Feminism

Becoming a Wounded Healer: My Story Through Abuse

“Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?” When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers. Jesus is God’s wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus’ suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.”

– Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer

For many years, I lived my life in answer to the question, “How can I hide my wounds?” The things that happened in my past were too painful to process, and too scary to share. Although shame was not my burden to bear, I was weighed down by its reality.

More recently, I have been asking myself, “How can I put my woundedness in the service of others?” This is a fundamental shift in response to years of processing with prayer and tears. It is in this spirit that I want to share more of my story. I am hoping that as I cast off the shame, my wounds may become a source of healing.

What follows will be a gradually released seven-part series detailing events in my past, and the path I have been on towards healing. Names have been changed. With forgiveness, there is no room for revenge or retaliation. These posts are intended to bring light into darkness, and perspective into confusion. They are not intended to target anyone, including the perpetrators.

Wrestling with the Buts: Women in Leadership and the Bible

Lady in the MarketThese days it seems like everywhere I turn, I’m getting pulled into discussions about what the Bible does or does not allow women to do. Can they be pastors? Can they preach? What about other teaching and leading ministries? How about leadership in the home? Articles such as this one by Matt Walsh, and this one from Got Questions, have been sent to me with requests for my perspective.

I’m not a Bible scholar, but I have extensively thought about, prayed through, and researched these issues. I grew up in a complementarian church, and have written previously about how I changed my mind about women in leadership. This article, though, isn’t about my personal process. It’s dealing with the popular objections Christians have about women in leadership. In short, we’re wrestling with the buts. Instead of reinventing the wheel with my own written responses to the arguments, I’m including a series of articles that respond in a much better way than I can. Here we go…

…BUT Adam was created before Eve (Genesis 1-2; 1 Tim. 2:9-15)

A scholarly take on the ‘creation order’ argument – http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/priscilla-papers/genesis-equality-part-1

Word study on helpmeet (Heb. Ezer kenegdo) – https://godswordtowomen.org/ezerkenegdo.htm

…BUT no women are found teaching men in the Old Testament

An examination of women and their ministry throughout the OT & NT – https://rachelheldevans.com/blog/mutuality-women-leaders

…BUT Jesus was a man

This article deals with this objection, as well as the larger context of God and gender – http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/priscilla-papers/does-god-have-gender

…BUT the 12 apostles were all men

Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian’s article deals with this objection beautifully – http://godswordtowomen.org/Apostles.htm

…BUT Paul says women can’t be church leaders or teach / have authority over men (aka the 1 Timothy 2 argument)

The short answer – http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/other/short-answers-challenging-texts-1-timothy-211-15

The long answer – http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/priscilla-papers/1-timothy-28%E2%80%9315-and-gender-wars-ephesus

The meaning of ‘authority’ in 1 Timothy 2:12 – http://juniaproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/THE-MEANING-OF-%CE%B1%E1%BD%90%CE%B8%CE%B5%CE%BD%CF%84%E1%BD%B3%CF%89-IN-1-TIMOTHY-2.12.pdf

…BUT the man is the head of the home (Eph. 5:21-33)

On the Significance of Kephalē (“Head”) – http://juniaproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Cervin-Sig-of-Kephale.pdf

Q&A: Does the Bible Allow Women to Have Authority Over Men? –  http://www.cbeinternational.org/resources/article/mutuality/qa-does-bible-allow-women-have-authority-over-men

There are probably many other ‘buts’. To be honest, even with everything I have read on these topics, I still don’t have all the answers. However, what I do know leads me to believe that the Bible’s answer to the question of women in leadership is a resounding YES. Leadership, just like any other ministry in the church, depends on one’s gifts, calling, passions, and interests. It does not depend on gender.

All in all, everyone is entitled to their viewpoint, and we do need to learn to disagree agreeably. People are supposed to know we are Christians by our love (Jn. 13:35). But I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m tired of defending my ability to exercise my gifts, so I’m just gonna be over here getting shit done for Jesus.

Further Resources

For an overall scholarly treatment of the biblical basis for women’s ministry in the church, NT Wright’s video and article are excellent.

Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy – Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (eds.). Available from Amazon.

