Church in the Back
I need to raise my children to have a voice. They need to be able to say no, sometimes for an extended period of time, to peers, online lures, and authority figures. No needs to be free of shame and it needs to be quick on the draw, ready at the hip.
This means that our house is loud. Where my parents received many compliments on their five (five!) well-behaved children, my husband and I are unlikely to get such praise. What we get, instead, are tantrums, loud whines, and other childish manifestations of no.
That’s ok, because we’re learning here. They’re learning about how to identify an emotion, give it a name, and welcome it into a safe space. They’re learning to read their emotions for clues to their spiritual well-being. So am I.
No, however, is messy; it’s the opposite of “children should be seen and not heard.” I used to drag my children through millennial havens like Whole Foods and Central Market, apologizing for the space we took up, but I am unlearning this now. Children take up space. They take up emotional space. This is part of what it means to be human.
I’ve lived a lot of my life trying not to offend. I am a strong voice with strong opinions and I (apparently) have a strong presence. I make insecure men uncomfortable and insecure women silent. I fluster women in charge and I annoy men in charge to condescension.
Sit down, Sarah. Be quiet, Sarah. Say that more sweetly next time, Sarah, and maybe they’ll listen instead of showing the whites of their eyes.
The #churchtoo movement (on the heels of the #metoo movement) wasn’t a surprise for me. I think it probably wasn’t a surprise for you, either, if you think about it. If you haven’t been outright abused or harassed, you’ve likely had some older Christian man compliment you on your legs. Or had his arm linger a little longer than is appropriate when he hugs you.
This is part of the reason my children need to be comfortable with no, but it’s not the only reason and it’s not the only reason I’m learning to speak up before I have a polished answer or before I’ve read the room or considered the ramifications of stepping on a leader’s toes.
I am slower than my children but I am unlearning my fear of being loud.
Many today have learned to be quiet because they’ve been told to be quiet. These are the people in the back of the church. Most especially, they are the women, the black, latina, and native women, who have been first illegal and outlawed, then simply unwelcome.
Dissenting women--women who don’t square neatly in the supportive, sweet, gracious, blonde and blue-eyed mold--have been unwelcome for a long, long time, because we read their humanity as baggage.
“You are too loud.”
“You are too angry.”
“You are too emotional.”
“I think what you meant to say was….”
“You’re not educated enough.”
“What’s you’re saying isn’t completely true.”
Testimonies have been discounted and experience negated but let there be no mistake--church is still happening. It’s not happening in the front; it’s happening in the back, with the women, among others.
As it turns out, that’s always where church has been taking place. The new testament church, that original flame that became a wildfire, was the church of the marginalized, the oppressed, the sick, poor, slaves, women, and children. We forget how revolutionary it was that Paul and Peter wrote about women and slaves; how jaw-dropping it was for Jesus to talk to women. To heal, protect, and free them.
Listen, woman. Listen, sister. Now is not the time for us to lean into tact or be less emotional when we deliver our stories or hear an emotional story delivered by another woman. Turn up your volume! Speak louder! Look the naysayers in the eye and say, NO! even if your no is a mess.
The deep irony of our learned and sometimes cultural fear of offending is that despite all our quietness and shrinking, the church is somehow more offended than ever before. Despite all our “not going there” and “saving it for a better time,” the rifts in our families and churches and bible studies are deep.
“Catch more flies with honey,” they say, but I want to know--why are we catching flies?
The angel Gabriel appeared to two people before the birth of Jesus. First, he appeared to Zacharias, a priest who had served before God for a lifetime and yet could not believe the word of God when it came. Gabriel’s second visitation was to a poor girl of an oppressed people; unlike the priest, she believed.
Jesus, our precious Jesus; he was so brown and he was so offensive! The sheer volume of his insults and vitriol directed at the pharisees is near madness. And years later, Peter, that rock upon which the church was built, would himself be rebuked for kowtowing to local pastors who wanted things to feel more comfortable for themselves.
If you want to meet Jesus, go sit with the outcasts. Go sit with the people in the back. The ones who maybe aren’t making it to church. And stop telling them to be quiet.
The early church had to navigate living in a culture that legalized women as property, children as not deserving life, and slavery, but it was not worried about offending the status quo. To worry about this would have been to lose the flavor of Christ, the essence of Jesus, the saltiness of the gospel. To partner the gospel with power would be to lose what brought light.
When we calm people, tell people they need to be quieter, tell them, “this is not the place for that,” we vacuum up the voices of the people who are at the heart of the gospel. That’s not the church I want to live in.
Sister in the back, this is your time--speak. This is your church--speak. You don’t need to wait for a seat at the table. You’ve already been offered a chair be the only One who has any real authority. Enjoy your feast.
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