alongside

blog alongsidethe refuge turns 6 years old this month!  it’s so hard to believe.  some days it seems like yesterday and other days it feels like decades ago. there are many things to celebrate about the past 6 years. i continue to learn more than i ever bargained for about God, life, love, friendship, and leadership. some days i still want to run for the hills, but i’m learning something here that i’m not sure i’d ever learn somewhere else.

for me, one of the most important and beautiful parts of life together here has been what it looks like for men & women to live, learn, love, and lead alongside each other as equals, as brothers and sisters and friends.  often, i am in situations where i realize how rare this really is.

i respect that there are definitely places for only women’s groups & only men’s groups. but there is so much we can’t learn when we are always segregated, relegated only to being above or below one another, or full of fear.

i wish more men and women would bravely dive into the deep end of learning how to live alongside each other as leaders, brothers & sisters, and friends.

there aren’t a lot of great models of people sharing power, learning to be friends, and deepening connection across sexes “in church.” one of the greatest gifts i received in the life of the refuge has been meeting other people who are practicing “alongside” in their lives, their ministries.  they are diffusing power, developing cross-gender friendships, and cultivating intentional community where men & women are really equals.  they are few but growing in number.  their example inspires and challenges me to push against all of the voices that say “it’s not possible” and continue to live out the dream despite the obstacles.

here’s what i keep learning about men and women “alongside “ each other:

“alongside” heals shame.  shame has tried to ruin me, and so many other people i know. inequality perpetuates shame for those “underneath” others.  having to step up and live equally as a leader forces me to reckon with my shame.  the first few years of the refuge i felt so bad about leading–and wanting to lead–because i had been taught i wasn’t supposed to. also, “alongside” has helped shame from my past.  being honest with safe women friends was a huge start, but even more healing came when my male friends knew my real story, too, and help me release it.  to heal, i need not only mothers & sisters but fathers & brothers, too.

“alongside” is a reflection of the kingdom.  Jesus said that the kingdom of God was possible now.  that we didn’t have to wait until heaven to experience God’s reality.  Jesus blasts hierarchical divides and cuts through the things that separate and divide. equality is freeing. as we step into side by side relationships, the kingdom is reflected in both sexes and we participate in Christ’s healing of the brokenness that Genesis 3 brought into the world.

“alongside” teaches us courage.  i always say “courage is doing hard things scared.” alongside as equals requires courage.  when my husband and i moved from a complementarian-ish relationship to an egalitarian one, it freaked both of us out.  we were scared because we knew how to do the way we had been doing it.  when my friend karl called me to co-lead pastor with him instead of be an associate, it freaked me out.  i knew in my heart it was the right thing but i was terrified to not have the fallback of him being in charge of me somehow, the only model i knew as an evangelical woman.  the first time my friend shared with me the reality of his sexual addiction, it freaked me out, that level of sharing. but i knew that moment was a holy one. i needed to be brave, to stay in, to listen, to learn.

“alongside” requires faith. i’m constantly reminded how much of my christian life has not been about faith (even though it sounded like it) but rather about control (as a way for managing fear).  segregation between sexes is a way of staying in control.  integration and learning how to be more whole alongside each other requires walking out in faith, traveling a path without clear instructions.  i recently heard someone say, “you’ll never stub your toe standing still.”  we only stub our toe when we’re moving somewhere, practicing, trying, walking. oh, how many times i’ve stubbed my toe over the past few years!  but each and every time i have learned something about God, myself, others. faith is never strengthened staying still.

so that’s what i’m learning these days in the deep end of the pool.  diving in was one of the best things i’ve ever done.

God, give us courage to live alongside each other equally as men & women, brothers & sisters, lovers, and friends.  we want to be a reflection of you.

* * * * *

ps: it’s not too late to register for a challenging & inspiring gathering centered on cross-gender friendships called when jesus met mary: a sacred friendship gathering. it’s friday and saturday, april 27th & 28th in chicago.  i am really looking forward to being part of this and meeting some of you in real life there, too!

pps: i’m on a bit of a blog-roll these days, writing more than i have in a while. i’ve learned in these moments the best thing is to go for it and stay current, otherwise the moment’s often gone.    tomorrow i’m finally sharing a post i’ve been meaning to with a bunch of good stuff to check out.  on monday i am really looking forward to a new post-easter series called “reconstruction after deconstruction”, 8 posts centered on the brutal but beautiful process of restoring faith after loss & shifts.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

17 Comments

  • My greatest healing had come by being in relationship w women, because that was where the source of my brokenness was. Thank u for not running from me, but toward me.

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    • i am so grateful for all that i have learned through our relationship these past 8 years. what a gift from God you are!

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  • I have long believed that men and women need each other, that we can learn from one another and each has much to offer the other. I believe that men and women can and should have deep and meaningful relationship with one another beyond the marital relationship. But I have heard so many times for so long from other Christians that men and women cannot have deep, meaningful relationships outside of marriage. I think we are controlled here by fear and by our desire to maintain existing power relationships. I have been wounded and deeply frustrated by this mindset. It seems that I am continually running up against it and feel rebuked for my efforts to live with greater equality and openness in relationships.

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    • thanks, andrew, yes, that is so true, i can hear all of those voices how it’s just not possible. i agree with you “i think we are controlled here by fear and by our desire to maintain existing power relationships.” there’s a lot of resistance to this, which makes me so sad. glad for you & many others i know who believe there’s a better way that is more reflective of God’s kingdom now.

