That time I got jealous of the “other” women’s ministry

I haven’t written a blog post for a long time. It’s partly because I had a lot going on. I started up a ministry, and so much of my written output was dedicated to it. I also began a non-profit, and once again, writing and editing and blog writing time was prioritized to that space. I finished my degree and have now started a PhD, the beginning of which made me feel so dense and ignorant of the world; and made me doubt my writing ability to such a degree that I simply no longer wanted to write. In fact, today’s blog topic is something that has been circling my head for a while but I just didn’t feel like I could express myself adequately. Additionally, It is something I am still currently coming to terms with, and wondered if it would not have been better for me to write about it after coming out of the fire, so to speak.

But I’m going to be honest: I’ve been suffering from spiritual jealousy for a few months. Usually, when Christians are jealous or envious of another Christian it’s normally because of a testimony: as in, church folk love to sensationalise life stories, and so people who weren’t gang leaders, bank robbers, queen of the prostitutes or world-wide drug smugglers still on the FBI Most Wanted List feel that their ordinary-joe, born-and-raised-in-the-church stories are not needed as sharing material. However, the jealousy I’ve been suffering from is more subtle, and also more harmful, because at its core is selfishness.

As I said in the opening, I started a ministry: Esther Magazine, in September 2014. It was actually a desire of mine to combine my passion for women’s rights/feminism and writing, since 2011, but chronic procrastination, team restructures, personal discouragement and mild suspicion from other church people delayed the process. We launched humbly, went viral in March 2015, and have since  enjoyed a supportive WordPress and social media following. It’s the support–or lack thereof–from church members that has blighted this success. I’ll stress again the selfishness of my position, because it is important for me to bear this in mind as I explain: the attitude we’ve received from church folk has been subtly negative: I have received no poison pen letters or Facebook private messages denouncing the magazine, on the contrary; I have had messages from people saying that they are encouraged by what I am doing for God. However, there is a pattern I’ve noticed via social media that has made me realise that we are mainly supported in private, but people in general are not wholly accepting of our method.

The Adventist Church has understandably been socialised by a spirit of suspicion. In the aftermath of Waco, anyone who decides to establish a self-supporting ministry are interrogated: “why don’t you want to do a ministry within your church?” “why do you have to be independent?” “why not get clearing from the church board first and let everyone get involved?” This is testament of a people who have had their lives ripped apart by fringe groups and independents, but also speaks volumes of the administrative and bureaucratic  nature of church these days: people no longer believe you can do anything for God without first going through official church protocol, which is sad and puts God in a box. Coupled with our “feminist” slant, it’s unsurprising if people don’t trust us. I can only draw conclusions to how I feel when I compare Esther’s social media response to other women’s ministries, of which there are many. They all serve different purposes and are geared towards different needs, however.

A few months before Esther went live, another women’s ministry also set up by young women was launched. It’s a great one, and they use Wordpress too. Often, I have seen church men—my friends both on and off Facebook—re-post the articles from this ministry and comment enthusiastically. We at Esther re-post our own things constantly, but the same men appear not to notice. When I see that one of the articles on Esther has been re-posted, I know that one of my personal friends have done so. Esther was launched to raise awareness of women’s rights issues and begin a dialogue with men and women in our churches to engage with issues that are often side-lined but reinforced within church culture. So far, this engagement has been minimal at best and non-existent at worst. Particular people who I have hoped would read the material don’t, or they don’t show it publicly if they do.  One of these men, who I know holds some extremely problematic views of women, has told me that he read an article and was touched by it, but he never shared it. The people who don’t engage with the Esther articles will share the material from the other ministry. I feel as though people agree with some of our output, but they are apprehensive to be seen showing support. You see what I mean when I said my feelings were entirely selfish? I really am displaying the worst symptoms of social media illnesses: basing my worth and my talents off of shares and likes

Obviously, some mention of what makes a respectable woman is necessary here. There is a social script that a woman is supposed to perform in church, and banging on about women’s rights goes against it. The only thing, though, is that the jealousy I have felt has made me direct my negative energies towards the other ministry in question. They produce great articles and do great things, but for a while I told myself I would no longer look at their site. I did not want to read their articles. I didn’t even want to like their Page. Suddenly, I had made our ministries into rivals, battling it out for male support. How silly  is that? Not wanting to make men into the enemy, but a lot of the time women are made to feel validated, their actions justified, by the male support and favour they receive. The angry churn I get in the pit of stomach is never directed towards the women on my Facebook ; it only makes itself known whenever I see a church brother share the articles from the other ministry; when I see the words of support the other ministry appears to be over-ladled with. I read a blog written by a friend in which she quoted Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s  comments on women and competition. I think it’s relevant to this, so I’ll quote it too:

We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men.

