When I first imagined what this series could be, I hoped that I would be able to share stories like the one we have today from Rev. Meg Jenista. This is the kind of story that every Christian needs to read.
In 1963, Betty Friedan wrote, “There was a strange discrepancy between the reality of our lives as women and the image to which we were trying to conform, the image that I came to call the feminine mystique.” Friedan’s revolutionary research was the underpinning of the 1960s and 70s feminist movement, the aims of which have, in many ways, supplanted the so-called feminine mystique as the operational norm of gender stereotypes and feminine self-understanding in broader culture.
Reading Friedan’s work 40 years later within the context of church culture, I heard my own life experience explained to me. There is still an operational feminine mystique guiding our churches today, a one-size-fits-all mentality of Christian womanhood. I submit into evidence the "Women’s Interest" section of your local Family Christian bookstore. . .and the defense rests.
There is a dominant story in our Christian churches about what it means to be a woman. In reality, there are a lucky few women who naturally fit into this story. Other women subconsciously adopt this narrative, pretending it is their own, amputating the parts of themselves that don’t quite fit between the covers of the storybook.
Most women I know are partial-resisters of the story, timidly struggling against but ultimately bowing to the societal hand-slap that comes along with trying to tell the pieces of your truth that don’t comfortably fit the plotline of the dominant narrative. There are some women out there who just flat out resist the story. I would like to meet these women.
As an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church, you might suppose I am one of those no-holds-barred resisters. I remember a more conservative time in my life when I assumed that women preachers were all New-Age goddess-worshippers who cut up Scripture to their own liking. But that caricature of women ministers assumes we are “in your face” simply because we exist. Instead I offer the story of my timid struggle to own my identity, as a child of God first and a Minister of Word and Sacrament second.
In my first preaching class at seminary, I prayed that I would suck. I did. I prayed that God would relent, that it would be manifestly obvious that this was NOT God’s gifting. Then I would be free to return to my regularly scheduled life – a life that did not include rocking the boat. I didn’t have a radical agenda. I wasn’t looking to prove anything. That’s not quite true. I was looking to prove that I didn’t have a radical agenda.
Even as I prayed, though, I kind of knew that this was going to be one of those unsatisfactorily answered prayers. And, frankly, I was mad at God. Again. I was mad because God made me in such a way that God’s people didn’t know what to do with me.
So I preached. I preached well, as it turns out, and I loved it.
Even after resigning myself to this difficult gifting, I was also deeply ashamed of it. Once, preaching in front of my mentor, she stopped me and asked, “Why are you standing there with one leg wrapped around the other? You look like you’re nervous or that you’re trying not to take up too much room. What’s that about?” Without pre-meditation, I blurted out: “It’s okay if I preach but if I’m too good or confident, it’ll make the boys feel bad.” Tears in my eyes, hand over my mouth, we both stood there. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Since then, seminary education, various internships and four years of ordained ministry have confirmed that I was made for this, that God is calling me to this. But I still find it difficult to feel the entirety of God’s delight because I know that this calling comes with the mixed reviews of God’s church. When the assumptions about my character come at me, as they do yet on occasion, I remember my own shame-filled truth: “Don’t be too good. Don’t be too confident. Don’t make the boys feel bad.” I remember that resisting the church’s dominant narrative is still a hand-slappable offense. I remember how it felt to secretly suspect God made me wrong.
Being the person God has called me to be is so much more complicated than the tidy little story God’s people have offered me. Some days I would give anything to be one of those lucky few women who naturally fit into the story of the Christian feminine mystique.
Then I remember that complicated is real. And real is better easy. Thanks be to God.
About Today’s Guest Blogger
The Reverend Meg Jenista is a graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She was ordained at Third Christian Reformed Church in 2008, where she continues to serve as the Minister of Community Life and Witness. She eagerly awaits the day when Tina Fey decides to write a sit-com based on the lives of young clergywomen. You can listen to her sermons here. She tweets as @RevGirlKazoo.
About the Women in Ministry Series
The Women in Ministry Series is a collection of guest posts that aims to:
- Provide an alternative to the women in ministry debates by telling the stories of women in ministry.
- Encourage women to explore their God-given callings.
Contributions Welcome: Contact Ed to pitch your post idea in 2-4 sentences.
You can stay updated on the latest post each week by signing up for the weekly e-mail list. (You also get a free E-book!)
Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome to leave a comment. However, this series takes for granted that women are called by God into every facet of ministry. This is not the place to debate that point and such comments will be removed.Women have been told “no” in far too many places. This is one place that is committed to saying “yes.” For more about the comment policy or submitting your own story, read here.
Next Week’s Blogger: Kathy Escobar