The Red Couch: Jesus Feminist Discussion

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Jan_CaldwellTo learn more about Jesus Feminist, read the Introductory post. Don’t forget to peruse The Nightstand, which contains resources for those wanting to read more on the topic.

My best friend Janie says I have the ability to gracefully navigate groups of people with widely diverse opinions and viewpoints. When she first said that to me, I thought she was spouting crazy talk. Best friends have a tendency to make your behaviors seem more noble than their original intent. Sometimes I end up tiptoeing around ideologies I disagree with to avoid discord. At the same time, I believe passionately there’s a lot of gray in a black and white world and all of the different perspectives out there are desperately needed and beautiful.

Then I thought about my different groups of friends and the diverse nature of the worlds  and the vocation of making a living in the creative world. I realized if you put all of my friends, colleagues, church lady-kindreds, and online buddies in a room, it would either be one heckuva party or have record potential for some perhaps heated and passionate discussions.

I love that diversity. I love the melting pot of all those viewpoints and passions and opinions. That concept is at the heart of Jesus Feminist–that ALL women are valued and loved and full of unique thoughts and ways of thinking, and that’s just how Our Creator made us.

I’ve mulled over and over exactly why I love this beautiful, needed book so very much. As I thumb through Sarah’s lyrical prose, it’s difficult for me to pinpoint just one or two things. I love all of it –the way Sarah weaves together thoughts and feelings and positions and reminders of how we as women are valued and important and capable of so much more than we sometimes think.

“Patriarchy is not God’s dream for humanity” (p. 14) felt weighty and important the moment I read it; a weight in my chest actually lifted. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but that statement has always been hard for me to say in the presence of my theologically conservative Christian friends. Sarah helped me remember truth is truth. If I agree to disagree in my beliefs with certain fellow believers, that’s more than ok.

Chapter Four struck another chord with me. I’ve read the theology, had some uncomfortable debates, and wrestled with the passages of Scripture that don’t seem to make sense in my mind. The actions and words of Jesus didn’t seem to line up with the tough talk that Paul and others espouse in “those” difficult passages. Sarah reminded me that “Paul’s intention was to restore order to the community of God. And that order didn’t include the silencing of women.” (p. 66)

Sarah’s last chapter of commissioning was a favorite of mine and brought tears of joy to my eyes. It also helped me see how so many of us need encouragement and, dare I say, permission to reach out from the pews. As my hands and heart tremble at the beauty and gift of this online space, I offer my own words and invitation to the Jesus Feminists in my life– to women like my Godmother Laura, my best friend Janie–and to each woman reading these words in the online world: from the beginning of Jesus Feminist Sarah talks to us over a figurative bonfire where all are welcome.

I understand not everyone may have loved this book as I did. I have always thought of myself as a feminist and have been a Jesus-follower since I was a young child. So for me, these two words belong together. Sarah’s book helped give me a vocabulary to do so. However, I know other women may not have had this journey and are reconciling this book’s message in their lives.

Let’s sit down on this beautiful, virtual Red Couch that SheLoves has provided and let’s talk about the ways Jesus Feminist makes us think and offers a new way to take action in our lives.

Questions to Consider

  • Does the Christian community need to discuss Patriarchy?
  • How should we talk about the roles of women in the church? How can we make room at the table?
  • What practical ways can we live out Sarah’s commissioning in our daily lives?
  • What chapters challenged you? What are your takeaways?

______________

Reminder

We’ll be reading Desmond Tutu’s God Has A Dream in February. Come back Wednesday, Feb. 5 for the introduction to the book. The discussion, led by Kelley Nikondeha, will be Wednesday, Feb. 26.

Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

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Sarah Caldwell
Sarah Caldwell is the Chief Creative Curator at All Manner of Inspiration, where she gathers everyday inspiration and encourages artists of all makes and models. A musical theatre performer and book lover, Sarah aspires to shed a bright light on the Creative Process that draws others to see their dreams more clearly. When she’s not auditioning, performing, or blogging, Sarah is seeking out ‘the perfect pen’, reading an ever-growing stack of books, and spending time with her friends and family. She’s currently chasing the next inspirational spark and her sweet pup Daphne in the heart of Fort Worth, Texas with her husband Frank.
Sarah Caldwell
Sarah Caldwell

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  • Melani

    I didn’t use to think that the Christian community needed to discuss patriarchy, mostly because I didn’t realize it was still an issue. However, through reading Half the Sky by Kristoff and DuWunn, I realized that for as long as women are seen as “less than” anywhere, it is an issue that needs to be discussed. I thought Bessey’s introduction, A Bonfire on the Shore, was crucial in setting the tone for the book and she inspired me, to concentrate on being the Beloved instead of being right. We need so much more gentleness in the discussion of patriarchy along with all the other heated discussions we have to decide who is in and who is out.

    In addition to Bessey’s beautiful Commissioning chapter, I also loved A Narrative Reborn and Dancing Warriors.

    • Sarah Caldwell

      I’m so with you Melani! “Being the Beloved instead of being right” really feels like the key here. My church experience living in a different state these past few years reminded me that this is so needed, and that conversations about patriarchy in the church need to be had with a loving heart. I loved the ‘Dancing Warriors’ chapter too. I need to read ‘Half the Sky’ – I’ve heard so many incredible things from that book, and Sarah’s quotes from it in JF cemented adding that title to my to-read stack. Thanks much for sharing your thoughts!

      • Taija Young

        I am also adding ‘Half the Sky’ to my reading list!

    • Thank you so much, Melani! Really appreciate that – and yes, Half the Sky was LIFE-CHANGING for me, too. Impossible to read that book and walk away unchanged, I think.

