Saint Hilda's House

through the gates and into the city

Filtering by Tag: Feminism

How Can A Christian Feminist Conceive of Obedience? A Look at Radical, Rebellious Obedience

Recently on the blog, Dean McGowan of Berkeley Divinity School and my own housemates Ed and Shancia have written about worship and obedience. As I've processed the conversation that has taken place online and in-person here at Saint Hilda's House, I've had to wrestle with my own negative reaction to the word “obedience.” 

Read More

Shattering Perfection: Reading The Christian Cheerleader Trope

A significant bonding activity for the Hildans this year has been watching TV together. Though most of the time this is just fun and doesn't prompt deep reflection, sometimes I notice that popular television programs seem to be commenting on religious ideas. Some of us have been watching Game of Thrones, for instance, which shows different religious ideas influencing the politics of a fantasy world.  Apart from fantasy, however, the way religious characters are portrayed in more realistic programming can prompt some interesting questions about the way faith is viewed in our own world. 

Read More

St. Hilda's House Winter Quarterly: Voices of Young Adults for the Church

Editorial: About the Winter Quarterly

(You can download the whole Quarterly by clicking on this picture of the cover or by following this link: http://www.sainthildashouse.org/quarterly-winter-2015.)

Throughout this year, young adults have been writing pieces for the St. Hilda's House blog. The St. Hilda's Winter Quarterly is a collection of ten of those pieces, dealing with the questions which have most challenged our writers over the past three months. Leaving aside my own writings, I believe that they demonstrate how engaged, how passionate, and how informed the young adults of the Church today are. I believe they serve as powerful examples of how young adults can speak to and for that Church.

All of the pieces in this Quarterly have been written by people who either live or have lived in intentional community, serving with the disinherited as members of the Episcopal Service Corps. Megan, Will, Shancia, and I are current members of St. Hilda's House, whilst Jordan Trumble was a member of St. Hilda's for its first two years. Rosemary Haynes, meanwhile, is a member of Deaconess Anne House in Missouri. Our writings focus on the issues which this form of life confronts us with: poverty, racism, misogyny, what it means to live a Christian life, what it means to be a member of the Church.

Despite this diversity of topics, however, each of these ten pieces has one thing in common: they all hold Jesus Christ at the centre of their testimony. Whether it is Christ encountered in the Eucharist, Christ encountered on the street, Christ encountered in the Bible, or Christ encountered in the neighbour we find it hard to love, all of our writers point to him as the decisive factor. In this, these writings continue the theme of Father Robert Hendrickson's book 'Yearning', which gave young adults a platform from which they can describe how they have been formed by their encounters with God. And if this Quarterly does nothing else, I hope that it demonstrates, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there are young adults who are dedicated towards learning what it means to walk in love as Christ loved us.

The Winter Quarterly is divided into two sections. The first section deals with concrete issues of formation and service. Jordan writes about how her experiences living in the tabernacle and the slum shaped who she was in relation to God, whilst Will delivers a powerful reflection on how Christ can test us on the streets. Rosemary writes about her first-hand experience of protesting on the streets of Ferguson after the killing of Michael Brown, whilst Shancia describes how racial prejudice in the presentation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prompted her to explore the theological underpinnings of his actions. Finally, I have written about how my relationship with Scripture was changed by moving from Oxford to New Haven, then on why we shouldn't talk about Church as if it's first and foremost something that we go to.

The second section focuses on more general debate, and features four longer posts by Megan and I (possibly because we're two of the more opinionated and verbose Hildans...). Two of these posts attempt to work out particular approaches to questions of religion and spirituality. The other two ask whether or not the Church of England should have consecrated the Traditionalist Bishop Philip North a week after the consecration of Bishop Libby Lane. Though these pieces are less explicitly focused on the nuts and bolts of living in community, the reflections contained within them were shaped and developed within community. In my mind, they show how important the life of intentional Christian community can be when it comes to informing general theological reflection.