For Individual or Group Bible Study – In the Image of God: Exploring what the Bible says about men and women. Available as a PDF from Proost.*

*I have gone through this study myself and with a group, and found it a non-threatening way to examine and think through key aspects of this topic.

My Top 5 Books in 2016

 

For as long as I can remember, and even before that, I’ve loved to read. The librarian’s blank look when she told me she had run out of books to recommend is still vivid in my mind. I don’t read as much as I used to, but I did manage to leaf through a few gems in 2016. Here are my top 5 reads.top5in2016

Rising Strong – Brene Brown

Out of the corner of my eye, in the middle of a coffee shop at an all-inclusive Mexican resort, I spotted Rising Strong amidst the unappealing fiction novels. I opened it to find it was a signed copy! I couldn’t believe it! This book came at just the right time for me. I’ve thought for some time that Brene Brown makes emotions accessible for INTJ’s like me, and this was no exception. Following on from her previous bestsellers, The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, this one focuses on what you do once you’ve been vulnerable and it’s gotten messy. Developing emotional awareness, getting curious about the findings, being honest about the stories we tell ourselves, and moving into action, these seem like simple things, but they’re actually quite revolutionary. This woman is pure gold. Check out her stuff! (If you’re skeptical, let her TED talks convince you first.)

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women – Naomi Wolf

Written in 1991, I still found this book prophetic in 2016. “The beauty myth tells a story: The quality called ‘beauty’ objectively and universally exists. Women must want to embody it and men must want to possess women who embody it. This embodiment is an imperative for women and not for men…it is biological, sexual, and evolutionary…this system is based on sexual selection…it is inevitable and changeless” (p.12). Exploring the myth caused me to question the status quo and gave me a new lens through which to see the world. If you’re interested in the politics of beauty, or you just like to be challenged, this is a great read.

Writing to Change the World: An Inspiring Guide for Transforming the World with Words – Mary Pipher

Every time I picked up this book, I got excited about writing. Every. Time. Pipher is encouraging and instructive, sharing pieces of her own story as she enables you to share yours more effectively. She helped me along the path to discovering my voice and passion to say what only I can say. I’d never read a book on writing before, and I’m glad this was my first one.

The Stream Runs Fast: My Own Story – Nellie McClungimg_8267

I’d been on a bit of a suffragette binge since watching the British film of the same name, and getting photos with the ‘famous five’ statues in Ottawa earlier this year. So, getting to read some of Nellie McClung’s story, a suffragette from my home province of Manitoba? Yes, please! I had no idea this woman was so incredibly accomplished. Not only did she write numerous books and speak around the country, she was a politician, and raised a family. All in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Amazing. The thing that impressed me most about McClung was her grace and poise in dealing with those who disagreed with her and tried to destroy her efforts for equality. An example to me, and all of us advocating for one thing or another. Definitely worth the read.

Infidel – Ayaan Hirsi Ali

At first I was just highly intrigued to read about a life utterly different from my own. Ali was born in Somalia, and also spent time in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Her stories shed light on a worldview and perspective foreign to me, and helped me see my ‘glasses’ – my way of seeing things – more clearly. I was captivated by her story of escaping an arranged marriage by fleeing to Europe. I was shocked with the civil war in Somalia. But I think what struck me most was her critique of Islam and how the Western world too easily embraces it with an eye on tolerance. I’ve heard many arguments against Islam from other religions, but a Muslim? That was new to me. If you want to know more, read her book.

 

So there you have it. My top 5 books of 2016. Are you rushing to Amazon to order them yet? 🙂

Do you have any book recommendations? I’m always adding to my list!

Taking Off Our Glasses: A Leadership Lesson

I’ve worn glasses for a long time. I think I got my first pair when I was three, or at the latest, five. I’ve worn them for so long that I often forget I’m wearing them.

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I suffered from depression for six years. Everything felt so dark and hopeless, like wearing a pair of sunglasses that could never come off. I couldn’t imagine that life could look any differently.

I think how we see and engage in leadership is not so different from these experiences. We become saturated in a single perspective and we cannot imagine it could look another way. We do not even realize we are wearing glasses. So, we continue thinking and operating with a narrow, anemic perspective, believing that’s all there is. Maybe we find mentors, read books, go to conferences, or take courses. Seemingly we are engaging in good things and becoming better leaders. But all of these things are the same colour as our glasses so that we are never challenged. If something different does manage to break in, the threat of the anomaly is quickly quenched. To reference Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a popular Nigerian author and speaker, there is great danger to a single story.

