Slants and Slopes and Can’ts

I have a daughter who is eight years old and almost nine.

She loves to sing – especially along with Zoe Group music in our car – and loves to say grace at the table.

She says the sweetest prayers at bedtime, even though she no longer asks God’s blessing for each child in her grade at school by name.

She feels that she is too big for piggyback prayers at bedtime now, since her 12-year-old, 104-pound brother is.

I miss those piggyback prayers. They were such a great reminder to me that I carry my children in prayer to the Father, and I bear responsibility for their spiritual formation.

My daughter is getting away from the stock prayer-phrases that she hears in chapel at her school, which is hosted in our church building. She’s starting to really pray now, asking specifically about friends of hers that are sick or having some kind of problem – no matter how small – and she has that unshakeable childlike faith that God will hear her and take care of it.

In fact, her brother’s bedtime prayers are still pretty dependent on those phrases that he and the other boys use in chapel prayers. I have faith he’ll come around and put his own thoughts into his own words. Still ….

My daughter won’t be leading prayers in chapel.

I understand the whys and wherefores and precedents and policies and frets and fears. I’ve been warned all my life about all kinds of slippery slopes, and I have even seen some prove to be treacherous.

But unless something happens soon; unless someone dares to find out whether the slope is slippery – or if it even is a slope or just a magical-house-on-the-hill optical illusion ….

My sweet daughter may not have the experience of being a channel of God’s blessing to others through her prayer – except at home. Like her mother, whose heart is as wide and deep as eternity itself, she may never feel the touch of a grateful hand on her shoulder or hear the encouragement of a brother or sister who was strengthened by her prayer … or the song she led … or the thoughts she shared at the Lord’s table … or her heartfelt interpretation of a scripture she read … or her story about Jesus, as only a girl or a woman can picture Him.

She’ll read in her Bible about a woman in Sychar of Samaria who shared the first gospel message in scripture; about a sick woman who confessed her faith by touching Jesus’ garment; about Joanna and Susanna, who were the first to support His ministry; about Mary of Magdala, who was first to tell the apostles about the risen Lord; about Lydia who was among the first to host a church in the home; about Euodia and Syntyche and Priscilla and Claudia and how many others.

But her name may never be added to a list that anyone else reads; an order of worship or a roster of leaders.

The prospect of it makes me profoundly sad.

I’m convinced that the way things are now can’t be the way things were then.

And that the slant of the way things are built now is the only thing that makes the slope we’re on look normal and flat and safe.

19 thoughts on “Slants and Slopes and Can’ts

  1. Keith, all you have to do is make sure you teach her that when she does things in the home it is “serving”, but when she does those same things within the four walls of a building with a sign for a church outside, it is “leading”. What about that is so hard to understand? 🙂That was as powerful a post as you have ever done, and that is a mouthful. Thanks for challenging us!

  2. How this hurts me! It didn’t make sense when I told my daughter all the things she couldn’t do and I wonder if I had it to do over if I would say the same things. My soul longs to share and yet I sit in silence wondering why.. Oh sure I know the “company” policy and yet my soul longs………

  3. This is the elephant in the room that we’ve circled for as long as I can remember–that would be fifty years! I’ve got a hidden weblog draft about my reactions to a couple of recent restraints I’ve encountered in my attempt to serve the church, coincidentally on a Sunday. Experiences such as yours make me want to edit the draft and publish.Time will tell if I have the courage.–Lee

  4. I wish I could say “I understand,” Donna. But I can’t; I’m a man and I really can’t. All I can understand is how it hurts me as a dad and a husband.I just know that the King’s commendation in Matthew 25:34-36 <>doesn’t<> read: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.“For I was spiritually hungry and you made sure that only men gave me something to eat.“I was thirsty for the spiritual leadership of mothers and sisters, and you were adamant that only men gave me something to drink.“I was a stranger among you and your male ushers invited me in. “I needed clothes and a sense of dignity and modesty, and you were emphatic that only men should clothe me. “I was spiritually sick from a miscarriage and only your deacons and elders and preachers looked after me, just as it should be.“I was in imprisoned in a world where men looked down on me, insulted me, abused me, and you sent men to minister to me.”