It is an absolute honour to be able to make this collection of writings available for the wider public. We don't have the full resources to do a full print run, so I hope this digital publication suffices for now. I apologise for how many of the pieces are mine: I hope this is less to do with self-indulgence, more to do with the fact that my job as Digital Missioner requires that I write about 2/5s of our posts anyway. Whichever way, I cannot commend highly enough the writings of my fellow authors, and I hope they prove as spiritually enriching for you as they have for me.

[This is not in the published text, but needs to be added: I should also give enormous thanks for our Program Director, Seth Reese, without whom this would not have been possible.  Quite apart from the fact that he is responsible for making the Quarterly look so good, he makes sure that the members of St. Hilda's House can actually live and work in safety and comfort.  He does all this whilst still technically being a young adult himself.  For all of this, we can't thank him enough.]

Ed.

Download the Quarterly here: http://www.sainthildashouse.org/quarterly. If you would be interested in receiving a print edition, please email us as sthildas@christchurchnh.org.

If you want to read more from St. Hilda's House. then you can visit our blog at www.sainthildashouse.org/blog, join our mailing list, or like us on Facebook.  The blog updates on Mondays and Thursdays.

You can also support the ministry of St. Hilda's House at www.sainthildashouse.org/donate.

Should Bishop North Have Been Consecrated?: 'Tradition' and Misogyny in Places of Power in the Church

Bishop Lane and Bishop North share an embrace at the latter's consecration.

Bishop Lane and Bishop North share an embrace at the latter's consecration.

You can also read this piece in the St. Hilda's House Winter Quarterly.

Last week, the Rev. Philip North became the Rt. Rev Philip North.  Bishop North is a 'Traditionalist' with a capital 'T', who opposes the ordination of women in the Church of England on the grounds of tradition and Scripture; nonetheless, he shared an embrace with the also recently consecrated Bishop Libby Lane.  On the back of this, we posted an article on the St. Hilda's Facebook page in which Bishop North spoke optimistically about the future of the Church.  This article provoked some fervent (and I believe fruitful) discussion.

This post is an attempt to follow on from that discussion, and lay out a few arguments in a more extended format than Facebook comments allow.  To set the context: the majority of those who commented were opposed to the fact of Bishop North's consecration (or, at least, certain facts about it!), and I was not.  I'm going to try to explore in greater depth some of the stances taken and explicate as clearly as possible why I believe the consecration of Bishop North to have been a good thing, both politically and ethically.  My hope is not to close the debate, but to provoke further discussion.

(I write with some awareness that as a white, straight, privately-educated male I have never had to worry about the sort of institutional prejudices around which this debate is centred, and I thank my housemates for proofreading this piece to make sure I didn't write in too much ignorance on this front.   For another ever so slightly more informed view, I point towards these two articles by Bishop Sentamu, the first on the consecration of Bishop Lane, the second on the consecration of Bishop North.  It is also worth noting that Bishop North was not just consecrated in order to appease the Church's 'Traditionalist' wing: he appears to have been a strong candidate for Bishop in his own right.)

The Original Discussion, and the Sin in Question

As best I can understand it, the original discussion on Facebook centred around the question of whether or not someone hampered by a sin which constitutes a harmful impediment should be made a Bishop.  The particular sin in question here is that of misogyny, a misogyny grounded in a particular understanding of Scripture and tradition.  

One specific form that this misogyny takes is a refusal to recognise the spiritual authority of women as ordained leaders of the Church.  It is a harmful impediment because, in the words of my housemate Megan, it actively demeans to position of women in both the Church and broader society.  More generally, it feeds into a view of women which has had and continues to have a catastrophic impact on how they are treated and viewed by others and by themselves.  I believe that this misogyny is a sin.  I also believe that it is a harmful impediment:  as has been pointed out to me, the people who are most vulnerable in this situation are those women under Bishop North's authority, whether those who might already feel called to ordained leadership, those who might just want to be able to ask the question, or those whose presence in Church life will be demeaned due to prevailing atmosphere.  

