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Re-Imaging: Can Women Re-Image the Church?

God is a man.

You’re causing men to stumble.

Women can’t/shouldn’t be pastors.

You’re not enough for your family.

The man is the head of the household.

You’re too emotional.

 

Whether we learn it in church, from our family, or in all the subtleties of society, we have our limiting beliefs about ourselves that repeat and repeat. They are personally tailored to hold us back. So much of what I want to do with this blog is Re-Image these inane platitudes in religion and faith practice. Along the way I have found that these defeatists thoughts extend beyond religion into our psychology as well. This post is a bit of personal growth and spiritual work as a result.

 

Why do we need Re-Imaging?

I just finished reading this book by Rosemary Chinnici that I picked it up at the Trinity Conference

Chinnici’s book blends both psychology and feminist theology to examine the role of women in faith communities, and the role they can have in Re-Imagining. I should note- Feminist Theology is used here to define the process of giving value and authority to the voices and the experiences of women.  Feminist theology reminds us that we have the right to name our own experiences and create new metaphors. It encourages women to abandon the limiting beliefs of patriarchal authority and place their hope in the truth of their soul.

Women need to expand the traditional images, metaphors, and language of church. I am not suggesting that all women leave the traditional Western church immediately, burn all their bras, and run around naked in the woods wearing a crown of flowers. (Although, let me know if this is going on, I’m in). But the undeniable truth is that women’s religious experience has always been filtered through men. A male spiritual authority tells me of a male God, who came to save mankind, and make them fishers of men. Women are forced to translate each spiritual experience into their own language.

“Traditionally, the interpretation of theology has been left to men…as a consequence women..spend their time attempting to articulate a new vision of self, trying to see and announce a world that incorporates women’s voice and thoughts”- Rosemary Chinnici, Can Women Re-Image the Church?  

It is vital for women to add to the images, language, and metaphors they already know with their own lived experiences and their own truth. And this makes people uncomfortable, right? Not because we are just talking about women, but because we are talking about giving a place of importance to our human experiences, interpretations, and beliefs. We are talking about adding to the contained and prescribed religious experience (The Bible, Sinner’s Prayer, Substitutional Atonement, TULIP, etc). We are talking about letting things get messy- letting things get real.

 

Oh, but how glorious this messiness is.

 

What is Re-Imaging?

Re-imaging is the process of women learning to rest in the knowledge of their own truth, to trust their story; to infuse dead language and interpretation with meaning taken from their own lives.

Re-Imaging is taking the traditional story of Abraham and Re-Imaging the story to include Sarah’s courage and perspective.  

Re-Imaging is critically looking at the language we use to describe and relate to The Divine, and expanding this language to include at least gender neutrality, and at best gender inclusivity.  

Re-Imaging is believing that your story and your truth is a vital piece of the tapestry of faith and deserves to be told.

Re-Imaging allows women to step out of the comfortable but confining traditional experience and step into new speech, new images, and new possibilities.

“It is the lightness that occurs when women discover the new language that reveals their innermost self” – Rosemary Chinnici, Can Woman Re-Image the Church

Re-Imaging is what we are doing here.

 

 

How to begin Re-Imaging & my own experience

I have some great news for you. You’re already Re-Imaging, or you’ve already engaged in Re-Imaging. If you’ve ever been to counseling, a 12 step program, or processed a painful memory with a friend over coffee- you’ve been Re-Imaging. Re-Imaging begins when we address these limiting beliefs whether in our faith, relationships, or experiences, and realize the broken record isn’t working for us anymore. When we examine loss or confront destruction in our lives and commit to the painful process of working through it into something new, we are Re-Imaging.  

 

Let me give you a much too personal example of this because I promised myself I would be vulnerable here:

Me. Being adorable and loving all things Disney

 

“You half-ass everything”. I can remember the first time my father told me this. We were walking through a parking lot on our way to Disney World. I went back to the car to grab something I forgot and didn’t shut the door all the way, so he had to reach around me to slam it shut. I was probably 7. It wouldn’t be last time he said it, he wasn’t a terrible man or anything. But like most parent, he was broken long before he became a father. 

