“If more mothers were pastors or preachers, perhaps the beautiful creche scenes of Christmas wouldn’t be quite so immaculate. We wouldn’t sing songs of babies who don’t cry. And maybe we wouldn’t mistake quiet for peace.”
I’ve been thinking about those words for days. Sarah Bessey wrote them in her book “Jesus Feminist,” which I just finished and now want to read again and again on an endless loop, spiraling upward toward the heavens. Bessey is an Evangelical Christian, a woman of faith. She writes about how learning about Jesus made her a feminist and trying to be like Jesus keeps feminism in her heart.
“The gospel is more than enough. Of course it is!” she says. “But as long as I know how important maternal health is to Haiti’s future, and as long as I know that women are being abused and raped, as long as I know girls are being denied life itself through selective abortion, abandonment, and abuse, as long as brave little girls in Afghanistan are attacked with acid for the crime of going to school, and until being a Christian is synonymous with doing something about these things, you can also call me a feminist.”
It’s December, the anniversary month of my own little Mormon feminist coming-out, the month of “Wear Pants to Church Day” and Christmas. And something about the combination of those two events always makes me a little reflective. I’ve been thinking about the ways I long to hear women’s voices more integrated into inspiration-seeking and decision-making in the church I love so dearly. I don’t know what the all the solutions are, but the problems? I can feel the problems. And I am seeking, seeking, seeking. I’ve been reflecting about that.
This year, feminism has been different for me. Or I’ve been different for it. In the past, feminism had been a glowing ball of magic fire in my hands, beautiful, wild and shape-shifting. But when I found out I was pregnant with Scout, I felt a need to conserve my energy, to hoard my hopes, to hibernate and marinate and quiet my soul. So I did. And feminism became a book on my shelf, an old, well-worn favorite that I browsed and quoted here and there.
And then I moved to a new place. The community I left in Atlanta was open and loving, but I don’t think that’s what made me comfortable as a Mormon Feminist there. I think I was comfortable as a Mormon Feminist there, because it was too hard to be anything else. I’d reached a point where being broken and lonely was unbearable, a point where anything was better than hiding, even the terrifying act of being myself.
But here in Charlottesville, in this phase of my life, I don’t feel broken, not like I was. So I don’t have that desperation pushing me into the open. I haven’t exhausted the hiding places yet. I’ve felt insular here, chugging along in this habit of hibernation, wondering if this is who I am now or if this is just a phase, and as time has gone on, the question, the prayer, was answered for me. “Don’t mistake quiet for peace,” said a still, small voice in the middle of my gut. “Don’t mistake quiet for peace.”
Feminism is a messy thing, because it chooses to get messy. So did Christ. He came to Earth, born the human way—a messy, painful, mortal birth. He surrounded himself with the filthy ones, the sick, the contagious, the maimed. He extended his hand to the broken and lonely, the sinners, the outcasts, the forgotten ones. He loved so fiercely and saw so clearly that he begged forgiveness for those that spat on him, hung him and watched him die. He was not afraid of the mess of humanity. He was perfect, yes. But he did not live an immaculate life.
In Bessey’s book, she talks about how she used to practice anger and cynicism like a pianist practices scales. “I practiced being defensive about my choices and my mothering, my theology and my politics. And then I went on the offense. … I called it critical thinking to hide my bitter and critical heart.” She quoted George Carlin—”Scratch any cynic and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.”
And I am exactly that. I am an idealist with such hopes for the world, such hopes for my church community, such hopes for my life, and I’m heartbroken over the distance between those hopes and reality. I am either a sad little child with a cynic’s tongue or, as I have been of late, a silent church mouse. But it doesn’t have to be so. Like Bessey, I can start practicing different scales, notes of kindness and truth, clumsy and awkward but faithful nonetheless.
“I am still practicing gentleness and beauty, over and over,” she says. “Someday perhaps my fingers will find those keys without thought.”
So this starts my own little “Third Wave” of feminism. I’m ready to start talking again, unafraid of getting messy. I’m awake now and moving, gulping in air, telling my story and asking about yours, with a ball of glowing fire in my hands and a book on my shelf and a baby on my hip and kindness on my tongue and love in my heart and the Savior in my sights.