Saturday, January 10, 2009

2.1 Growing up a Girl

My family attended church every Sunday morning and our faith shaped the rest of our week as well. Monday through Friday we met two other families in the church parking lot to carpool to North Shore Christian School. There, Bible study, scripture memorization, and worship services complemented the standard primary school subjects like math and spelling. At home, we practiced our memory verses for both school and church. Each of us, children and parents, were assigned a weeknight to be responsible for giving thanks at dinner, choosing the Bible stories and praise songs for bedtime, and inviting prayer requests from each other before closing the day in family prayer.

As an elementary school aged girl, I sincerely believed that I would meet God in some literal and literary still small voice, burning bush, and writing on the wall kind of way. Then, certainly, God would speak through me. After a Sunday School lesson contrasting the man who prayed loudly in the temple to the one who prayed secretly in a closet* I began keeping a regular quiet time in my closet. It was a tiny service for one. I kept a worn green hymnal there, singing quietly the words illuminated by a flashlight and I began crafting sermons, to no one, for God, in my head.

In the closet services I had a clear knowledge that I was going to be a pastor and my church would be different. God was really going to show up there. Week after week, people would fill the space to be with and know God. Then we would go back to our regular weekday lives, but God would still be with us. In fact, maybe the whole world would get better because we would bring God everywhere. I was excited. I only had to wait until I was grown up and eventually God would visit me and I would fulfill this vision.

Starting in elementary school with Pioneer Girls, the evangelical Christian equivalent of Girl Scouts, and all the way through youth group as a teen, I participated in female only cohorts. We learned the faith from the point of view of Christian women. We were being trained to be Christian women, which was different than being Christian men. Part of that training included learning to translate the word “men” in the Biblical texts, hymns, creeds, and other expressions of our faith as “men and women.” It was a little awkward, but once I understood that everyone knew that girls really were included, it was ok with me. Until I learned that sometimes “men” really did mean just the men. Which meant that because I was a girl I could never be a pastor. This was very confusing.

I didn’t understand; I had a vision. The church in the closet was growing – both my brother and my sister had come to services. But as I paid closer attention to who did what at church on Sundays I saw that it was true. All the pastors were men, even the Minister of Music. Women taught Sunday school and coordinated service projects. There had to be some mistake.

The Bible stories we studied didn’t offer much to support my point of view. We hardly read about girls or women. The ones God actually seemed to like were obedient, patient, and modest. I practiced being quiet and meek. I decided that when I grew up I could marry a pastor or maybe a missionary. I still wanted to meet God but it felt like He was getting further away from me. It wasn’t clear how to reach Him via the paths offered to me in church and school.

The incongruities filtered in gradually, with an increased frequency as I matured. They came in the form of questions, most often prompted by the stories shared by new people in my life or that I read in books and articles for school. As a teenager, my parents and I interpreted a phase of this questioning and confusion as a spiritual crisis. I enrolled in an adults’ Sunday school class called “Foundations” so that I might recall and reconnect with the basic tenets of the faith that had been so vivid and undeniable as a child. Even in the midst of conflicting information, I held fast to a desire to know and be known by God. The struggle was to find my way there.

* Matthew 6: 5-6 "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (New International Version)

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