I also believe that it is actively harmful to associate Bishop North's views with tradition, hence why I will use pejorative quotation marks throughout when referring to his 'Traditional' views.  I believe that doing so sets up a false picture of both tradition and Scripture, wherein to hold to these is to oppose the spiritual authority of women.  This in turn can lead to the argument in the Church (one I have in the past made myself) that if we wish to oppose those who hold views like Bishop North, we must therefore reject tradition and Scripture, and so to our ignoring and being ignorant of two of the Church's essential spiritual wellsprings.  Indeed, far from upholding tradition and Scripture, I believe that Bishop North's claiming of a 'Traditional' stance as one side of a polarising debate has led to a distorting and corrupting of our understanding of tradition itself, both in terms of our own tradition in particular and the nature of tradition in general.  I believe that the same holds true for Scripture.  Insofar as Bishop North claims tradition and Scripture for his 'Traditional' views, then, I believe that he is actively distorting the Church's understanding of the Word of God (insofar as it speaks through those sources), and I believe that this is a harmful consequence of sin.  (On a personal note, as an Anglo-Catholic I take umbrage at the suggestion that it must be characteristic of Anglo-Catholicism to oppose female ordination).

I am no fan of Bishop North's views, then.  I believe them to be both sinful and actively harmful.  Nor, I should add, am I a proponent of unity at any cost: almost a year ago to the day I wrote a piece for my own blog about the dangers of treating unity as an idol, and I still stand by the arguments I made there.  Why, then, am I arguing in favour of his being consecrated a Bishop?  Why would I argue for this man to be given a place of power in the Church, when I also believe his doing so will likely cause genuine harm (harm which, I should add, I will never have to fear being a direct victim of)?

How Can the Church Judge Itself?

Bishops Sentamu, North, and Lane.

Bishops Sentamu, North, and Lane.

My first reason is the slightly more ethical reason, relating to a norm of consensus which I believe holds even for cases where active harm might be entailed.  It relates to the ways in which the Church is capable of judging itself and its members; specifically, whether a Church which is divided should employ a standard of judgement in its decision making which assumes absolute unity according to the terms of one side of that division 

This is phrased somewhat opaquely, so I'll try and make the meaning clear.  First of all, the Church of England is divided on this issue.  It is nowhere near as divided as it once was, nor is it equally divided on all levels, but there is currently a real and significant division between (now just over) 2/3rds of the Church and the other 1/3rd (most of whom are in the laity).  

This division, moreover, cannot be universally characterised in polemical terms: it is not simply a matter of those who oppose the ordination of women believing that women are inferior to men when it comes to matters of spiritual leadership in an uncritical fashion (I say this from experience).  This is not to say that we should therefore accept the presence of misogyny, nor that we should not call it misogyny, nor that we should not call it sin: it is to say that the Church of England's institutional misogyny is a far more complicated affair than particular people holding particular views for particular reasons, such that those in the majority cannot responsibly characterise those who disagree with them either as simply not having thought about the issue hard enough or as being simply bigoted at heart.  

A consequence of this, in my mind, is that the majority cannot therefore summarily discount this minority from being active and vocal members of the Church of England.  As such, when we speak of the Church of England, we speak of this third as well; for my part, I speak of those neighbours who I really wish were other than they are.  Wrong as they may be (and I do believe them to be badly wrong), therefore, the fact of their presence prohibits the Church as a whole from using the opinions of the majority as its blanket standard; their presence ensures that the majority is not the whole Church, and therefore that this majority cannot assume the authority to make decisions on behalf of or claim to be the voice of the whole Church.  

(If this means that the Church itself is in part a sinful body, then so be it: as far as I can see it always has been and always will be, as a matter of necessity and even as it is the body of Christ on earth.  The fact that some of us see ourselves (myself included) as trying to work against the particular sin of a particular minority is neither here nor there: this tends to be the tenor of Church politics.  I also believe that the fact the Church has historically been at its very worst when it has tried to actively purge itself of sin is instructive here.  There is, moreover, no more dangerous response to this point than 'yes, but we're right, and this is sin we're talking about'.)

