"The moment the word 'why' crosses your lips, you are doing theology."
—When Life & Beliefs Collide                

Friday, August 15, 2014

Airbrushed?


In my Internet meanderings, I came across a Huffington Post link to “Airbrushed Celebrities.” In all but a couple of cases, those before and after photos—flaws removed, waists and thighs shrunk—created an enviable image.

But there is another kind of airbrushing that happens in the church.

Some years ago I was asked to speak to a gathering of conservative Presbyterian clergy about the experiences of women. My hosts tripped over themselves to reassure those present that I wasn’t doing anything “official.” It felt like being airbrushed out of the room. In an effort to put a fine point on the matter, a couple of clergy turned their backs toward me while I was speaking (a gesture that seemed pointless to me, since they still heard every word I spoke). Instead of withering under their rudeness, I felt inspired to paint myself back into the moment.

My how times have changed!

I am heartened by the surge of serious female voices in evangelical circles. The publishing world, speaking circuit, academy, and the Internet are opening powerful new platforms for women. These are not just outlets for our creative energies and dreams, but strategic opportunities to participate in God’s mission for the world and for the female voice (so often missing) to engage the whole church on serious issues. This is no time for self-indulgence, but requires taking ourselves seriously and wisely stewarding these open doors.

Despite the claim that the writers of scripture were all men, the Bible hasn’t airbrushed the female voice off its pages. I still hang onto the theory that Priscilla wrote Hebrews. But that hope aside, some of the weightiest theological passages in the Bible were authored by women.

Miriam and Deborah were both prophetesses with high profile leadership roles in Israel. Hannah and Mary of Nazareth lived largely behind the scenes in the private domestic sphere. All four faced frightening David and Goliath crises. Their words shape the theology of God’s people.

Although we are not sure if Miriam helped compose the victory song about God’s defeat of the Egyptians (Exodus 15:1-18), Deborah, Hannah, and Mary deserve recognition as poets and writers.

Miriam belonged to the company of emancipated Israelite slaves whose freedom from Egypt was short-lived. With the Egyptian army bearing down on them and the Red Sea ahead, the Israelites walked into the perfect trap. Miriam led the celebration of God’s astonishing deliverance with, “Sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea!”

Deborah’s poetry (Judges 5), sung with Barak, puts God’s power on display for defeating a ruthless armed-to-the-teeth enemy with only Barak’s rag-tag volunteer army and a female civilian.

Hannah’s theology deepened during years of infertility and suffering the taunts of wife number two who was bearing sons for their husband. Her psalm (1 Samuel 2:1-10) is a theological masterpiece revealing profound insight into God’s sovereignty over the ups and downs of life—from the womb to the throne. God called Mary to a perilous out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Honor killings happen. She sings her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) recounting God’s power and faithfulness to his people before learning how Joseph will react.

These women were not writing fluff. They saw their lives in theological terms. They lived in a world where God is sovereign, stubbornly committed to his people, and powerfully advancing his purposes, even when things look their darkest. They owned their voices and spoke out of their stories. Their words stand as monuments to God’s power and faithfulness. They leave a legacy that raises the bar for all of us.

We need to airbrush these women back into our own stories and draw courage from their examples to airbrush ourselves into the work God is calling us to do.


[Originally published by FullFill in the Spring 2014 {Think} column and reprinted with permission here.]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Carolyn for your brave and powerful voice in this crucial season. You are the "real deal", solid and grounded and we need your encouragement.