  5. When a little girl’s name is written on the roster of her daddy’s heart, she will know what it is like to be valued, and she will feel good about the difference she makes in the world.Those little girls grow up okay with the world, regardless of how leadership and service are defined. They are the ones who transcend culture while others debate the rules.

  6. Yes, I know the scriptures that proclaim a woman is to remain silent, but often these verses are contorted to fit a specific mind set, and do not reconcile with verses that proclaim we are all ONE in Christ, and that God is not a respecter of persons. In what way does a sister in Christ usurp a man’s authority by passing him the emblems of the communion?Would it be an acceptable practice if a woman just passed the emblems and remained silent? If I sit by a woman during the communion service and she passes me the emblems is that wrong? Why is it LEGAL to pass me the cup while seated, but all of a sudden wrong if she’s standing?Women have long been banished to the pew, and many accept this role and even relish the confinement. Many never question their second class roles and are resigned to gender domination. Women serve the Lord notably in their daily lives and are to be commended, but as soon as they enter the “church building” the male domination kicks in.

  7. great post Keith, I have nothing to add that these fine people havent already done but the approach you made on these issues made it more real for me. As someone who has a daughter and dreams she will grow up loving the Lord, I cringe to think that the church may hinder her gifts because of tradition or misinterpretation of scripture. May we all continue to pray over these issues.

  8. Keith, I haven’t given up yet–my prayer is you are wrong–and she will have others hear her prayers. I know it will be slow, but I have so much hope. I am reading “Paul, Women and Wives” right now. I hope to blog about what I am finding there soon. I have 2 daughters that are 23–I just can’t give up! JB

  9. Pray Keith… pray that God would open the doors in your congregation, and in the congregations of believers all over the world. Restoration churches aren’t the only ones dealing with this sort of legalism.My wife and I don’t even have kids yet… but I long for the day when I can hear their prayers, and know that they come from hearts that long for God in their lives. And, I long for the day when they can share the blessing of their faith with others.I just hope that the church of their future will allow such blessings to flow…

  10. Keith, thanks for sharing your father-daughter prayer time experiences with the bloggers. I have 2 daughters and can relate to how special it is to hear their tender words offered up to God. I hope you won’t be sad long for wondering if she will ever be able to impact others in the “church” the way she has impacted you. One of my favorite of many lines from the movie “A Few Good Men,” is when at the end of the movie Tom Cruise tells the black soldier on trial,” You don’t have to wear a badge to have honor.”(paraphrase) Your daughter may never be put in a position to share her gifts with others in a corporate worship,(I hate that example, sorry)but I bet her spirit of meekness and tenderness will touch many more outside the walls of a church that need it even more. I love the piggyback prayers.Keith Riley

  11. Thanks for your post. I join with you in deep turmoil over this issue — and even more in what you so accurately termed “a broader systemic dysfunction” in your comment to Papa Bear re this topic. The reason that such topics are treated as “taboo” or as the “the elephant in the room” that no one will discuss is simple: the traditional notions just will not bear serious scrutiny. The logical and practical inconsistencies and the lack of merit in the those traditional positions are so obvious upon examination that their proponents cannot bear to have them clinically examined. Hence the reptilian reaction to efforts to bring these issues forward for open consideration. Unfortunately, the reason this intolerable situation continues is because we have deferred to the most brutish among us. Even those steeped in traditional dogma who have been willing to think and study and invest their energy and attention to these matters have to conclude there is a “better way” of understanding. I tell you, it is only those who “already know” that have no need to consider these things afresh. Even at this supposedly more-mature/less-rebellious stage of my life, I constantly want to scream!!!But, there is something we all can do. Keep hope alive! Keep posting; keep asking; keep talking; keep questioning; never quit pushing, whether on this narrower issue or on the broader systemic dysfunction that Keith has identified. Do whatever you can to keep these crucial issues at the forefront, out on the table, where everyone can see and hear and consider — and let’s see what happens.

