We Are Feminine (But We Won’t Fit In Your Box)

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She is feminine.

It’s only 5:30 a.m. and her 7-month-old baby is already giggling through the baby monitor.  “It can’t be morning,” Jenny whispers to herself.  Her eyes burn and her bones ache.  Between frequent late night nursing sessions with the infant, caring for the 2 and 4 year old, keeping up with laundry, cooking, and cleaning, Jenny is one tired mama.  But every bit of it is worth it to her.  She can’t imagine living life any differently.  Just the other morning she walked past a mirror and noticed her own reflection and her infant strapped to her body in a baby carrier.  As she stopped to observe the reflection in the mirror, she noticed the dark bags underneath her eyes.  The late night feedings were really taking a toll on her body.  But then, as she glanced down to see the reflection of her precious baby, she had a moment.  “I am whom I’ve always wanted to be, I’m doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to do,” she whispered softly.  Being a mom and a wife is exactly as she imagined her life would be.  Seeing smiling babies in the morning and seeing her husband’s face when he walks in from the door from work to a table full of food is her ministry and her joy.

She is feminine.

The 5:30 a.m. alarm blares as she lies there trying to remember exactly what day it is.  It’s Thursday and today is the day that Fakelia has been preparing for the last 3 months.  Will she be able to close the deal? Will the customer like her PowerPoint presentation?  Will her boss be proud of all of her hard work?  Her boss put her on this project for her bold and assertive qualities.  She is quick on her feet, outspoken, and wins almost every customer’s affections that spends any amount of time with her.  Her nickname at work is ferocious Fakelia for a reason.

She browses her closet for her favorite blue pantsuit as her tiny two-year-old stumbles into the room with pillow lines still on his cheeks and disheveled hair.  As she stoops down to scoop him up in her arms, her husband, John, rolls over and says, “Good morning, Babes! Jacob, what do you want for breakfast today? We have a big day planned full of errands, laundry, grocery shopping, and play-dates.  You and I are going to have a fun day while your Mommy knocks it out of the park at work today.”  Fakelia takes a deep breath and smiles at her husband, “I’m so thankful for you, hon. It is such a blessing that you are able to stay home with Jacob.  You two will have a great day.”

She is feminine.

Christy sits on the edge of the pew as the last worship song comes to a close.  With her head down, hands folded, she whispers one last prayer before she preaches before her beloved congregation, “Lord, speak through me and to my congregation this morning.  May your name be lifted high.” Christy pulls her golden curls back into a pony-tale before walking on to the platform.  Nothing is more annoying than her twirly curls falling in front of her eyes mid-sermon.  She looks to her left to see her best friend, Amanda, to her right. She and Amanda share a special bond.  Their deepest secrets, insecurities, hopes, and dreams have been shared with one another.  As a single woman and a pastor, Christy treasures the intimate bond the two of them have.  Most weekends Christy reads through her sermon to Amanda as Amanda offers constructive criticism and encouragement.  Ministry would not be the same without Amanda.  “You’ve got this, Rev.”, whispers Amanda as Christy walks to the platform.

She is feminine.

Maria stands behind the cashiers counter at the local doughnut shop.  It’s been a long day; she’s been on our feet for at least 12 hours.  This is her second job – she spent the first half of the day waiting tables at the old town diner.  Although her job and income situation isn’t ideal, she has no choice.  She is a single mother of 4 and does whatever she can to put food on the table.  She is tired and ragged, but she will do anything for her kids.  Sometimes Maria wishes she wasn’t the only parent in the house, but she has an incredible support system in her local church.  She will often come home to a fridge full of food not knowing how it got there or who put it there, and her children have many “moms and dads” as they all pitch in to raise the kids.

We are feminine and we are in Christ.

We have short hair and we have long hair; dirt is under our fingernails from toiling under the sun just to make a living and our fingernails are nicely manicured with pink nail polish; we enjoy high tea and we sometimes enjoy a beer at the pub; we stay at home with the children, care for our husbands, and support their careers, but we also choose wear the blue pant suits and run corporations. We wear yoga pants, leggings, mom jeans, cargo shorts, long skirts, and daisy dukes.  You see, our femininity is not rooted in ideology or cultural norms; our femininity is rooted in our humanity, which is firmly rooted in the humanity of Christ. It is the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of King Jesus that informs the theology of our bodies. Our bodies sometimes bear children and they sometimes don’t, but childbearing isn’t our identity; instead, our bodies and identities are ordered in the saving and transforming activity of the Triune God.

