In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know how we should pray; but the Spirit pleads for us with groans and sighs that express what words cannot. And the One who searches hearts knows what the Spirit is thinking, because the Spirit pleads for God’s people according to God’s will. -Romans 8:26-27 (my translation)
“Love one another just as I have loved you,” John 15:12b (also mine, but pretty much just like everyone else’s)
But God’s love is demonstrated toward us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. -Romans 5:8 (yup, this one too)
This week, I don’t know how to pray. So, I’m trusting the Spirit to plead on my behalf with groans and sighs that express what words cannot.
I love The United Methodist Church. When my family and I were searching for a faith home, we were welcomed with open hearts and open doors – and maybe even open minds. I know the UMC isn’t perfect, but I’ve held on to the hope that we are going on toward perfection.
Earlier this week, I learned that 2 of the 5 amendments to the Constitution of The United Methodist Church approved at the 2016 General Conference failed to be ratified by vote of the annual conferences. Many, myself included, reacted with dismay. Particularly regarding that first amendment – the one which would have clearly stated that both men and women are made in the image of God and are of equal value in the eyes of God. This amendment acknowledged the long history of discrimination against women and girls and pledged that The United Methodist Church would work with others to address concerns that threaten the cause of women’s and girls’ equality and well-being.
Women have always been a vital part of my spiritual development, both within The United Methodist Church and the church of my youth. My earliest experiences of God were guided by women, both clergy and lay. A clergy woman was instrumental in the ritual of dedication when I was an infant (that’s not really a Methodist thing). That same clergy woman’s influence was felt throughout my youth and as a young adult.
Women taught me in Sunday School, led my youth choir, and encouraged me throughout my early formation as a disciple. When I became a United Methodist, it was a woman layperson who first encouraged me to inquire about candidacy for ministry. It was from a clergy woman that I sought guidance as I started down the road to ministry. Clergy woman have encouraged me, mentored me, guided me, and helped shape me in ministry.
More times than I can count, when I was ready to throw in the towel and give up on this calling, it was women – both clergy and lay – who encouraged me to continue. Women have demonstrated courage, tenacity, and an inner strength that continues to make me want to be a better person.
Former Texas Governor Ann Richards once quipped, “After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels” (Cut me a little slack. I know she attributed the line to others). That about sums up the status of women in our church and society. They’ve had to overcome obstacles I’ll never face just to have a seat at the table. And once at the table, must excel just to receive the same recognition I get for showing up. It’s not right. It’s not fair. And the amendment was a step toward justice.
So, I’m disappointed. Nope. I’m angry. I’m angry that people I love have been – and will continue to be – hurt by the Church that I love. I’m angry that I have been complicit in hurting them. And I’m absolutely amazed that around the globe on Sunday morning, my clergy sisters will stand in the pulpits of the churches they serve and proclaim the grace of God to the 66 percent who expressed their support AND to the 34ish percent who did not.
And Church, I’ve got to tell you the truth. We need to listen. Because we need the leadership of the women in our midst. To be honest, when someone slaps me in the face, I leave. I take what I bring to the table and try to find someone, some setting, some place, that appreciates it. But these dynamic women leaders in our Church? They’re stronger than I’ve ever been. And I – no WE – need to learn from them. They can teach us how to love, forgive, and serve – even when that love is not reciprocated, when forgiveness is not asked, and service is unappreciated.
Want to know what Jesus meant when he said to “Love one another just as I have loved you”? He meant love with our actions even when we don’t feel like it. He meant to give of ourselves, even to those who don’t appreciate it and especially to those who don’t deserve it. He meant to set aside our own desires and work for the good of those around us. Need an example of what that looks like? Look toward the women who lead our churches.
And then I’m asking you to do something. Right now. Don’t wait until later. If you’ve read this far, right this minute make a list. Seriously. Right. Now. On your phone, computer, a scrap of paper, a napkin, in the steam on the shower door, whatever you’ve got. Make a list of women who have contributed to your faith development. Those who have mentored, encouraged, guided, taught, befriended, equipped, or otherwise loved you. Drop what you’re doing and pray for them. Then grab a phone, a box of cards, your email account, or a carrier pigeon, and thank them. I know. It’s a long list. Start now. Thank them and pray for them.
You might even offer to buy them a cup of coffee.
I’m not here to argue. Remember, I’m the one who gives up when I get argued with. Whether you voted (or would have voted) yea or nay doesn’t matter right now. Some woman has invested in your life. And if she’s in my tribe, we just told her she wasn’t valued. That may not be what we meant, but that’s what she heard. So, take time right now to at least start the list, and pick one name from it.Thank. Her. Right. Now. And then get to the rest. You’ve got the rest of your life to finish, but since none of us know how long that really is, sooner is better than later.
Why? Because God’s love is demonstrated toward us in this: while we were still sexist, women gave of their lives for us. It’s time.