10 takeaways from Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

My wife and I enjoy sparing on religious and political topics. It is one of our favorite pastimes. I am generally a bit left of center and she is generally a bit right. One of our favorite topics to debate is whether or not I am a feminist. She doesn’t think so. For her feminism today has become too associated with things like abortion to be a useful designation for pro-life people, like myself.

However, I firmly believe that there is not one feminism but that each feminist is able to bring their own tradition and convictions into the conversation. This is one of the reasons I really liked the title of the new book Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey, which I read through this week. In this book Sarah recounts a bit of her own story as her love for Jesus helped shape and transform her into a Feminist seeking to love like Jesus.

If anything this book proved to me that I am, indeed, a feminist, and if I am supposed to fit into one kind of feminism or another I suppose I am a Jesus Feminist.

Here are my 10 takeaways:

(if and when you read it post YOUR takeaways in the comments section below!)

  1. The Paradoxes of scripture reveal a God bent on relationship - One of the most frustrating thing about the God of the Bible is that God refuses to fit neatly into a system. God doesn’t seem to care if you have God nailed down. Instead what seems to be important is that you have a relationship with him. God’s primary self-revelation wasn’t a book of laws, or a philosophy, but a person named Jesus. Jesus shows us that God is interested in being present with us more then he is interested then explaining himself to us and the scriptures reflect this tension. It would be simpler if God just told us what to do in cold hard facts, but the best things in life are rarely systematic and straight forward. Sarah writes:

    Edicts are easier than nudges. Scrolling ticker tapes are clearer than old scrolls, and in our religion-addled concepts of God as our get-out-of-hell card or an angry Judge, we can’t conceive of an invitation to real relationship within the peace—the shalom—of a good God.

  • We are all practicing melodies – are they melodies of cynicism or love? – When we want to make the world a better place, and it seems like all we do is fail it can be easy to lash out. I hate this, mostly because I see it in myself. Sarah’s story is one of hope because she also begins to learn to play the scales of love. I hope I can do so too. Sarah writes:

    Years ago, I practiced anger and cynicism, like a pianist practices scales, over and over. I practiced being defensive—about my choices and my mothering, my theology and my politics. And then I went on the offense. I repeated outrage and anger. I jumped, Pavlovian, to right every wrong and defend every truth, refute every inflammatory blog post, pontificate to every question. Any sniff of disagreement was a dinner bell clanging to my anger: Come and get it! Rally the troops!

     

  • A great image of the trinity. – This takeaway is just a quote I thought was a beautiful reflection of the Trinitarian life of the church and the power of the sacrament of Marriage:

    Our marriages can give some small and imperfect glimpse of the distinct oneness of the Trinity in action, warriors fighting in distinct unity, then we need to dance, in and around and with each other, in intimacy and mutual submission. Theologians throughout church history have used the term perichoresis, a Greek word meaning “an indwelling,” to describe the relationship of and between the Trinity. Perichoresis is far past fellowship; it’s the center of intimacy, a cleaving together born of friendship and love. Mystical and divine, it’s an imperfect metaphor, yet there is no hierarchy, only more love; there is a breathing after one another and a making room for the other. The Trinity “works” by never-ending giving to each other and the receiving of the other out of each other. It’s a procession of togetherness in the blur of oneness.

     

  • You can fall widely in love with Jesus - When I first saw this book, I thought it would be a book on feminism that touches on Jesus. Instead I discovered that this is a book about Jesus that touches on feminism. This was great. For better or worse most of the Christian feminist writing I had encountered before started with feminism and applied that perspective to Christian theology. This book, however, started with a life that was transformed by Jesus and then talked about how this deep love helped develop a feminist perspective. This book is all about Jesus, which is actually kind of rare in Christian books. It’s not primarily about philosophy, theology, soteriology, exegesis, Christian living or social justice (the things that seem to dominate books today). Everything is built on Jesus, and I love that.
  • Our best dreams find their source from the kingdom of God – Sarah writes a whole chapter on this… and I loved the whole bit… but here is one excerpt that stuck with me because it highlights the little ways that the hope of the kingdom infects my life every day in little ways.

    I think the Kingdom is in every good and perfect moment in our lives, because these moments serve as a taste, just a small taste, of what God truly intends for us. It’s in our bonfire for dancing and laughter. It’s friends who show up when it matters. It’s making your tinies laugh. It’s sleeping babes curled into their mother’s breast and the heft of holding another soul.It’s wisdom and beauty, peace, love and joy, and then it’s also good coffee and real food, late-afternoon sun and handmade quilts. It’s the renewal of morning. It’s making love and waking up in each other’s arms, satiated and tangled.

     

  • A Great Canadian Discipleship image – There was a great image of discipleship used by Sarah, where she describes learning to walk in her fathers footsteps through the snow. Although I am not Canadian, I did grow up in Michigan which is pretty close. This brought back memories of trudging through drifts with my Father, and I thought it was a really great image to use. His steps became my steps. His struggle made offered me a path and brought me relief.
  • Women in ministry is less about what is on paper then what is in practice – This was a huge part of the book for me. Although there are many church bodies that allow women to be pastors now, in practice, many churches still don’t view women as equal to Men or able to minister in the same capacities as men. In my old denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, I knew many many women pastors who struggled to find churches that would even consider hiring a women pastor and those who did find work seemed to be trapped in perpetual “associate pastor” positions or relegated to youth and family ministry. They had “Women in Ministry” on paper, but not always in practice. Now that I am in the Catholic Church I am in a church that doesn’t have women pastors on paper, but women have long been included as some of the primary theologians in the Church, leaders in movements, and earth shakers for Jesus. Is the Catholic church perfect, no, but this perspective has helped me recognized the good that we DO have in spite of all the criticism.
  • Living love is the starting point for our real life – Sarah makes this comment as she argues that there are no great thing, and no lasting change apart from loving people. As someone who often gets overwhelmed by the weight of the worlds problems, and believes that it is my responsibility to fix the world this is a very very helpful reminder. The moments that matter are those done in love, and these are generally not great movements but small sacrifices.
  • Others First! – Sarah writes “my activism as a Jesus feminist is marked and distinguished as being on behalf of others first.” This seems to be the key to this whole book. The thing that makes a Jesus Feminist different from some other form of feminism is that it is focused on laying down ones life for the sake of others. It declares that Women are just as able as men to lay down their lives, just as gifted to be a living sacrifice, and just as called to service as men.
  • You are sent to the spot where you are – Although much of the book talks about Sarah’s struggles with a church culture that doesn’t allow women to lead as official pastors in churches there is a section near the end where she highlights that no matter what vocation someone finds themselves in, it is a sacred place where small acts with great love call flow out, and melodies of love and ring forth.

 

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