This throw away comment became the lens through which I viewed everything I attempted for the next 20 years. I allowed myself to look at my life and only see a graveyard of hobbies and projects- because I half-ass everything.  This limiting belief kept me from trying new things, terrified of adding to the growing list of things I couldn’t finish or messed up. If I wanted to start crying in the coffee shop where I am writing this, I could type out a list of things I started and didn’t finish, and another list of things I wanted to start, but was too afraid to half-ass. This blog is one of those things- I’ve had this idea for 7 years, I’ve tried it before.

I’ve always loved hats.

It was at a Tony Robbins conference (yes, you read that right. I’ll write a post about that eventually) where I went through the painful process of Re-Imaging this limiting belief which I had allowed to shape my identity for 2 decades. After opening this wound that I had had  for so long I had forgotten that I wasn’t born with it, I had to rip it out and replace it with the Truth. And that did not come naturally- it is so much easier to belief the negative things about ourselves. But my faith tells me that the Divine Creator does not see me as a women who “half asses everything”, that cannot be the Truth of my soul.

So, you know what? That voice, the one I heard over and over again, “You half-ass everything”…

That’s bullshit.

The Truth is…I don’t half ass everything. I am a deeply passionate person, and I don’t waste time on projects, hobbies, or things I am not passionate about.  

And that’s the truth of my experience, that’s the truth of my soul.

 

That’s Re-Imaging.

 

And as important as it was for me to do that, as life changing as it was (it resulted in this blog for starters), that experience will pale in comparison to the Re-Imaging women can do in the Church. The results can be unimaginable.

 

 

Women as prophets of Re-Imaging

 

Now let us honor with violin and flute

A woman set so deeply in devotion

That three times blasted to the root

Still she grew green and poured strength out.

-Mary Sarton Collected Poems 1930-1973

 

My personal process of Re-Imaging the harmful identity inherited from my father is mostly a psychological one. Nonetheless important, but it does not fully encapsulate the importance of Re-Imaging in the church. Rosemary Chinnici writes further about the role women can have in Re-Imaging theology. Chinnici cites Walter Brueggemann’s (be still my heart!) criteria for a true prophet as found in his work, The Prophetic Imagination.

A true prophet must live within culture, but examine and critique that culture. The prophet mourns what is absent in culture – calling for others to see a new way of thinking and doing- the prophet is Re-Imaging. She faces the pain head on, suffering the consequences of speaking up but refuses to despair and continues to call for this alternative view. When women go through a personal or public process of Re-Imagining, we are acting as prophets, like in the Old Testament. We live within the culture of church/faith but oh how we grieve what is absent as we cry for an expanded and holistic view of women.

We mourn for what is absent in our culture and our faith. Many of us choose to stay, but live on the fringes of the church. We critique and examine and speak up.  We “come to terms with a loving church that does not seem to love us” (pg 74).  We become prophets. Others ignore their feelings and throw themselves into the work of the church, attempting to heal the wound by covering it with a salve of devotion. Others are content with slow progress. Each experience is valid, each process of Re-imaging is necessary.

 

 

The process of Re-Imaging, or How to begin

Women’s lived experiences are different from men’s. We have our own unique way of approaching faith. Feminism encourages me to validate this experience and to recognize that my voice and the voice of other women has been absent from theology.  We no longer have to bear the limiting beliefs that have shaped our identity. We call bullshit.

 

When we hear our sisters being silenced in Church,  we say…

Thats bullshit.

The Truth is… “God is within her very being and along with other women, she shares the right to speak of what we know: the light that is in us”  (Can Women Re-Image the Church pg 10)

 

When we are told that women should not teach, we say…

Thats bullshit.

The Truth is… it was a woman at a well who became the first evangelist in the New Testament (John 4). It was a woman to whom Jesus first appeared after resurrection, and she became the first to receive The Great Commission (John 20).

 

When we are singularly told of a male deity, we say…

Thats bullshit.

The Truth is…We experience the Divine Feminine intensely. Through the process of pregnancy and childbirth we become co-creators with the Ultimate Creator, an unparalleled communion with the greatest Source of life.