Most of what I have seen, read, and experienced regarding leadership is from a white, Western, male perspective. This is not a bad nor a wrong perspective, but if it becomes my only set of glasses, then it is incomplete. Some time ago I came across Next Leadership. It’s a UK-based organization founded by Kate Coleman. Not only is she a woman, but she was also born in Ghana, and has been a pioneer for women in leadership in a number of areas. Her book ‘the 7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership’ was the first book I ever read on leadership by a woman. For the first time in my life, I saw a different perspective on leadership, and discovered well articulated, unique challenges for women in leadership.

A number of months ago, I found another book on sale: ‘Dare Mighty Things: Mapping the Challenges of Leadership for Christian Women’ by Dr. Halee Gray Scott. This was my second book on leadership by a woman. Both Coleman and Scott recognize that from the outset, many women are disqualified for leadership based on their gender, especially as it relates to specific theologies among Christians. However, they write presuming (and presuming correctly) that women do have leadership gifts and are already leading in all kinds of arenas. Through these books, I began to see more of my glasses.

One particular aspect stuck out to me from Scott’s book. In her studies, she focused her thesis on perceptions of female leaders serving in para-church ministries. She discovered one of the unique challenges for women in para-church leadership (and likely in Christian leadership in general), was the discrepancy between how good women were perceived compared to how good leaders were perceived.

When women display the desirable leadership traits – confident, competent, assertive, and bold – they cease to be viewed as warm and caring and are instead perceived as tough, aggressive, and domineering. This creates a double bind, because if women act in ways consistent with gender stereotypes, they are not viewed as competent leaders, but if they act in ways consistent with good leaders, they are not liked. In political circles, these women are called ‘iron ladies’. (p.107)

Scott adds, “since perceptions of female leaders strongly correlate with perceptions of successful leaders, but greatly contrast with perceptions of women in general, it means that Christians view female leaders as exceptions to the rule” (p.115). From my own experience, her research results ring true. I’ve had to decide that I will use my gifts and pursue my calling regardless of how favourably people view me, as a woman or as a leader. More women than I can count have told me they could not do what I do. This could be true, since we are all given different gifts and abilities (1 Cor. 12). However, even those that could lead likely believe it is not possible. Scott concludes, “whether we like it or not, we do not think a woman can be both a good woman and a good leader” (p.107). We lose out on capable leaders because many women consider this price too high to pay, and choose instead to act in ways that will gain them social acceptability as a woman.

How can we move forward? The first step is to realize the danger of a single story about leadership, and have the courage to seek out other perspectives. Imagine you actually are wearing a pair of glasses, and that leadership can look differently than you may have believed until now. With your new and evolving viewpoint, challenge others to see beyond what’s right in front of them. Use whatever privilege you have to encourage people, especially women, to pursue leadership in ways that are unique to them. Whatever you do, refuse to let a single story dominate the leadership landscape.

Be yourself, but exactly like this.

boxing-gloves-300x300Debra looked at me wistfully with a light in her eyes. I had just told her about my kickboxing hobby, so why the look of an unfulfilled longing? “I’ve wanted to box for a long time, but always thought it would make me less of a woman,” she said with a shrug of her hands.

Why would she say something like that? Sports are not inherently gendered. Somewhere along the way in her life, she must have internalized a message of what someone else thought it meant to be feminine. Maybe it was communicated by her family, friends, church, local community, broader society, or the media. Maybe it was all of these. Either way, a feminine box had been created where some things were clearly in, and others were clearly out.

Boxes in themselves are not necessarily threatening, but the consequences of non-compliance are enough to facilitate a community of cubic figures. Those who dare to transgress the sacred walls are shamed and shunned. The innate human desire to belong and to be loved easily overcomes the equally innate human desire for free self-expression. On one hand, society screams “Be Yourself!!” and on the other, it adds “but stay within these exact boundaries.” In Christian circles, it can be even worse, because compliance is connected to what is ‘biblical’, so salvation is on the line.

