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I needed to see her
On black-out poetry and needing to see something better
A few months ago, I began to play with a practice called “black out poetry” - it’s been around for ages and a lot of folks do this as a creative act of rebellion or protest within many different disciplines. But I was introduced to the notion through the incredible work of poet Kate Baer (if you haven’t read her poetry or Instagram feed, do yourself the favour). Basically, she would take an upsetting or problematic message that people sent to her and, using a black marker or its digital equivalent, she would mark out words and phrases, leaving something true and beautiful in the wake of the garbage, simply by deleting. You know how I tend to over-spiritualize pretty much all the things, so I couldn’t help but be reminded of that line in scripture about things meant for evil ultimately being used for our good. I was deeply moved by several of those worksand so, I began to do it myself, just quietly, when I came across things that I found poisonous and wrong, too. Sadly there has not been a lack of opportunity.
My friend and Evolving Faith colleagueHernandez is convinced it’s a spiritual practice and she is - as in many things - absolutely right. For those of us have had words weaponized against our selves, it can be pretty healing to play with those very words until they turn into empowerment or surprising joy.
For the first time, I shared one of those on Instagram this past weekend. A local pal Jeremy Duncanhad shared a snippet of a sermon from a popular Bible teacher who is well known for his harmful theology and praxis towards women in particular with his own strong rebuke.
Behold the original (of course, if stuff like this is triggering for you, please don’t bother):
When I read the original screenshot, I felt that familiar wash of grief and anger; how many women for how many generations have had that proverbial boot on our neck from teaching like this? If it wasn’t such rank heresy (because it is ABSOLUTELY HERETICAL), it would almost be laughable. Like, what in the actual world?? But who could laugh when we know the truth of how this teaching has led to such damnable rotten fruit including abuse and trauma for so many of our sisters?
So as I’ve been doing when I encounter heretical trash like this and I feel dis-regulated, powerless, or just plain rage-y, I picked up my king size Sharpie marker and just went to town, which resulted in this new version:
After the response to that share on my own social media, I remembered this short essay that I wrote while I was pregnant with our youngest child and, in honour of Women’sHistory Month, I thought I’d share it with you this week.
Because just like with black-out poetry, while it is so important to call out and name the damage and toxic impact of such garbage, we also need to creatively subvert it as we name and honour the narrow path of justice, honour, and hope for women. We need to say the truer thing and embody it for one another.
We need others around us as we learn how to embody what God’s heart is for all of us.
And for that? We need to see what is possible.
I Needed to See Her
We’re never alone in our stories, we’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. I always feel like I love Jesus better when I hear from other folks how and why they love God and people, too. I feel braver when I see other women be brave. One seed of freedom, one woman who walks in freedom, sets others free, too.
Our stories are never just our own.
I needed Idelette.I needed to see her out ahead of me. I needed to see a woman who was passionate and alive, a woman who had awakened to her purpose. I needed to see a woman who didn’t see women as competition or as threats, not as insecure or jealous or weak, but instead as a sisterhood, a powerful force for good. I needed to see her create SheLoves with my own eyes to know how sacred it is for women to tell their stories, to own their anointing, to come alongside of each other with power and laughter and vulnerability. I needed to see her do this before I knew that I could the same thing in my own way.
I needed Pastor Helen. I needed to see her preaching on Sunday mornings, her husband in the very front row, taking notes seriously as he learned from his wife. I needed to be comfortable with the title of “Pastor” in front of a feminine name. I needed to see her be lead by the Spirit, I needed to see her put her hand up and say “yes.”
I needed my paternal Granny. I needed to witness her strong and unedited opinions on everything from hockey to politics. I needed to see her devour cowboy novels instead of lady-magazines, to prefer the outdoors to the safe living rooms, to see her get angry and then mourn when her anger cost her dearly. I needed to hear how she longed to learn and how much she still missed school, I needed to know her stories, her roots, her regrets and her victories, in order to understand the fire in my own bones.
