There are times when all my reading, my conversations, and my experiences seem to carry recurring themes, and cause me to pause and pay attention. I am grateful that when God has something important to reveal to me, He doesn’t rely on one word, one encounter, but confirms His word through many avenues.
I have been reading the book, Dare Mighty Things, by Halee Gray Scott. She is a millennial, and a professor who teaches leadership and spiritual formation. In her book, she challenges women to step into all that God has for them, leaving behind passivity and taking on courage. She shares research about ways that women are excluded from top leadership positions, both in the secular and the Christian world. This is not new information to me, but it is interesting that someone 25 years younger than me has many of the same observations that I have had over the years. She observed from her research that the more powerful a woman becomes, the less she is liked, and the more she is construed as being a victim, the more she is liked. Her research also shows that the qualities that people perceive to be attributed to the strongest leaders are rarely perceived to be feminine qualities. It’s tough research for any woman called to lead to swallow.
Last Thursday, Fuller Institute for Theology and Northwest Culture sponsored an event for women who are in leadership at churches. I accompanied a group of young leaders from Bethany, where we heard from Nancy Beach, from Willow Creek, and Tiare Mathison from Wallingford Presbyterian. Both of these women have navigated the challenges of being a female leader in church ministry. They spoke of the times when they encountered opposition – subtle and not so subtle – as they taught. They talked about the support structures they have in place to sustain them – co-laborers that share the experience, habits that feed their souls, family members that support them. After these two women spoke, there was time to talk about what it looks like for women seeking to lead in the church. There was a sense of optimism, as many of them had opportunities to lead and had found joy in it. There was also a sad story of being silenced and/or critiqued for tone of voice, a critique that is rarely levied on a man. I found myself torn between the optimism of these young female leaders and my own perception of what opportunity for women looks like.
As I pondered my reading and experiences over the last couple weeks, I asked myself a question I have asked many times – How do I continue to make my way in a culture of mixed messages and still live with faith, hope, and love?
And the answer came on Sunday. I live upstream. Richard talked about it in his sermon. The pure, clear water of Coal Creek, fit for drinking and satisfying our thirst becomes unpotable by the time it reaches the mouth of the Columbia, polluted by run-off, by silt, and trash that change the character of the water. And when I let myself be shaped by the voices downstream, my character and identity is diluted from its purest form, and I am less able to live into the ministry that God has for me.
We all live somewhere along the stream, with various degrees of silt and runoff influencing our character and identity, and various degrees of awareness that it is even happening. When we don’t find our way upstream regularly, we lose our sense of who God is, who we are, and even who those around us are. We can easily become the pollutants in others’ lives. We need to live upstream.
What does this mean? How do we do this? It takes practice and a commitment to habits that move us back to the Source, our Creator. We create space where God can reveal Himself to us and tell us who we are. For me it is in my daily reading of the Old and New Testament, and writing, and running. I spend time with others who know me well enough to affirm God’s work in me. And I do the same for them. And throughout the day I live out of that place of pure and clear truth about who I am in Christ.
There are many ways for us to find our way upstream. But the purpose is always the same – to revel in the purity of who we are in Christ as His beloved, and to live out of that reality each day.