How does this relate to Bishop North's consecration?  Because the Church is divided over whether or not his 'Traditional' misogyny constitutes a sinful and harmful impediment.  I believe it does, and I believe that about 2/3rds of the Church believe so too.  There is not enough consensus, however, for the majority to claim the ability to judge on behalf of the Church as a whole on the basis that they possess the greater moral sense, and so not enough consensus to ground the claim that the Church of England should not have consecrated Bishop North on the basis of harmful impediment.

Now, this would be different if Bishop North could be shown to be trying to hold the Church hostage to his views (to use slightly inflammatory language).  If he were saying that though the majority cannot claim its standard as the standard for the whole Church, the minority can and should do so, then we would have a Bishop who was trampling over the very principle according to which he was consecrated in a Church within which he represents the minority.  

This has not, however, been the case.  In researching for this piece, I came over a piece detailing Bishop North's reason for turning down a prior call to be Bishop in Whitby; namely, that he felt his consecration would harmful to the Church's efforts to effect reconciliation and dialogue between opposing camps.  That is not a symbolic gesture: it belies a genuine humility not often associated with the 'Traditionalist' wing.  Similarly, though he does not in principle recognise the validity of Bishop Lane's consecration, his words following his own consecration showed him to be willing to set aside the authority of his own personal judgement in the name of the decision of the wider Church body.  He has not said that he will leave the Church if it goes against his views (and if he had done, I think the Synod would have been right to vote as it did anyway and bid him farewell); he has shown himself willing to engage in dialogue and compromise.

He has not, of course, changed his opinion, and this opinion does (to my mind) constitute harmful impediment.  All the same, he has shown himself willing to work and live within a Church that disagrees with him, and to follow the Church's rulings even when he thinks otherwise.  This is not a happy ending: it is, however, a situation within which the Church itself can undergo the happy and arduous business of encounter and reconciliation between divided parties, wherein sinners (all of us genuine and harmful sinners) can seek to work together to do God's will in the world despite our differences.

Encounter and Transformation

Which brings me to my second and more political reason for supporting Bishop North's consecration: the fact that this consecration ensures that we have not reached the end of the argument within the Church about the spiritual authority of women.  

Now, this might not seem the happiest of facts.  After all, shouldn't the argument be over?  Isn't it ridiculous that we could even be having this discussion?  Well, yes, it is ridiculous. The fact remains, however, that whatever should be the case, it is the case that there is still enough disagreement between relevant parties for there to be a discussion and an argument.  The fact remains that if the argument were ended now, all that would have happened is that the minority would have been defeated, the majority would have won, and we wouldn't have to deal with the uncomfortable facts that a) we still disagree, and b) we are still called to love and work with each other despite our disagreement.  What Bishop North's consecration ensures instead is that we can still have this argument, that we can still work with those who disagree with us, and that we can still encounter each other in the context of the Church.  We are not, in short, in the position that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in North America find themselves in, where there is no dialogue, where the only argument is over property rights, and where the possibility of transformation through encounter with each other is more or less non-existent.  

Would you want this man in charge of your Parish Council?

Would you want this man in charge of your Parish Council?

So what, we may ask?  Why should we accept harm as the cost of encounter?  I cannot answer this conclusively.  I can only point to David Horton, Chairman of the Dibley Parish Council.

Now, for those who have not seen The Vicar of Dibley, David Horton (MA Cantab) is the stereotypical Church of England dinosaur; an old money, upper class male entirely resistant to change of any sort.  He is everyone's favourite reactionary misogynist.  His reaction upon finding out that the Rev. Boadecia (seriously, look it up) Geraldine Granger has been appointed Vicar in Dibley is one of horror.  He seeks to have her removed.  He seeks to undermine her authority.  He plays the proper village villain.  

The strange thing, however, is that this reactionary dinosaur is eventually transformed by his relationship to the Rev. Granger.  He is not completely transformed, of course: he remains an old money, upper class male entirely resistant to change.  He does, however, still change, and over the course of this changing the qualities hidden by his intransigence are allowed to shine through.  He is shown to be not just a sinner, but a child of God in his own right (to pick one moment, his reaction to seeing her choice for a new window for the Church is one of the most powerful pieces of TV I've ever seen).  Had he been removed from his position, however, had his sin seen him cast down from the Parish council, this transformation would not have occurred.

