Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Rise of the Feminine in the Postmodern Turn

There's a great article over at Allelon by Sally Morgenthaler about the role of women in ministry in the postmodern milieu called After the Show is Over: The Rise of the Feminine in the Postmodern Turn. (Scot McKnight from Jesus Creed posted a link to it.) I've quoted a couple of sections below.

When the question is asked, “What is it to lead the church in the postmodern context?” and then, more specifically, “What is it for women to lead in the postmodern context?” it is hard to get around the refreshing, contrarian turns in Laurel’s journey. At base, the way she influences, whether at Target or through her e-devotional, is unapologetically organic. There are no top-down systems here, no grandiose, lone-ranger dreams, no mega-church blueprints. Rather, here is a woman, showing up with her full self, her full story, and in full presence – on the people’s turf and in the rhythm of their lives. Surely, she must have earned A’s in Missiology.

Yet, Laurel’s presence is the antithesis of impotent. Laurel’s late-night co-workers who stock the wide-aisle shelves at Target know her as a powerhouse of a woman. Not only is she a hydrant of comedy (Laurel believes life is comic relief to the weight of eternity). The way she invests time in her co-workers, Laurel’s lived spirituality makes the four spiritual laws sound like a multi-level marketing come-on. At 12:30 a.m., Laurel and Suzanne are doubling over in laughter about Suzanne’s disaster on Saturday night. At 2:25 a.m., Laurel hefts big boxes of laundry detergent onto her motorized cart and tries to help 26–year-old Jennifer figure out what to do about her autistic son’s latest bout. At 4:05 a.m., Laurel is stocking dog-food, engrossed in Bob’s tirade about his alcoholic wife. At 7:33, she’s punching out, heading to the pancake house for breakfast where the coffee, pancakes, teasing, guffaws, and conversation will be flowing non-stop. At 9:00 a.m., she’s driving home to have a last cup of coffee before her pastor-husband leaves for work. Maybe she’ll be able to catch a few hours of sleep before her grandson arrives at 3:30, but only after she checks out that quirky journal article on Kierkegaard she’s been waiting to read. She’s been a Kierkegaard fan since seminary days. Her seminary days.

In many ways, Laurel is an anomaly within American religion and most certainly, within evangelicalism. Ordained and newly planted in a rural/bedroom community, Laurel rejected a comfortable church job (her husband had secured a pastoral position only twenty miles away), striking out in ministry completely on her own. What could have been the picture-perfect scenario – “clergy couple pastors neighboring parishes” - became “middle-aged woman hangs out with Target misfits.”

Even at fifty-five, Laurel is more postmodern than modern. Perhaps it was a gradual transition. Perhaps she woke up one day and screamed, “This isn’t working!” Perhaps it was one too many budget meetings, one too many building committees, or one too many worship wars. Whatever the case, Laurel simply couldn’t be a woman of the great machine any longer. Besides, she’d been witnessing a quiet but significant shift in her community’s spiritual temperament. Since the late nineties, what had been at least a little stream of unchurched visitors had dwindled to less than a trickle. Even the megachurches down the street from her little red-brick congregation were hurting for new faces, their 1980’s, “if we build it, they will come” approach operating on fumes. To Laurel, the community both she and these megachurches served had moved on. One could not simply put up a billboard sign and expect the unchurched to come knocking, even if you showed up in the neighborhood with the formula intact: a cute-sounding church name, killer band, concert-venue tech system, and a golden-haired pastor-boy.

No, as Laurel saw it, the audacious, “we’ve got just the thing for you” years were over. For years, she’d had the nasty habit of spending time with people totally disconnected from religion (it was her secret solace), and she knew first hand that none of them had the slightest interest in checking out the show under the big top. They were more interested in eating pancakes, lingering in the parking lot at their kids’ soccer games, drinking beer at the local grill, or playing Texas Hold’em on Saturday night. Their sacred space was wherever life was happening, and after all these years stuck inside the redbrick ghetto, Laurel wanted to be there.

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