An Elder’s Wife

I have a story to tell you about my husband and my church.  Two pieces of my life that I hold very dear to my heart but who often have edges and angles that cross and cut me, as loved ones often do. Sometime last year while we were weeding in our garden or cooking in our kitchen, the Spirit took it upon himself, or herself, or itself, or any other pronoun that language uses to confine God, to nominate Jason as an elder in our church. I don’t think that the Spirit actually filled out the necessary paperwork, but somehow Jason’s name ended up in a divine sorting hat that called him forward as an elder; a hat that magically seems to only call men to these divine offices. We both hemmed and hawed for awhile trying to decide what he should do, but we both concluded that it would be a good opportunity for us to learn some things about our faith. He’d just have to bring home what he was learning and let me pour over it myself since I wasn’t invited to attend the class. I was focused on getting into a doctorate program, anyways. That’s what we were moving towards: my career and education. Spaces that include women in leadership. Well, at least some of the time anyways. After all of my hard work was rejected and I was sent away from the ivory tower, not unlike the Israelite exodus just without the raining bread, Jason stared at me like a deer in the headlights. I guess this meant that he would be taking the test to become an elder in our church after all. Because when you pray for clarity, the Spirit doesn’t play.

With note cards and mnemonic devises, Jason has been studying covenants and catechisms, dates and doctrines, theology and gospel, so that at the end of this week he can take a few tests, be interrogated about his heresy and submit to the authority and beliefs of our denomination in service to the church, gloria patri, forever and ever, amen.

You know, it’s funny. I have this weird reputation in my church for being a liberal feminist, almost like the leader of an underground hideout for women who want to express these inner conflicts inside of them. I have no idea where they got this idea.  It’s not uncommon for a woman to come up to me in church and say, “so I hear that you’re… [their eyes carefully search around] a liberal. A… feminist. That you’d be someone that I can come and talk to.” My eyes furrow in confusion and I look around to make sure that they’re talking to me and not some other liberal christian feminist and I respond with something like, sure?  But now that my husband could be an elder, that would make me an elder’s wife and with it will come all of the signifiers and preconceived notions of what that means. Things that I don’t want and will actively reject. But all of a sudden this reputation that has clung to me makes me feel exposed and very much in a way like Anne Hutchinson, and I don’t want that, either. I reject the idea that the church and the gospel should not cross me, because it very much should. It should and does cross all of us. My beliefs about gender, sexuality, poverty, politics, creativity, culture, etc, are always crossed by the gospel. Always. I’m always scratching my head and questioning myself and the gospel. How can I love Jesus so much, and yet find myself constantly at odds with him and his law? Constantly questioning and attempting to reconcile myself and my beliefs to him and to his church? I have no answers. Not really. I just know that the gospel is supposed to cross us. And if it doesn’t, then we’re not doing it right. And that’s why I get so confused when women come to me at church as if I have some sort of underground railroad towards feminism. The gospel crosses me. The same way it should and does cross those who protect patriarchy and conservatism.

My last blog post, the one where I dropped the F-Bomb right at the very end, made me very self conscious. I thought about how I could be the wife of an elder in my church and how that makes me and my husband and our family look. I know it made several of you uncomfortable, both in the church and in the academy. I very much wanted to go back and change it or delete it. But I didn’t. I’m in a very strange place where I’m trying to figure out what it is I’m supposed to be doing and how I’m supposed to be acting since I didn’t get accepted into a doctoral program. It’s like I’ve lost this big part of myself and I don’t know how to act or what to even say. I’m trying to figure out what it means to be an elder’s wife. What it means to not be in academia. What I should do if I’m considering not teaching anymore. And on and on. But, I can’t hide myself and I can’t attach my identity to those around me, be it my husband, my church, or academia. That’s crushing. I guess I just have to keep looking at the Spirit and asking, “why not me?” Why can’t I go to doctoral school? Why can’t I be an elder? Why must I be here and not over there? And hope that the Spirit answers.