    • BlancaV

      Melani, I agree with you! Sarah set such a loving tone in a topic with the potential to drive a deep wedge. I continue learning lessons in being the Beloved. Right is overrated. 🙂

  • I balled my way through the commissioning chapter – three times. Such prophetic verve in her words to women (and the church) who need to receive the blessing and permission to move forward out of patriarchy and into the Kingdom as God envisions it! I also love how Sarah disarms you, replacing your heavy armor with a cup of tea, inviting you to sit and join a conversation (not a confrontation). It’s so Sarah to want to have a heart-to-heart about the things that matter, and Jesus matters most! Loved this little yellow book and the space it creates for connection and conversation and also mobilization!

    • Sarah Caldwell

      I love how you articulated Sarah’s gifts “replacing your heavy armor with a cup of tea”–yes! So many of the thoughts and feelings discussed in the book usually come with defenses and arguments and a history of hurts. Sarah’s words really felt like manna when I read this book. So looking forward to your discussion about ‘God Has A Dream’ next month Kelley!

    • Janel A

      Kelley, the last chapter was by far one of my favourites. I could just feel Sarah reading this out in a prophetic and echoing voice as she claimed each of these callings over each of us! Loved it. Definitely something for everyone looking to be able to start that spark in their lives and moving into their own calling as women of His Divine creation.

    • Taija Young

      I like how you described JF as creating space for connection and conversation and mobilization… so true!

    • I still remember our conversation after you read that part for the first time. One of the great moments of my life! Love that you know my heart and could hear my real voice in this, teacher-friend. xo

    • Betsy P.

      Oh, I so agree! It’s conversation (not confrontation) that opens eyes, ears and hearts to the perspectives of others, and it’s true conversation seasoned with grace that turns the tides. This is a book that does that beautifully!

  • i just re-read Bossypants and in a way was reminded of Jesus Feminist. Do what you are supposed to do–and don’t let the haters distract you. Simply do what you were supposed to do, and do it better. One of the takeaways (from both books, actually) is that there is still a need for trailblazers in these areas. Women pastors, leaders, teachers–of all sizes, ages, and backgrounds. Some of us might be called to the hard place of being out in front and creating the space. I think sometimes I pretend this isn’t so, but it is becoming increasingly clear that patriarchy is still a Thing (and so is an emphasis on hearing from Western, White, Privileged voices). But God’s dream for the world is so much bolder and colorful and messier and smaller than we think it is. Thank you Sarah, for reminding us of this.

    • Sarah Caldwell

      Ah, I love that you compared the similarities between Tina Fey’s book, and Jesus Feminist! 🙂 (I’ve got ‘Bossypants’ on my to-read stack.) ‘God’s dream for the world is so much bolder and colorful and messier and smaller than we think it is.’–yes, yes to those beautiful words!

    • Any day when my name is anywhere near Tina Fey’s is a good day. 😉 Love this, thank you, D. xo

      • Sarah Joslyn

        Amen!

  • Betsy P.

    My husband will be the first person to tell you that I can be a spitfire when it comes to politics and the role of women in the church. This being said, one of the most convicting parts of Sarah’s beautifully-written book for me is this: that LOVE for Christ and for others should be at the center of our goals, motivations, and desires. I have often been championed as a strong debater, and I have to admit that there is satisfaction that comes with being able to outsmart the other side using clever rhetoric and sound research. When it comes to debates on women’s roles, my desire to be right is typically what drives my tongue…and it is very clear that it should not. As I read chapter after chapter, I was humbled and awed by the grace with which Sarah speaks. I was (and am) challenged to examine my motivations about service and speaking and leadership, to see if my desire for Christ himself is the driving force behind my actions. After all, the only way to be a Jesus feminist is to keep Jesus at the center, right?

    On another note, I was also reminded that it is Christ–and not man–that determines my value and identity. Though people within the Church may not agree with my stance on leadership roles, service, or careers, their opinions should ultimately not keep me from dedicating myself to the service of the Kingdom. I need to toughen up, narrow my focus on the Lord, and keep pushing forward. Thanks, Sarah(s) for the wonderful book and the discussion post! Looking forward to reading everyone’s thoughts!

    • Sarah Caldwell

      Betsy – I love your honesty here, and I so agree! I have this weird dual thing going where I have no problem voicing my opinions in person with my (literal) voice, but on the internet and on the page, I grow quiet, inward, afraid to offend or be misunderstood. I’m always surprised when I feel like the cat got my tongue, so to speak. 🙂 I think we all struggle with identity idols (or, I should say, I DEFINITELY struggle!), and I think its so easy to look for that value in people – ESPECIALLY in the church. Sarah’s book also spoke deeply into that place for me too. Thanks so much for sharing your story, and your own takeaways from a place of love.

      • I agree! Well said, Betsy!

      • Betsy P.

        “Identity idols” is such a lovely way of putting that! I want to adopt that phrase for further use!

    • Love how you put this, Betsy. So true, so good.

  • Valerie Carr

    I keep coming back to the thought “I don’t have to be just one thing!” I often feel as a woman in church leadership I’m supposed to down play one part of me and emphasize the other so that I can be taken seriously by higher ups. “I am a super woman! I preach! I teach! I plan programs! I discuss theology!…Please pay no attention to the fact that I bake, I am a mother of young children, and that I sometimes cry at sappy movies.” I often feel like I have to hide one side, so no one sees me as weak. I struggle being one or the other. But, I think, Jesus Feminist really encouraged me to see that I don’t have to be one or the other. I am both. God called me to be both. They are not two sides to a coin, they are me! All of those pieces parts are what God has used to make me…well, me. I can discuss theology and wipe the toddler’s nose for the umpteenth time, neither is the lesser position. They are both mine! I thank Sarah Bessey for that reminder, and the call to live freely, to stop trying to prove my place in either world and live as God has called me.

    • Sarah Caldwell

      Amen, Valerie! Thank goodness Jesus doesn’t pigeon hole us, and we don’t have to pigeon hole ourselves. Thank you for your wisdom, too!

