Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fishers of Minnows, Fishers of (Wo)men

Fishers of Minnows, Fishers of (Wo)men
by Erin Wilson

Ankle-deep, I learned that if I could be still, the tiny fish that lived in the warm lake shallows would come close, and swim around my summer-browned skin. After a time, the gentle waves would cover my feet with sand, and I would slowly lower my young body, folding legs and lowering arms until hovering just above the water. Minnows would gather in the small shadow made by the sun, high over-head. Slowly my small hand would move through the water, my fingers gathering bits of sea weed and tiny brown minnows.

From farther down the shore would come sounds from children introducing themselves to minnows in other ways. Small groups would splash and kick in the water, attempting to heard small schools. Some scooped with nets, or large plastic sand sifters. And each would shout with disappointment when the slick brown minnows swam between their legs and out into deeper water.

Of course, these other children were too busy to comment on my methods. Bent low into the water, feeling small minnow bodies slip past my legs, this suited me just fine.


The earliest Church was made up of women and men, ministering out of home churches and temple courts, living the Gospel and learning what it meant to be fishers of men. It didn’t take long though, until some began prescribing the shape of Church. They chose who could minister (themselves), and who could not (everyone else). More specifically, they decided that a handful of men could minister, and everyone else (including women) could not. Along the way, they also continued to define, for themselves and anyone within their realm of influence, the role of gender. They protected the role of school herder and of net wielder for themselves alone. They carefully drew lines around what men could do, and what women could not, building castles out of sand.

The foundational problem with their building scheme has been their inspiration. The role of gender/character in many corners of the Church has had much more in common with society’s norms than the upside-down Kingdom ushered in by Christ.

"God blesses those who realize their need for him,

for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them.

God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

God blesses those who are gentle and lowly, for the whole earth will belong to them.

God blesses those who are hungry and thirsty for justice, for they will receive it in full.

God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God.

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.

God blesses those who are persecuted because they live for God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.” (from Matthew 5)

While men set about to become who they desired to be as “men”, they failed to realize that they were making it increasingly difficult to become like Christ. Needy, able to mourn, gentle, lowly, merciful, pure in heart, makers of peace… these aren’t qualities that most men within the Church have been clamouring to become. Instead, they have been busy shaping these qualities into a palatable form, determining the shape of strength and leadership.

In the meantime, women have ministered. It hasn’t always happened publicly, but countless women have not waited for the approval of men or for titles. We have, instead, looked to our Lord for direction. For women, there are no societal pressures or pressures within the Church to not seek these qualities. While others were busy making kingdoms, we had the freedom to quietly pursue Kingdom. In doing so, countless women have become leaders and mentors and ministers, and blessed by God.

What does this brand of minister look like? It sometimes looks like my new friend C. She moved with her husband and children into the heart of the downtown east side of Vancouver: the poorest postal code in North America, and now co-leads their church community. C’s new neighbours are ten thousand addicts, homeless people and survival sex-trade workers. C. and those in her church community live in solidarity with the marginalized, living in the same tiny rooms in rundown hotels, sharing a toilet and shower with more than a dozen strangers. When I spent an evening with C., we knocked on doors in more rundown hotels and checked in on her friends who lived there. We spent quite a lot of time with F. He was high, and sad, and both surprised and moved to find us standing at his door with a potted flower. We talked with him in the hallway, listened to his story, and prayed over his life, his hurts, and all those hooks that have kept him down. When we finished praying, he looked at C. and said “You look just like Jesus”. Despite his current circumstances, he didn’t miss recognizing Jesus when he saw Him.

C. dreams of having cell groups on every floor of every rundown hotel in the downtown east side. She loves in beautifully radical ways. She loves in ways that are completely fitting for an upside-down Kingdom. She extends love to every sort of marginalized person imaginable and is a fisher of men operating out of the power of gentleness. C. demonstrates so well that there is nothing weak in meekness.

I have to confess that I grew up in a denomination which has ordained women for generations. When I approach the topic of Faith in a Dress, I can’t help thinking of those net-wielding kids at the beach. While some make great noise at building kingdoms, they have been to busy to notice others finding Kingdom in stillness.

Erin Wilson designs museum exhibits, restores old building, sews handbags from vintage fabric, blogs, talks to strangers, and can usually be found in the midst of story. Her recent trip to the downtown east side of Vancouver had such an impact, she's packing up and moving to a neighbourhood that has forgotten what radical love looks like. She blogs at Biscotti Brain.


Lorna (see through faith) said...

making noise at building kingdoms. Ouch.

~m2~ said...

We spent quite a lot of time with F. He was high, and sad, and both surprised and moved to find us standing at his door with a potted flower.

you took me there, this brought tears to my eyes. i love the way you write, erin. you are showing me the Kingdom of God on earth.

(my word verification is yoyme as in Yo, why me? God has His way of getting through to me, even through annoying internet tools...)

wilsonian said...

Ouch for me too, Lorna.

Penni... thank you. I don't think I'll ever forget F. Thank you for sharing it with me.

Kel said...

six degrees of separation

here i am seeking solace and inspiration from others on the journey and i come across this excellent article of yours

erin, you are an amazing woman
i am so grateful that our virtual paths have crossed

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