I wonder if I have been a victim of this practice? Of course, how I feel is very self-centered, but church men will heap a lot of praise on the women they feel are adhering to the feminine role they are supposed to play. It seems as if a woman who talks too much is dangerous.

I don’t think I describe an isolated experience. There may be many people who have gone into ministries and wondered why they are never part of the popular number; or why people don’t seem as overjoyed by what they are doing in comparison to someone else. The important thing to remember is that we are all in the same boat; we’re playing for the same team. If we all fully understood that we have an individual task, which is to share the Good News, let people know that they have a Saviour who loves them and his coming again, there would be no time or need for rivalry. Church folk wouldn’t make celebrities out of singers and preachers; they wouldn’t engage in church politics with individuals because they “speak too much truth” or whatever else is annoying them for that season. They would concentrate on their relationships with Christ.

Through writing this, I feel I have begun a healing process, to see this other ministry as what it is: a ministry that is drawing others to Christ. Ministries are not there for support and approval, otherwise they would just be side-projects and businesses. Those of us in ministry should always bear in mind that we are doing spiritual work, to serve others and spread the gospel. I am so grateful for all God has done for me in my personal life and in Esther—even allowing me to engage with others from different denominations and religions. Last month we had a Back to Basics theme and it really improved my personal study, devotional and prayer life. I’ve never felt closer to God than when I began Esther.

It’s time to stop focusing on me, me, me and start looking at God’s children out there in the world that are hurting and need to hear a positive message. It’s time to stop seeing myself as others see me (unless it is for positive growth), and start being confident in the person God is making me to be.

Advertisements

Nothing else to be but You

Quietness has always been ‘me’. Always contemplative, I was never the person who owned the room and most of the time I hated being in new environments where  I would be forced to make friends, or where I was expected to be bubbly just for the sake of it. I’m not a showgirl by any means, but it was never something that really bothered me.

In year Eight I got into trouble with some of the girls at my school and fell into months of bullying, teasing and basically just a period of people taking advantage of my quietness. Because obviously, “quiet” means “pushover”; it also means “innocent”, “kind” and “peaceful”. It’s strange how often people make such bold statements about a person who hardly speaks and hasn’t had a chance to tell others who they are for themselves (how many times have I subsequently been accused of hiding my true self, when in fact I never told anyone that I was innocent and angelic–people chose to see me as such because I only talk when I have to). During that time I withdrew into myself a lot, and the one person I truly called a friend spent her time drilling into me, moaning every lunch time that I just kept quiet all the time. “Haven’t you got anything to say?” she would say, “why aren’t you talking?” It was months of variants of this dialogue that has today made me so paranoid whenever I’m with someone else and no one has spoken for a while. For some reason, regardless of whether we’re both silent, I’ll be singled out as the one that didn’t speak, making me a bore to be around.

I remember last year when I went to ARME camp. The friend who I went along with is very outgoing and makes friends very easily. I’ve always been comfortable being by myself; to think with myself and just observe others, but several times during our weekend together I felt as though I was dragging her back–and felt increasingly uncomfortable. To be honest, a lot of the time when I’m with a louder, more extrovert friend, I feel this way. I just assume that they feel they have to look after me…

So this year, I prayed for confidence and to be more outspoken. Basically, I asked God to turn me into someone else.

We quiet, shy people at church are always told that God will give us more boldness in the future; that we obviously don’t believe in the Word, or in God’s power, even, because we’re nervous to speak in front of others, or sing solos, or perform in any way–they tell us that they used to be like us before they let God lead in their lives—all of that nonsense. So they’re kind of saying that being quiet is sinful. It’s one thing to be scared to proclaim the gospel and to be ashamed of God, and it’s a completely different thing to just enjoy being quiet and meditative. Why would God want us all to be the same? One size cannot fit all.