    • Yes, I love that! That’s the thing I really wanted to help us recognize: we don’t need false binaries. You can love theology and love sappy movies, too. So glad that in our God we get to be ALL that we are, whole, and complete without compartmentalizations. So good, Valerie – love that you wrote this.

    • Betsy P.

      The idea that “I don’t have to be just one thing” is so liberating, isn’t it? I love your examples, and the fact that you found that those roles aren’t mutually exclusive. Makes me want to write that out on a notecard and tape it on my daily planner!

    • Claire Colvin

      This resonated with me too. Just a few months ago I had a man say to me, “Claire, you’re so girly but you’re also really intelligent.” And the crazy part was how long it took me to convince him that what he’d said was quite insulting. He didn’t see at all that he was setting up a dichotomy with “girly” on one side and “intelligent” on the other. He didn’t see that he was commenting on how strange it was to encounter smartness and femininity together.

  • I bought this book and it’s next in line on my queue to read, but this makes me look forward to reading it even more. I consider myself a moderately conservative Christian, but I also consider myself a feminist (as does my husband). Among my Christian friends I find it so hard to speak up about my beliefs about feminism, but I feel the same way among my strongly feminist friends about my faith in Jesus. I really don’t believe that the patriarchy is what God has in mind for His will “on earth as it is in Heaven.”
    I’m finding that too many people think that being feminist “means” living, breathing, voting and thinking one way while being a Christian means living, breathing, voting, and thinking one way. I truly believe that all God’s children have a place in the choir and it frustrates me that both camps seem to be so tied up in politics. I’m hoping to see if she wrestles with some this, but we will see!

    • Sarah Caldwell

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts Nicole! Sometimes I think I’m the only one who struggles with speaking up about my feminist beliefs, while still feeling so passionately about them. I’m with you – the politics of it all bewilders and frustrates me. I’m so grateful Sarah and the SheLoves community give us an online space to air out ‘all the feelings’ with love and respect! I’m excited to hear what you think of ‘Jesus Feminist’, and the way Sarah addresses these issues.

      • I’m about half way through now and I’m already loving, loving, loving it. I’ll definitely share more thoughts when I have them 🙂

    • I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts, Nicole!

      • I’m loving it so far, Sarah! Your writing voice is so lovely and yet fierce. I’ll probably write a blog post about when I finish! I’d love to share it with you!

    • Betsy P.

      Nicole, I know what you mean! I’ve often felt so out of place among women because of my beliefs, too (something that Sarah speaks so beautifully about in Ch.8 “Reclaiming the Church Ladies”). It’s so encouraging to know that we are not alone in this struggle!

  • Taija Young

    When I began reading Sarah Bessey’s blog at the end of the summer, it felt like coming home. I couldn’t wait to read Jesus Feminist… it affirmed some of the deepest dreams in my heart, built a bridge from the faith path of my past to this NEW faith walk He’s been leading me on, and even commissioned me for the work I’ve always sensed Him calling me to, but never more strongly than now. I want to “simply get on with it, with the work of justice and mercy, the glorious labor or reconciliation and redemption, the mess of friendship and community, the guts of walking on the water, and the big-sky dreaming of the Kingdom of God!” (p. 4) Sarah talks about spiritual midwives in Ch. 6, and she has certainly been one for me.

    One of my favorite take-aways was from Ch. 5, Dancing Warriors. I have read many explanations of “ezer,” and how it is a word used to describe God as Israel’s military helper. But never have I heard it described as Sarah does… the idea that God NAMED HIS DAUGHTER AFTER HIMSELF. That we were created and called out as warriors. I was undone, a beautiful mess of love and truer identity than ever before, with lies and insecurities melting away.

    And I LOVED her depiction of marriage at the end of that chapter; I am single and have at (many) times felt like I would rather remain single forever than try to figure out what the whole “submission” thing and woman-in-leadership thing would mean in marriage. But if it could be for me the way Sarah described? As a “beautiful example of oneness and cooperation, an image of the dance of the Trinity in perfect unity” …well, that’s a whole other story!

    Ch. 10 (Kingdom Come) and Ch. 11 (Intimate Insurgency) stirred my faith and just made me want to shout Amen! at every page. Yes! I want to “live these Kingdom ways of shalom prophetically in the world.” Yes! I want to “move with our not-safe-but-good God.” Yes! I want to follow “the small and daily nudges from Abba until (mine) is a transformed life on the narrow path of the arc of God’s redemptive movement, ever moving forward.” Yes! I want to “love from the center of who (I am)” with “prayer woven into (my) soul like smoke in (my) hair.” Yes! Yes! Yes!

    My final take-away was confirmation of something His Spirit had been showing me, but I didn’t have words to identify it… living loved. living free. That’s it. I don’t need to be worried about being right. I just need to live loved and live free. It’s more beautiful than words can say.

    • Love this, Taija! Thank you so much. You are so right – that is the starting point for everything, isn’t it? Love how you put that.

    • Betsy P.

      Taija, I was floored with Ch. 5, too! It’s always such a great reminder that we as women were also created in God’s image (an image of strength!). That fact in and of itself erases so much shame and insecurity, and makes me want to stand up and shout, “YES, I am a woman!”

    • Byrdie Funk

      You took many words out of my mouth, Taija!

    • Sarah Caldwell

      Taija, all of your thoughts on this book are so wonderful! I kept nodding, “Yes! Yes!” to each paragraph. I have only been married a few years, and lived most of my life up till now as a single gal, and I felt all those feelings too. My husband and I have been practicing ‘mutual submission’ in our marriage, even before we found the terminology to define it. Know that there are more men out there than you think who feel that kind of marriage is the kind they want. (I hope you hear that statement as an encouragement, if you hope to marry one day.) And your final takeaway from the book — that just says it perfectly–thank you!!