Now, it may be a serious problem with my argument that my case study is a fictional character.  As it is, I believe that David Horton is a fiction grounded in truth.  I believe that the reason the CoE has been able to change its position on the ordination of women bishops is because its David Hortons retained a place in the Church after the ordination of the first female priests.  I believe that a significant factor in their retaining a place in the Church was because they retained a place at each level of the Church.  I further believe that this change is more powerful because it involved a changing of mind over and above a changing of the guard.  Finally, I believe that the ordination of Bishop North shows that this process of transformation through encounter is not at an end: that even on this divisive point, many of those who disagree are willing to encounter each other as members of the Church (at every level) knowing that in doing so they place themselves at the risk of both harm and transformation.  

I make no bones about it: I would like Bishop North to change his mind: I do not agree to disagree.  Indeed, were I in a position to do so, I would try and change his mind myself, through argument and through encounter.  I also believe that I would be transformed through such encounter; that aspects of my own sin (pride and sanctimoniousness, for example, which have been and remain harmful impediments of mine, all too evident in this piece) would be chipped away as I was forced to engage with Bishop North face to face.  

As it is, I am not in that position.  Thanks to his consecration however, there are those that are, not least Bishop Lane herself, who showed the courage of her Christian convictions by embracing a man whose views she has every reason to revile.  And thanks to his consecration, we are now at a point where the argument can continue on to that point of personal transformation so wonderfully embodied by David Horton, as opposed to remaining just a victory in the Synod.  

(It should be noted, of course, that encounter can easily lead to acrimony instead of affection.  Grace must be present, and we must do our best to try and be gracious to those we meet, even and especially to those we violently disagree with.)

Summary

I now feel in a position to make my overall claim: that if we make personal political agreement a condition of occupying particular positions at the table, we in fact neutralise the possibility of arriving at meaningful agreement.  I believe that this holds even and especially where the effect of disagreement is harm, and where to hold a particular position on an issue can constitute a harmful impediment.  I therefore believe that we must hold to a particular view of Church consensus where the majority cannot eradicate the views of the minority from power, even in cases where that minority is thought to be sinfully mistaken by the majority.  I therefore believe that we should work hard to create the space for gracious encounter within the Church, even and especially with those whom we might wish we didn't have to call our neighbours.  For it is in this space that agreement might ultimately be reached; an agreement premised upon mutual transformation, as opposed to suppression.

I do not, of course, believe this point holds unconditionally. There are cases where particular disagreements render dialogue impossible, such as when a church campaigns for the fatal criminalisation of homosexuality.  Nor should we sacrifice all in the name of encounter: the Church was right to consecrate Bishop Lane, even at the risk of alienating those who were unwilling to countenance such a decision.  In this instance, however, where those I believe to be sinners have shown themselves willing to break bread with those they believe to be sinners, I believe the point holds.  And in this instance, I believe the Church was right to consecrate Bishop North, a man who holds divisive views, in the name of a broader unity.

I will conclude by noting that one effect of the view of Church consensus outlined above is that it allows us to be a Church which serves Christ together while we disagree.  After all, we do disagree, and the argument shall continue; but while that is happening, we shall also continue trying to live out the mission of the Church as it is given to us in the person of Jesus Christ.  For his part, Bishop North has shown himself willing to be more obedient to his sense of that mission than his allegiance to 'Tradition', and I imagine he will do good work in Burnley because of this.  Bishop Lane, meanwhile, seems to have been chosen precisely because she is a walking embodiment of that mission.  And if we can continue to worship Christ together whilst disagreeing and arguing about so much else, if obedience to His mission can compel us to encounter each other in love as members of the Church, even in genuine division, then I think that there is hope for us yet; for insofar as we are united on that front, there is every chance that Christ Himself will work on us to bring us into loving community even as we continue to disagree.

How I Learned (and Unlearned) To Be a “Good Christian Girl”

By Megan McDermott

Download more of Megan's writing in the St. Hilda's House Winter Quarterly.

