Mine Eyes Have Seen . . .

The CBE annual conference winds up today with a worship and Communion service presided over by my friend Martha Giltinen, an Anglican priest and seminarian from Pittsburgh whose service three years ago in Toronto left me in tears, touched to my soul by its profound simplicity and simple profundity. In a couple of hours, I will join hundreds of people from all over the world in worshiping God, in spirit and in truth and in loving communion with one another.

This is church. This is the Church, and our Lord is pleased.

I’ll be writing more — much more, and probably a bit more than that — once I get home later this week, but as I prepare for worship this morning, let me tell you of what I have seen and heard over the last two days:

I have seen an Indian woman in a flowing sari praying with a young Anglo college student who likely was a stranger to her.

I have heard prayers from the pulpit from a Khmer woman, a Mexican-American woman, and a male bishop from Kenya, all in their native languages.

I have seen, in a workshop, graphic images of pornography that horrify me and remind me of the horrors perpetuated on the women portrayed. (For once, a Christian objection to porn focused on the harm done to the women portrayed, not just on the problem of lust in men).

I have seen an Indian scholar, pastor, and father of three daughters weep from the pulpit as he describes a particular instance of female subordination he encountered during his ministry.

I have heard the shattering story of a young woman determined to follow the call of Christ on her life in the face of the men in her home church in a former Communist nation who call her a whore for doing so.

I have seen a Black man from Burundi engage in cautious, then joyous, conversation with a Black woman ministering in a Detroit suburb.

I have met a woman diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer diagnosed just days after her ordination earlier this year.

I have been gently rebuked by a young college student who grasped an area of pain in my life that I’ve struggled for decades to have understood by older Christian friends.

I’ve drunk wine, gone on walks, and eaten pasta with a family therapist from Sydney, a young Romanian woman ministering to women victimized by sex trafficking, a Hawai’ian psychology student, a woman sheltering an immigrant Mexican family in her Iowa home, a woman who walked away from a lucrative career in engineering to teach math in an inner-city school in L.A., a brilliant and gentle seminarian from Canada, and a heavily tattooed woman who isn’t sure about the whole “Christian” thing but is drawn to the message of social justice and freedom in Christ that CBE proclaims.

I’ve exchanged business cards with the bishop of Bondo, Kenya, had a book autographed by a German theologian, and made six new Facebook friends whose ministries I can pray for, and who promise to pray for mine.

I’ve seen too many times to count the blank look of disbelief and the searing look of disgust that I get when I describe the pastoral and theological horrors that dog the biggest church in my town. For once, I’m in a community of people who “get it,” and I wish I could import them all to Moscow.

I’ve held the hand of a woman as she relayed the heartbreak of a broken engagement precipitated by the man’s learning of her rape seven years ago.

I’ve mourned the loss of CBE’s founder, Dr. Catherine Clark Kroeger, and brushed away tears from a woman who was mentored by her for years — and shed a few of my own, because through Cathie’s books, I was, too.

Finally, I’ve come away from this weekend with a renewed commitment to Christ, to His Gospel, and to the gender and class justice He demands. In Galatians 5, the Spirit coursing through Paul reminds us of our freedom in Christ and admonishes us to never allow ourselves to be enslaved again.

As Dr. Richard Howell, an Indian theologian and pastor, says, patriarchy enslaves women and makes oppressors of men. I am renewed in my mind, heart, and soul, and I will work against the enslavement of women through the degrading and denial of their gifts, callings, ministries, and personhood. I am a free woman, and I will not sit quietly when men who claim Christ as Lord allow themselves to become oppressors by oppressing the women around them and teaching that it is right to do so. It isn’t right, it isn’t righteous, and it is an abomination to Yahweh, in whose image, male and female, we all were created — and created to serve.

May the God of our fathers and mothers be forever praised.

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