I know most often "open letters" are used to mass criticize a figure to make a point, but I hope you'll allow me the audacity to turn that around and use the form to speak with you in gentleness, praise, and fun… with the masses listening in.
Oh, about the masses? I'm lucky if I get 100 pageviews/day, so if anyone does manage to listen in on our conversation, you can colour me purple and call me grape-tastic.
I read your book. I laughed, I cried, I cried because I laughed. Self-effacing to the end, honest to a fault, you succeeded in drawing me into your project. But more than that, you succeeded in using humour to create holiness. In being drawn in, I stood up, looked around me, and saw your Jar of Contention, your tent, you sitting with the shofar… you with God.
If I'm honest, it was a feat in itself to get this gal to laugh at the right times. Who knows? Maybe I didn't! My sides were splitting when you wrote of your bleeding butter apple pie (remembering my own pie fiasco where I substituted oil for lard, and added no sugar, flour or cinnamon to unpeeled apples. Mind you, I was only 9 years old at the time, perplexed as to why my pastry was snapping back into an elastic blob rather than rolling out). The miracle? It was okay to laugh. It was okay to draw breath in delight and humour that was not mockery, snark, or meanness. If anything, you helped me give myself permission to laugh again. There was Jesus… wiping away tears from His own eyes, a bit of snot running down his moustache after snorting so hard. (Dude, get a kleenex)
I needed that. There hasn't been a lot of that lately.
Breaking away from fundamentalist traditions brings out the torches and pitchforks, as you well know. Ask the wrong question, and there's condemnation; believe the wrong thing, and there's condemnation; laugh… at all... and there's condemnation (unless they are the mild titters of clucky females, giggling over the latest Veggie Tales flick. Not that there is anything wrong with Veggie Tales. But I do happen to find even saying the word titters wildly hilarious).
I can't be Christian Enough, anymore, Rachel.
I can't measure up to the proper doctrine, the proper view of doctrine, the proper treatment of Scripture, the proper way to pray (I can't even contemplate this with God, because contemplation is a sin apparently). I can't be so righteous. I can't be so pure. I can't be so good. I can't be PROPER! This narrowness keeps me a sinner to the end. The Narrow Way is SO narrow that I can't even get in (and it's not because I've got love handles). Even if I think I'm on that narrow way, it's not that I get stuck on a slippery slope… it feels more like the person behind me shoves me right off.
"This is why she doesn't have a husband." (strange how we all know the mind of God before asking God)
"You are free to believe whatever you want, as long as it's in the context of a bible-believing, God-fearing community." (don't all Christian groups claim they believe believe the Bible?)
"You can't agree with that person because she's a Catholic." (meaning what… exactly?)
"You know certain people are warning others about you."
"You can't read that person's book (including yours) because they are wolves in sheeps' clothing, leading the faithful astray."
"You're an aberration. You need to be lovingly led back to a place of holiness."
Despite all of it, I thought the criticism would be the worst of it. After all, it's not like I've been perfect in this breaking away into exile. I haven't said all of the right words, I've stepped on toes that really should have been left pain-free, and I've stumbled a whole lot. No… the criticism isn't the worst of it.
It's the silence afterwards.
Have they given up?
Have I been disowned?
Have I been left "to Satan" to learn my lesson?
The silence can drive an exile insane after being so accustomed to trial by fire. On one hand, I can finally take some much needed deep breaths, but the silence is accompanied by aloneness.
Oh God! What have I done?!
I began following your blog over a year ago. It was an honour to be invited to share my Church Story as a person on the Austism Spectrum. I've read both your books, and wondered: "Why the hell is a woman 3 years younger than me writing books, when I haven't even been paid for my articles yet?!!" 😉
What is it I really wanted you to know?
Tear-dropping, snort-out-loud, shoulder-shaking laughter.
Imagining myself with a needle and bobbin… oh dear Lord, if it was left to me to clothe the world, we'd all be naked. Yet come to think of it, if things went that way, we'd have far fewer issues with nudity. Maybe I should take up that call of clothing the world… (LAUGH!)
… I never had the power to undermine a boy's sexual purity (even though I was told I did). And if I really did have it now, I just might have a husband, wouldn't you know? (SNORT!)
… I never needed school teachers walking around at recess time with a 12" ruler, measuring female clothing lengths, and the distance between boys and girls.(GUFFAW!)
… most importantly…
… I was never an afterthought of God's. (…silence…)
Aha: here is where silence meets healthy, holy laughter. And fear begins to melt away.
For so long, I was taught and truly believed that "God created male and female equal in form, but never in role". I was second. I was the first sinner but second in glory. I was less. I was relegated to the home only (mention anything about homemaking, and a swarm of tried and true homemakers will attack with floured rolling pins. Homemaking is a high and holy calling, I AGREE! I have never suggeseted otherwise. Like you, I simply don't believe it's the only place for a woman. Yet that seems lost in the cloud of white baking flour). Wait… am I stereotyping females by insinuating that ALL homemakers are armed with rolling pins and white flour? It is the 21rst century, after all.
High fibre, multi-grain flour is the proper ingredient in a homemade beating. And I hear bread makers are all the rage. My apologies.
One day, I will help open a place of safety for exploited youth… teens bought and sold in the sex trade here in Canada. Creating family, and not simpy a "group home"; creating simplicity, and not material gain; growing roots, rather than flighty movement all demand a crazy, messy, loving home. Home for many of these youth is a cuss word. Yet we all need it. But I envision the boys beating down bread dough even as I see the girls learning business skills — all laughing together, even in times of tears.
There He is again: that Jesus fellow.
He appears in the strangest of places, humbles me even to the point of humiliation (I blush easy, my friend), but has never once underrated me. He let me believe I was second. He let me believe that I couldn't minister in the church other than to children or overseas. Patient bloke, this Jesus.
So what do we do now, Rachel?
What do we do in this holy place of silence and laughter?
How now do we love?
Perhaps my chains are falling away, but I certainly do not feel altogether loving towards those stands that place women under the heels of men, that refuse women ministerial places in the church, that insist on "biblical family" when girls and women around the world are bought and sold for labour or pleasure… how now do we love?
In this sacred space of tearful laughing and a holiness present in the Spirit we all drink of, how do we love the people and places we have come from when they hurt more than they help?
At the risk of sounding King James-ish… "oh Love of loves, have mercy on me… a heretic who has followed Thy call, but has stumbled in the slightly important area of loving those who disagree with my choices concerning You…" Amen.
Much love to you, Rachel, eshet chayil.