by Ralen M. Robinson

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” -Galatians 3:28

The words begin to flow, but before my tongue can caress the vowel and my mouth shape the word, I am spoken over from a baritone voice. I extend my hand to introduce myself, but my name is honey, sweetheart, and kiddo. My female form receives assaults because its durability surely can’t withstand the jabs of being abrasive, difficult, being both motherly but not too much, all while simultaneously searching for my voice that has been hushed and contorted. And yet my posture is upright, and my feet are planted in mother earth because I stand. I stand because every woman and girl has been told their voice is too big, their presence is too much, and their ambitions are not quite right. I stand because we are in 2023 and the same misogynistic, and fragile masculinity hovers over us like a looming cycle surely to reveal itself in the most inopportune time.

The first time I was told my gender was inferior was sitting in the pew and the veteran male Pastor referred to women as helpmates. While I didn’t know the meaning at the time, I did know it felt uncomfortable in my mouth like a foreign language, there was no connection- it wasn’t palpable. The biblical women were deemed as helpmates and that label stayed with me.

Helpmates are secondary, passive, weak, and faceless. And yet what I know of the female presence in the Bible doesn’t add up. They are anything but inferior, interchangeable, inconsequential, and irrelevant. So, as I read the sacred scripture for myself, I saw them as fierce providers, devout, tenacious, and resilient. These two juxtapositions caused me to walk a fine line between being powerful and powerless not wanting to tilt over to one side.

How many of us have had to toe the line subconsciously or consciously because the misrepresentation and pre-conceived ideals caused us to teeter between being enough and not too much?

That is how I navigated through my religious and secular worlds- a marionette to societal standards, patriarchal pressures, and learned behavior steeped in decades of being silenced. As time went on and I became comfortable in my female form, booming voice, curly coils, and melanin hue, I found those arbitrary lines could not contain our powerfulness.

Elizabeth and Ruth

Look at the faithfulness and determination of Elizabeth who dreamed, prophesized, and prayed for a child only to be with one in her old age. Her willingness never broke, and her faith did not deter but she lived in God’s promise until it was fulfilled. Look at Ruth’s loyalty and devotion when she boldly stood in a foreign land after experiencing great loss and trauma. Ruth stood up and said with her entire being in the biblical book of Ruth, “Where you go, I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” Those words echoed through the sacred scripture of divine faithfulness because despite her lack of autonomy because she had no husband, she did not let it define her.

These powerful women jump off the sacred text because they lay out the blueprint for us. Look around at the powerful women in your life who didn’t just endure but paved a way. Who stood on the precipices of time and said, “No thank you”? Who used their voice to command change and create a way for us?

Here I stand, my journey hasn’t been easy.

I stand as a Black woman pastor in the ELCA. Although my journey hasn’t been easy, it’s been full of naming, claiming, and owning my space as I find and establish my identity. Lutheran pastors are more than White males with families– but anyone with a fire, desire and call to proclaim the Word. The church is a beautiful tapestry made of different hues, sizes and shapes. There is a need for a plethora of voices because the sacred text had Marriam, the first woman Prophetess, Queen Esther, the liberator, and Phoebe a deaconess. The church needs you to proclaim, to lead, nurture, and to embrace change.

You are vital.

We stand hand in hand and there is power in comradery and support. For we are never alone because there is always a woman paving the way and propping us up when we feel as though we are not worthy or needed.

You are perfectly imperfect, so don’t have anyone tell you you’re not. You are beautiful, resilient, graceful, and heard.

The lipstick is applied; My curls bounce just right; My heels echo off the floor creating a click-clack orchestra, paving the way to the pulpit. I breathe in deeply and then my words flow out in a litany of praise. I am woman, hear me roar.

Closing prayer

Gracious Lord, you raised up Deborah, Mary, Elizabeth, and Ruth to be truth tellers, to lead, and to proclaim. Allow us to be reminded that we are called to declare your might and power through our actions and voices. Raise us up to be beacons of hope to the hopeless, comfort to the afflicted, and be daring and brave. We pray for all you have done and will do. Thank you for allowing us to stand with the orchestra of women of the Bible. Amen.

Discussion questions

  1. What are you naming for yourself this year?
  2. How are you standing in your womanhood? And how are you uplifting other women around you?
  3. Where do you see God moving and guiding you?

 

Ralen M. Robinson is associate pastor of Reformation Lutheran Church, Wichita, Ks.