Before my first day of school in Eastland, Texas, my mom sat me down for the Church of Christ shorter catechism. She told me what made us different from other churches. But she also made sure that I knew that I would encounter kids who went to other churches and that I was never, never to make fun of someone for what church they went to. It was a wonderful catechism. I was given a generous identity.
This was just one moment in my life that my mother spoke spiritual truths into my life.
I think of my mom as the famous one in our family. I think this because I can’t go anywhere where someone doesn’t tell me what a great preacher she is. She’s had an amazing life in ministry, most recently as the first ever chaplain at Pepperdine University.
But it wasn’t always this way with her. She was married at 18, a mother to me at 19 (with more than an appropriate interval in-between). She didn’t go back to school until my brother and I were middle-school age. It was a big deal when she taught my Sunday School class when I was in 5th grade. Teaching mixed audiences of adults was not on her radar.
It’s probably not a coincidence that my views changed as her life did. And her life changed in tandem with insights my father was developing in his work in social scientific criticism of the New Testament which brought gender issues into a different light. So, what my dad was learning fit what my mom was experiencing and I was watching it all.
I didn’t know what to do with all of this. But I knew that my mom was a gifted teacher and I knew many ministers who weren’t. And so at that level it made no sense to me that she shouldn’t be allowed to use her gifts to encourage as many people as possible.
This was the first piece in a multi-step journey in the development of my views on gender inclusion. I don’t believe what I do just because my mother is a gifted woman who loves and serves God in ways that are public. But my inability to understand church practices that ignored and demeaned her gifts drove me to make sense of it all.
Some might say that this personal experience has clouded my judgement. That while its nice that I love my mom, that this doesn’t change the word of God.
I don’t see it as clouded judgement, however. God is not an abstract god who has things to do with abstract people. God is personal and works through and in the details of people’s lives. I think if our theology doesn’t make redemptive sense of real life, then we’ve got theological problems.
The fact is, all of us use our personal experiences to shape and inform our theology. Even people who resist gender inclusion have experiences that inform their views, at least that inform their views of Scripture. And if the Spirit of God is at work in our lives, then we should pay attention. Of course, we should be on guard for making God into someone who just does what we want. But we should also interpret our lives and experiences in light of the biblical testimonies as possible places where the Spirit of God is at work. And my sense is that if people really got to know my mom or Sara Barton or Jenn Christy or Naomi Walters or Kasey McCollum or Katy Hays or Kim Seidman or Blair Pogue, really got to know them so that they are no longer an issue but a person, it would make a similar difference for them as well.
I also want to say this. My mom is not a crusader. She’s been respectful of our churches and has been gracious when others have not been gracious to her. She hasn’t broken down doors, but she’s walked bravely through the doors that have been opened. And I have come to believe that this door opening is the Spirit of God because I have seen in her the Spirit of Christ.
Yes, indeed, Brother Love. Sometime I’ll have to tell you what Tom Olbricht said in his book about how his home church moved away from being one-cuppers…
I was privileged to come across a moving personal essay your mom had written to share her faith journey and practices within churches of Christ up through the early 1990’s. I read it to the adults assembled on Wednesday night at the Palo Alto Church of Christ as a way to encourage our own empathy and growth toward greater inclusion. It was well received, and people were able to relate to her gentle story.
Mark, thanks so much for sharing this delightful and meaningful story of your Mom. I love and respect her and your Dad.
Personally, I am so grateful that time, wisdom, experience, other people, education, the Word, and maturity help to change us throughout our lives. I do not want to be the same person that I was when I was clothed with Christ in baptism at age 12. Perhaps this is especially on my mind because I recently went to my 50th High School Reunion. Believe me we, 1963 grads, had changed on the outside and the inside. I believe God planned for us to grow in his Spirit. Hopefully our transformations and growth move us to become more like God’s person.
You have a rich and respected heritage, which include founders of a Christian school, ministers of the gospel in both parents’ families, as well as teachers. Your dad is so scholarly I could barely understand him as a child. My own dad studied every day and brought his wealth of knowledge to the congregation. What would be the point of all this study if it was only to remain the same? People can’t study and learn without sharing it. Sometimes that knowledge instigates change, but it is a blessing. We must grow.
I was blessed to spend a few days in Amish Country Ohio a few years ago at a workshop your mom and Richard Hughs conducted. My life was forever changed. She truly is a gifted person who shares openly and lovingly to those who choose to sit at her feet. I also got to know her son last year. He too was a blessing to me as I listened to his sermons and chapel talks – and a handful of behind-the-door conversations. Thank you!
Amen! Your mom is a good, dear person. Getting to know her and your dad meant a lot to me.