“For good or ill, language shapes human life. Individuals and communities may be condemned to bondage or introduced to a new freedom by the particular stories that they tell and retell and by the metaphors and parables that they employ to understand the world, themselves, and the ultimate reality called God.” —–Daniel L. Migliore
The above quote is from a theology book called Faith Seeking Understanding. This book is a tangible example of a new freedom for me. All of my life, up until a few years ago, I belonged to a complementarian church where a role in leadership and ministry was not allowed if that role involved teaching males over a certain age. Children’s ministry was acceptable to a point, which varied from congregation to congregation depending on when children were considered mature enough to be adults. Regardless of my training in middle school education and my experience teaching college students, teaching middle school, high school, and college age students alone, and not alongside my husband, was off limits. I adore my husband, and though he does have some experience teaching overseas, he doesn’t have my skill set. That didn’t matter. He was male, therefore teaching the bible outside of elementary Sunday school was his domain. I was respected and valued for my abilities outside of church, but not within church. It absolutely damaged me, and I’m still piecing myself together. My husband did try to give me credit for my ideas. During one of his communion talks, based on a little discussion between myself and one of our kids, he made sure to mention that his words were an extension of mine. It didn’t make sense to our toddler what communion was and I wanted to explain it in a meaningful way. Without appropriate language and context, it’s just a cup of juice and a cracker. I told our little one that Jesus wanted to make sure we could always have him as a reminder that he loved us and wanted us to feel safe and at home when we tasted him. I explained that communion was eating Jesus and feeling warm inside our hearts. My child’s response was the purest, most accurate description I’ve ever heard about the Lord’s Supper. “Well Jesus tastes good Momma!” After service that particular Sunday morning, with sweet mischievousness, he found the communion trays in the back of the auditorium, not yet stored, and asked if he could taste Jesus again. Whether he meant it in a figurative or literal sense, it didn’t matter. The point was still the same: Jesus really does taste good and wanting to enjoy him over and over and over again is how we should feel. We should respond to communion with that earnestness and that excitement. Being unable to share that communion talk on my own was merely one of many examples of my previous bondage. Having my perceptions, my interpretations, and my ideas not allowed in a public capacity other than that of a class participant impacted my vision of God and God’s love for me. I know that leadership and ministry are not meant to be for attention and grandeur, and I’m failing if that is the perception that you get from my words. I don’t mean to sound like I’m demanding intellectual property rights. I’m expressing pain about having to use my spouse as a conduit for my thoughts. If the Spirit was moving in me, why not let that remain instead of playing telephone from female to male? Did the authority of those words actually change because they came from him and not from me? The unspoken implication by him having the right to speak those words aloud to all is that he was spiritually superior and I was spiritually inferior. When our current church pastor got me Migliore’s theology book, she continued the work that I had done by choosing to leave our old church in the first place. She brought new vocabulary into my life to discuss who I was, who I am, and who I can be. Theologian. Holy. Ordained. Elder. Female. As my language continues to change, more words will come. My gender should not limit me. It should empower me. I do not believe that Jesus sacrificed himself for me to feel I’m not good enough to speak his name anywhere and to anyone, nor do I believe that God created me to be inherently less. Likewise, I do not believe the Spirit breathed life into me only for that life to be restricted, at times choked, into submission by a doctrine that preaches love your neighbor as yourself while promoting inequality.