Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Episode 30: On Holy Fierceness

Last year in one of my courses, an intelligent, dynamic young female student began her statement with the following: "well, I don't know if this is right but...".  I immediately stopped her and asked her just why she felt the need to preface her (intelligent, right on target) comment with words of self-doubt. (Don't worry, I asked the question gently--she wasn't embarrassed). And then, as a class, we spent the rest of the hour in what may have been the most important subject matter we covered all semester: why have women been taught to diminish themselves? Why are they often encouraged to step away from holy, confident, bold, fierceness?

"I might be off target here but...."


"This might sound crazy but...."



"Maybe I'm wrong but...."


Later one of my students asked me why I had stopped our conversation about feminist theology mid-sentence to focus on "mere" conversation patterns and my answer was two-fold.

The first, most obvious answer: feminist theology seemed like the perfect time to have a meaningful conversation about the ways women have been taught to dismiss themselves before they even begin to offer their thoughts.

The second answer, the one closest to my heart and my journey: well, her name is Rev. Dr. Alice Hunt.

Dr. Hunt was the Academic Dean during my time at Vanderbilt. She's now the President of Chicago Theological Seminary in Chicago.  Once, while waiting to board a plane and head to Mexico for an immersion course, I stepped aside and let several folks (who had been quite rude and aggressive toward our class) step in front of me because I could sense that they wanted to. Alice leaned over and simply asked me a question: Why. 

"Jamie, why did you let them step in front of you? You have every right to be in line and get on that plane."

Months later, in a conversation with classmates, Alice stopped me mid-sentence, right after I had said something along the lines of "well, this might not be right but..." and with the same firm voice, asked me again: why. 

"Jamie, why do you dismiss yourself? You are smart; you are intelligent; you should speak." 

This past semester, as I heard this fiercely intelligent young student of mine begin her own self-deprecating remarks, "I don't know if this is right but..." I felt the question, perhaps the most important question,  rise to my lips, why....why diminish yourself? 


Why say anything other than words that proclaim your strength, your competence, your worthiness in these theological discussions? 
Why? 

In that moment, I found myself giving thanks for the women who have taught me and for the holy fierceness they model--in their teaching, their preaching, their living. There are so many of them after all, so very many.

Alice. Viki. Terri. Ellen. Melissa. Janetta. Helen. and the list could go on ad infinitum.

Here's to holy fierceness y'all.
Holy fierceness that often walks in the room rooted firmly in both gorgeous heals and prophetic boldness.