Living in community has provided me with a helpful reminder: not everybody's experiences and struggles with Christianity are going to resemble my own.  In my adolescent and young adult years so far, I've done much wrestling (or, depending on where we are in my timeline, cooperating) with the idea of being a “good Christian girl.” These expectations, which have featured so heavily in my own Christian walk, are expectations with which some of my housemates may be unfamiliar or perceive differently to me. Being in community gives me, as well as my housemates, opportunities to recognize the ways in which we've been shaped by our stories and articulate those stories to each other.

The first thing I probably need to articulate here is what I mean by the phrase “good Christian girl.” For me, this phrase serves as shorthand for many of things I once felt I had to be. It is more a stereotype than an actual assessment of someone's devotion to their faith. To me, being a “good Christian girl” once signified being positive and perky. A “good Christian girl” was not confrontational: instead they got along with everyone. A “good Christian girl” never swore. She'd never make a first move on a guy because a “good Christian girl” let a guy lead (and would one day be a good, submissive Christian wife).  A “good Christian girl” was not comfortable talking about sex. She dressed modestly so as not to cause brothers in Christ to “stumble.”

These are just a few examples of what I considered to be a part of the “good Christian girl” package. Some of these attributes I managed to fulfill, at least for most of my teenage years (like never swearing, for example); others I never really managed (like always being positive and perky). Some of these beliefs I wouldn't have even articulated to others, feeling embarrassed as someone who was labeled one of the “smart kids” to be embracing ideas that I knew others might find backwards. And though I bought into many of these standards for myself, I still felt there would be something a bit outrageous about holding others to them. No matter my success or lack thereof in being this “good Christian girl,” however, the ideas were still significant because of the hold that they had on me mentally and the way they impacted my faith.

Some people come into contact with such ideas through their families and church communities. This wasn't actually my experience. The “good Christian girl” messages weren't what I was being taught at home or in my Catholic church.  These were the messages I was finding as I made independent efforts to take my faith more seriously.

The Christian media I found aimed at girls my age was, generally, conservative. For instance, I subscribed to Brio magazine, which was a monthly publication for teen girls from the conservative evangelical group Focus on the Family. I sometimes read Bible passages from Revolve, a “Biblezine” for teenage girls that featured, next to the biblical texts, articles with advice like, “God made guys to be the leaders. That means that they lead in relationships. They tell you they like you.” One of my favorite music groups was Christian pop group Barlowgirl, whose song “Average Girl” featured lyrics such as, “Like sleeping beauty/My prince will come for me/No more dating I'm just waiting/'Cause God is writing my love story.” I was even a member of an online forum called PurityGirls, whose members often talked about courting instead of dating and saving their first kisses for their wedding days. Those particular stances seemed extreme to me, but I still immersed in that culture—albeit virtually. These ideas I was coming across seemed to line up with more literal—and what I though were more faithful—readings of Scripture, in terms of statements about topics like modesty and gender roles. I have also always been a perfectionist who wanted to please others, so it's no wonder I took to these ideas that framed much of the Christian walk for women in terms of being pleasant.

In conjunction with embracing these “good Christian girl” values, I began distancing myself from the feminism that had once been significant to me. As a precocious preteen, I wrote my own feminist e-zine, but by the time I was a freshman in college, I kept my hand firmly down when a professor asked who in the class identified as a feminist.

Despite that transformation, I ended up finding out that trying to be a “good Christian girl” was not sustainable—at least, not when confronted with lived experience or a faith that was growing more dynamic.

These concepts were particularly challenged by experiences with my friends. In college, I formed strong friendships with other women who greatly influenced me. I made friends who were passionate about feminist causes, friends who, I could tell, would only be stifled if they were ever subjected to the many expectations of Christian womanhood I had adopted. I could tell in my gut that being a “good Christian girl” would not allow them to live any deeper into being the marvelous people who God created them to be. And if these norms wouldn't benefit everyone, I had to wonder if they were really of God.

