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An Elder’s Wife

I have a story to tell you about my husband and my church.  Two pieces of my life that I hold very dear to my heart but who often have edges and angles that cross and cut me, as loved ones often do. Sometime last year while we were weeding in our garden or cooking in our kitchen, the Spirit took it upon himself, or herself, or itself, or any other pronoun that language uses to confine God, to nominate Jason as an elder in our church. I don’t think that the Spirit actually filled out the necessary paperwork, but somehow Jason’s name ended up in a divine sorting hat that called him forward as an elder; a hat that magically seems to only call men to these divine offices. We both hemmed and hawed for awhile trying to decide what he should do, but we both concluded that it would be a good opportunity for us to learn some things about our faith. He’d just have to bring home what he was learning and let me pour over it myself since I wasn’t invited to attend the class. I was focused on getting into a doctorate program, anyways. That’s what we were moving towards: my career and education. Spaces that include women in leadership. Well, at least some of the time anyways. After all of my hard work was rejected and I was sent away from the ivory tower, not unlike the Israelite exodus just without the raining bread, Jason stared at me like a deer in the headlights. I guess this meant that he would be taking the test to become an elder in our church after all. Because when you pray for clarity, the Spirit doesn’t play.

With note cards and mnemonic devises, Jason has been studying covenants and catechisms, dates and doctrines, theology and gospel, so that at the end of this week he can take a few tests, be interrogated about his heresy and submit to the authority and beliefs of our denomination in service to the church, gloria patri, forever and ever, amen.

You know, it’s funny. I have this weird reputation in my church for being a liberal feminist, almost like the leader of an underground hideout for women who want to express these inner conflicts inside of them. I have no idea where they got this idea.  It’s not uncommon for a woman to come up to me in church and say, “so I hear that you’re… [their eyes carefully search around] a liberal. A… feminist. That you’d be someone that I can come and talk to.” My eyes furrow in confusion and I look around to make sure that they’re talking to me and not some other liberal christian feminist and I respond with something like, sure?  But now that my husband could be an elder, that would make me an elder’s wife and with it will come all of the signifiers and preconceived notions of what that means. Things that I don’t want and will actively reject. But all of a sudden this reputation that has clung to me makes me feel exposed and very much in a way like Anne Hutchinson, and I don’t want that, either. I reject the idea that the church and the gospel should not cross me, because it very much should. It should and does cross all of us. My beliefs about gender, sexuality, poverty, politics, creativity, culture, etc, are always crossed by the gospel. Always. I’m always scratching my head and questioning myself and the gospel. How can I love Jesus so much, and yet find myself constantly at odds with him and his law? Constantly questioning and attempting to reconcile myself and my beliefs to him and to his church? I have no answers. Not really. I just know that the gospel is supposed to cross us. And if it doesn’t, then we’re not doing it right. And that’s why I get so confused when women come to me at church as if I have some sort of underground railroad towards feminism. The gospel crosses me. The same way it should and does cross those who protect patriarchy and conservatism.

My last blog post, the one where I dropped the F-Bomb right at the very end, made me very self conscious. I thought about how I could be the wife of an elder in my church and how that makes me and my husband and our family look. I know it made several of you uncomfortable, both in the church and in the academy. I very much wanted to go back and change it or delete it. But I didn’t. I’m in a very strange place where I’m trying to figure out what it is I’m supposed to be doing and how I’m supposed to be acting since I didn’t get accepted into a doctoral program. It’s like I’ve lost this big part of myself and I don’t know how to act or what to even say. I’m trying to figure out what it means to be an elder’s wife. What it means to not be in academia. What I should do if I’m considering not teaching anymore. And on and on. But, I can’t hide myself and I can’t attach my identity to those around me, be it my husband, my church, or academia. That’s crushing. I guess I just have to keep looking at the Spirit and asking, “why not me?” Why can’t I go to doctoral school? Why can’t I be an elder? Why must I be here and not over there? And hope that the Spirit answers.

 

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