencing of voices within the body.  Reminders that for those weary souls who watch for hope on the horizon, others stand in unity, lending their strength in my weakness.  It was not designed this way.  All was changed with Jesus’ appearance into the time and place of humanity.  And as weighty as this millstone feels, it has been lifted from about my neck. 
Today, on the heels of heavy words all too familiar, I read encouragement from another part of the body.  Today, I recognize that I stand not alone.  And when I am too weakened, by the loop-holes and backwards-progression of placating diversions, others stronger than I will offer their voices because I am muted before Goliath.          
And that, dear ones, is exactly what the Israelites needed.  Before this great foe, they needed someone, stronger in that moment, to stand in the gap.  Someone to rise up on behalf of those too weary, too unsteady, to do it themselves.
So on the days when Goliath seems too mighty, when shackles are preferential to spears, when the battle feels already lost; on those days, I pray that you have encouragement.  I pray that you know the Truth.  I pray that you let Jesus stand in the gap, so hope may point you to a time yet to come,
where equality is realized in the body of Christ, through the blood of Jesus, for the glory of God.
“To the daughters of the Kingdom who still wrestle with the ‘women must be silent’ mindset, and to those who continue to struggle to be heard within the confines of patriarchal traditionalism, I would encourage you:  Find your voice and end the silence!  And when you find it ‘go and say.’  Do not stop speaking of what you have seen and heard. The brethren, the world and heaven itself strain to hear the sound of your testimony that Christ is risen and indeed we are His witnesses.”
From: “Go and Say: The Silencing of Women’s Witness” on The CBE Scroll 2/20/12


[1] See Part 2 of this post for a continuation of this conversation.  And if you're so inclined, check out a similar conversation on the CBE Scroll entitled, "Does the Title 'Pastor' Mean I'm Power-Hungry?"
[2] For the biblical account, see 1 Samuel 17:1-16
[3]John 3:16 ~ for God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

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