The recognition that these expectations were stifling for myself, as well as others, was also partially due to my friendships with other Christian women who faced similar expectations. I witnessed how these ideas were failing us. Trying to be a “good Christian girl” led me to censor myself, compare myself to others in a way that was emotionally unhealthy, and live my life with less honesty and boldness than I believed I was called to by Christ.  As I developed closer relationships with women who fit the “good Christian girl” image better than I had, I saw that they, too, were much more complex than that categorization and the accompanying expectations allowed.

Academic study of religion also triggered this unlearning processes. I started out by just taking one class from the Religion department at my college. This blossomed into a minor which I bumped up into a second major. I felt invigorated by melding together critical thinking and academic inquiry with questions of faith. Prior to college, I had often struggled with how to reconcile my critical, often skeptical, nature with my belief in God. My professors, some of whom were practicing Christians, , modeled for me how those things can come together. I became more willing and well-equipped to question interpretations of the Bible that held up feminine submission and stereotypes while seemingly ignoring Biblical characters that complicated that narrative, such as Deborah, Jael, the female disciples of Christ, and women in ministry mentioned in the epistles of Paul—not to mention messages about God's liberation of the oppressed and equality found in Christ. I struggled as my relationship with the Bible shifted throughout college, but it was also freeing to realize that the Bible and my faith would not lose all its meaning if I dared to think that, for example, 1 Timothy 2:13-15 was way out of line.

One of the most significant factors in unlearning these “good Christian girl” precepts, however, was simply getting to better know Christ. In college, I became part of a Christian community where my faith deepened. Before this, I often felt as if I wasn't measuring up as a Christian. I was very critical of myself for doubting too much, not experiencing God enough emotionally, and failing to be “on fire” for Christ. I wasn't the “good Christian girl” I desperately wanted to be. I feared I wasn't cut out for faith.  

Though I often need God to remind me of it, I now believe that Christianity isn't about being good or being good enough. I believe that Christians are called to love and action, but that it's through God's love, grace, and goodness that we are able to find our identities in Christ, not our own. I believe that God sees me as a whole, complex individual. I believe that God has bigger plans for me than a laundry list of Don'ts or a stereotype—that God intends for me to grow more like Christ rather than more like a restrictive and repressive model of “biblical womanhood.”  I also began to see justice and liberation as more significant aspects of God's character than I had in the past. As I recently wrote on a post in my personal blog, “these convictions that were coming out of my faith were helping unravel those sexist assumptions I thought my faith dictated.”

In a lot of ways, moving on from this “good Christian girl” ideal made my life more complicated. When I had the “good Christian girl” as an aspirational figure, I knew what I was supposed to do, even if I didn't always do it. Letting that go meant that some decisions that were once straightforward became much murkier.

Overall, though, this is a good type of complicated that has ushered blessings into my life. It has allowed me to express myself creatively in ways that I may not have, particularly in the form of honest poetry about life as a young Christian woman, that I have been able to share without shame. It allowed me to stand on a stage during a school production of The Vagina Monologues and deliver a monologue that I wrote, which, among other things, called out the church for the problematic ways it talks about sex and ignores female desire. It allowed me to start a Bible study at my college with friends (many of whom were passionate about women's issues and many of whom were not religious) to talk frankly about women and Scripture. It allowed me to call myself a feminist again and even join our college's feminist group, though that membership happened regrettably late in my college career.

It is the type of complicated that is a part of my development into the person that God would have me become. That person may not be a “good Christian girl” (or, to cast it in more adult terms, a “Proverbs 31 woman”) as I once may have defined it, but that is okay. I do not need to meet those expectations to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 NRSV).  I do not need to meet them to love.

I look forward to the ways in which Saint Hilda's House will serve as a continuation of my journey and will further my knowledge of God and myself. In the context of the different stories, personalities, and backgrounds of the other Hildans, I am prompted to reflection on the particularities of my own story, while being open to learning from the stories of my housemates as well. I pray God's presence may be felt throughout the year in the ways our stories both intersect and diverge.


Back to the Blog.

Would you like to be a part of the wider community of Saint Hilda's House?  You can join The Friends of Saint Hilda here.