It was only this week that I realised the only reason why I had prayed for boldness was because of other people’s problems. Other people favour loud extroverts, other people made assumptions about me; other people like to talk first and think later. The reason for my lack of confidence and low self-esteem was because I didn’t fit into a mould favoured by the mainstream, not because I had done something to bring myself down.

So, yesterday I prayed for self confidence. To be sure of my self. So that I would love myself, be happy with the person I’m becoming. I prayed that I wouldn’t let the negativity of others drive me to become someone else ever again. Sometimes we get too excited over the Elijah figures and the ferocious Peters, and brush over the thoughtfulness of our Moses’; people with the calmness of Daniel and our humble Esthers.  This is probably the reason why some preachers who say nothing of any weight and mar certain Biblical truths get the ‘Amens’ and appreciation they crave–because they shout and jump up and down. The ones who speak conversationally, presenting their message with calm rationality, are met with weariness.

I think it took me far too long to notice my qualities. I hope ignorance like that never drives me to pray in such a dangerous way again.

Two Things I need to Pray For…

Assertiveness and Confidence.

I find the two go hand in hand but my lack of both have hindered me on several occasions. I’ve allowed people to trample on me until I’m nothing but a pathetic sack of nerves. I don’t continue arguments—and I mean genuine arguments, not little spars with my friends—because I just can’t be bothered to fight my corner and when I see someone doing something that I disagree with it’s likely I won’t say anything. There’s been times when some of my friends have been spoken badly about to me, as in, someone just wants to start bitching about someone else, and I don’t say anything. It’s only fairly recently that I’ve started to say “I don’t agree with that…” or “well that person’s my friend so I haven’t seen that side of them before…” and such things. This is because I’ve realised that by staying quiet I’m just as guilty. Guilty by association.

I lack confidence with many things. With my singing ability, my writing, with talking to others and speaking in public. Giving testimonies in church is something I don’t do often because the image of tens of eyes staring at me makes my heart flutter. There’s so many things I want to do, that I wish I could do, but can’t. I hate being in the spotlight.

Sometimes I look back on my Dark Ol’ Goth days and wonder if the music I listened to and the way I dressed was a coping mechanism. It was a way for me to be outrageous, to be interesting and a talking point of sorts. People at school called me weird, people at church thought I was a lost cause. It was a lonely time but for once I felt like I had a thing, something about me that I could say was different.

There you go. Another confession.

Dressing like that is the most confident thing I’ve done: not many Black people around my way would do it. Social pressures would contribute to that: South London is saturated with African/Caribbean culture and the expectations placed on the Black diaspora is immense. Now that I’m converted I wonder if I still have the confidence to dress in such a way and if I don’t, then what’s happened? Shouldn’t it go the other way around? One pastor said that God can turn you from being shy and reserved to bold in Christ. Why aren’t I bold yet?

I would have put this on the prayer request list on Facebook but I don’t want to tell those people. I’m not friends with all of them. So I’ve decided to go even more public with it and put it on this blog instead. *ironic chuckle*

xXx

Street Witnessing

Today I went street witnessing. There is series of flats on Wood Vale, Forest Hill, which makes a good start for doing that sort of thing. It’s close by to me, so it didn’t take long to go. I went with a group of people from my church: three of us youths, two adults (including my dad) and two little ‘uns.

I used to go door-knocking often with my dad back in the day. I hated it. I never knew what to say, and used to just stand there while he did all the work. I know the ice breakers that he’d use when greeting people off by heart: if he had a tract about the Health Message then he’d introduce himself as a quasi-nutritionist; if it was a book about happiness and well-being then he’d ask about their stress levels and overall mental health. At Christmas he’d start off by asking if they’d had a good Christmas, and if they believed in Christ.

We used the latter one today and I interacted with people for the first time. I mean, I actually spoke to strangers and smiled and everything. It wasn’t scary and I didn’t feel stupid; people were fairly receptive to the Word and even if they didn’t believe, they were still polite and accepted our materials. In this case we gave them Steps to Christ by E. G. White. The whole ‘Christmas’ ice-breaker worked wonders.

We’re planning to make a habit of this; try and go every month—or more, depending on our schedules.I’m actually looking forward to it. This certainly was a milestone in my ‘witnessing’ walk, if anything. So I suppose one of the positives a Christian can take from this more-or-less Pagan holiday, is the opportunity to witness for God. People are more friendly during this time.

‘Tis the season, and all that…

xXx