  12. Hi!I tracked to your blog through Mike Cope’s and although I set myself a goal of looking at every one from Tuesday and contacting as many as possible, that may take a while. I’ve actually seen your blog before, but never felt the need to comment, until I read this one just today (Thursday).I guess I have a little different take on all you had to say and all that’s been said in the comments up til now. I’m in my 50’s and have endured and overcome many, sometimes extreme, obstacles in my life on many different levels to achieve all I have and to get where I am today, both as a woman and as a Christian.But, I firmly believe that Christianity is an individual servanthood life, not a “church” (which is merely “people” or “all the saved,” after all) “leadership” (whatever that means and however we use it) life, and that the biggest commitment you could make to your daughter would be to teach her that she can do “all” things through Jesus Christ, who strengthens her, and not that her life will be confined or limited or filled with “can’ts” and things she “can’t” do because of whatever (not being a “man,” for instance).I grew up in a small church in West Texas and lived for 15 years in Picayune, Mississippi with a small church as I raised my children and let me tell you, “you ain’t seen nothin'” like the issues I’ve seen and have dealt with and have lived through! All of that, and the issue on the table at the moment, don’t matter one whit, I don’t think, when it comes to what Matt. 25: 34-36 actually SAYS and how we each must live before God, though.Jesus gives us what I consider to be the ultimate (along with the Sermon on the Mount) goal for us in Christian living in Matthew 25:34-36 and it ALL has to do with being a servant to others on a one on one basis. To those in prison, who are sick, who need a cup of water, children, etc. No one, or “church,” has ever kept me from doing one thing as a Christian woman as far as my walk with God goes, nor can they. Neither will anyone be able to keep your daughter from walking with God as His child and His daughter or from receiving her eternal reward. All of these other things are very minor and insignificant and will pass by the way.I say this, not as someone who not aware of all of the idiocies and stupidities about how a lot of “churches” look at things, nor do I think we should sit still and not try to help other people seek and find a better way, because I think we should.I say this as someone who in the past few year has come face to face with death (read my short Mar. 11 blog entry and you’ll understand) and realize that each of us only has today in which to live and that our relationship with God and Christ and with each other on a one on one basis, whoever we should come in contact with today, is all that really matters. Finally, I think my mom, who is 83 and lives in Abilene, has a very interesting take on this very subject and I invite all who read this comment to take a look at what she had to say, which I posted on Feb. 18 – “View from the ’80s’ for 2/18/05.” It’s worthwhile reading from someone a lot older than I am and much closer to God than I ever hope to be.

  13. I have never read your blog until this morning and I will be reading it from now on. I’m crying as I write this because you have written my fears, my sorrows as well. I have two precious daughters, 9 and 12, and their prayers are heart-felt, honest and tender. I cry and hurt for them beyond words because of my fear that they will be prohibited from using their God-given talents and skills, simply because of their gender. My husband shared a dream of his with them – that one day he would be in a service where they would lead the congregation in prayer. Our oldest, now 12 but at the time 10 said, “Daddy, I can’t do that. I’m not a boy.” We vowed then and there to do everything we could to make a difference in the area of gender justice. Thank you for your thoughts. What a blessing to know there are others who are on this faith journey with us as we stand up for the sake of our daughters, and quite possibly, their very souls. Thank you for your words!

  14. I have never read your blog until this morning and I will be reading it from now on. I’m crying as I write this because you have written my fears, my sorrows as well. I have two precious daughters, 9 and 12, and their prayers are heart-felt, honest and tender. I cry and hurt for them beyond words because of my fear that they will be prohibited from using their God-given talents and skills, simply because of their gender. My husband shared a dream of his with them – that one day he would be in a service where they would lead the congregation in prayer. Our oldest, now 12 but at the time 10 said, “Daddy, I can’t do that. I’m not a boy.” We vowed then and there to do everything we could to make a difference in the area of gender justice. Thank you for your thoughts. What a blessing to know there are others who are on this faith journey with us as we stand up for the sake of our daughters, and quite possibly, their very souls. Thank you for your words!