Our embodied lives are firmly rooted in Jesus Christ as we are made holy by the empowering presence of the Spirit.  It is the Spirit that informs our decisions in the office place, at home, behind a cashier’s counter, and in our relationships; it is by the Spirit that we are shaped into the women we were created to be – Biblical women, holy women, and daughters of the resurrection. Eschatology and resurrection informs our identities, not creation or brokenness.[1]  We are beautiful, strong, courageous, quiet, submissive, outspoken, tender, fierce and holy. It is precisely as Beth Felker Jones writes, “When death is finally no more, we will be shaped entirely by the love embodied in Jesus Christ…our bodies are for praise, praise of the one who is victor over death, who will shape us into witnesses to beauty, to goodness, to holiness, and to peace.[2]

We are beautiful, strong, courageous, quiet, submissive, outspoken, tender, fierce & holy. Click To Tweet

 We are feminine and we are in Christ. When we gather together every week for prayer, praise, and Eucharist, the empowering presence of the Spirit is among us and that is when we shine. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:12, “So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.” These gifts include teaching, admonishing, prophesying, knowledge, exhortation, healing, miracles, and guidance. See 1 Corinthians 12:4–11, for example:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

We have gifts to teach, preach, prophesy, serve, lead, and build.[3]  We are church planters, we are kitchen ladies, and we are worship leaders.  We are full of wisdom and we are also new Christians. Many have tried to box us in or tell us who we should be, but when we look to Christ, we see cruciformity, love, grace, courage, and presence.  Sure, try to box us in, but our femininity can’t fit in your box. It is and will always be firmly rooted in the humanity of Jesus.  

We are feminine, we are in Christ, and we are diverse.[4]

[Photo: Photo: Matt HoffmanCreative Commons 4.0 via#YouRadiate]

[1] Scot McKnight expands on the cross and resurrection defining manhood and womanhood, not Genesis 1-3 on his blog. “Targeting Gender” right here.

[2] Beth Felker Jones, Marks of His Wounds: Gender Politics and Bodily Resurrection (New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 2007), 114.

[3] Excellent post over at the Junia Project on “Gender Roles vs. Spiritual Roles in the Body of Christ” right here.

[4] For more on this subject, I highly recommend the following books: Dr. Jackie Roese, Lime Green (Dallas, TX: HIS Publishing Group, 2015).; Carolyn Custis James, Malestrom: Manhood Swept Into the Currents of a Changing World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015).

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12 responses to “Frank Viola/David Fitch on Missiology’s Relationship to Ecclesiology

  1. David,
    Thanks to you and Frank for posting this. Frank makes exactly the point that went through my mind re: this question in our discussion of ‘pragmatic’ and ‘anabaptist’ missional types a post or two ago. I would identify myself as pragmatic, but would identify the ‘mission’ of God along the lines that Frank does (and it appears you also accept). In which case, mission (the Eternal Purposes of God, the End he has in mind) precedes (yet also necessarily includes, creates and always reforms) church. And not just church however we want to do it, but rather, church shaped (reformed & reforming) in light of God’s mission and, to a secondary extent, the particular context for that mission.

    Ironically, my local church has retooled the 12 steps slightly to make them aim for exactly what you describe rather than just overcoming a particular idol. They’re actually a fantastic community ‘rule’ for that very purpose when the goal is changed to entering/cooperating with, to use yall’s language, the Eternal Purposes of God.

  2. Maybe part of the issue is whether the church is an ontological reality or simply a convenient way to organize people into God’s mission.
    Is the church to be primarily understood as the instrument through which God will accomplish his purpose in creation, or rather the expression of that purpose itself?

    Is the church here to work for the fulfillment of God’s purpose in creation, or is the church itself the fulfillment of God’s purpose in creation?

    If the church in the instrument of God’s purpose, then we understand it primarily in functional terms; what it does.

    But if we understand the church as itself the expression of God’s purpose, we look at the church in ontological terms; what it is.

    These questions are discussed in Simon Chan’s book Liturgical Theology, which I highly recommend.

    In the end, it would seem that if you affirm the ontology, you get the function, but if you only affirm the function, the church becomes completely dispensable as an ontological reality.

  3. Oops posted too soon – to finish my thought…
    What if the church is both the expression of AND the instrument of God’s purpose in creation? This comes very close to what you seem to be saying when you affirm that missiology IS ecclesiology and vice versa.

    I agree that any formulation that seeks to put God’s mission “ahead of” or “prior to” the church is problematic, in that the church always ends up being provisional and/or optional.

  4. Ben, maybe Newbigins classic formulation helps: the church is a sign, instrument and foretaste of the kingdom. Secondly, I think we have to continually resist the tendency to make mission ecclesiocentric rather than theocentric. Alan Roxburgh continues to make this point that so much of the conversation drifts to ecclesiology, betraying that we are still all about church growth though we cloak it in missional language.

  5. len, Newbigin’s formulation is definitely helpful.
    Although I might argue that the conversation NEEDS to drift to ecclesiology in order to counteract the church growth stuff. I agree that many so-called “missional” approaches are church growth strategies with new dresses on, but what we need to refute some of it is a robust dialogue about the what the church really is (ecclesiology). In other words, I don’t think church growth theories would survive a strong ecclesiology. I also don’t think missional theology will survive without a strong ecclesiology.

