Centered

The ideas in this post were formulated in response to / interior conversation with Taylor Mills and Enuma Okoro.  I am indebted to them for stimulating this line of thought.

It has long been the case that the ideals of Christianity are more appealing to women than men.  And every generation or so, there are those who bemoan this absence of men from the churches as though it were a recent development, which it most assuredly is not.

And it is easy to see how this could come to be.  However we want to fall along the nature / nurture spectrum, women are in any case generally raised to be caretakers – to put others at the center, to make sacrifices, to serve.  So language of serving and following, of humility and death to self would appeal more, on the surface, to women.  Women are also generally those who are responsible for the care of children, so teachings about growth and transformation, about children being special to God would naturally appeal more to women as well.

Through several waves of feminism in the “West,” women have been given the opportunity to break free of the narrative of self-sacrifice, and rightly so.  Women are so often raised to put a man or a child or any other but themselves at the center.  But it is idolatry to place a man (or any other creature) at the center of one’s life.  When Jesus calls us to be servants, he does not mean for us to have a warm meal on the table by 5:30p, a perfectly clean house with perfectly groomed children, all without breaking a sweat.  When Jesus calls us to make sacrifices, he does not mean for us to cast aside whatever gifts and talents we might have in order to take on the lifetime role of a domestic servant that so often came with the title “Mrs.”

But “women’s liberation” too often exchanges one idolatry for another.  We have now been told that no one will take care of us if we do not take care of ourselves.  We must take charge of our education, take charge of our medical care, take charge of our bodies.  We must put ourselves at the center, even as men have done for so long.  But placing ourselves at the center – telling ourselves that it is death to serve, death to make sacrifices, and so refusing – is idolatry, too.  Yes, it is death to ourselves to serve, but death is not so scary when we are assured that we are made alive in Christ!

As in so many other Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment ideologies, most feminism is ultimately an atheist ideology – an ideology that denies the existence of the God of Israel.  (Note: patriotism – an ideology rooted in the “fatherland” – is likewise an atheist ideology, for all of its invoking “God.” So let’s not try to hammer-fit this entry into some “liberals are godless” mold.)  For it is not true that no one will care for us if we do not care for ourselves more than we care for any other – God cares for us more deeply and completely than we could ever care for ourselves.

Just as the church in the U.S. was not so long ago in the business of telling African-Americans to quiet down and be good slaves, so too the church was not so long ago in the business of telling white women to quiet down and be good wives.  The church has itself worshipped at the altar of that false idol – the white male landowner, the white male business owner, the white male politician – the powerful white male.  But this does not make white men worse than the rest of us – less worthy of being put in the center.  We are all creatures, and equally unworthy of being the center of anyone’s life.

The church too is a creature, unworthy of being the center of anyone’s life.  But this does not make the institution of church useless (or worse, harmful), any more than marriage or parenthood is useless.  For women have long been raised with at least one principle of value, a message we can share as good news with those men who have not been so fortunate as ourselves – it is in relationship that we are made whole.  Not any relationship, to be sure – but in those relationships that free us to be our best selves – in relationships that are centered in God, we find God.  When we gather in the name of Christ, he is incarnate among us –  and in service to God through service to one another, we may discover that Grace which will lead us home.

Rev. Taylor Mills is the pastor of Trinity UMC in Durham, NC.  He preached on July 18, 2010 on Luke 10:38-42

Enuma Okoro blogs at Reluctant Pilgrim.  She wrote an entry on July 19, 2010 entitled “Eat, Pray, Love, Stay, Heal?”

UPDATE: Enuma’s writing can now be found on the Patheos network.

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