1 Timothy 2:15--But women will be saved through childbearing--
When children run in rivulets through
the hallways and closets and stale smelling
Sunday school rooms of church basements
and men lean forward on metal folding chairs
mouths gaping toward scalloped potatoes,
the women are still waiting in the kitchen,
their faces reflected on silver serving spoons,
stretched eerily liked starving ghosts
They were told this sanctuary would be filled
with bread, but communion has only ever
come from rough fingers. They were
promised words of life, but prayer has
only ever come from deep and cutting
voices. They gave themselves to piety,
only to find that all along, it was patriarchy
masquerading in this mirrored house.
They were instructed childbirth will save you--
so they have borne the children and fed
the children and served the children and kept
the children and and schooled the children
and raised the children and released
the children and now find themselves
hungry, barren, flushed above
Even now, my sister, there is still
enough for you. Lift the spoon
to your own lips, greedily gulp
in warmth, let your belly round
soft the way it should.
Feed and feed and feed until
dry bones pile at your feet.
At last, with mighty groans,
bear your full weight
into waiting hands
and the strange stretch
of promising light.
Kristin Gifford, 2021
Some threads I follow…
I was raised in northwest Iowa, in a rural, traditional, “Christian” place. My second grade public elementary class said a prayer along with the pledge each morning. Our public high school had scripture verses splayed on their t-shirts. In the church, the roles were clear. Only men served as elders, deacons, or pastors. Only men led worship or prayed publicly. Women were Sunday school teachers--my dad once broke protocol to teach a class with my mom, and I remember the wide-eyed feeling of walking into that small room under the church steeple, seeing him sitting in the folding chair with his Bible. Youth group discussions ranged from the importance of wearing make-up to bed, how to make sure a man feels like a leader, the necessity of modest dress to keep a brother from stumbling, and the scriptural realities of women’s inferiority: namely, Eve’s evil coup attempt. Even in the wider town and area, patriarchal norms were standard. Once, my mom went to pick up her order at the butcher’s and was asked if she should be making the purchase without her husband present. My sister’s summer job required her to wear ankle-length dresses. The women who married young and disappeared into marriage were glorified--divorced or single women were side-eyed and whispered about. What terrible defect was within them and was it transferable?
Even though my parents critiqued this culture of female subservience, it leaked constantly into my life, much like the billowing yellow swirls of pesticide that always filled the air.
All along, though, there were sisters offering their subversive tactics for survival. There was Lois in middle school, a plump, preacher’s wife, forever surrounded by her collection of porcelain dolls, who invited all the middle school girls to her home each week to study the Bible. We sat on overstuffed floral loveseats and formed an identity of belonging as female. Once, she brought us all to a local mall and gave us each a dollar. We were all supposed to find someone that we could “bless” with that dollar bill. The thrill of this agency buzzed through my body. Near the very end of the hour, I saw a woman, alone, pushing a stroller. On some level I think I knew that women needed women, and I handed her my dollar, her confused face nodding a thank you.
Then, there was Vivian in high school--Vivan with teenage sons who seemed so entirely self-sufficient with her husband always traveling for work. She had a group of four teenage girls over each week to memorize the book of Philippians. She prepared detailed and scholarly studies of the text that we devoured. Her lessons had nothing to do with finding our place as women, and everything to do with the fullness and belovedness of our personhood. The word “feminist” was a dirty word that I would never have said without disgust during these years--but spaces for feminist to exist were forming within, waiting to be filled. In my journey since leaving northwest Iowa, many female authors have filled these spaces with their vibrant energy--thank you Maya Angelou, Anne Lamott, Glenon Doyle, Sarah Bessey, Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, and so many more.
One thread I have continued to follow for many years and continue to follow, is the writings and life of Rachel Held Evans. Rachel died suddenly in 2019 at age 37. As a long time follower of her blog, her humorous, sharp and loving critique of gender as it has been interpreted by the church has been immensely healing. Check out her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood and her posthumously published book that’s out this week--Whole Hearted Faith.
Also, recently, I stumbled upon a book published back in 1996 by the wonderful Sue Monk Kidd--The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. As she details how she dismantled the sexist and patriarchal aspects of her spirituality and became reborn into her true fullness, I felt a constant “yes” within. Her line about realizing that she needed to forgive herself for being born female is one that I am still chewing on.
*Note: the titles detailed above are by white women, largely about the experiences of white women. My journey into understanding sexism in the church as it intersects for women of color is newer and one I am eagerly embarking on. I am currently reading I Bring the Voices of My People: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation by Chanequa Walker-Barnes. If you have suggestions for authors of color who write about sexism and spirituality, please let me know!
Kris Gifford lives, writes, mothers, and teaches in the western suburbs of Minneapolis. Now that nationalistic, white, patriarchal evangelicalism is no longer the way she sees the world, she is constantly experiencing the joy of rediscovering the divine in everyone and everything around her.