  15. Keith,Thanks for the great way you put this. I too have a daughter. She is 8 1/2. She prays beautiful innocent heartfelt prayers. My son (age 5) does a good job of “parrot prayers”. I think because men have been conditioned to pray in public, we have lost some of the comfort of private prayer. We were taught to “perform” prayers. Things we have to get in there (heal the sick, ready recollection, guard, guide & direct, etc.). Maybe not those exact words but those ideas. A great deal of what I learned about personal prayer, I learned from hearing my mom, and my wife pray. I also learned about praying with children from a family I stayed with one summer as an intern. The kid’s room was across the hall and I overheard their nightly prayers. I long for my daughter to have more opportunities to serve and lead. But I also want her to have a real prayer life not a performance prayer life. I want her to be real with God. I believe that by praying with our children, listening to them pray, taking turns at meal time, etc… We have a chance to make sure our daughters know God wants to hear from them. It will also let our son’s learn about prayer from some other source than a “young men’s training class”.

  16. Change will never happen if we do nothing but be sad about this. Be proactive. Speak up. Ask questions. Expect answers. Never settle. The future belongs to our children, but we pave the road for them.“When a person’s courage catches up with their knowledge, they will act. They must.” – Floyd E. Rose

  17. Keith, I think a lot about this generation of kids that is being formed by the ways we do worship, not just in the areas of gender justice. It is an encouragement to hear the discussions of others. As one who personally knows that the current “flat” isn’t any safer than the feared “slope,” the pain, reaction, or formation just isnt audible (or if it is there its not as loud) as those who fear the slope. This isn’t an all out appeal to sanction everything, but to look at ways in which we form kids. I currently serve in have my Masters in Christian Ministry, and ministering with a church in campus ministry in the middle of Kansas (yes I am a woman and do work for a c/c in Kansas – I did not mistype). But some of my earliest memories of being a girl in church came at age 5 from those who were trying to protect from the slope. As a result my brother, 3, was able to pick up the cards at the end of the service but not me. Yes in class Jesus loved us all the same, but even as a young girl, I knew that it was different. I wasn’t trying to lead a prayer or usurp authority, but to be a part of the community and serve like the others in my class. Even our smallest actions in corporate gatherings, are forming our youngest in ways we dont even think about. But because they dont always have a voice (or the voice wouldn’t know what to say) somestimes it gets “deemed” safe when its in all actuality not. I’m not bitter, but sometimes sad when I reflect on the ways our attempts to be safe actually can malform people. And when we dont look at the deeper impact of the messages that we are sending. (Such as when a church says that only baptized men can lead in public worship then they allow young boys to lead the service who have not been baptized. I think that they should have guidance and mentoring to grow in these areas, but it shows an area of inconsistency in our theology and sends mixed messages to the congregation. “Its ok to lead in corporate worship if you are a boy/man even if you have not professed a faith in Christ, but at the same gender is an absolute line that keeps any woman from speaking.” )I am in a church now where there will not be any role of women in public worship, and to do any other would be harmful. Rather, I want our congregation to be healthy and consistent in its theology and teachings – to be intentionally looking at the ways we form our fellow God followers – intentionally and unintentionally.

  18. I absolutely refuse to attend church anywhere that doesn’t except women as equals to men. It isn’t fair that these poor girls and women have to watch all the men/boys lead the service. I believe that God made men and women equal in every way. Sexism in the church has got to stop!

  19. Jen,That makes me sick to my stomach that they wouldn’t let you collect cards but they DID let your 3 yr. old brother. SAD! SAD! SAD! The bible says that women should not preach, which was written by Paul, not God. In other words, if God is not the one who said it, than it doesn’t mean that it is necessary. alhough it says this, it is also stated in Timothy that if a woman bears a child, she will be saved. In a way, in some cases, it is OK for a woman to preach.Paul never had the authority to make this a law in the first place. What church did you go to as a child? Was it a Church of Christ? Even if I did belive in gender roles, there are no examples in the bible that it is wrong for a female to pick up cards, etc. It only says that a woman should remain silent. Anyone can pick up cards without talking. It sounds like you really had it rough as a little girl. That is one reason why I left the church of christ. I now attend the united church of christ that gives women equal rights. I reccomend you check out this website

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