Fall is in the air! School is back in session; the days are getting noticeably shorter; the mercury has descended out of the triple-digits; and, most notably, football season has started (Go, K-State, now ranked 8th in the nation!).
In Texas, though, the most important part of Fall is the weather because you simply can’t beat it, if, like me, you relish the warm sun. (Pippi likes it too. She’s currently wet from a recent dip in the pool but she is sprawled out where the sun can warm her from head to tail.) Fall weather enables me to work on my patio: to sit outside with my computer on my lap.
It isn’t just me who is appreciative of the Fall weather, though. I’ve noticed how much the plants in my backyard are grateful for the change in our temperatures. Having barely survived the summer,my poor potted plants are all but dead. They’ve been beat up by the unrelenting Texas heat and even though they’ve been diligently watered, they are tired and wilted and barely able to produce a bloom here or there. If all goes well in another week or two they will rebound from the harsh elements, returning once again to their abundant potential.
I’ve recently realized how much I resonate with their struggle. I’ve been enduring the long death-dealing environment of the church. Despite being almost choked to the point of no return, there are occasional glimpses of life, a moment here or there of hope.
One such moment was a few weeks when I attended a worship gathering called New Wineskins. Led by Rev. Jann Aldredge-Clanton, an ordained Baptist minister, Aldredge-Clanton is a rare advocate for truly inclusive worship. She writes the New Wineskins liturgy and hymns. Furthermore, she invites this community into conversations about justice and compassion, a truly participatory time of worship and connection.
And even as moments with New Wineskins are life-giving for me and the others who regularly gather, the experience provides a stark contrast to other churches—a contrast of inclusion vs. exclusion.
One of the church’s most basic tasks is to create a worshipping community who will embrace the call of Jesus. And yet, in this most critical expression of who the church is, there is blindness to wholeness that extends far beyond the context of weekly worship experiences. The deliberate exclusion of women from worship leaders to liturgists, from preachers to pray-ers, from subjects of texts to subjects of sermons, women are absent (unless, of course, the sermon is about how sinful people are: in those cases, you might hear a diatribe or two focused on a woman).
In some ways, I suppose, women are oblivious to how others make determinations about them. Caitlin Moran in How to Be a Woman, for example, remarks on how much pain women willingly endure to emulate the way women’s bodies are portrayed by the media. They pay others to use hot wax on unwanted hair, to put chemicals on wanted hair, to have eyebrows plucked and tummies tucked. All in the name of presenting themselves as society deems acceptable. And if these enhancements aren’t enough, now Mark Driscoll tells women they should consider breast augmentations because this will add to the hot married sex they know their spouses want.
And women, without seriously thinking about it, go along. Society has a way of making one complicit.
But why does the church refuse to be counter-cultural here and why do women go along with their own exclusion? When women hear sermon after sermon based upon male experiences, why do they continue to listen? When churches sing songs and recite liturgy punctuated with male pronouns for God and people, why do women refuse to speak up about being left out?
Interestingly, this past week in my course on spirituality we’ve been considering the divine feminine. As part of our conversation all of the students said in one way or another: God is neither male nor female, or perhaps encompasses all genders—female, male, and in-betweens—but is certainly not exclusively male. And yet, each student routinely uses exclusive masculine language for God.
So, when I asked them why they use masculine language if they do not believe God to be male, they all answered essentially in unison: “we’ve been conditioned to do this.” Convention reigns supreme, apparently.
This subconscious assimilation of conventional ideas and practices takes me back to one of the opening scenes in the Old Testament. Maybe it is all about Genesis 3 after all: the story of Adam and Eve staking out its claim on our lives again. But perhaps the problem isn’t about disobedience but allowing someone else to determine the scope of one’s life. The serpent convinces a very sharp Eve to taste the fruit. By eating she embraces a different kind of living: one set in motion by someone else.
We are not doomed, though, to live our lives this way, allowing society and church to keep us silent and invisible. It is our choice to be heard; it is our choice to be included; it is our choice to flourish. But we may need to find more nourishing fountains as long as churches perpetuate patriarchy. And, if we are willing to look, we may find New Wineskins, indeed!