What are the results? People like Debra are robbed of their wholeness, and we are robbed of their beings and talents. Maybe she could have been a competitive boxer, but we’ll never know. It may not be sports, it could be anything – music, art, emotional expression, fashion – so much is defined by ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ boxes.

People like Debra need the freedom to be themselves. Boxes need to be challenged, and not just those related to gender. We need to value wholeness more than conformity, for the individual and the community. Our joy, and even our future, depends on it.

Reflecting on Leadership

Are you a reflective sort of person? Do you ever find yourself getting lost in thought? Or maybe not find yourself, just get lost? I know I do.

So, I thought, why not make something of all that reflection? I’ve had a lot of fun working together with the lovely folks at the Sophia Network in the UK to create a ‘Reflective Leadership Corner’. It’s a bi-monthly installment where I write short (400ish) word reflections on various aspects of leadership. Things that I’ve been thinking about and wrestling with recently. It’s real. It’s short. It’s practical. Why not check it out? http://blog.sophianetwork.org.uk/2016/06/re.html

Enjoy. Oh, grab some tea first, okay? 🙂

When you cannot see: The Power of Representation

“Well, when I was nine years old Star Trek came on. I looked at it, and I went screaming through the house, “Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!” I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.” – Whoopi Goldberg

The power of representation cannot be overstated. It is very difficult to be like or aspire to become someone that you have never heard about or even seen. What we see forms our reality. Although there will always be pioneers, it is a lot easier when you have an example to follow. Someone who has shown you what is possible. Here Ms. Goldberg talks about representation primarily in terms of race, but we can also think of it in terms of gender, religion, culture, personality, body type, and much more.

I am a Christian and have spent a lot of time in churches and other Christian circles. I have noticed that when we look to develop leaders, we take male examples of leadership in the Bible almost exclusively. I realize that female examples do not occur as often or in as much detail, but they are there. And what is there is powerful. Esther, Ruth, Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla and many more stand out as models of what it means to lead in difficult situations, and often in a male dominated, patriarchal world. I have been wondering: Do we miss them because we are trained and otherwise socialized to view leadership only through a male lense? One that traditionally prizes aggression, direct communication, and individuality? Have we worn male glasses for so long that we cannot recognize their gifts and actions as leadership? Or does our theology barricade them as anomalies that God had to use because the right man was not available?

I suppose there could be many reasons. But the consequence of this lack of representation means that we are indirectly, and in some cases directly, inhibiting many, both men and women, boys and girls, from having a real understanding of leadership as something that both genders share and have capacity for. How can women exclaim, as Ms. Goldberg did, that they realize they can be anything they want to be if they never see an example? Instead of drawing on the full realm of possibilities in terms of leadership examples in the Bible, we rely on an anaemic sample that paints a black and white picture of what is, in reality, a rainbow of colour.

Women, in many cases, make up more than half of the population in the church and in Christian organizations today. Let’s take advantage of gender diversity in leadership by challenging these traditions and evaluating our leadership examples and role models. Let’s enable the Whoopi Goldbergs in our circles to scream through all the house, “There’s women in leadership and they ain’t no token!” Let’s allow them to dream and become anything they want to be. Let’s paint a bright, new future.

Get Tired, Maybe Something Will Change

I’m tired of being told what I should and shouldn’t wear,

Because men abdicated responsibility for their impulse control.

I’m tired of men debating what I can or cannot do,

Because somehow deciding my life is their role.

I’m tired of asking to be included.

I’m tired of fighting to be heard.

I’m tired of job and pay inequity.

I’m tired of hearing about girls denied an education and forced into child marriage.

I’m tired of women being denied their fundamental rights and freedoms, simply because they are women.

I’m tired of rape victims being asked what they were wearing,

Because their assault is thought to be deserved or desired.

I’m tired of gender stereotypes dictating how we live our lives,

Because maintaining boxes is more important than allowing freedom to live according to passions, gifts, and callings.

I’m tired of feminism being considered a dirty word.

I’m tired of men trying to convince me my tiredness is irrational.

I’m tired of a lot of things.

Maybe if more of us were tired things would change.

