Saturday, May 13, 2017

Thoughts About Mother's Day

I do not like being in church on Mother's Day. Thankfully, I'm taking a break from church right now, so I don't have to face it this year. I think there is a lot to unpack with my dislike of Mother's Day. Maybe it should be some other place that in this blog, but I need to get some things out.

My first recollections of Mother's Day as celebrated by a church was in my own country church of my childhood. There would be special recognition of the youngest mother, the oldest mother, and the mother with the most children (presumably living). We would wear red roses for mothers still alive and white roses for mothers who had died. Today, most churches have stopped doing this. There is a lot of hurt that comes with such recognition. Too many women are infertile, have had miscarriages, have had children die, or even haven't wanted to bear children. These people find Mother's Day to be a painful day to be in church. Recognizing all women in the church is one way some congregations deal with Mother's Day, but that skirts around the problem that some women still find the day completely difficult.

I never had a problem with the recognizing of mothers when I was growing up. But since then, I have known enough friends who hurt and intentionally avoid church because of the emphasis.

My other problem may sound more petty: I don't like going to church and having people tell me Happy Mother's Day. I have to bite my tongue and accept it, but these people aren't my children. I have the strange idea (I guess) that my children are the only ones who should tell me that. Mother's Day should be a family holiday, but it doesn't mean everyone gets to celebrate. It is personal. I love being able to send my mother a card and a gift and call her on Mother's Day; but here again, not everyone can say that.

Also, willy-nilly wishing of Happy Mother's Day to strangers is a complete assumption of whether or not they are mothers at all. Go to a restaurant tomorrow, oh middle-aged woman, and you may get the Mother's Day greeting--with the wisher never knowing if such a thing is true or if it will cause you pain.

In recent years, I have remained outside the sanctuary door so I wouldn't have to be recognized or hear a special Mother's Day song or tribute. I don't come to church for that. But I have noticed the women who were consistently absent over the years. I saw them, and I saw their pain. And every year, my dissatisfaction with the holiday has grown. I hate Mother's Day for the divisions it brings to women. I would be all in favor of getting rid of it if not for my boys' happiness at giving homemade cards or my loving thoughts at picking out cards and gifts for my own mother.

Theologically, I don't think Jesus would have celebrated Mother's Day. In Matthew 12: 46-50, we can see what emphasis Jesus placed on his family:

46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Gosh! I really wish I knew what Mary said to that!

The truth of it is that when we follow Jesus, our earthly bonds of parent/child or brother/sister or even wife/husband are not as important as spiritual relationship with God. Granted in biblical times, families were often formed due to economic reasons rather than emotional ones. But in our materialistic world today, where every commercial for the last few weeks has been about buying mom jewelry, maybe a bit of Jesus's words can still apply. 

Some part of me realizes that the celebration of motherhood is a patriarchal ceremony. First Timothy 2:15 says the woman will be saved through childbearing--which is part of that whole women being submissive passage complementarians so love to quote. Give mothers a day of celebration, but heaven forbid one of them wants to get up and preach. Tell them all about the Proverbs 31 woman, but don't let her know that this woman worked outside the home. Don't let the women think they can remain childless by choice. Motherhood is the highest ideal, so the patriarchy says. 

I'm such a theology nerd. I've clearly overthought Mother's Day for many years. Yet I think it is okay to do so. We need to ask us why we are celebrating. We don't need to blindly follow the crowd without thinking for ourselves.

So, while I'm not going to say Happy Mother's Day tomorrow to anyone but my own mother. I am thinking about friends: one who was infertile, but adopted a baby this year; one who didn't have a husband, and chose artificial insemination to become a mother anyway; one who never had children of her own, but is a step-mom to her husband's child; one who chose to remain childless by choice, but loves the children she teaches; one who had many miscarriages before having a rainbow baby; one who shares the day with her spouse, as two mothers to a child they both love; one who longs for children, but won't have them without having a husband first; one who has her two lovely children and spends her life making a home for them; one whose children won't talk to her because of estrangement; one who is facing the day with the fresh memory of her husband's passing as she tries to make life normal again for her boys; one who wants to have children, but cannot for medical reasons; the one that has buried her child; the one who just misses her own mama--I hold all these people in my heart. 

In this world, there is grief and happiness sometimes at the same time. Mother's Day is a day when that is particularly true. Let us be intentional with our words. Let us be thoughtful in our actions. Let us be kind to one another. Amen.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

We Do Not Say Lappidoth's Wife

Over on, a new article went up today by Raleigh pastor J.D. Greear. It is called, "The Church Needs More Deborahs." And it is a great title. Unfortunately, the article starts strong but completely derails by the end. Greear seems to want to give women the chance to be the ministry leaders that God calls them to be, but he also wants them to stay in "God's order." God's order is the code-word/catch-phrase for complementarianism--a long word not too many people outside of evangelicalism will care about (or for). It means that there is a hierarchy to follow in a household. And it is best shown by this illustration you may have seen before:

In the picture, you have Christ as head of the husband, husband as head of wife, and wife as head over children (some put the children as head of the pets--whatever). The notion of headship goes back to passages like Ephesians 5, and they tend to "keep women in their places" in a great number of evangelical churches, baptist seminaries, etc.

In his article, Greear was so close to true revelation. I hope he keeps praying that the Holy Spirit will show him a better way of allowing women to lead--under God's authority alone. Here is a better graphic for what that looks like:

Anyway, back to the article.

Deborah was an Old Testament prophet whose story is found in Judges chapter 4 & 5. Deborah was called by God to lead the Israelites to victory over Sisera, the Canaanite commander who had oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. But there is one gem of a half-sentence in the article's conclusion: "[Deborah] is still identified by her husband...". That makes me laugh. I'm sure you immediately remembered Deborah's husband's name, right? We don't remember his name. It is mentioned in passing, but that's it. His name was Lappidoth. I had to look it up.

A long time ago on a Wednesday in mid-June (June 14, 2000), the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a statement that said that the role of pastor in a church was reserved for a man. I grew up Southern Baptist. I was also in divinity school, and I had also been called by God to preach. So on June 18, 2000, I joined a church that was aligned with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship--a group that had broken away from the Southern Baptists over the women in ministry issue. I had been attending that church, First Baptist Church of Forest City, NC since my husband Phillip and I had married 3 1/2 years earlier.

And I was known as Phillip's wife.

By the time I finished divinity school, Phillip was known as Amy's husband. And here's how that happened....

I had to complete a year of internship in a local church to complete my degree. So I presented myself to the leaders of First Baptist, and they found me a place. I taught children, helped with the youth, went on retreats, attended meetings, led worship, served communion, and yes, preached. That church recognized my call was from God. They didn't need to identify me by my husband at the end of the year as they licensed me to preach and affirmed my call.

No one remembers Deborah's husband's name. Her authority didn't come from her husband--it came directly from God. As women called by God, that is also where our authority comes from. The Church does need more Deborahs--women called by God and God alone. Only then will the true Gospel be realized and restoration can occur.

We do not say Lappidoth's wife. We say Deborah's husband.