A Promise

One day I’ll take you down to the sea.  It’s at this time of the day that it’s most beautiful, the golden sky and the blue green waves reflecting in each other and calling your name.  The sea in all its beautiful calm and gentleness and majestic chaos that calls over land, over the hills and the mountains and the fields come to me, come to me.  The crystalline waves that lap against the shore and crash into each other in their relentless beating on kiss and caress your bare feet, warmed by the sun, now cooled by the waters.

 

We’ll go walking though the village I know as if it were my own, my home.  Down the little row of cottages, run our hands through the lavender that gushes over the wall, splending and prickly and sweet, fragrant with the summer sun and the sea air.  Run our fingers over the petals of the roses that frame cottage doors with their velveteen beauty, filling the air with that scent that never quite fades.  We’ll eat chips the way they should be- salty and slightly soggy and tasting of the sea air, our fingers greasy and coated with the remnants of the unhealthiest seaside food to taste and be so good.

 

I’ll show you the place I know and love best.  The graveyard with so many ancient and cracked and crumbling tombstones, the names a mere memory of the people laid below.  The high stone walls that hold the prayers of thousands of lost, hopeful, loved people for millions of lost, hopeful, loved people they know and have never met.  These stones soaked and resounding with the voices of people of prayer over centuries.  The high oak doors that have swung open for bride and bishop and mourner and choir and child.  Those heavy oaken doors that I ran my fingers over in reverence as a child, and now mark the gateway to so many of my memories.

 

The bells still peal with joy every Sunday.  The ringers in their tower calling the faithful and the lost to prayer and worship.  You can hear it from the other end of town and from the sea on a clear day.  The peal of Portsmouth calling home those who hear.

 

The tiles know my feet.  They know the feet of millions of worshippers throughout generations, people who come every week and people that came once, fifty years ago one Christmas Eve.  These wooden benches held children of all ages for so many years, supported the weary and aged and reflecting.  It is at these rails that the faithful have knelt and petitioned.  It is in these very rows that praises have been lifted to God, hymns of old that speak of love and grace and mercy, new songs that call the people to lean on their Rock and Redeemer.  We can sit here as long as you like, the last of the light streaming low through the glass, casting red, blue, yellow, green, orange, purple across the aisles, halos illuminated with sunset, wings glowing in the evening light.  The figures almost come alive in this light, the Temple courts drawing you in, the cross standing boldly in front of the congregation, the resurrected Christ in all His glory.

 

There is a peace that rests in this place, despite the grandeur of pews and steps and altar, despite the fumbled practise of the organ, reeds and pipes lending a hallowed hush to the stillness.  I know these songs.  I knew them as a girl, and I will know them still when I am old and fragile.  That stall is where I sat for seven years, the days I sang the praises of the eternal and holy God I knew from infancy, when life was so busy and yet so carefree.  It was here that I became.  It was here that I grew.  It was here that I learned the amazing mercy and love of God.

 

One day I’ll take you down to the sea.  One day, I’ll show you the place that made me, and the beauty that I can never forget.  One day, you’ll understand.  This is my promise.

Equal?

This is a big, controversial issue, which really isn’t all that hard to sort out, but it seems to be a breaking point way too often in the modern church.

Are men and women a) equal in the full definition of the word, or b) are they equal with different roles, or c) are they not equal?  (okay, it’s definitely not c.) If you think it is, you really need to re-read the Bible.)

The simple answer is a).

We are all created equal, in God’s image, no one person is greater than another (Genesis 1 & 2).  When Eve is created from Adam’s rib in Genesis 2:18-25, she is called his helper.  In Hebrew, this word is ezer, which is a far more complex word than our modern English concept of helper- rather than being a sidekick or servant, when it is used, ezer usually refers to God helping Israel, and so indicates someone who fights for another, supports and strengthens them.  I mean, is God a sidekick?

“The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”– Matthew Henry

So why not b) equal with different roles?

I was raised to believe that I could do anything I wanted to do.  I’m fairly sure at various points in my childhood I’ve wanted to be a warrior princess, a doctor, a teacher, a pirate, a firefighter, a forensic scientist, an actress, a police officer, an author, a priest, and a cat.  My parents never told me I couldn’t do any of them (although they dissuaded the feline and dramatic). Most of the careers listed above are traditionally male roles, or subverted the feminine ideal.  It doesn’t mean I was any less the girl God had created me to be.

(I’d like to emphasise here that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being called to be a stay-at-home mother.  My Mum is, and I have been so grateful for her being called to that, and for what it has meant for how I have grown up and the young woman I have become.)