 

It is in this dynamic process of “re-imaging” that women can be encouraged to face the past. We have the power and the responsibility to ourselves to Re-Image that which haunts us. We have to power to feed our souls.

 

I want to hear from you

What are your thoughts on Re-Imaging? Could you use this as a tool to begin to heal you own faith wounds or limiting beliefs? What are some ways you’ve Re-Imaged in your own life?

 

6 thoughts on “Re-Imaging: Can Women Re-Image the Church?

  1. I have so much I want to say but, in my 60 plus years of living in a male centered society, all I can say is I’m angry and scared. How do I tell my husband for the third time, that I don’t want to go to church? How do I tell him that I don’t want to go to our small group that will be studying the heroes of the faith, all male of course? How do I read and study a bible that appears to be written by men for men? How do I speak my truth? What if I lose every thing I care about by challenging the statis quo. Right now I’m just scared. Sometimes it is just easier to go with the same old life that has been constructed for me (and some of the life restrictions I’ve placed on myself). Am I too old to upset my life? I’m just scared.

    1. Donna,

      Thank you so much for your continued support and your honesty. I think you’re really epitomizing what so many women are going through. And I’m not sure I have a perfect answer for you. But I can tell you that I hear you, and I see you, and I am here too.

      I think it is okay to be both angry and scared. This anger is a righteous one, and as long as we harness the energy and allow it to spur us to action then it is not wasted. It is so unfair that going through these Re-Imaging processes, and uncovering our own faith wounds, is almost always coupled with a relational hurt of some kind. Husbands want to fix, and there is so little for them to do. I personally took a sabbatical from church for a number of years, some women leave church altogether, and some women I know stay and work for change from the inside. What is important to remember is what all Re-Imaging is truth- all paths are welcome.

      For now, find what is working for you. Allow the anger to be a catapult to something new- a new faith practice (Meditation? Contemplative prayer?) Spend some time soul searching about what you want. Do you want to be back in a community of believers? Do you want to continue down this path? Do you want to question, seek answers, and find your own truth? Once you identify what you’d like your faith to look like- you can use the anger to make it happen. And I’ve found that taking action in some way can alleviate both the anger and the fear. I stopped being a victim of faith and started hunting my own truth down. Or at least, I am trying to. Upsetting your life can be fun and exciting, but you’ve got to manage it and have at least some semblance of a goal or mile marker. Or maybe you don’t- as I re-read that I kept hearing “I’ll run down any road to find you”. And that’s what I love about God- God will run down any road you are on and find you.

      In regards to your fear of challenging the status quo and losing everything- there is something freeing when you realize that you don’t have to agree with everything in order to be part of the community. You don’t have to risk a whole lot outside of yourself if you don’t want to. My husband once told me that “Most people are trying to serve God as best as they know how”, and that was life changing for me. It changed my framework on how I viewed others. For example, I go to a women’s group each Wednesday. They say Father, He, etc. and it does drive me a little crazy. Some believe homosexuality is a sin and feminism is a dirty word. And while I probably theologically disagree with many things, I cannot imagine my life without them. My group has changed my life, for the first time I feel like I have mentors. I have women who love me in ways my parents couldn’t. These women have taught me more about love and vulnerability in the last two years then in any other church I’ve been too. At the end of the day, I don’t care that they believe in substitutional atonement and I am more universalist leaning. These women know the pain of my past, they know where my scars are, and they love me. They are serving God as best as they know how, and I am benefitting from that love.

      I hope my rambling was helpful. You are grappling with questions that are so very hard and leave us feeling raw. If you’ll allow me to be annoying positive for a moment- how wonderful is it that we live in an age where we can have these questions and help each other find the answers?!

      I love you so very much,
      Alyse

  2. This. Right here.

    “The Truth is…I don’t half ass everything. I am a deeply passionate person, and I don’t waste time on projects, hobbies, or things I am not passionate about. ”

    I have been carrying around this “half-assed” curse my whole life. I’ve never been able to see past the overwhelming evidence that I rarely finish what I start.

    I’m claiming a new truth!

    1. Claim it! This Re-Imaged truth has stopped me from spiraling into a deep dark whole of negative self-talk every time I move onto a new project. I’m glad its helping you too!
      -Alyse

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