Finding Junia

JuniaJunia was the first person in the Bible who lied to me. Well, to be fair, it wasn’t really
Junia
 who lied to me; it was the other people who lied to conceal her from me. 

I had been struggling with the issue of women in ministry for years. I come from a background that not only doesn’t ordain women, but doesn’t allow women deacons and elders, which does not allow women to collect offering or teach men older than 12. When I was in elementary school and people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had an answer all prepared: “A pastor’s wife.”

See, I felt the call to ministry at a young age. I mean, very young. I was four. I have a distinct memory of sitting in the pew during a Sunday evening service, listening to a missionary presentation. I thought, “I want to tell people about Jesus!” From that day until this day, I’ve never questioned that I was called into vocational ministry; I just knew.

But the only way available to me was to be a pastor’s wife, and that’s what I did, by marrying an Army chaplain. I checked the boxes and was living the life to which I was called. 

Except, things are rarely that easy, are they? What followed was a life that didn’t line up with what I thought life would be like. I began seeing the cracks in my theology, in a version of Christianity that said to women: We don’t want to say you’re second-class, but

I knew – I KNEW – all of the biblical reasons why women were created to be helpmeets. I could use my apologetics skills to articulate the role of women to support the headship of men better than most men I knew. I would tell you that Timothy’s mother and grandmother were influential in Timothy’s life only because the men in his life slacked on the job (because, clearly, whenever God uses a woman, it’s always Plan B…). I would tell you about the requirement of elders to be The Husband of One Wife and could explain both sides of the debate about whether single men and/or divorced men were excluded.

I had all the answers…

                   …until I didn’t.

Junia first exposed that maybe, just maybe, some of my answers were flawed.
She is an apostle named in Romans 16:7. Let that sink in. Junia, a woman, is an apostle – an esteemed apostle, at that! The more I read, the more disheartened I was. See, a couple hundred years after Romans was written, church leaders decided that this apostle couldn’t have been a woman (at best; at worst, it was a deliberate deceitful choice…)… so they added an s to her name and made her male. For centuries, the Bible was translated hailing Junias – a man.

The first time I read about Junia, I felt like I had been punched in the gut, as though I was a victim of some 2000-year long conspiracy. My well-read Bible had failed me. How could I have been lied to all this time? How could they get away with literally replacing the name of a woman with the name of a man? I started questioning all the proof texts I “knew” about women in ministry. The more I learned, the more I realized that there was not just one “correct” way to look at any text – particularly those which have been used to oppress populations for centuries.

That’s when I knew I needed to follow my calling, not as the “plus one” on my husband’s ministry, but on my own. 

There was more to my decision than just Junia, of course. But when I saw Junia liberated, without that s that made her someone she wasn’t and kept her from being who she was, I knew that I could be who I was as well. 

May 17, the day I write this, is the Feast of St. Junia, a day we commemorate her contributions to Christianity, this esteemed apostle.

On this day, I remember all the other women whose contributions were erased from history because of their gender – or the women who were never allowed to make contributions because men would not let them. Today, I gather in my living room with women from my church, talking about faith and love, about church and community. I celebrate the young woman who is graduating from high school, who stood in my church’s pulpit two days ago and preached. I continue to work toward ordination and fully am who God has called me to be.

I think Junia would be proud.

Thanksgiving, then and now.

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was on TV this morning while I swept the living room in anticipation for our guests. There are few things that take me back to my childhood as much as the smell of turkey and the sound of the parade on TV.

I immediately thought of Grandma McCool. I have never met anyone as blessed with the gift of hospitality as Grandma. She welcomed strangers and family alike into her house, usually with a joke and an offer for snacks. It wasn’t uncommon when I was a kid to have people I had never met at our family Thanksgiving, though they always fell into the comfortable routine that was the McCool Thanksgiving.

Grandma had a way of doing that. Her house was always warm and inviting, regardless of the weather outside. And there were a few things we could plan on every Thanksgiving: Aunt Thelma’s noodles; the men congregating in the living room for football, the women congregating around the dining room table feeding the kids; Aunt Elaine’s cheeseball for afternoon snack; and for more food than we could have ever eaten in one meal.