      • Taija Young

        Sarah, thank you for those kind words of encouragement and sharing a bit of personal story with me! It’s so affirming to know I’m not the only single woman whose had those feelings.

        I feel like that’s the theme of the shelovesmagazine and Sarah Bessey’s blog for me… affirmation. I’m constantly in awe: “There’s other women of faith who think this way? I’m not the only one?” And it’s such a beautiful feeling.

        Thank you for inviting us all here and facilitating the discussion with such grace!

  • Sarah’s lovely voice rings so sweet in the pages of Jesus Feminist. I think we need gracious voices that can reach those who will not listen to loud voices which I tend to be and tend to be drawn to.

    Music needs all kinds of players and instruments to create harmonic melodies. I think JESUS FEMINIST adds a gorgeous layer of harmony to the growing wave of music of equality playing around the globe. Her book is important and will reach readers that no other book can.

    I really LOVED the passages where Sarah wrote about motherhood and family life. JF is a great book, but I think her sweet spot is writing about her tinies. I hope a mothering memoir is on her radar.

    • Sarah Caldwell

      As a musician, I LOVE your allusion to Jesus Feminist as ‘a gorgeous layer of harmony to the growing wave of music of equality playing around the globe’ – wow, and yes! I really enjoyed her chapter about family too–particularly when she discussed her marriage, and their ‘mutual submission’. I will for sure read whatever book she comes out with next. Have you read all of Sarah’s posts about her family on her blog?

      • yes i have and i follow her on instagram where she often posts lovely pics of her kids. she is a great storyteller.

    • Did you see on Amazon that our books are paired together, Pam? Made me so glad. 🙂 Thank you for your words. (And no, no mothering memoir on the radar at all, I’m afraid. Maybe when I’m a bit wiser and better at it.)

      • I didn’t until my friend Aaron Smith (aka as @culturalsavage on Twitter) tweeted about it today. Super cool! Whatever writing projects lie ahead for you i’m with Sarah in that I’m In with whatever you write! And hey, hopefully will have a moment to meet eyes to eyes when you come for the Faith and Writing conference. I will be there with my tattooed self!

        • IN WHICH for the sake of those readers who are like, What Conferece?? here is the link. SUPER AFFORDABLE and Sarah is one of the keynotes (and I will be on a panel about blogging). Come join if you can. It’s a great value for all you can get in two days! http://faithandculturewriters.com/home/

    • Love that analogy, Pam!

  • Sarah – I’m so delighted to find you here after sharing the Sacro Speco link up with you last year. Like a couple of commenters, I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s fast moving from my “wait for it from the library” to “just order it already” list. Sarah Bessey’s recent post at (in)courage inspired my own latest blog post about rethinking my anger when she wrote: ” I think it’s important to pay attention to what makes you angry. In my experience, our calling is hiding somewhere in what makes us angry.” Frankly, I’ve wrestled with anger for a long time, and this was such a revelation for me – finding something good and transformational in something that I’ve always seen as a deterrent. I get to hear her speak at a conference in March and can’t wait for that and to dig into this book and discover the good truths that await. I hear chapter 12 is a game changer that needs to be read every week. Again – so nice to see you here! I’ll have to bookmark this page.

    • Sarah Caldwell

      Hi Rebekah – I’m so glad to say hello to you over here, too! I know I’m perhaps a wee bit biased 🙂 but I definitely think JF needs to be in your ‘just order it already’ category! 🙂 (If I hadn’t just given away my last extra copy, I’d mail you one myself!). I too gleaned some good wisdom from Sarah’s post at Incourage. (And I was happy to see her little yellow book being promoted at that website – I’m a regular reader there too.) And speaking of conferences, I’ve been looking at flights to that conference in March – I’ve really been wanting to go! I hope it works out, and we can connect there! Blessings friend, and so glad to connect with you over here today.

    • Oh, good! I was pretty nervous about that post – it’s hard to write about anger as a catalyst for change among women sometimes. So glad to know this. Looking forward to meeting you in March!

  • Esther

    I have not read the book yet, but Jesus has been my hero and my confident and the one I would say to my church friends, ” he did that”! Entering into the land of Grace is leaving past judgments on the bottom of a ocean floor to rot and turn into something else, like food for fishes. The beginning of being able to open up doors into people’s lives on a different level! This is ridiculously exciting!
    You are all such amazing woman who absolutely have so much to give and I love the genuine spirit! Breaking all the molds, like Jesus did! Maybe that
    is a characteristic of Jesus that I never thought was a christian characteristic! Breaking the molds, even the hint of a mold becoming a mold…gosh I have that
    quality! Feminism has that quality!
    Salt that’s what we are as woman! Salt connoisseurs, because we have
    had to for survival The dawning of another amazing quality that up until right now, I thought was a flaw in my female character, like a mental illness and I have kept that aspect of my character hidden, being able to identify with Jesus as a forerunner in thinking
    differently and those old ways would just vanish, right before our eyes, even before you have a chance to blink! Sounds like a woman who is so necessary in this world today. Grace, looks kind of out of place in some circles, almost improper!

    • Love that – “salt connoisseurs.” So evocative!

  • Anna Wastell

    I’ve loved reading Jesus Feminist and have bought copies for several friends in the past few weeks, too, just to ensure they’ll read it. I get bossy like that. Honestly, I missed some of Sarah’s sass in the book. But a recent blog post explained how she has felt very “edited” lately, so maybe that’s what I had noticed. Still beautiful, familiar writing, though.
    Overall, I felt deeply encouraged by the book – all the reminders from scripture and church history and this great cloud of witnesses that WOMEN MATTER TO GOD, TOO. Let’s just shout it from the rooftops together, shall we?
    I’m still doing the work of reclaiming the word “feminist” for myself – the heart beliefs are there, but the word itself is tough in many of my circles, and I’m working all that out with a bit of fear and trembling. I’m grateful for women like Sarah who lead the way.

