I am sorry. She is a lot…These are words I heard the other day that sent me into another tailspin of grief. It was not about me but another situation where someone’s pain was met with judgment by those who should have been loving her and not making judgments about how she is carrying her pain. (FYI-I know pastors are not therapists. Pastors should help people find the resources they need when the help that is required needs more than what a pastor can give). It does not help I heard these words when I was already feeling raw from an experience in a class from the night before. “She is a lot.” This is something women hear a lot, and it is also why so many do not want to speak or take up any space. I am included in this number. I have tried to voice this in person in all the ways I know how but it is not being received in the way I would expect considering the state the church is in. And some of the feedback of what people believe I have said comes back unrecognizable to me. It is not what I said. It is an assumption based on how what I said makes the person feel. It re-traumatizes people when this happens. I thought maybe I was an ineffective communicator but Kirsten Powers, author and political analyst, said this has a name: “rhetorical framing.” So, for anyone who is listening and is curious, I want to share a few things that would help when having a conversation with someone who is carrying a lot of deep pain. Especially a woman.
Recently, I told my therapist that I think I am too much. I have experiences to share that I know are important that can help give insight into the difficult situation we are in, but I feel more like a nuisance than a healer. She responded to me with something she heard on Tik Tok. I love when great advice comes from Tik Tok. She said a woman was on the platform saying if I am too much, then find someone who is less. That made me laugh, and I think about that statement every time I am feeling like I am too much.
Here are a few things from my experience that would help me personally. I believe this will help others too:
First: please receive their story and know it is not about you. If it was, you would either know or you would not be hearing the story. You do not have to understand someone’s pain to believe they are experiencing it. When they give examples, listen. If some of it does not make sense or seems to be placing blame where it does not belong, ask more questions instead of giving your interpretation of what is being said. In all likelihood, that is not what they are trying to say. Clarification is what is needed, not an interpretation. If it does come down to an unfair assessment of a situation, then that can be dealt with later. First, receive the story. The person working through their pain will probably figure that out. I can bear witness.
Second: women are not treated well in society, and are especially not treated well in church. Our subordination is government and religiously sanctioned. Women are up against generations of a long-held “orthodoxy” tradition that has excluded women using a narrative about them that has them portrayed as the ones who lead men to sin. Also, a fierce belief in a patriarchal God. Our creeds do not help this situation. Women are also supposed to help men have self-control (even though they believe women lead men into sin) AND submit to the men who apparently do not have self-control. This is so abusive. Women are also picked apart for what they wear–it determines her value.
Using the Bible to exclude and harm people is why so many people are leaving the church as an institution.
Women’s stories are overlooked in scripture by design. When a woman almost has a story that flips the narrative we are living in right now, she either gets called a whore or she has no name; she is erased. I am so grateful for my New Testament professor who pushed me to look harder at the fact the woman who anointed Jesus in the gospel of Mark has no name. This question has led me to deeper insight as a budding theologian (not going to say feminist theologian, because that is a theologian) as my seminary journey has progressed. I look for everyone’s story that is on the margins now. Because of the unnamed woman and what she has taught me, I now have pictures of jars on my wall to remind me of her faith when she, too, had enough in a culture of death and exclusion. She broke that expensive jar on Jesus’ head and was met with ridicule by the crowd, but was met with the same generosity from Jesus that she had just given to him. She is supposed to be remembered every time the good news is proclaimed. Every time I write this I want to run laps. I even have an actual jar that broke when I was about to preach this sermon in July. But we do not remember her. She has no name. Without her name, we do not even remember what Jesus said or did.
Third: This is not going to be an extensive list, because I have work to do and I am feeling a lot better writing this out. Women are hanging on by a thread believing the institution of the church can work for their thriving. Being asked to compromise their sense of worth all the time for the sake of unity is literally destroying women and the witness of the church. Old ways are not going to go forward into the future that is to come. Jesus did not move slowly when calling on powers to change and care for those who are marginalized. This is why he was killed. But let’s also not forget the women. Without women there would be no Jesus. Women have consistently been the desired human response to God portrayed in scripture. The ones saying yes to life. Women can take us back to creation, the earth, which is in desperate need of our attention and care. Even science is revealing that empowering women will help heal the planet.
When can women be heard and there be consequences for our mistreatement? And to not be called too much or seen as overlooking others who are in the work with us? I spend a lot of time uplifting people doing the work. But the minute I protest, silence and judgment follows.
This is not simply a theological disagreement where we need to have a better conversation. This is a case of where our lives are in danger and the church does not see it as urgent enough to address and make the necessary changes because either it believes women are subordinate, or we are trying to stay open to all sides. It is in our public policies – bad theology about women. It is literally harming women physically as well as spiritually. Nothing is ever apolitical. Theology is life or death.
I have stayed in the faith because I found life in scripture. And I want to stay. Billy Porter said that when you become your truest self, the first thing they (power) will attempt to take from you is your spirituality. No one can take my spirituality away. I want to stay and help what I love so much, the church, heal and move forward. I hope I will be allowed to do so.