I was the only girl in a class of about 60 guys—including my professor.
I took it to be slightly rebellious, because after all, tradition mandates only men can be preachers.
But I preached in that class. I was assigned John 9. And it couldn’t have been a more perfect or timely passage—even if I didn’t know it.
In John 9 Jesus heals a man blind from birth. At this time in the course of Jesus’ ministry the religious leaders already had it out for Him. He keeps identifying himself as God’s Son—heresy–and He keeps breaking rules—like healing people on the Sabbath—which is what he did in this passage. The chapter is dripping with truths, and after twenty years of observing it, it continues to become more profound.
But back to my preaching class.
I cross-referenced John 9 with Isaiah 28. The part where God is warning the Hebrews, specifically the leaders, that they have come to believe a lie—found refuge in lies–but he would save them from themselves by washing away the lies as a scourge washes over the land. It would suck, but He would do it because He loved them and wanted them to truly understand the life He offered and asked of them. (This is VERY trimmed down, I grant you Bible Scholars, but may I point out, I did only have the one preaching class.)
I felt this matched with Jesus’ statement in John 9:39, “I have come to judge the world. I have come to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” He further pisses off the Pharisees when they retort, “Are you saying we are blind?!” by replying in verse 41, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty. But you remain guilty because you claim you can see.”
What I feared most after studying this scripture (and that’s always the goal of scripture, to scare the hell out of you, right?), is that I could be positive I saw/understood God, the Bible, people, the world, when in actuality, I was blind. And what, pray, would a twenty-one year old white, conservative, evangelical Christian young lady at a private university possibly be blind to? Oh, sweet Jesus.
Because of my upbringing in the Church of Christ and having watched my parents make breaks with certain doctrines such as approving of instruments in worship instead of just using the only sacred instrument-our voices, or allowing me to dance on my high school drill team when dancing was what heathens did, as well as the much bigger issue of believing one is not saved by getting baptized when their tradition had taught them baptism—one’s good works–is basically what got you into heaven (which was the most important if not the sole goal of Christianity), I knew it was possible for Christians to believe they had the right answers, but to be wrong. Or at least for it to be debatable. I knew Christians could be Pharisees—ones who thought they could see, and be completely blind.
Also, I had always loved the Beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” And I wanted desperately to see God. I mean actually. I wanted to see Him. To know what color His eyes are and what made Him smile. I got it that Thomas wanted to see Jesus’ wounds and put his finger in them. And, I wanted to see the world the upside-down way Jesus did. People look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. And oh snap, the heart…how could I have a pure heart when the heart is deceitful beyond measure? How would I ever see God?
No matter how I tried to be pure in heart, I failed. I was sinful. I was a hypocrite. And I despaired. And I settled for a refuge of lies.
After I delivered my sermon and received a solid “B,” along with the comment that, “I would NEVER have put those passages together,” from my professor, and lots of compliments from those really nice guys who thought they were doing me the service of tolerating me, when actually we all knew nice is not respect and tolerating is not embracing, I got hitched. Like literally the over the Christmas break, I waved farewell to the pulpit and put my Bible on my shelf, and I began a life of dutifully submitting to my husband (despite his begging me to STOP shutting down and ENGAGE ME), because maybe I could get this right–being the Biblical Woman.
But all I really was, was the sum of my ongoing shame of not having a pure heart combined with the rules that came with being the good, Christian, Southern wife. Within the very church that proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and despite my parents departing from a works-based theology, I had become wrapped up in so many lies I was suffocating. I was not free. And I could not see God.
Damn I was so good at acting. What a hot mess: sweet, compliant young woman with a ribbon of rebellion I could never quite shake.
Then came the scourge.
I could write a book on that, but let’s just say, I didn’t drown when the flood came. It was more like I got to go tubing on the sweet river of Life. Suffering can do that to you—whether it’s circumstance or of our own devices—the lies wash away, resurrection happens, and the Truth will set us free, hallelujah.
Now, have I attained everything? Is my heart perfectly pure? Do I SEE all things? Hell, no, are you crazy? Actually, the stripping away may never be over so long as I live. I told you—hot mess.
Here’s what I know: 1) I am a Preacher. So maybe Christians have misunderstood other passages in the Bible that would keep women from the pulpit. At least it’s debatable.
2) and more importantly–I was blind, and now I can see. I see that I have the propensity to be blinded by certitude and to find security in falsehood.
But I have seen Jesus.
And no amount of my trying, following the rules, or acting let me do that.
He comes to me in my blindness. In my brokenness.
So I do not fear my lack, or yours–no offense, anymore.
But neither will I keep my eyes on the rules,
I will keep them on the One who breaks them.