    • Anna Wastell

      I was particularly challenged and emboldened by the chapter on reclaiming the church ladies.
      “The gift of being vulnerable is something we are trying to give to our daughters, to the young and wold women around us. We are crating a world where every woman can be who she is, without apology, in freedom.”
      Yes yes yes YES

      • Betsy P.

        I agree! That chapter was one that both encouraged and challenged me, too!

      • Sarah Caldwell

        YES – that was another one of my favorite chapters! (I actually edited my thoughts on that chapter above for post length’s sake! 🙂 Despite my various experiences in the church with women (both wonderful and not so much, through the years at different churches), I definitely claim the term ‘church-lady’ as one I am grateful to live out.

    • The word can be tough, Anna. I’m not personally too attached to the NEED for identification with a certain word. I think our hearts and actions matter more than our labels, you know?

      • Anna Wastell

        Totally agree, Sarah, but words are important for this enneagram 4. I have a feeling (and a prayer) that I’ll one day claim Feminist with love and truth. Grateful for you.

  • BlancaV

    Sarah packed love, laughter, loss, the grind of everyday life and all the other moments of life into a fascinating story of her spiritual journey to find that Jesus ultimately meets us at the end of ourselves regardless of the traditions we hold dear.

    These words, these beautiful words touched me, “Jesus ushered in a crazy upside-down Kingdom of voluntary submission and love, a Kingdom where the least is the most honored and the one who gives everything is the one who gains it all.”

    May we all learn to give more and only expect Jesus.

  • Rachel Snyder

    I didn’t love it, actually. I thought it there was going to be more scriptural revelation, so I was bummed that there seemed so little of it in the grand scheme of the book. The biographical stuff was kind of interesting (because I love a good biography), and the stories of women who are doing cool things were fine. But I think the overarching message should be, “Listen for God and go where he leads, even if it’s difficult or it seems to go against the status quo.” I don’t really need to be commissioned by an author—I’ve already been Great Commissioned by Christ. The explanation for my lukewarm response may be that I’m too comfortable in the patriarchy (ha!), that I’m just not afraid to go where God leads at this point, or that I’ve known stories of women who charged up and broke through lines (just to break through lines as women) and damaged their families in the process. I know that’s not the norm or the intended result, but there needs to be a resounding, “Yes, this is super empowering, but wait for God’s leading on what he wants you, specifically, to do,” after every story. Maybe some women feel held back and needed to hear the message of this book, but I just don’t feel like one of them.

    I’m also not super excited to be the dissenting opinion. I really did start out excited about this book! It just didn’t click for me. I’m sorry!

    • Sarah Caldwell

      Rachel – I’m glad you shared your thoughts on the book – I think ALL of our thoughts and reflections are important! I think your ‘overarching message’ from above echoes a lot of what is articulated in JF. I think, no matter your position, its good to be able to dialogue about impressions and feelings in a posture of respect for one another. Though I love this book very much, I have read books before that many other people loved that just didn’t click for me either. If you liked Sarah’s biographical writing in JF, I think you’d enjoy a lot of her writing on her blog or on other online websites where she contributes. Regardless, thanks for sharing your opinion here.

    • No worries about being a dissenting opinion, Rachel. Not every book is for every person. And you’re quite nice about it – no name calling at all, so quite refreshing. 🙂

  • Byrdie Funk

    I love this book. I started to cry in the introduction and kept on crying throughout. I’m so thankful for Sarah’s heart and how she is able to share it with us. It was beautifully written with both gentleness and authority. In my heart, I know Jesus created and sees us as equal to men but my legalistic up-bringing still sits in my bones. I read Timothy and I struggle through the masculine language even though I understand that order needed to be brought in that time. I am part of a Church that does now allow females as elders…I struggle. I do feel called to do great things (some ordinary and others extraordinary) and this book confirmed it for me! I’m ever so thankful!

    • Thankful for you, Byrdie. So glad to read this.

    • It’s so hard to tease through those legalistic roots and piece together what we really believe, isn’t it? I’ve done a lot of wrestling this past decade about what I believe about women in the church and ended up on the other side from where my childhood church and family sit. It makes for interesting discussions, that’s for sure. So glad Jesus Feminist resonated with you.

      • Byrdie Funk

        This is one area where I need to practice vulnerability. I don’t want to be the cause of discord nor do I want to be argumentative but I do want to speak in a way that aligns with my values. I hate walking away from conversations feeling as though a part of me died because either I said nothing at all or because I quietly agreed with something I don’t agree with at all for fear of being labeled “difficult”.

  • Heather

    Like many others, I also enjoyed this book! What struck me most was not the issues of patriarchy and feminism, although I certainly enjoyed Sarah’s discussions on them as well, but two key concepts that I think are critical to how we live as Christ-followers in our world today.

    The first was Dallas Willard’s quote, “The greatest issue facing the world today,…is whether those who…are identified as ‘Christian’ will become disciples…of Jesus Christ…” (pg.24) Sarah weaves this theme throughout the book as she talks about ‘living loved’. I long for each of us, for the Church, to walk this out in our everyday lives – what amazing transformations will take place as we love and live as Christ!

    I loved the chapter “Kingdom Come” and Frederich Buechner’s quote really resonated with me: “The Kingdom of God…is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.” (pg.158) When I see the brokenness of our world, the struggles of humanity, the injustices, great and small, all around us, I long for the ‘not-yet’ of God’s Kingdom. I think one way we become as Christ is when we see and experience a little bit of Jesus’ broken heart for his people…and then as we ‘leave the bonfire, we post signs, pursue justice, wipe away tears, light more fires – we become people of shalom.’

    Thank you, Sarah, for a good, challenging, and encouraging book!

    • Thank you! Yes, Dallas Willard and Frederick Buechner’s work is just amazing. So glad those quotes resonated with you, too.