 

Everyday Gender Justice

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the immensity of the gender justice topic. I mean, really, what can I do about individual and systemic gender injustice around the world? Perhaps you’ve felt the same way. Regardless, being overwhelmed is not an excuse to be uninformed and uninvolved. Instead, we need to find ways to integrate gender justice in our everyday, waking up, going to work, eating, sleeping, and socializing life.

That’s why I wrote an article all about it for the Sophia Network, a UK-based organization that advocates for gender justice in the church through raising awareness and developing and resourcing female leaders. You may recall a previous article entitled ‘Is Jesus a Feminist?’ that I wrote for them as well. So, why not grab a wee cuppa tea and get inspired to do gender justice in your everyday here. Enjoy!

[ If the link doesn’t work, copy and paste this into your browser:  http://blog.sophianetwork.org.uk/2015/02/everyday-gender-justice-by-tami-zacharias.html ]

$h@m€: The Other ‘S Word’

16-year-old Jack is found crying after he receives some difficult news. He’s told to stop being ‘weak’ and ‘a pussy’ because ‘real men don’t cry’.

Jane, a vivacious 10-year-old, often takes leadership of projects and situations, but is chided frequently for being ‘bossy’. After all, girls are supposed to be submissive and nice.

Steven has always loved painting and getting creative in the kitchen. He makes delicious entrées! However, he is discouraged and about to give up what he loves because he can’t stand the constant remarks that he is ‘a little too girly’ and ‘might be gay’ [using ‘gay’ as an insult is a whole other topic].

Susan is 35-years-old and single. She long stopped attending family gatherings where the only topic of conversation seemed to be her relationship status, and why she hadn’t yet found a husband. Something must be wrong with her.

Each of these hypothetical (though very real) scenarios is different, but contains a common element. Shame.woman-with-shame

What is shame? In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” (p.69). And when you experience the excruciating pain of shame, it seems you’ll do almost anything to get rid of it.

Jack, Jane, Steven, and Susan are put in narrow, suffocating, harmful boxes that contain society’s recipe for masculinity and femininity, and are systematically shamed for being anything other. They must be flawed because they aren’t conforming.

The problem with these stereotypical boxes is that they fit only a minority of boys and girls, men and women, but everyone is forced into them as if they were a fixed and unquestionable entity. The results are harmful not only for those individuals, but also for the whole of society.

Jack grows up learning to bottle his emotions, making him miserable but unable to show it. He may be able to contain it for a while, but an angry and possibly violent outburst is looming.

Jane becomes a shadow of her lively self, pushed into the role of a submissive follower. She lives knowing something is out of place, and the world has missed out on a wonderful potential leader.

Steven long gave up painting and cooking. He’s now in a job that is socially acceptable, but he hates it. He could have been the next Picasso or Gordon Ramsey, but we’ll never know.

Susan feels like contentment is an impossible dream when no matter what she does, it is never enough for others because she hasn’t ‘achieved’ marriage yet. [And even if she does, she’ll be pressured about having kids. And if she has them, she’ll be questioned about her parenting techniques.]

According to research, “shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying” (Brené Brown, Daring Greatly, p.73). So shame, in itself, is a problem. But so are gender stereotypes. Gender stereotypes, masculinity, and femininity are social constructs, not absolute truths. Put them together, and it’s a toxic combination.

How much have we personally and collectively suffered and missed because of gender shaming? Whatever we do, we absolutely cannot afford to keep this up. Gender shaming has to stop. Not in ten years, not in one year, not tomorrow. Now.

A proactive response to gender shaming will involve refusing to participate in gender shaming, and calling it out when you see it [this is part of feminism]. The more we shine light on the darkness, the less of a chance it has in overcoming us.

A reactive response (i.e. when you are the one being shamed) involves the four elements of shame resilience, as described by Brené Brown (Daring Greatly, p.75).

  1. Recognize shame and understand its triggers
  2. Practice critical awareness – give the shame messages a reality check
  3. Reach out – own and share your story with trusted others
  4. Talk about shame – talk about your feelings and ask for what you need

Here’s to a future where people are free to be themselves. Where the Jacks, Janes, Stevens and Susans of this world are no longer ashamed to be who they are.

How have you experienced gender shaming? If you’d like to shed some personal light on this topic, leave a comment or contact me about writing a guest post.