Joan Ball has a wonderful story to tell, and her memoir (Flirting with Faith) will be published early in 2010 — but she is writing a guest blog for us today on what it was like to enter the Christian world and discover the “Christian woman.” Joan blogs at Beliefnet at Flirting with Faith.
This could be a fantastic topic for conversation today but we’ll need some folks to stick out their neck.
Questions: What was it like for you to hear, for the first time, what the Bible says about women and submission etc? How was it presented? Have embraced that or have you shifted? Did you have struggles and what sort where they? Did you have mentors to help you through these issues?
What does it mean to be a Christian woman?
I faced this question for the first time in 2003 when, at age 37, I had an unsought and
unexpected conversion to this surprising and challenging faith. Before that morning, I had never really considered what kind of woman I wanted to be. Sure, I always knew I’d like to get married and have kids some day. But I also knew that I would have a career and pursue the promise that I could be whatever I wanted to be if I worked hard and put my mind to it. Raised in a secular home on cultural cues that set the bar for the ideal woman who could “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let him forget he’s a man”, I never once thought I would have to choose between family and career. I just assumed that I could and would do it all. Despite some ups and downs along the way, my great marriage, healthy and happy children and six-figure salary told me that this assumption was correct.
Then, for reasons that I will never understand, I unexpectedly found myself a Christian after years of rabid atheism and agnosticism born in addiction recovery. Here I was, a working wife and mother in my 30s, tasked with learning what it meant to be a modern woman practicing an ancient faith. Easier said than done.
Of course I was the biggest part of the challenge. Old habits die hard, and supplanting living my life for me with living to follow and serve required some major rewiring. But, I’d experienced an old school, come-to-Jesus, awe of God kind of smack down, so I was willing to do whatever it took. But what did it take? This was the million-dollar question.
I had spent most of my adult life considering Christianity (admittedly negatively) from the outside looking in and was now forced to recalibrate my life around a faith I knew very little about. It took about 3 weeks for the dust to settle and for me to get the bright idea that reading the Bible might be a good starting place. So I got my hands on one, opened it up and read my first-ever scripture.
“…Wives submit to your husbands…”
Are you kidding me, God? I had been on my own and taking care of myself since I was 18 years old. I had married, had two children and divorced by the time I was in my mid-20s, living and working as a single mother for several years before marrying my husband Martin.
We had a great marriage that we approached as equal partners, sharing responsibilities in and outside of the home. Not only did submitting to him defy my independent spirit, it seemed completely unnecessary.
When I showed up home later that day and announced to Martin that, while I thought it was pretty stupid, it appeared that God was prompting me to follow this archaic command, Martin was no happier than I was. He didn’t really want me to submit to him. We shared responsibilities 50/50, no need to create some random hierarchy…
As with most things I have encountered since coming to faith, you can find a group to justify almost any way of “doing Christianity” if you look hard enough. This to submit or not to submit question was no different. I met women and read books that painted a picture of a Christian woman whose life was her husband and children (unless, that is, the church needed hospitality or staff to fill the children’s ministry). Work, if there was work outside the home, was part time and tied to the children’s school schedule.
I attended Bible studies and stadium conferences with these women but, while I truly respect their calling, it did not take me long to figure out that, while they were my sisters, they were not my tribe.
I read more and learned that there was another group out there. Many of them had grown up in the church and come to believe that the “wives submit to your husbands” version of the Christian woman no longer applied. It and certain other teachings of the Bible were either allegorical or no longer applicable in modern society.
They read the writing of new, progressive (and mostly male) authors and felt empowered to do things differently than their mothers and grandmothers before them. They had little sense of what that might actually look like on a day-to-day basis. I respected their desire to find a new way but, in the same way that I had come to despise picking out one or two scriptures to tell people what to do, I was equally suspect of picking out one or two scriptures that I could completely ignore.
There had to be another way.
I began speaking to women informally at writer’s conferences and online. I found that many were torn between these two extremes, seeking spiritual depth and the pursuit of deep and meaningful calling on their lives while embracing rather than abandoning tradition. These women are called to leadership, business, the arts or the mission field but remain committed to family and tradition. They find the women of the Bible to be compelling and gutsy risk-takers rather than the demur party planners. They seek a genuine conversation among those who seek a balance between traditional, power-oriented submission on the one hand and the culturally popular nobody-needs-to-take-care-of-me-I-can-do-everything-on-my-own on the other.