Who are you and what have you done with my dad?
Last night my dad and I went to hear Jeff Walling speak at the Pepperdine Lectures. On the way over he asked me if I would share with him what I had shared earlier in the week with the ladies at the conference. He didn’t know it, but he was asking me to share with him my calling to ministry, which might include preaching some day. What ensued was a three hour conversation full of emoting (ok, certainly mostly or only on my part) and childhood events remembered and forgotten. I shared my sentiments about growing up in the churches of Christ, how I felt like a second-class citizen and did not receive the instruction or encouragement that I wish I would have received. I invited him to imagine what it must have been like (and still is, in many places) for a young girl growing up in our tradition—not being taught how to pray or speak (ok, we probably did this in cradle roll, but we were never really ‘taught’ as adolescents or young adults), generally not having your value or worth in the Kingdom expressed or reinforced, not having female role models in the church to learn from about ministry (this is an overstatement, I did see women baking casseroles, taking care of children, delivering food—but these were not the types of ministry I felt drawn or called to—I didn’t see women doing what I subconsciously felt like God wanted me to do).
I talked about my relationship with him—his emotional distance and general unavailability and how that impacted me and continues to eat away at me. Only in the last few years have I begun to uncover and address the scars left by our heritage, feeling rejected and neglected by my dad, and how those have hugely influenced my relationship with God. I realize it may not seem altogether appropriate to lump issues with my dad and churches of Christ together, but they have both been with me all my life and are inseparable in my mind. Anyway, that’s all another talk for another day. The thing I wanted to share today was the outcome of our conversation last night. I’m sure I was not talking to the same dad from my youth, and even now I didn’t really recognize him. When I told him in a terribly round-about way that I think I might have been blessed the gift of preaching, he didn’t freak out. He wasn’t angry, he didn’t condemn, and I don’t think he judged. We talked a lot about women’s roles in the church, what scripture says and doesn’t say, what are the ramifications of chalking certain things up to ‘culture,’ the validity of scripture as a whole, what changes when we interpret single bits of scripture in light of the overall message of Christ… etc. We certainly didn’t agree on everything, but he surprised me with his overall response. He said that I have to do what is right for me, I have to go where I feel like God is leading me…there are things that he may not feel are right for him, but he’s not going to say they’re not right for someone else. I guess it sounds more than a bit pluralistic to say that everyone has to do what’s right ‘for them;’ and there certainly have to be some universals out there…I don’t know if this is how he would see it, he was having a hard time expressing himself. He said that he is still very unsure about gender issues in the church, but regardless of whether he approves, he will always support me. “If one day you are preaching at a church, I will definitely come and listen,” he said. That totally blew me away. Here I was attempting to prepare myself for the condemnation and sermons about the lakes of sulfur, and he tells me that he’ll willingly go hear me preach!—and this, without my asking! I totally couldn’t believe it. Now I’m sure this isn’t the response I’ll get from much of my extended family, but it was unbelievably comforting and encouraging. I still have very mixed feelings, but our conversation last night was a huge step towards healing.
- Jennifer Hale, Abilene, TX
short update: Since Jen gave me permission to use her article, she has continued to pursue her goal of ministry. In March 2010, she became the Associate Chaplain for Student-Led Ministries for Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA. Also, Jen's name is now Jen Hale Christy, having married Dave Christy.