My personal favorite part of Thanksgiving was Christmas Craft Time. Grandma’s love of family and food at Thanksgiving was eclipsed only by her love of Christmas, and that began as soon as the last plate was cleared from Thanksgiving lunch. She would plot all summer, surprising us on Thanksgiving Day with what craft she had planned. Often it required Grandpa to do some prep work, cutting candy cane shapes out of wood or cutting material to fit the frames of whatever project that year had in store. Even when we grandkids were older – nearly adults – we would roll our eyes when Grandma would say, “Craft time!!”… yet, we always found ourselves, gathering around the dining room table, smiling together as we glued and cut and painted.

So this morning, when Jon noticed some Thanksgiving craft supplies I had stocked away for this afternoon for the kids, my voice caught when I said, “Yes, I have lots of crafts ready for them.”

I am turning into Grandma McCool… and today, I’m thankful for that.

Thanksgiving at my house will never be what it was at hers, at least not for a few decades. Aside from the strangers welcomed in, her house was always full of family who loved each other deeply; my house is usually filled with friends who are in our Army family. This year, we’re literally mid-move; the moving truck is parked in our driveway and our house is decorated with empty walls and brown boxes. But the smell of turkey permeates the air, and our house soon will be filled with guests.

My hope is that, in twenty years when my kids think of what Thanksgiving was like in their childhood, they will remember more than turkey, more than the Macy parade, even more than crafts – that they will remember the friends who filled our house. My hope is that they’ll inherit their great-grandma’s hospitality, kindness, and warmth.

Grandma McCool passed away in 2010. Even on the holidays when Jonathan, the kids and I stay where the Army has placed us – not home with our family – her absence is still palpable.

I imagine, if Grandma were a guest in my house today, she would be wearing a turtleneck with an embroidered Thanksgiving sweatshirt over it. When I called to her, she would say, “Just a jiffy!”.. then she and I would “worsh” the dishes together. And after the clean-up was done, she would find her great-grandkids, say, “Craft time!” – and watch them with all her love while they glue and cut and paint.

Ransom was just a baby when she died; Lenora never met her. But they’ll know her, they’ll know all about her… because they’ll know that we celebrate Thanksgiving the way we do, because of Grandma McCool.

White Privilege and Elementary Thanksgiving

Yesterday I was in the car with my kindergartner and my first grader, driving home from school. They were telling me about what they had learned in school about Native Americans, given the quickly-approaching Thanksgiving holiday.

Ransom, my kindergartner, made a passing comment about how there are no Native Americans around today. I said, “Well, that’s not true. There are Native Americans today. Most of the time they wear clothes like the ones we wear. Sometimes on the reservations they do dress in traditional ways.”

This led to a further conversation about reservations, Native Americans, white people, slavery, and the early days of our country. We talked about how we, as a country, have not always treated people nicely and made good decisions. We talked about how white people made Native Americans leave their land and claimed it as their own.

We pulled into the driveway, and as he was getting out of the car, Ransom said, “I sure am glad I’m… (pause)… not one of those guys… I’m glad I’m not a Native American. Or a slave.”

    He’s glad he’s white. Those are the words he was looking for and couldn’t find.

At first, it caught me off guard. This is the LAST thing I want my kids to think – that, somehow, being white is preferred over being a person of color.

And yet, the truth of that statement struck me as profound. He’s glad he’s white, because – at five years old – he recognizes the position of privilege he has and did nothing to earn.

And when we start to recognize the privilege that we have because of the color of our skin, we acknowledge the ramifications of that privilege on others.

 

We recognize that, when we don’t get pulled over because of the car we drive and the color of our skin, someone else is getting pulled over, because of the car they drive and the color of their skin.

We recognize that, though life isn’t necessarily easy, though there are always obstacles, there are more obstacles in the path of a person of color.

We recognize that we have an inherent trust in police officers and the government based on our experiences, but many people of color do not share those experiences.

We recognize that the system works for us, but the system doesn’t work for everyone.

 

I’m thankful that my five-year-old is glad he’s white, because that gives me hope that, as he gets older, he’ll continue to recognize his privilege and be an advocate, both by using his voice and – even more so – by listening to those with experiences different from his. Pretending every person has the same access to resources and opportunities accomplishes nothing but intensify the access of the privileged. If we continue to do this, today’s 5-year-olds of color will grow up in a world no more welcoming and equal than the world of their parents and grandparents.