 

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13 thoughts on “An Elder’s Wife

  1. Okay, as someone who has never met you, I have the answers for your life : ) When you say “How can I love Jesus so much, and yet find myself constantly at odds with him and his law?” It isn’t HIM and HIS LAW, it is the way and laws of MANY FLAWED MEN. Remember, everything has been interpreted and unless you are believe the bible word for word, this will ring true. Your relationship to a higher power is yours alone and this is why certain aspects about what modern-day christianity is don’t resonate with your feminist soul. It shouldn’t. You would be settling. That is an agnostic’s take. I began questioning the way things were done at church when I was in high school and punk rock had started to take its hold. I no longer would receive communion because if a woman wasn’t good enough to serve it, I wasn’t buying (men were the only elders, but isn’t this way everywhere, things are changing). Also, why not grow vegetables?! Again. Those photos you posted were lovely of your gardens and women in farming is still truly trailblazing! love from your fuckwit internet friend…

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  2. I’m glad you didn’t go back and delete or self-edit. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks and it seems that you have very much inside that needs to come out. Please keep speaking the Truth (even if your voice shakes), I firmly believe that God meets us at the place where the Gospel crosses us.

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  3. I can relate to this very much. After abandoning a large part of me, I have returned and I am also of unsure where that leaves “me”. My personal spirituality was left behind years ago and now I have woken it. But what does that mean for me? Am I still the shit slinging sailor mouth I have been for 25 years? Well, I think I just answered that one, but there are lots of questions. How do I respond to this or that? I’m not Christian, so it was almost easier to be agnostic (where I was) than Buddhist (my return to spirituality) in today’s society. Anyway, I don’t have a single answer got you, just an “I hear ya sista”.

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    1. Thanks so much for your kind words and encouragement. You know, it’s funny how so many women, in so many different places, across races and religions can experience this same lost feeling. We’re all trying to figure ourselves out in light of our culture, God, spirituality, families, etc. I’m glad to have you here and sharing your journey with me. 🙂

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  4. Faith is a very personal thing, but you put it out here for comments or discussion, I would expect. As you probably know, people have a huge range of feelings, emotions and beliefs concerning faith, God and religion. I was born in a very Catholic household – the Celtic variety – unyielding, unbending, harsh on women and children while the men went out to drink, get drunk and otherwise screw each other in various business and land dealings. Church was something women and children did religiously (or else) while the men attended Sunday mass… or perhaps only Easter service and Midnight Mass. The double standards were beyond obvious. The local priest drank, got replaced by another who proceeded to fondle little girls and also disappeared in the great back yard of predatory priesthood. Yet I really wanted to serve God, but I couldn’t find God in church, ecclesiastics or catechism. The Bible wasn’t used much, it was more of a show-off decoration on a shelf in the kitchen and it had only recently been taken off the “index” of forbidden books by Pius XII, I believe. Anyway, selling Rome-approved-only Bibles netted quite a nice pile of additional illicit loot to the Vatican (as my dad was fond of reminding us) along with indulgences and… well, all the rest of church history.

    When I was old enough, at 14 I think, I told my parents I was done with the church. Dad didn’t much care; mother was upset but it passed. I did not enjoy my years outside the church. There was nothing real to hang on to for my mind, or spirit. I called it spiritual hunger, and it was starvation. Eventually, many decades later I had an awakening and became a born again Christian – not Catholic. Baptised in a Mennonite church. Wham! All that amazingly reliable religious hypocrisy hit me in the face once again, only much more so. I found myself amongst the privileged and the entitled: typical Christian Fundamentalist conservative politics and inerrancy of the bible, all of that. Anti union, anti worker, anti-socialist, in short anti anything good a society could offer its tax paying slaves. I did last 3 years, give me credit. During that time I read the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, but more specifically the synoptic gospels. I was struck by the dichotomy; the massive gap, between what the church had taught me as a child, then as a BA Christian, and what the gospels had to say about the purported teachings of Jesus. In actual fact there was nothing, absolutely nothing in the churches’ teachings and performances that even resembled the gospel requirements for a life of service to Christ and by extension, to God. It was a total and complete sham.

    Now I know from having friends within these institutions that things have not improved. I even attended a few masses just to listen to the sermons. Gag me! Cold pabulum would taste better. Then there was that insistence on patriarchal rule, as clearly given by that false apostle or Manchurian candidate, Paul of Tarsus: I do not permit a woman to teach in the church; she must remain at home and learn from her husband in complete submission. The churches love that one. What did patriarchal rule do to women during the Imperial reign of the Catholic church if they did not remain “in complete submission” to their husbands, or in some way violated some man-made arbitrary rule? It burned them alive at the stake. How many? Over 1.3 MILLION women and young girls were thus dispatched from the world to make it safe for a patriarchical religion that would follow the genocidal conquests of European based empires throughout the world. So the church had it’s gory glory, and would dearly love to get that power back again.

