They attended a small Mennonite Brethren church, not unlike the one my family attended at the time, filled with industrious, strong and steady German immigrants. As we shuffled down the aisle, I took in all the church ladies: muted floral dresses, hair carefully curled and pinned up with fancy combs, perfume mingling with the musty smell of hymnals.
I stood next to my Oma, feeling rather out of place amongst all the serious adults. She obediently opened her hymnal as the pastor called for us to stand and worship, and held it between us. The words were in German so I had to stumble my way along, catching up with the congregation during the repetitive chorus.
With my brow furrowed over the third verse, I suddenly became aware of the bubble of silence next to me. I peered over at my Oma. She was standing. Her lips were moving. But no sound was coming out. It was like the music skipped right over her.
With all the precociousness of a little girl, I peeped my hazel eyes up at her and asked, “Oma, why aren’t you singing?”
She looked down at me and – quite matter-of-factly – stated, “Because Oma doesn’t have a nice voice.”
I have no idea why I remember this seemingly trivial exchange between my Oma and I.
But I do.
I remember that she thought her voice wasn’t good enough. I remember puzzling at the time how strange that was. I, of course, thought my voice was amazing. No one had told me otherwise. Yet.
I would like to imagine that when my Oma was a girl, she sang and whirled around with the same reckless abandon that I did.
Until someone made her feel he voice wasn’t good enough. And so she went silent.
Since then, I too have been told that my voice isn’t good enough. I too have spent years mouthing the words. I too have been petrified to whisper my song. Let alone sing it loudly enough for others to hear.
And I know many women who have been told the same.
They feel caught between the call of God and the lines the world has plainly drawn in the sand. They desperately want to step fully into their calling. Whether it’s preaching or serving in the downtown eastside or scooping up orphans in Uganda or leading the charge against human trafficking or raising their little world-changers-to-be in their little suburban home. In the sweeping up of Cheerios and the shutting down of injustice, in the pews and certainly in the pulpit, women have been told their voices don’t quite measure up.
A week ago I received a little yellow book called Jesus Feminist, written by my dear friend, Sarah Bessey. In it, she calls believers to something radical. She calls for men and women to step fully into their callings. To read their Bibles and see exactly what it is this Jesus is all about. To see that this Jesus intended women to stand alongside their brothers. Not in front or behind. Beside. And, perhaps most importantly, she commissions us to move on from debate and argument and get on with the business of the Kingdom.
Not because I’m angry. Not because I’m interested in a theological debate. Not because of some agenda.
But because so many women (myself included) have been lip-syncing. We’ve been doing it for a long time now. And lip-syncing is simply not the heart of our Father. We were created to be leaders and warriors. We were created to stand alongside our brothers. And Jesus Feminist is unabashedly shining a light on that in the most poetic and raw and true way. And the freedom in it is just . . .overwhelming. Completely and utterly and fully overwhelming.
Because no one told me that my song is essential.
Stop waiting for someone else to say that you count, that you matter, that you have worth, that you have a voice, a place, that you are called. Didn’t you know, darling? The One who knit you together in your mother’s womb is the one singing these words over you, you are are chosen.
Stop waiting for someone else to validate your created self: that is done. Stop holding your breath, working to earn through your apologetics and memorized arguments, through your quietness, your submission, your home, your children, and your “correct” doctrine that God has already freely given to you.
Sarah Bessey, Jesus Feminist
My heart breaks for the millions of voices missing. For the women who are hiding their gifts. And for the little girls standing beside them, watching, wondering why they aren’t singing.
Wondering if perhaps she shouldn’t be singing.
So stand up beside me won’t you? Let’s sing loud enough so everyone turns and stares. Just to see what happens.
I’ll give your hand a little squeeze if I hear you go quiet. Just do the same for me, won’t you?
* This post is an appallingly late offering to a synchroblog hosted by Sarah Bessey upon the release of her beautiful book Jesus Feminist. I read it one day, highlighted it all over, and can’t wait to read it again. You can check out other posts the synchroblog has spurned here, and order Jesus Feminist on Amazon here *