  • Chapter 10, Kingdom Come was my “a ha!” moment. I was reading away, appropriately crying, cheering, air thumping and quoting aloud to my husband when suddenly, in this chapter, it felt like everything came together for me, turning the what I believed into the why and how. I love Sarah’s description of peace/shalom. This…”God’s shalom is complete peace: wholeness, health, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony. This peace is found in Christ and his Kingdom” (168). I think a lot of us need to learn to make shalom “an active word” again as we pray the words, “Your kingdom come”. And Sarah, thank you for your raw vulnerability, especially in the opening chapters. I value your whole-heartedness as I connected to your story on so many levels. xx

  • Rachel Snyder

    There is one other point I’d like to bring up (since I’m already the lone dissenter, I may as well dissent away!). Bessey wisely says, several times, that the patriarchal design of our society is not what God intended. It is absolutely, 100%, NOT what God intended. She is so right.

    However, that doesn’t mean that we can overturn the current society at will. Sure, the Biblical guidelines for how women should behave at church or how women were to be treated were based on culturally patriarchal societies in Bible times, but honestly, that’s still where we live. That is still the basis of our culture—not that it’s supposed to be, as it’s not what God intended in Eden, but it’s a broken world. It’s part of the curse of the Fall of Man. We as women get painful childbirth, and we get man to “rule over” us (Gen 3:16). It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it’s not what God intended. (Though I will totally take painful childbirth over having to toil and sweat and all the stuff that the guys got.) It’s not what God wanted, but it’s what God subsequently declared would be the new order of things. He commanded it. So we have to admit that men acquired an important position through that command. The man is the spiritual head of the household because that is the position that God put him in after The Fall. If a father and mother go to church, his children will be regular attenders more than 30% of the time. If the mother goes but not the father, the number drops to something like 3%. That’s old research (late 90s, I think—goodness, is that OLD now?), but it’s speaks volumes as to how the family views the position of a father as the head of the household, especially spiritually speaking.

    I do think people can take the “rule over” concept too far and subject women to horrifying things, and in no way is that right. But when a family is basing its model on that which God has set up for us (whether it was what he really wanted in Eden or not) with Christ as the head of the husband, followed by husband as head of the household (as set out in I Cor 11), and with the reminder that our husbands are called to DIE for their wives (Eph 5:25—another deal of which we women got the better end), there is no reason for a power struggle within a marriage or family. The husband takes on the responsibility to care for and lead his wife and family—he gets the greater burden of the spiritual welfare of his family. It’s not about power or having the upper hand, nor is it about being more important than a wife. It’s a different role, ordained by God; it’s a different calling. And different is good.

  • Claire Colvin

    This book had me right from the very beginning, nodding along and dog-earing the bottom corners of pages with quotes I wanted to remember. I was sitting in Extreme Pita eating
    lunch when I came undone. It was that one little sentence on p110 that did it:
    “You are not forgotten.”

    I do not cry in public, not usually, but I sat there with wet eyes wishing I had read this part at home. “You are not forgotten.” I turn 38 this year and as an unmarried, non-mother I
    struggle to find my place in a church that defines me by the things I’m supposed to be doing for other people. Except that those other people aren’t here yet and I don’t know if they’re on their way.

    I hadn’t really put words to it before but when I read, “You are not forgotten” that was it. That’s exactly how I’ve felt. Left behind, leftover, forgotten. And I wept – for the
    feeling and for this promise that I am not forgotten either. I really needed to hear that.

    At points in this book I got angry. How many sermons have I heard on ezer as the
    helper, the administrative assistant who gets acknowledged once or twice with flowers? I’ve been in church my whole life. How had no one told me about ezer the warrior? How have I never heard Junia’s name before? Why didn’t I notice that the women were missing?

    I love that this book talked about men and women together. Not women at the expense of men, as feminism is so often, so incorrectly defined, but men and women as both made in
    the image of God, both image bearers, both utterly necessary.

    God named his daughters after Himself and I am not forgotten. I think I’ll be sitting with this book for a long time.

    • This made me cry, Claire. Thank you. I’m giving glory to God for this because YES! That is what I want to say to you: you are not forgotten. You matter. So thankful to hear this. Aslan on the move, indeed.

    • Claire, that sentence stood out to me, too. I relate so much to what you said. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • Dorathea Maynard

    I did like the book quite a lot, but I feel like I know so little about feminism, that I’m not sure the book really sank in on my first reading. I’ve long thought women were equal, yet how I’ve lived my life might reveal I don’t quite believe it as much as I’d thought. My favorite line was (paraphrase, sorry, I don’t have the book in front of me) biblical womanhood is not much different than biblical personhood. I think this is the thing I’m mulling over the most.

    Overall for me, the book was like a window opening up all the possibilities, things I’d previously not known about or had never thought could be options became available. It was encouraging to see that I could join so many other women stretching their arms around the world and lifting each other up, and nurturing everyone to nurture the world. I’m still not sure what I specifically can do or how to go about any of it, but that’s the sort of thing I desperately want to be a part of.

    • I think this is a perfect response, Dorathea: this book has opened up some possibilities and now comes the time to discern and figure out what to do next. If you want to read more on the topic, I suggest you take a look at the introductory post (linked at the beginning of this post) and check out the books on the Nightstand. There are a few that delve into more of the history and nuances of feminism.

  • Bev Murrill

    I love that He named His daughter after Himself too… I had never seen that before. Awesome book and vital for the way forward for the Church.

  • There are many things, but one of my favourite things about this book is still the title … Somehow, I keep saying it over and over in my head and it’s sunk into my heart. One of the watershed books in my life was called “Jesus, CEO” by Laurie Beth Jones who then also wrote “Jesus, Life Coach,” etc. So, when I heard it as a possible title “Jesus Feminist” just worked for me so much. Yes, Jesus is a feminist, I told myself.