I believe that the Bible defines male and female as entirely equal, no difference in roles.  Why?

Women served in Israel and in the early Church.  Look at the influence of Miriam, Deborah and Huldah in the Old Testament, holding positions otherwise held by men, as leaders and prophets.  In the New Testament, it is women who recognise Christ before His male disciples do.  Lydia, Phoebe, Chloe, Priscilla, Junia, and a whole raft of Marys are crucial to the growth of the early church.  They do what the men do- they pray, fast, worship, prophesy, speak in tongues, preach, evangelise- because they are called to.  If they were not created with equal roles, would God have called them to these positions?  Would He have given them these gifts?

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

Paul’s letters are often taken out of context and used to argue that women should be quiet in church, and excluded from leadership.  But he so often speaks of the importance of women in the church.  If we are all equal, and he was supportive of women in ministry in the early church, it is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that he rejects the leadership of women.  (I could write an entire post on this, so I won’t elaborate here, and leave it a little blunt.)

Likewise, it should be argued that men have the ability do traditionally ‘feminine’ roles, such as raising children and ‘homemaking’ (whatever that is).  Men can be gifted at baking and sewing.  Some are called to change nappies and go to toddler groups.  Many men I know, whether consciously or not, subvert the masculine ideal in their behaviours, callings, and what they enjoy.  There is nothing at all wrong with this.  Gender roles are not strictly biblical, and the only gender specific role expicitly defined in the Bible is child-bearing, and you can’t argue much with physiology.

After explaining an egalitarian position, the next question usually asked is whether there is a place for chivalry and men helping women.  I’m not entirely sure why.  We are clearly called to support each other and use our skills and abilities to help others, so I see no issue with asking for help from someone who has the abilities I don’t.  If I can’t reach the top shelf, there’s nothing wrong with asking one of my guy friends who is taller than me to get what I need off the shelf; there are some situations in which I can’t do certain things, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help.  I strongly belive that gentlemanly behaviour is necessary.  Chivalry is not dead, neither should it be.  But I’m going to hold the door for people too.  It’s called being nice to others.  Kindness counts.

I can only cover so much on this topic in a blog post.  It’s a complex subject, and whilst I am not saying there is no value to complimentarianism, it is fatally flawed as an ideology.  We do not fit into different roles because of our gender differences, but because we are all individuals, our differences therefore independent of gender.  I don’t have all the answers.  I could never claim to.

If you want to read further into the issue of women in leadership and the roles of women, I really recommend Influential by Jo Saxton.  It’s an amazing book written by an amazing woman of God, and I always get so much out of it with every re-read.

Some good blog posts I’ve read:

Cassi Clerget- ‘The Feminist Christian’

Alise Write- ‘You don’t have to take off your clothes to be egalitarian’

Elizabeth Esther- ‘Covert misogyny in progressive churches’- guest post by Stephanie Drury

Elizabeth Esther- ‘The New Misogyny: “bro-culture” pastors, sexist Christian comedians and abuse apologetics disguised as female empowerment’

Elizabeth Esther- ‘On so-called biblical womanhood’

Stuff Antonia Says- ‘Feminism & me, whether I knew it or not’

This post originated in a few conversations I’ve had over the years with friends, and was prompted by what I presume will be an ongoing conversation with one of my friends over the last few days.  I’m coming from a liberal evangelical Anglican feminist perspective, and having studied Biblical Studies at university.  This is not a new topic to me, and I’m sure this won’t be the last time I write on it, particularly with my passion for seeing women empowered within the church and raising up leaders from amongst the community of young women I have the privilege to be serving and working with during my internship, and because of the calling I believe that God has placed on my own life.  It’s what’s on my heart right now, so, yes, it’s a little messy, but that doesn’t make it any less of a truthful understanding of the Word of God.

On Communion as a Coeliac

We took communion tonight at Holy Week meditations.  It’s rare at the church I’m part of at university.

Every time, I am reminded of the one line in the Common Worship liturgy for Eucharist, which says “Though we are many, we are one body because we all share in one bread.”  Unable to share the bread, my mum cannot bring herself to say the second half of this response.

Every time I have taken communion in the last two years, I have remarked how nasty my communion wafer tastes.  It always gets stuck to the roof of my mouth or in a lump in my throat.

Both my mum and I are coeliacs- we can’t eat anything containing gluten or we get really ill.  But I cannot bring myself to cut short any part of the liturgy.  I cannot bring myself to receive in only one kind to avoid gluten free wafers.

