1. What is the injustice you experience (specifically related to Women’s History Month)?
A tiresome and lazy under-representation of women’s theological voices in sermons, songs, and footnotes.
2. What is your role or experience?
Hey-o, I’m a theologian! And I have been since the age of four when I ran up and down the driveway doing windmills with my arm and shouting hallelujahs with my mouth.
But it wasn’t until I went to Divinity School in my late twenties that I realized how deeply problematic the “cannon” is for women’s theological voices. Cannon here simply means the writings a religious community discerns as foundational and formational to the faith. The only trouble, of course, is that for thousands of years now the writings in the Christian tradition that have been found up to snuff (or found at all) are the stuff of men. So, the injustice is perpetuated when we are told that before we can grow in our faith we have to know the basics—or what my training called the “core curriculum.” Learning from the ways of women? Elective.
Even now when pastors and professors and parishioners regularly quote sources other than the Bible, there is often a cultural cannon they’re pulling from: men like C.S. Lewis, Rob Bell, and Eugene Peterson are popular choices in my progressive circles. And so the cycle continues whereby we support the writings of men with our time, tongues, and tokens, and slowly they become “essential” reading for not just the friend we’re gushing to over coffee but the future generations formed after us.
3. How has creativity or art brought reconciliation for you or this injustice?
Well, I am literally trying to “write” this wrong!
My first published book was an anthology I co-edited called Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith (White Cloud Press, 2013). It was comprised of 40 essays from women under 40 unearthing the taboos that have stifled us, divided us, and prevented us from feeling at home in our Christian communities. Perhaps the coolest part of the book— the whole series, really—is that you get to hear women speak for themselves. This takes the pressure off having to agree with them or even “tolerate” them, and instead you get to bear witness to the people who are living in your neighborhoods, communities, churches, and home.
For my second book, Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe (InterVarsity Press, 2015), I wanted to explore the alienation of being a modern women in an ancient church. It’s about my search for a church home as a Catholic feminist in the American south. It’s about becoming a pastor’s wife before I became myself. So, too, is it a story about enduring community when it’s awkward, and small talk suffocates and the preacher gives bad sermons and the suffering of strangers feels intrusive. Still, we offer our pained lives to one another like bread and say, “Take. Eat. I belong to you.”
4. What is one practical way you want to see people get involved?
“You must write, and read, as if your life depended on it,” the poet Adrienne Rich said, and I would add to it, “—and quote, as if your life depended on it.”
Don’t just read books by women this month—and all year long—but quote wise women in meetings and conversations and presentations and Instagram posts. If you’re giving a sermon or writing a story, count how many sources you cite and challenge yourself to have at least half from women. (I did this for Lessons in Belonging and it was hard and humbling work.) If you can’t get a least half, tell us why, raise a flag, find others forging a solution. If you’re a woman, quote yourself more! And if you’re a man, quote a woman more! Better yet, step aside more often than you’d like, so women can speak for ourselves and tell you about the cannon—Rabia and Julian of Norwich, Mary Oliver and Alice Walker, bell hooks and Clarissa Pinkola Estes—that is shaping our stories.
Most importantly, slow down. I like to tell people that the most feminist thing I do is move at the speed of my soul—which is to say that I must first tend to all that is tiresome and lazy within me in order to tend to the slow work of justice.
Erin S. Lane is an author, editor, and retreat facilitator who lives in Raleigh, NC with her improbable kin. To get word when she’s written a fresh one, subscribe to her “Good for You” newsletter by visiting www.erinslane.com.
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