When I was growing up, I thought being a strong woman – since “strong” is a stereotypically masculine virtue – meant that I had to reject anything associated with femininity. I didn’t wear pink. I refused to learn how to cook. I cut my hair short. I played on the boys’ church league basketball team. (In fact, my short hair and blousy basketball jersey combined with a referee’s poor eyesight prompted him to refer to me – game after game – as “little man.”) I sought ordination and a ministry position in the Baptist world, even though I had only seen men in those roles.
So no one was more surprised than me when I bought a sewing machine ten years ago to make kitchen curtains for my new house. I then made placemats, napkins, pillows, and other domestic items in addition to some clergy stoles. I realized that I loved sewing, dangit. And, as it turned out, I was no less strong than I’d been pre-Singer. I began to understand that the feminine-masculine binary was not just hurtful but false. I deeply regretted subconsciously buying into the message that male (again, defined stereotypically) was better and female was lesser. I wondered what other joys I had deprived myself of in the effort not to be too girly.
Masculine-feminine binaries are not the only ones that keep us from living abundantly, however. At Nevertheless She Preached, Jaime Clark-Soles talked about the way traditional interpretations of the Martha-Mary relationship sort their roles into bad and good. In Luke 10 Mary chooses the “better part” by sitting at Jesus’ feet while Martha is “distracted by her many tasks” (NRSV). But the latter descriptor is more accurately translated as “drawn away into much ministry,” with the Greek word for ministry used by and about Paul elsewhere in Acts and the Epistles. We have falsely pitted Mary and Martha against each other for millenia while both were attending to aspects of the life of faith.
In congregational life binaries translate into polarities, either/or pairings that are better viewed as both/and. Should we be a church that cares for those who are already here or that goes into the community to share God’s love? Should we have traditional or contemporary worship? Should we be pastor-led or lay-led? Generally, the answer to all of these questions is “yes.” Too often we think we cannot do or be both and must choose. But polarities cannot – should not – be solved, only managed, in order for us to accept the fullness of the work and the abundance that God wants for us.
These days, I wear pink (and most days, a skirt). I’m a mom who revels in that role. I’ve also cut my hair short again and enjoy crude jokes way more than I should. My strength and joy are enhanced, not diminished, by this complexity. Where do you need to rename binaries as polarities, and what do you and the people you care about require to thrive that in-between space?
[Note: this is the fourth of four posts inspired by the Nevertheless She Preached conference.]