How do you measure success? It’s an interesting question. One that’s been posed to me as the leader of The Marcella Project. I find measuring someone’s changed thinking hard to do. Deconstructing and reconstructing someone’s belief system is not a straight line nor is it a quick easy to see process. This week our board will meet to work through how we measure success. Even if I can’t give a clear answer to that yet, Jesus has been gracious to show me that it’s happening.
Instead, perhaps halfway through the first session, the Holy Spirit whispered, “You are safe. She is safe. My Word is safe with her.” Jackie pulsed with energy and vivacity but spoke calmly and kindly, and she loved scripture. As I was disarmed, I became aware that I wanted this so badly.
We didn’t record the Sunday morning message at the Summit. Many of you have asked for it so we’re blogging it instead. Not the same as hearing but for those of you who heard it you can imagine the wind blowing, noise at the table, smell of the grass and the cadence of my voice as these words were heralded. Mostly, upon reading this, I hope you are reminded of what the Spirit said to you that weekend. May you be ennobled, equipped and emboldened to respond. There’s no time for shrinking back; we need every one of us fully deployed. Fully deployed.
Campus Crusade, now called Cru, invited me to speak on intimacy with the Holy Spirit and to teach a break out session on sexuality to female students. In my initial conversations with the leadership, I realized I might be too edgy for their organization. They asked that I not bring my new book Lime Green or discuss the “women’s issue.” As I engaged in those conversations I prayed as to whether I should let them breathe easier by recusing myself, but the Spirit said, “Go and speak freedom.”
I’ve been behind the curtain and I know what kind of conversations ensue around the role of women in church leadership. Whether you realize it or not, your pastors, elders, and deacons discuss and debate of what you can or can’t do under their leadership. Many of those men have been trained in seminaries where restrictions are taught as biblical truth. At some point in their ministry life, they question whether what they learned previously was really true.
Wasn’t I supposed to be a good catholic girl? According to my birthplace, I should have been… instead I was atheist and never able to conform to my culture’s values. I was an outsider in my own country. Unable to conform in college or even keep a job, I was a loose leaf tossed around by the wind. I didn’t have roots to keep me grounded, so I was tossed here and there collecting a little bruises and marks in the way people collect souvenirs.
My love for Jesus, myself, and others grew, but there was also a twisted truth—a lie—that invaded my heart, mind, and soul. I learned about a hierarchy the Bible seemingly taught, and I couldn’t reconcile that a loving God would want half of His image-bearers to be limited in the ways they serve Him despite weekly reassurances of "equal in dignity but different in roles”.
I am one of the lucky ones. I am a man who has been positively influenced by both strong men and strong, perhaps even stronger, women. I grew up in an Italian family. My grandfather was quiet and steady. My father was strong and a great provider. My grandmother was ever present and larger than life while my mother was sensitive and nurturing.
In the Fall of 2015 I stumbled upon Carolyn Custis James’s book “Half the Church.” It was perfect timing, as it opened truths to me that I knew in my heart but had never heard growing up in the church. In fact, I pretty much ignored teachings that insinuated that women were “less than,” but it did trouble me that I didn’t fit that model. I realized that I was a fellow warrior with the men in my life, and constraints to fit a model that didn’t fit me was not Godly and not sound teaching.
In my classes, and especially in coffee talks with my friends, I found myself unable to answer the most basic questions about why I believed what I did. Because I believe it, because the Bible says so, because it’s what I was taught were the only answers I had. Period. While the culmination of 18 years of being in a church at least 3 times a week helped me to be positive in my beliefs, I had nothing to contribute to rich conversations with anyone who might not have been raised the same way.
A received knower depends on authorities to tell them what is right or wrong. Having lived most of my life this way, I lived in a prison of people-pleasing, guilt, shame, and indecisiveness. Once I was able to understand this unhealthy way of thinking, a wave of peace and freedom became part of my life.
I honestly believe what screws us up in life is the picture in our head of how life is supposed to be. My parents never sat me down and gave me expectations of when I was supposed to be married or have children. The church never preached a lesson on the proper age to do these things. Instead, there were small ‘invisible agents’ that ultimately created a picture of what life is supposed to be.
For years I had the privilege of videotaping women’s bible studies and men’s bible studies, and I was amazed at the difference. Women seem do a better job of teaching, preaching, praying, going deeper in the bible, and caring for each other, better than men. There seems to be a special connection.
I didn’t have the emotional capacity to go to church, but I thought maybe I’d be okay in a Bible study at a wine bar. Jackie told me that I had a big “Do not talk to me” sign on my head when I first showed up, and it was true. I wasn’t exactly in a good place with church and I was pretty scared of Christians in general, but I knew I needed to be with Jesus. And I needed to be with people who were thinking about what it really, truly means to be with Jesus in our world today, in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.