    But then I realized Sarah was intending it to explain the KIND of feminist she is (and I want to be). And then it just got even more zing to it.

    So thankful we get to discuss it here. Thank you for doing a great job with leading us in the discussion, Sarah C! xoxo

    • sandyhay

      Idelete, I’m continually amazed at the books and authors who have impacted us in a similar way. Laurie Beth Jones’ books line one of my bookshelves 🙂

    • I’m honored and so grateful to have been a part, Idelette! And I LOVE that my first book club experience was with a book I hold so dear! Loving this discussion!

  • Sarah Silvester

    The thing I keep mulling over after reading this beautiful book is the phrase “living loved”, and all the ways Sarah so beautifully describes her relationship with Jesus and the freedom she has in him. Picking up the book again now I see this is Chapter 7 “A Narrative Reborn”. So many passages here give me such a yearning in my heart – “I still don’t know how to live my life except on my haunches at the feet of Jesus, eyes fixed on his face… no method makes me feel so fully human and alive as the radical act of living loved”… “He is the Father in the story of the prodigal son, the one who watches the road every day for the first glimpse of dust moving, and he is the one who catches up his robes and runs headlong; he won’t be held back, his sandaled feet pounding down that road to capture his son, his daughter, right into his arms again. And he covers over our protestations and our apologies with kisses and tears and welcome”. Even in her acknowlegments at the very end of the book I was moved: “If I had an alabaster box full of expensive perfume, I would smash it on my front sidewalk. I just want to be with you, walking in your way, always.” Through all the wonderful things about women and equality and the kingdom, I am personally just entranced by the relationship shown between Sarah and Jesus. And I want it for myself, even more. I know myself to be desperately in love with Jesus, but I don’t think I’m living loved. The book has inspired me to press in, or find out, or seek, the way of life which she has so beautifully described here. Thank you Sarah xoxo

    • Oh, excellent thoughts, Sarah. I love the way Sarah Bessey loves Jesus, too. I have learned so much from her in that regard. What would it look like for us all to “live loved”? That’s a powerful question.

  • Maria

    I really enjoyed Jesus Feminist. I even blogged about it! The best part was being able to participate in this book club and re-discover my love for reading. And this was more– so much more– than just reading, it was absolutely delicious food for my parched soul and so redeeming to grow my identify as not only a feminist but a Jesus Feminist and own it.

    • I’m so glad you rediscovered your love of reading and that this has been delicious food for your parched soul, Maria! What high praise.

  • Amy Hunt

    All my life I’ve struggled with wanting to know “what should I do?” as if there are rules to be followed and specific ways my life is supposed to be lived out. (For what? To earn something? I don’t know.) And God has given me a passion to see that we worship Him when we step out and Be: As. We. Are. — and that being often times doesn’t follow a script or a pattern. When we let ourselves like the things that we like and pursue the things that niggle at us . . . when we step out of the box and out of the boundaries that we created for ourselves (or think others have created), we are living by faith that He’s got us and He purposes us for all things. Sarah speaks my language and her words give courage to step, to be . . . to worship full and free.

  • Cynthia Nichols Cavanaugh

    There are so many wonderful truths in this book. I call it BRILLIANT! Each word is written gracefully even when talking about the more difficult sides of the debate that keep the church divided over gender. Raw emotion welled up in me, all kinds, sadness, tears, anger for what shouldn’t be. The biggest takeaway for me is that it scratched a scab on a wound, okay it ripped it off totally. An event in my life, actually a series of when speaking up caused me to be labeled a Jezebel. Even though I knew the label was misplaced, it still stung to think that my motives and heart were so misunderstood when I was seeking to join the conversation.

    Being labeled as a Jezebel painted a black cloud over me. It caused me to shut-down and isolate for a while. The Jesus Feminist caused me to rethink that time and embrace that I was really more like a Deborah. It put words to my emotional turbulence and affirmation to believe and act differently instead of asking myself, “What’s wrong with me?” I’ve never read anything that has remotely addressed it quite like this and put words that unpacked the emotion behind when as a woman I was just trying to exercise my gift! Thank you Sarah!

    There were many other great things in this book, and I love the fact that everyone is invited to the table, we can lay down our swords and rhetoric and just get on with it!!

  • Trish Bjorklund

    It’s funny how averse I was to the words feminist and feminism until recently. In the past the
    word brought to mind radical women burning their bras or something like that from the 70’s and that’s just weird to me. In seminary last year I read and wrote a paper on a book by a feminist theologian. (Who knew that feminist theology existed?!) While the book itself actually had very little scripture in it and left me not quite knowing what the author’s theology was, I could for the first time see how someone, a woman, might read the bible, or be in a church setting and feel left out of the conversation because of their gender, and the patriarchy that has existed. However, with the crazy image of feminists in my mind, I was not excited about the book, merely on the basis of the word feminist in the title. (It makes me wonder what other words I’m letting myself get stuck on?) Throughout different year end blogs that I was reading, I kept seeing Sarah’s book on other people’s best books that they had read and I realized, like God hitting me upside the head, that perhaps I should buy the book and settle in to read it. I’m so glad I did!

    Sarah’s book cleared things up for me and helped me really see what I already believed in my heart but just hadn’t been able to put into words yet myself. Jesus calls women just as he calls men. He values us, gifts us, loves us and calls us. In the past few months I also read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, mostly because everyone at work was reading it and talking about it. I thought it was a good book but it left me feeling like something was missing. She talks about, as a woman, taking a seat at the table and ‘leaning into’ situations even when we don’t necessarily feel completely ready or qualified. (That’s a
    poor paraphrase of the book on my part.) While I understood what she was saying, as a Christian I struggled with the contrast between grabbing a seat at the table and the idea of taking the lesser seat so that the host can come to you and ask you to move up. Now I realize that the contexts of those two tables are different so maybe it’s not a fair comparison. But I really think it’s more about balance, knowing, really knowing you have worth in Christ and yet being willing and humble enough to not care that you’re not sitting in the best seat. Maybe when you honestly know that deep within yourself and you’re secure in the love and freedom of God, then you’re free to not care where you’re sitting at all. You’re free to love and share that love and maybe, just maybe begin to work out what
    God has worked in you.