    I think the conversation drifts to ecclesiology because it’s an essential piece of the missional puzzle.

  6. Interesting dialogue. I’m more partial to the “Missiology is Ecclesiology and vice versa” formulation. My main reason being that it helps the body of believers throughout church institutions to think of their work as more consequential to the Kingdom. Thus the hope that they’ll quit sweating the inconsequential stuff and take their role in God’s mission more seriously.
    But I wonder about the place in these formulas for defining the ecclesia outside institutional settings. Does the ecclesia include those who might not be known to us but are indeed known to God? Does the ecclesia include those who wrestle with the Gospel outside the Church institution? Even if we cannot consider them the ecclesia, can we really say God is not doing mission with them? Maybe I’m existentializing or bringing in that old modernist “anonymous Christian” thing. But I’m fearful of God’s mission getting swallowed up in just what the institutional Church is doing, because sometimes frankly were not doing as much as we think we are. Anyone have a thought on this?

  7. JMorrowI’ll throw this out, another Hauerwasianism,
    Hauerwas says, it is not that church is the only place Jesus is at work. It is just that we know for sure that Jesus is at work here (in the church) from which we can then go out from here and see Him clearly at work elsewhere.
    We get a clear interpretive ability to see God through Jesus Christ via the Scriptures, the telling and discerning of the wor of the Spirit as a people committed under His Lordship, and “trained to see” via worship. Out of this space, we enter the world where we affirm God is truly at work, His Mission. We are now equipped to see Him in ways we couldn’t before.
    In no way is the Missio Dei denied in the world, the church becomes the means which enables us to thereby participate it.
    Do you buy this?

  8. So if I’m understanding correctly, Hauerwas isn’t making Ecclesiology an exhaustive category for Missio Dei. If so I agree, and find a healthy dose of epistemological humility in that approach. I’m also wondering if Hauerwas (or those in his ilk) would go so far as to say that neither is missiology an exhaustive category for Missio Dei? Missiology as a term seems to relate more to the Church’s own understanding of how it pursues the Missio Dei. I don’t know enough to go that far though.
    As someone who was raised outside an explicitly Christian community, and interacts socially with non-Christians, I think your missiology ~ ecclesiology formula best addresses a fundamental question Non Christians have: Why be a part of the Church? For most of them, they see the Church’s movements toward social justice and perennial acts of kindness as admirable, but also wholly achievable outside the Church bounds. “Why buy the cow, when you get the milk for free.” right? Because many of them see the Church as this unnecessary middle man in their pursuit of “doing Good”. To continue the analogy, equating missiology and ecclesiology says to me, “You may think what you’re drinking is milk, but its really ‘dairy product,’ come let me show you that you only get real milk from a real cow.”

  9. If you have a moment, could you help me understand:
    “But it is never as simple as the cheap modernist contextualization where we go into a context and discern where the hurts are and design a church and translate the gospel message in a way that would meet these needs.”

    I grew up in an attractional model of church, and now am in a wonderful community church. If I hadn’t read your blog and I was describing our church to you, I would say with great energy and passion that I was excited that our church is “in the context, understanding of the hurts and needs of the community, and presenting the gospel in a way that is understood and grasped.” Maybe I have been overly accepting of this vision/model without looking critically; why should I be questioning this?

  10. Andrew,Yes, I think upon reading that sentence, it needs clarification. What I’m taking aim at there is the tendency to build a church around a single issue that is happening in a culture. Building a church around men and their problems thus organizing a “church for real men,” or a church for motorcyclists who have lives built around motorcycle gangs and thus organizing a “motorcycle church.” A church for alcoholics or a church for porn addicts. The problem with this kind of contextualization is that we build it around a particular cultural issue or cultural problem and exalt the issue as the chief concern instead of bringing it into the orbit of our life as a redeemed people. Should we attract people into church based upon hip hop music? It can be part of our church but should we center a church around it? i.e. hip hip church? I think even the triple X church that has been getting so much press lately has some dangers. Sex can only be properly ordered as it is set in the orbit of the whole of life to be lived as God’s people. Thus we shouldn’t have a triple XXX church but a church that inhabits and reclaims all sinners of which there might be porn addicts. This gets back to my alcoholics anonymous example in the post.
    Now for sure we are to minister to each one of these people groups, and/or to each one of these hurting people, but we have to reject that life is about riding motorcycles, or that life is only about sex. Real contextualization is when we inhabit a community, live among a hurting community and seek to redeem all of its culture, piece by piece, redeeming some of it, rejecting othe parts. The other kind of contextualziation takes less time, and seems easy in terms of contextualization.

  11. JM, Amos Yong and others have been doing some good work in this area. Newbigin is right that we need a solid Trinitarian foundation, and part of that foundation is recognizing the prevenience of the Spirit going before us in the world. Yong and others take off on this, arguing for a Spirit-Christology to replace the monomodalism we tend to in practice. See this post..

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