Yesterday I wrote a reflection on the NEXT Church national conference that used a metaphor one of my parishioners shared with me. She fixed her mother’s mistake on her prom dress by adding a ribbon of lace. I intended this to serve as an illustration regarding the past and present church. Rather than simply “dressing up” our mistakes, we should take an honest look and find creative ways to improve upon them. Out of our love for the church, we should be willing to offer corrections.
When I wrote this, I was aware of the potential of stepping on some toes. In my defense, I included comments about how unhelpful it is to point fingers and concluded my thoughts with the hope that we can work together to find the best way forward. This was intended to push back on the over-simplistic dynamic between “old timers” and “young upstarts.” But I did make the argument that there needs to be some accountability for past mistakes. Too often, I hear well-intentioned people speak of the future of the church as a matter of going back to the way things were. This is problematic. There has never been a perfect community of faith; I believe Jesus ran into this problem with the disciples!
However, I did not anticipate the hurt that the metaphor would cause my experienced, female colleagues. In so many words, several of them pointed out to me that they had fought the good fight against sexism in the church. On this International Women’s Day and every day, they certainly serve as models, not as bad examples. A few privately gave me a dressing down! Better yet, they “leaned in” as MaryAnn McKibben Dana puts it here. There I go, they said, dismissing their contributions as old-fashioned and inept. I’ll admit it; I did not fully recognize the gender implications of the metaphor. I apologize. I’m especially sorry if my words made it seem like I’m not on your side.
What I was trying to model was that I listened to an older woman in my congregation and gleaned wisdom for the future. This post is an acknowledgement of the wisdom that other women have offered and that I am continuing to listen. It has been a good learning for me and, hopefully, for other readers as well.
Next time, I’ll try and do better. I hope we’ll continue to hold each other accountable.