    So, I don’t believe in God because any god that supports such a corrupt institution isn’t worthy of the title. In my opinion, any woman still caught in the gears of Catholicism, Islam, Judaism or other spin-off powers fronting for male deities hasn’t done her homework and hasn’t understood the purpose of these religious institutions: to maintain a war-mongering, controlling and enslaving patriarchical power by subjugating the woman.

    You say you are known in the church as a sort of liberal feminist. It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to realize why suddenly your husband is “called” to become an elder – it isn’t about him, it’s to muzzle you as an outspoken female. As “the wife of an elder” you will feel obligated to toe the line, be obedient and submissive and stop being a threat to the hegemony. They’d probably prefer to be able to simply chain you to a metal post and burn you alive, but the current wimpy legal system just won’t allow it – pity.

    I’ll close thus: if there is a god (or in the plural, a group of Elohim), and if “he” is spirit and a god of justice, peace, love, all that good stuff, anyone can “find” that god, and serve that god without selling their soul to unjust, war-making, racist, bigoted, patriarchal, misogynist, greedy and hypocritical institutions. That should be beyond obvious but sadly, it isn’t.

    I don’t know if you’re of those who feel obligated to “defend” the institution but before you do, please read and meditate on that amazing passage in the gospel according to Luke, in Chapter 6. I’ve always maintained that when the Church, and Christians in general, demonstrate that way of life, I’ll return. Never before.

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  5. Oh my. Your story is so true of so many women. I didn’t grow up in the church. It wasn’t until about college that I became a believer in Christ. I did, however, grow up with a very misogynistic, patriarchal, and abusive step father, all while my mother sat and watched and suffered herself. The women in my family were strong enough, but patriarchy has a way of creeping into the crevices of our lives, both in and out of the church, if we remain quiet about it. I won’t do much defending of the church. I’m Presbyterian and our denomination has a sordid history of protecting slavery and patriarchy and other unjust acts of prejudice and violence. I think I have been attempting to do a lot of dealing with the sins of my ancestors by blood and by faith here in my blog and personally. I do give my husband credit, though. He really does love Jesus and his humility and love for justice and mercy will serve our church and community and women well. Perhaps I like to think that he was nominated because others see the good and love that’s in him. But, as you said, I do struggle to think about what that means for me. I’m lucky to have a husband who listens and talks with me and has many of the same concerns as I do.

    I am glad to have you here and talking with me. Sharing your stories. I hope for a world with more love and less injustice, just as you.

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    1. Thank you. I did come on pretty strong there, but when it comes to this issue “all hell breaks loose” in me because I can’t forget the one thing I did not mention before: when I was around 11, I did get a clear calling to a religious vocation. That was going to be my life, but even then I was too outspoken and my calling was vetoed by the ecclesiastics and my parents. I was needed in the home, so it went. Well yes, endemic poverty, too many kids, mother often sick from overwork, father hardly ever home because of work hundreds of miles away, an me the “proverbial” second oldest, but I knew that wasn’t the real reason. That “calling” and visions surrounding it has stayed with me all my life, and I’m now 70. I did eventually find a way to fulfil my vocation – on my own – and doing so even now. I was born for a life of service and it’s like water: the flow will find a channel, or make one, but it will flow.

      Daring to be an elder “adviser” for a moment, I’ll say first of all, beware, and secondly, trust in your own woman’s intuition and understanding, i.e., become self-empowered esp. in all things spiritual and teach yourself detachment. Please don’t let yourself be pushed around just to be nice. We are living in a dangerous time with a System vacillating from too much accepted corruption and endemic violence: something is definitely wrong. However many times people have been deceived about the coming of the “end times” I can see that what we are plunging into is what was foretold. What we take for granted today may be gone tomorrow. Everything is going off the rails in a time of transition that is taking man and his world into free fall and into a global firestorm.

      If I were a Christian today, this is how I would live it: I would give myself body, mind and spirit to my faith through service of others from compassion and I would hold all aspects of Religion as false, or at least until it was purified by losing all of its power and its people interacted in the only way such a claim can make sense: in complete humility. You are indeed fortunate to have such a good husband. Be strong. I think you were being guided, protected, when you were turned down by academia – the corruption there is endemic and irreversible. I think for you the realization of how bad it is would have been heart breaking. Take another good look at your garden, that may well be where you will find your answers and your purpose.

      (I want to delete this answer, really… none of my business, but I feel you’ll be able to receive it in the spirit it is meant, so I’m going with it… and without equivocation, let me add, “May your God bless you.)

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