Communion is the sharing of a meal as a community.  It just so happens that it is formed of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  Eucharist is a thanksgiving for the sacrifice.  We take communion to remember Christ’s sacrifice, and to draw near to Him in thanksgiving.

Even though I don’t eat the same bread as everyone else at my church, I am sharing in the meal.  The bread I eat is symbolically the same.  It is still Christ’s body broken for me.  I still eat it in remembrance of Him, just as I drink the wine and remember the new covenant of His love.

Gluten free wafers taste like paper.  They have the texture of the big sheets of sugar paper we used to use in class to do group work.  That’s not going to change any time soon.  But that’s not all bad.  It’s difficult for me to swallow a gluten free wafer.  It leaves me with a lump in my throat.

I should find communion difficult to swallow.

Jesus died for my sins.

He died to take away all the bad things I have ever done.  For all the bad things anyone has ever done since God spoke over the waters and said “Let there be light.”

I come to Him as a child and show Him all the things I drag behind me, that pull me down and stand between Him and me.  And He takes them all from me.  Every speck of dirt, every wound, every broken toy (and yes, I am imagining one of those ducks that are pulled around on wheels by a piece of string).  He is weighed down with all my rubbish, and still He embraces me as if I were pure.

And then He takes everything and is stripped and beaten.  He is draped in a robe and crowned with a crown of thorns.

He is humiliated as he is paraded through Jerusalem to a hill just outside the city walls called Golgotha.  Calvary.  The place of the skull.  He is placed amongst criminals.  To the jeers of the Romans, the Pharisees, the Saducees, and the Jewish people who just days before had proclaimed Him king.

And then He is hauled up on, nailed to, that dirty, rugged, horrific cross and dies for me.

I should feel uneasy.

The bread should taste disgusting in my mouth.

It should be hard for me to swallow.

A man died for me.

My God- my God died for me.

Ashes to Ashes

[This should have been posted yesterday, but unsurprisingly I’m already not doing too well with Lent.  Hopefully I’ll get better over the next few weeks!]

Last night before I washed my face before I went to bed (I’m a good girl and take my makeup off every night) there was a black smudge on my forehead.  It was a smudge very much like many other Christians had on their foreheads yesterday.  It was a black, ashed chrism cross, a custom of Ash Wednesday.

Why do we have Ash Wednesday, and what does it signify?

In the Old Testament, when people were grieving, they tore their clothes, wore sackcloth and covered their heads in ashes.  Nowadays, we’re a little more attatched to our clothing, and prefer not to go around half naked (except in the summer, when shorts and swimsuits seem too alluring for many!).  And I don’t know about you, but I haven’t come across much sackcloth recently.  Ashes are now simply a symbol of sorrow and grief.  At funerals we hear the phrase “dust to dust, ashes to ashes”, reminding us that from the ground we came (in Genesis), and to the ground we are returned.

When we have our foreheads marked with ashes on Ash Wednesday, it is the ashes of the previous years’ palm crosses which have been burned.  We take the promise of Easter and mourn Christ’s sacrifice.  We prepare for the darkness of the three days Christ lay in the tomb by burning the palms which accompanied the “hosanna” before it turned to “crucify Him”.

By marking a cross in these ashes, we confess our wrongdoing, and are marked as God’s own, that He may claim our sin and take it to the cross with Him on Good Friday.  The mark on our foreheads are a testimony to the rest of the world.  They are a sign of Christ’s power in our lives and over the sins we commit.  They are a reminder that one day, because of Christ’s sacrifice, there will be no more grieving or death or pain.  That we have eternal life through our Saviour.

Ash Wednesday gives us the chance to reflect on the new season we are entering, and to prepare for Lent as we begin a period of quietness and contemplation.  Lent is traditionally a time when churches are bare- the more glitzy parts of the decoration are put away.  Altar cloths are changed to plain purple designs, there are no flowers, in some churches the stained glass windows are covered over, the reredos is replaced with a simple cross.  We focus on God, we reflect on the ministry and passion of Jesus, and we look forward to Easter.

Every year I’ve been at university I’ve been to the Ash Wednesday service at church.  Every year I’ve been moved by the stillness, and the simplicity of celebrating the Eucharist in quiet contemplation, in a plain building, and with a large community of worshippers.

And each year, I am called back to one thing.  The one thing we, as Christians, are called to throughout Lent and throughout our lives.

I am called back to the foot of the cross.

I am called back to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

And the cry “It is finished.”