    I’m still figuring it all out, in fact in my journal after finishing Sarah’s book I tried to get all my thoughts down on paper, and while I was able to get a few of them I also just wrote, “more thinking is needed on this, but I may just be a Jesus Feminist after all!”

  • Hanna

    I agree that the description of ‘living loved’ is lovely and inspiring BUT i honestly thought the title is missleading…where was the feminism? where was discussion of gender roles, of masculinity/femininity, how to raise kids to a better future… i’d like some more bible and some more feminist theory to be honest….

  • sandyhay

    Patriarchy definitely needs to be discussed. There are women all over the world who are reading this book and others and inside they’re applauding and screaming at the same time.
    There has always been a remnant of women who have had leadership positions in certain denominations . But there are too many denominations that are male lead, male elder boards, etc whose women must be released.

    Book clubs like this one are a good place to start discussion. I’m laughing because in some ways it may have to be subversive, subtle, here a little there a little. This will take a while but once it catches on, who can stop God.

    We must start with Sarah’s words: Stand on your own two feet. Allow the Holy Spirit to empower you daily, minute by minute if that’s what it takes. Believe these words. Let them anoint you and pour down over your entire being. I feel like I could quote the whole thing. I’ll only write this: “I set you apart in your right-now life for the daily work of liberation and love” Ask God what this looks like for you. LISTEN to what the Spirit says.

    To start, Idelette’s poem challenged me. Then all the chapters tell us, show us how this is possible for each of us. So we can come to Sarah’s commissioning and say , “Yes Lord. Here I am, send me. Not easy but we do know that everything is possible with God. Now we just have to believe it!!!

  • Jen Rice

    I finally finished this book and wow. It is so beautifully written! The whole time I felt that we were just sitting by a bonfire on the beach, having a conversation between friends. I didn’t want to leave!
    I laughed through the beginning of chapter 8, Reclaiming the Church Ladies!! I was standing next to you in my Docs and flannel, too. This is something that I still struggle with at my church, even as I have grown older (although I still feel like I am the young woman in Docs and flanne…). The group has remained the same, just grown a little older, rarely breaking from tradition. I am trying to pray through this time in my life, searching for that community, that place to fit. Being a “young” mom (even early 30s!) with young kids is a tough transition place for me. Apparently we are a rare bunch in the northwest.
    And this: “I had no frame of reference for Haiti. I still have no simile, no metaphor, but I saw God in Haiti – I did. He just didn’t look the same anymore.” I still tear up whenever I read this because it is so true! Haiti broke into my heart and I don’t think it is ever going to mend, and that is not a bad thing. It has changed who I am down to my very core. I loved reading everyone’s updates from your trip and longed to return. Someday!
    For now, it is time to figure out how to “pray with my feet” where I am, in this time. 🙂

  • clbeyer

    What is most endearing to me about Sarah in her call to feminism is that she is humble enough to accept her work, her art, her heart’s cry as just one essential voice in an ocean of many voices of Jesus-worshipers. The words she writes have a distinct and resonant truth, and they invite me to the word and soul of God, where we can measure her argument’s viability in the unarguable, unwavering love and truth of Jesus. And maybe once we’re there, we’ll agree with her even more: that there is no need for measuring or comparison after all. We are free and loved, and glorious in that light.

    I was deeply compelled by Sarah’s freedom song in “Reclaiming the Church Ladies,” which continued to resound, I think, through the “Moving Mountains,” “Intimate Insurgency,” and “Commissioning” chapters. A woman who is vulnerable to the work of God in her life, rooted in the love that Jesus has for her, is a courageous and free woman! My perceived threat of dissent by church leaders, my husband, or society really falls flat in the face of how Christ has freed me — from earthly titles, from my own self-doubt and shame, from bitterness and blame toward others, not to mention all the things FOR WHICH Christ has freed me. None of this would be true without a groundwork of love. Love cannot be bound! I love that central war-cry of Sarah’s book.

    Love cannot be bound, but it can submit. That stirring paradox Sarah brought out in the Gretchen Gaebelein Hull quote (pg. 186) really completes the gospel for me.

    In response to Jesus Feminist, I’m inspired to speak, to write, to anoint other women in their gifts. I’m already face-to-face with people in a church who have come up against these very discussions about women leading or speaking in churches. I think there is a ripeness here to shake off some forms in how we worship together, for those who choose this local community, but I wonder if many of my local sisters are still waiting for permission or affirmation. I plan to grab them them by the cheeks and invite them to believe that they are already affirmed, that they can hold onto hope that is surer than forms.

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  • Kate S.

    This week has been difficult and only a group of like minded women will understand. I’m in the middle of the book, so forgive me when I ask… How am I supposed to emotional overcome wounds by men who still want to keep the women in the church silent or only use them as their assistants while they go off and proudly stamp their name on the very thing that was yours? I’m in Los Angeles, involved in a young and vibrant faith community and thought I had moved away from such rigidness. A simple meeting about starting up a ministry with women mentoring women suddenly turned into “how we as women need to be trained to listen” and “we were only going to be allowed to be his eyes and ears.” Haven’t been hurt like this since ’94 when I was told by an elder that I couldn’t wear my favorite skort to church. I’m obviously considering a multitude of options for dealing with what happened but for my own heart…?
    Sarah, thank you for putting to words such hearts connections I’ve been making for over 10 years now. So very thankful that your friend, Laura Tremaine, led me to your words. peace.

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