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  • Thank you for sharing your thoughts on equality, Kathy. I am a seminarian (due to continue my MDiv studies at Yale Divinity School in the fall), so I often deal with the emotions you describe. Sometimes I feel like I have to explain myself to others when I see the confusion in their eyes after I say that I’m in seminary, or, when they openly ask me, “So what can you do after your ordination?” (as if pastoring a church wouldn’t be a consideration because of my gender). In many ways, living in the Middle East for the past eighteen months has opened my eyes to gender issues in the faith context. In Islam, women can’t even pray alongside men, let alone take a leadership role in their faith community. It’s interesting to hear the reasons that are given to justify the gender segregation. To me, although many Christians might gasp if they heard me make the connection, the reasons are strikingly similar to those given within the Christian faith for keeping static, preset roles for women and men in the church (and in the home, workplace, etc…for that matter). As you say, if we are to challenge the current paradigm, then we need to be courageous and faithful so that through our lives, we can reflect the kingdom here on earth–no matter our gender.

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    • Erin, I’ve heard those reasons from the Muslim side as well and agree with you They are all too similar to the ones given by Christians, but most Christians I know who would make those arguments would refuse to see the similarities.

      I wish you success in your studies and in your future rule leading a community of God’s people–or wherever God should lead you!

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    • oh thank you so much for sharing, erin. you are in the thick of it and i know so many other seminarian women who have experienced the same responses. and yes, often christianity likes to think of ourselves as more progressive than we truly are. i love what you said here “we need to be courageous and faithful so that through our lives, we can reflect the kingdom here on earth–no matter our gender.” peace and courage to you as you work toward your calling. yale, that’s so awesome!

      Reply
  • At my age, seeing/hearing/realizing that “being equal” can work, I feel like I’m seeing prophesy fulfilled…

    Thank you so much for your voice. I feel so less alone.

    Linda

    Reply
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  • I really like “alongside requires faith.” I think that answers why when some men read a story of a sacred cross-gender love like in The Garden (click on my name), it scares them. Coming at it from your fear perspective, I now am beginning to see why. Maybe they fear a relationship like that because they must give up control. They must honor someone else’s boundaries — even the ones just hinted at. They can’t push their own agendas or hide their ulterior motives. That never dawned on me before.

    The woman who is the model for that story has been my best friend for 30 years. Last Friday she finally completed the last step in escaping from a 10-year-long physically abusive marriage. Last Friday, she sold her hobby farm and the house that she designed and built with him — a home that was supposed to be her dream home and became, instead, a prison.

    She is now in a very new place. She had told my wife and I that she now feels move loved by her close friends than at any time in any of her previous marriages. And in recognition of that, she is asking all of us to bring a plant — a plant with a story, our story, and place it in the warm, rich soil of her new home, her new life.

    And why does that make me cry?

    I think because that is a little taste of what it is like to love as we were meant to love. Lavishly. Unconditionally. Always and forever. And the tears are tears of joy – the joy of working hand-in-hand with our Creator to bring some healing, some hope, some redemption to a little corner of Creation near us.

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    • thanks jim. i haven’t had a chance to read the garden yet but bookmarked it. meanwhile, what a beautiful & also painful story you and your wife find yourself in with your friend. much peace and courage to all of you in the midst. love is brave. love heals. your courage is a reflection of the kingdom. thank you for sharing, it encourages me more than you know!

      Reply
  • i love the “completeness” that comes from working alongside you. i must admit, i never saw the strategic advantage to having a woman as a partner. i just knew i wanted to learn from/with you. you could have been a purple alien, and i would have been the first to sign up. i just wanted to be on your team.
    what i have learned in looking back is this sadness: so many people saw and recognized your amazing and unique place in the body of christ, but they no context that would allow them to follow you. only lead you. this is the tragedy of our system, women of great leadership are noticed but never promoted. i did not understand the full extent of the insidious oppresion until i reflected backwards. why did they dismiss you? they were afraid of being a close friend with a woman.
    kathy, remember this: men are often afraid of strong women. we were taught that we must over-power, defeat a woman. i was taught that a man equal with a woman is a weak man.
    i cannot tell you how many times with disgust i have heard “you got beat by a girl!”
    thanks for helping me expand my universe, for making it safe for me to be your friend and co-worker.

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    • i am so grateful for you, karl! thanks for being you and believing in me, believing in “what could be.” you have taught me more than you will ever know, and i know we have a lot more to keep learning, too. here’s to being brave, even when people think we’re stupid & weak & crazy 🙂

      Reply
  • Another quick comment: I had “dismissed” THE HUNGER GAMES (and will probably still not go see the movie). But the book group I am part of chose the book to discuss at our next meeting.

    I read it this weekend — the entire book. I am amazed at how the story spoke to me of the difference of living for our “hungers” and living in love…

    “The Hunger Games”, I believe, are going on as we speak in many churches — many religious groups.

    I believe Love can win…

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    • i am glad you gave them a try and got sucked in. oh yeah, so much in there isn’t there, too many metaphors to count. yes, Love can win. yeah!

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  • I am so glad to be reading your work, Kathy! As someone who grew up completely outside the evangelical Christian realm and then was thrust into that world when I went to a Christian college and then later as I joined a group of “christian” friends, this is the issue that always appalled me.

    Both parents worked outside the home – built houses together. I never realized that men cooking was a novelty – my dad, brother, and brother-in-law are all the better cooks in their families and so would do the cooking. We were taught that every human being can and should change oil/hammer nails/have a career/be an authority in the world.

    And since my brother, sister and I were always very close in age, we also always had close friends of both genders – we’d have co-ed sleepovers in high school without my parents batting an eye. I’ve always had male friends and never with the weirdness that pervades gender roles in evangelical life. So I was shocked when I encountered all these oppressive ideas through the church culture I started hanging out with. And it was sick how long it took me to get out of that group, even with an actual faith community ready to really care for me….

    Sufficed to say, I am glad that your community is working alongside! It’s what we do in the work-force as much as we can, and in the home, it is what we must do as a community as well! Wonderful!

    Reply

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