Life among the pagodas
When my daughter was born, the medical staff asked what name to write down. Without looking at one another, my husband and I both replied, “Magdalena.” We had another name in mind too, but as soon as we saw her face, we knew we wanted her to carry the story of a woman loved by God and chosen as the first to see his resurrected face. In a society where a woman’s testimony and personal worth had little value, it seems no mistake on God’s part that he chose a woman as a first witness to his resurrection. I get chills every time I read John’s account of Jesus speaking to Mary Magdalene, and I am moved to see God choosing a woman, in a Garden, and gently saying her name.
If there is anything that has been impressed upon me over my time studying the Bible over the past few years, it is that the message of the Gospel woven throughout the Bible is a message for women in a paternalistic world. This is not to say that I don’t believe the Gospel is for men—rather that as I read, I see God expressing great tenderness toward the people who are valued as “less than” by their societies. In much of the ancient world, as in today’s world, those “less than” individuals are often women.
I have to say, it isn’t easy for me to write this piece, because I know that a good chunk of my audience may poo-poo or scorn me for giving myself over to what they would call a social gospel. I grew up in a setting where talk of women’s rights or equality was rapidly dismissed as an affront to Christian and family values and Biblical gender roles. This is the sort of response with which I am familiar when it comes to things such as a day set aside to recognize and celebrate women. (Ironically, I imagine those same people probably wouldn’t cotton to the idea of abandoning Mother’s/Father’s Day.) International Women’s Day (IWD), in such circles, is labeled as having a dangerous feminist agenda that will cause the erosion of our society and moral values.
I believe this view is poorly informed. In much of the world, women are second class citizens, or, to use Biblical terminology, “the least of these.” If you disagree, it is probably because you don’t read very broadly, or you haven’t spent much time in impoverished areas. I would encourage conservatives who are off put by things like IWD to take a moment and consider re-categorizing this holiday (in some nations around the world, IWD is treated as a public holiday). See it as you would Memorial Day, or Remembrance Day; this day is a time to remember that women matter, and that many around the world still face great injustice and inequality. The kingdom of God is already, but there is still the “not yet.” It is appropriate to listen to others’ stories and to act on changing the things in the world that do not match the kingdom Christ has promised and is bringing. I urge you, at the very least, to take International Women’s Day as a yearly reminder to educate yourself on issues surrounding global poverty, and to pray for those who are most affected by it, the women, the men and the children.
If the word “equality” is frustrating to you, check out the article below on the term, “parity.”
“International Women’s Day belongs to no single organisation, initiative or political entity but is the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.” – Gloria Steinham
Since moving overseas, I am often grieved at the stories I hear, both from my neighbors and from farther-off places. I have been convicted of the importance of not turning away from these stories, but looking at them head on. And in so doing I have entered a world of “in-your-face” inequities, and it has created a wound in me that never quite heals up entirely. There are always new stories, new faces, new sorrows. I am pretty sure this wound won’t be fully healed until the world is made right again, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Until the day this world is set to rights, it is a good thing to take some time to dwell on what is happening to others around the globe, and to lament.
…for the women who have had to experience female genital mutilation.
..for the women who cannot own property, vote, carry ID cards or hold citizenship.
…for the girls who would love to learn to read, but have no opportunity. For those who risk their lives and endure the threats of terrorists in order to learn anyway.
…for the woman who dreads her husband coming home each day, and the psychological and physical battering she will bear. For the ones who run away and struggle to start a new life.
..for the Rohingya women of Myanmar, those who are often left alone or widowed in the camps while their husbands and brothers risk their lives to attempt escape.
…for the girl who thought she was coming to the city for a good job, and ended up enslaved at a garment factory. (At eight months pregnant and in debt to her employer, she finally was able to run away and started a new life.)
…for the women who leave their homes desperate for a job and find themselves working for a pimp. For the families left behind, wondering why they haven’t heard from their loved one. For the children who are sold by friends or family into sexual slavery. International Justice Mission’s Sex Trafficking Factsheet
…for the girl who was date raped, and bravely carried her baby to term anyway, despite the cruel judgments made by others.
…for the woman who sees her three-year-old daughter only 2-3 days a month, working full time to make ends meet after her husband left them.
…for the women who face the pain, social stigma, and lack of care in the face of pelvic organ prolapse and fistulas. For the women who have no access to contraceptives and life-saving maternal health care.
…for all the women I know who gave birth, whose dead or dying babies were taken away before they could see or hold them, who were never told what went wrong or given a moment to say goodbye. For all who suffer harsh and unjust treatment at the hands of medical staff.
I often struggle with the matter of God’s sovereignty in the face of injustice and human suffering. I find comfort in the stories of God’s kindness to the women in the Bible, (nearly all of whom were viewed by their cultures as second class citizens). Here are a few:
Healing an “unclean” woman’s bleeding and praising her faith. (Luke 8)
Rescuing a condemned woman from stoning. (John 8)
Testing and then granting the request of a Canaanite woman, praising her for great faith, only one other time in the gospels, with the Roman centurion, does he give this sort of praise. (Matthew 15)
Including cultural outsiders such as Tamar, Ruth, and Rahab in the line of Christ, and making specific mention of them in the genealogy of Christ. (Matthew 1)
First appearing to Mary Magdalene in the garden (John 20:11-18/Mark 16:9-11)
Hagar: “Surely you are the God who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13-14)
Leah: “He saw that she was hated, and he opened her womb.” (Genesis 29:31)
Hannah: “God is a God who knows.” (I Samuel 2:3)
I don’t understand how God can bear the heartbreaking, detestable evil that plagues the world, but I trust his promises and I am comforted by the Bible’s continuous reminders of his kind character. For those who have been so terribly crushed and stricken, who feel brokenness and loss beyond repair, I cling to the hope that one day, those people will know all of these bad things “coming untrue,” by the gentle hand of a God with whom nothing–nothing at all–is impossible.
Until that day, let us remember and take comfort:
… our God is angry daily at injustice (Ps. 7:11),
… he sees the downtrodden and speaks to the outcast (Gen. 16:13),
… and he is making all things new (Rev. 21:5).
This International Women’s Day, let us be reminded to be his image bearers: in holy anger, compassion, and pursuing renewal of all God has made, most especially the people who bear his image.
A Brief History of International Women’s Day (did you know in its early days, IWD was a form of protest against WWI?)
World Relief: Thank God for Women (stories and photos)