I needed my mother. I needed her to teach me about breastfeeding and bonding with my babies, I needed her as the wind at my back moving me further into my wholeness. I needed her to confirm the metaphors I was discovering about the way that God parents us, I needed her to tell me I was enough. I needed to witness the way she moved in my father’s life with winsome freedom, how they moved together effortlessly in unity without the hint of hierarchy. I needed to see how she respected and honoured him, I needed to see how she challenged him, how he trusted her.
I think, I believe, I know this – someone needs to see you.
I needed Kelley.I needed a friend who could preach by an old piano in the living room better than most big preachers in megachurches. I needed her to talk to me about justice and jubilee, about Isaiah and Exodus, about midwives and women on the edge. I needed her to give me the theological foundation for the awakening God was breathing into my own spirit, I needed her laughter and her anger, her prophetic imagination and her voracious yearning for shalom. I needed the theologians she gave to me, as one gives a gift.
I needed Maya Angelou. I needed to read her stories and her poems, I needed her to crack open my narrow world and show me beauty in truth-telling. I needed to hear from her about the power of words, I needed her to warn me that “someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get iny our rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.” I needed her to write Phenomenal Woman in all its unapologetic sexy confidence.
I need to see women who are aging well ahead of me. Women who let their hair go grey, who grow lovelier with eye crinkles and laugh lines, women who are soft and women who are strong, who dress wild and wear red lipstick and pile their hair on their heads, women who wear bikinis without shame.
I needed women who will never know my name and never know their impact on my life. I needed Eleanor Roosevelt and Joan Didion, I needed L.M. Montgomery and Mary Oliver. I needed Brené Brown. I needed Carolyn Custis James, Charlotte Brontë, Mary Wollstonecraft, Malala, Aung San Suu Kyi, Anne Lamott, Gloria Steinem, Deborah, and Junia.
I needed the women in my actual life. I needed Nish and Tara, Jen and Jamie, my Somewheres, Tracy and Nicola, I need all the women in my life who are dangerous and hilarious, who don’t choose between their womanhood and their callings, women who push back the powers of evil in ordinary ways, women who lead uniquely and differently, women who love. I needed the dozens more women I could list here, whether it was for a moment or one encounter or a lifetime of companionship. I needed to see them all.
Maybe someone needed to see me that particular night.
Seven months pregnant, I stood up with my Bible in my hands and I preached about the incarnation at church.
I am a mother and I am a wife, I am a writer and I love theology even as I love fibre crafts and cooking. I’m passionate about peace-making and justice and potty training. I laugh too loud and I am sometimes absent on Sundays. And I was part of that house and that community, I loved my local church and I loved those women. I have needed all these women to heal some part of that still believed there wasn’t room for all of me as a woman of faith. I want to do the same for others now.
Perhaps someone needed to see that this, too, is what it looks like to proclaim the Gospel: quite pregnant, female, Bible open, voice filled with tears and laughter and passion, not from-away but rooted right there, imperfect and proclaiming the good news anyway.
We needed each other. We need each other. And for what is ahead, we will need each other.
I think, I believe, I know this – someone needs to see you.
YOUR TURN: Who did you need to see in order to fully step into some aspect of your true self?
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Jeremy is a local pastor but you may remember his name from his book Upside Down Apocalypse: Grounding Revelation in the Gospel of Peace, which I recommended here at Field Notes a few months ago.
I know you all know this already but just to be clear, whenever I say “women” I always mean women of every identity and expression.
Idelette McVicker is familiar to many of you, too, I know! Here’s her website so you can learn more about her work in the world. Her name might be familiar to you because of her moving poem at the opening of Jesus Feminist, “Let Us Be Women Who Love” which has served as a manifesto for so many of us.
Kelley Nikondeha’s website is here and she’s another one who is familiar to you if you’ve read my books! All of her books are fantastic but I’m still partial to the one about the women of Exodus called Defiant: What the Women of Exodus Teach Us About Freedom. It would be a fantastic book club read.