i spent the past couple of days in downtown denver at a women’s event that some dear women i know put together called woman come forth. i run in weird diverse circles. i have my wild and crazy emerging friends, my conservative evangelical friends, my don’t-go-to-church-and-don’t-plan-to-anymore friends, my recovery friends, my eclecic refuge friends, my i-have-had-bad-experiences-with-christians-but-i-kind-of-like-you friends, and a hodge-podge of other lovely people God has brought across my path. i am very thankful for the richness it all brings. but sometimes it’s all kind of comical!
this event was quite an experience! based on the story of lazarus in john 11, it wasn’t the typical “women’s conference” kind of thing even though it kind of looked like it from the website/brochure. there were no MC’s, prizes, rah-rah, workshops, workbooks, 3 important points to remember. it was a blend of eclectic music, drama, dancing, art, media, speakers, healing prayer and experience and just flowed from one thing to another. it was all pretty wild and a huge undertaking. the craziest part about it is it was free to attend. it wasn’t about marketing, making money, it was about bringing together women in denver who were longing for a little greater freedom. they asked for donations if people wanted to contribute but it wasn’t necessary and people could designate their gifts back to organizations represented there that advocated for women, including the refuge. really, the whole heart of the event was about honoring & empowering women. the women that pulled this off have been so kind to me, “go pastor” cheerleaders from afar, really believing that women’s voices and passions and purposes have been silenced too long and it’s time for a change in the kingdom of God.
so this weekend i was a real live preacher girl. we don’t really teach like that at the refuge; we are far more facilitators than teachers so it was kind of fun to have 40 minutes, a captive audience in a dark room, to just let it rip with no one talking back (hahahhaha. refuge people know what i’m talking about!). it was a really big crowd, the most women i have ever spoken to all at once, and when i looked in their eyes i’m like “i know you, i know some of that crazy stuff that goes on in your head because i’m fairly sure (not always) it’s the same thing that used to or is currently going on in mine!” there are certain things that most women, but especially christian women, tend to think, do, feel.
my section was based on john 11:44, two simple words. Jesus, after raising lazarus from the dead and calling him forth, doesn’t just magically strip the graveclothes off him, instead he turns to his community, the dear friends in lazarus’ life, and says “unbind him”
Jesus encourages lazarus’ community to participate in his healing. i believe we need to participate in one another’s healing. God calls us out, but i need others to unbind me, and i need to help others get unbound, too.
most of the graveclothes that women are walking around wearing aren’t apparent on the outside like lazarus’, but spiritually, emotionally, they deeply influence how we do our relationship with God, people, ourselves. i think graveclothes are the lies that we believe about ourselves, the messages that have been sent to us through life experience, damaging relationships, the church, you name it. things like
“i’m not enough”
“i’m too much”
“i’m not worthy”
“i’m too ashamed”
“stupid” …”fat” …”lazy”
“i have nothing to say”
“i don’t have enough faith because if i did i wouldn’t be like this”
“i have to stay in control or else the world will fall apart”
“i am all alone”
“it’s up to me”
“if they really knew me, they’d leave me”
“i don’t deserve anything good”
“who i am in my worst moment is who i really am”
a lot of women get taught that we just need to replace these lies with “truth” – scripture will take care of it. if we just know the truth of God’s heart for us and stand on it firmly the lies will magically disappear. i am not discounting for a minute the power of scripture and God’s transforming words, but i will just say that i think only “telling the truth” is overrated.
i think we need much more “showing the truth.” showing the truth to each other tangibly, in community, practically, for reals, instead of just relying on saying right words and thinking that alone will heal these deep core messages that are messing with our freedom. and there’s no doubt, showing the truth is far harder because it requires time, tons of grace, and the long haul of being with each other even when we aren’t quite “getting it” fast enough.
part of our continual spiritual transformation will always be unwrapping our graveclothes, but sometimes we’ll go through seasons of bigger work than others. my friends have helped me unbind some big ones over the years. but it’s taken years. these deep messages don’t go down easy, but i truly believe it is possible. i have seen it with my own eyes, i have experienced it in my own life. unbinding just takes a lot of time, energy, slogging-through-the-pain, and love.
but in order to even get to the unbinding process we have to “come out,” (Jesus says in the previous passage, “lazarus, come forth!”). we have to learn how to be honest, put the truth out on the table, quit hiding. my friends don’t just magically know the lies i struggle with (although my guess is that our graveclothes are more apparent than we often think). i have had to be brutally honest, make myself far more vulnerable than i like to be, and let them hear my heart so the process of unbinding could actually happen.
in the church, i think this is the hardest part. of all places, the church should be the safest place for our brokenness but my experience has been it’s the least safe (especially on leadership teams!) i think the reason why is that we are typically not up for how long the unbinding process really takes. we think that going to a group for 12 weeks will be enough. we think that a certain bible study or speaker or material will do the trick and then we can get back to our regular spiritual life. we go to therapy for a while in hopes we’ll get fixed. we get taught by dear and well-meaning pastors and leaders that we need to do certain things, “get healed up”, and move on. the value of continually integrating healing-community-serving in a natural, real way is very rare. plus, so many communities focus on women-with-women and men-with-men that we miss out on the amazing healing that can happen when men and women, brothers and sisters in christ, are in the trenches together.
anyway, the women at this conference took some really big steps, saying out loud things that needed to be said, identifying some of their graveclothes. now my hope is that they can find a place for some long-term unbinding.
there were a few other things that struck me this weekend. men served the women both days (they wore tuxes and were so sweet and kind). i was able to talk to several of them and they all expressed how they wanted to become men who completely empowered women to live out their giftedness. they apologized for their part in keeping women stuck. i missed this part because i was in a few intense conversations, but it is my understanding that sherman bradley, the husband of sadell bradley (who i had the privilege of connecting with through off the map and the team hired to come out for this event) publicly apologized on behalf of men for any ways that they had oppressed, shackled, minimized, hurt, or otherwise damaged women. the women i talked to said his sharing was extremely powerful. we need more men like this. we need more understanding of how misogyny is so deeply engrained in our culture, the world, churches. my friend ellen fleshed this out in her session, offering amazing perspective how spiritually and culturally women have been bound & silenced, it has never been God’s heart, and it’s time for some serious change.
well, i am now going to rest a bit. the past few months have been a little too nutty, too busy. i am ready to soak in some sunshine and chill. i wasn’t quite sure what this experience would be like, i’m extremely gun-shy on this kind of women’s stuff, but i was glad i was part and was able to say some things that maybe needed to be said. it also made me even more deeply committed to the work we do in our little wacky community, the refuge. we might be small, look ugly on the outside, but boy oh boy there’s some seriously beautiful unbinding going on.