When I was 21 and a senior in college, my friends and I got together regularly to shoot each other with Nerf guns.
There’s no way to phrase that opening sentence that makes us sound respectable. We were grown men–with beards and everything–running around campus with toy guns. Our plastic pistols were modified to shoot through cardboard boxes, but everything else about our Nerf Wars was just the same as when we were seven years old.
The few rules were both specific and intuitive: shots to the head and torso were fatal, but shots to the arm or leg just disabled that particular appendage. So, if I got shot in the leg, I’d have to hop around on one leg as I ducked for cover. These rules–which, assuming you ever played guns as a kid, I shouldn’t even need to explain–often led to some pretty ridiculous moments.
One night, a particularly chaotic firefight resulted in my “losing” both my left leg and my left arm. Diving around the corner to avoid the flurry of foam darts, I found myself unable to stand up on my one remaining leg without dropping my gun. Further complicating the situation, my Nerf pistol required two hands to load. Refusing to give up the fight, I put part of the gun in my mouth and tried to load it with my surviving hand.
At that exact moment, a campus security guard entered the building to find me–an adult with 105 completed credit hours of college education–writhing around on the floor of an empty hallway with a toy gun in my mouth and my left limbs flopping limply at my side.
Suddenly, a reality that made perfect sense in one world became embarrassingly nonsensical in the presence of someone from another world (aka the real world). In the fantasy of our isolated Nerf War moment, it was perfectly acceptable to pretend that half of my body–which was clearly still connected and fully functional–didn’t exist. In fact, it was a requirement.
But the entrance of a stranger from outside our private little reality necessitated a change of rules. It would have been both shameful and absurd to go on ignoring the existence of my left side in the context of the real world.
Sometimes, I wonder if this is exactly how the “rest of the world” sees the Church, particularly regarding our posture towards women.
Women make up at least half of the body of Christ, and yet it’s not uncommon to attend a Christian gathering and never once hear a woman’s voice. We have our reasons, specific intuitive rules we’ve been playing by since we were kids. But I can’t help wondering if, to an outside observer, we look like a body writhing around on the ground with clearly functional limbs flopping limply at our side.
Now I know I’m talking about some rules which are based on passages in the Bible, passages that should be/have been carefully discussed in detail in other contexts. And I realize the Church shouldn’t adjust our practices simply to avoid embarrassment; in fact, identifying with the story of Jesus inevitably leads to behaviors that seem crazy to others.
But that same story is one in which women are repeatedly met with hospitality beyond–and often in defiance of–the social norms of their day. When women meet Jesus in the Gospels, they are welcomed in a way that gives them back their voice. They’re invited to sit at Jesus’ feet as disciples. They’re sent back to their towns as evangelists. They’re embraced as prophets, pray-ers, and apostles. (All of this in the midst of a wider culture that understood women to be more akin to property than to people!)
It’s as if God’s entrance into our little word necessitated a change of rules. The fantasy of our isolated system, the rules that were once both acceptable and required, suddenly became embarrassingly nonsensical in the presence of someone from another world.
To be blunt–and a bit repetitive– it would be both shameful and absurd to go on ignoring half of the body of Christ in the context of God’s new world.
Silencing the messages of one half of the body is disastrous for the whole body. How can the left leg function properly if it remains unrecognized by the rest of the body? And how can the right leg do its thing if it’s never heard from the left? A church in which a woman’s voice is not welcomed is a church with incredibly limited mobility in the kingdom of God. It can limp, at best, but it will never run.
I wish I could say exactly how a church body should go about rediscovering its other half, but it seems to be a process that varies from one community to the next. In most contexts, it will not happen overnight. I’d like to think that at the moment Jesus walks in and finds us wriggling around on the floor, we’d stop acting like kids and stand up on both of our feet. But some rules are hard to shake off, especially if you’ve been playing the same game your whole life.
I do believe, however, that this process is central to the gospel of Jesus, because hospitality is central to the gospel of Jesus. A community that is inhospitable to women will find itself severely limited in its participation in God’s mission, largely because it has silenced many of its strongest examples of hospitality.
I’m eager to hear how this process is playing itself out in your community. If you’re a part of a church, in what ways has it been rediscovering its other half? How has the absence of women’s perspectives limited your church’s participation in God’s mission?
For my follow up to this post, see “What I Got Wrong in my post on Women in the Church.”