Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Why I Gave my Daughter a Strong Name

Why I Gave My Daughter A Strong Name
by Julie Clawson

I gave my daughter a strong name. I wanted her identity to include a symbol of a woman who pursued what was right and followed her dreams even when it defied her society’s expectations for women. So my daughter carries the name Eowyn after the warrior princess from Lord of the Rings. Despite obstacles, Eowyn chose to make a difference for good. She feared her life becoming a cage until she grew old and became content with the fact that “all chance of doing great deeds [was] gone beyond recall or desire.” To have that choice, to be encouraged to make a difference, and to have that freedom to live fully no matter one’s gender is my dream for my daughter as she grows.

During my own childhood my heroes were women – Molly Pitcher, Susan B. Anthony, Sacajewea, Marie Curie. I devoured the series of biographies written for youth that I discovered at my school library, especially the ones about women. I read about women who were strong and fought to achieve their dreams of making the world a better place. And in school the message I received was one of encouragement. I could do whatever I wanted with my life. My options were endless – astronaut, writer, teacher, President, scientist – all were encouraged, all were possible. I was affirmed. I was given role models. I was in a healthy environment.

Then there was church.

Women did not seem to have many options in the world of faith. Never were women up front as leaders and teachers. The Bible stories I heard seemed to reduce women to only their bodies. They were praised for their beauty (Esther), blessed for their wombs (Mary), or cursed for their assumed sexual exploits (Mary Magdalene). The healthy encouragement and role models I saw in the public schools were never present in church. As a child this disconnect didn’t bother me, mainly because I kept church and “real” life strictly separate in my mind. It wasn’t until I began to examine my faith and make it my own that I began to hear the strains of dissonance.

One incident in particular forced me to examine those views of women. I went away to a Christian college and began attending a popular local church – one very similar to the church I grew up in, but even more restrictive of women. In that church, women couldn’t serve anywhere but the nursery (lest they sin by teaching 5-year old “men”); the pastor managed to weave the issue of women’s submission into his sermons on a weekly basis; and letters from people who questioned the pastor’s teaching were read aloud and ridiculed to the whole church. And I was okay with it. Well… truthfully, I hated it; but I made myself be okay with it because I had been taught that it was sinful to question the church.

Then, one Sunday when the college pastor was away, instead of a sermon, we had a time to openly share our testimonies. It was a refreshing and uplifting experience that particularly touched me. Unfortunately the college pastor didn’t agree. The next Sunday when he returned, he solemnly addressed the group and informed us that we had a serious problem. Because more women (7) than men (5) had shared during the testimony time, it meant that women were “leading” our group. And since that was obviously a position that God didn’t want them in – nor one that women themselves truly desired (according to our college pastor) – our group was in sin and needed to change.

That was my last Sunday at that church. I had been unwilling to question the church’s rhetoric against women, but in this instance I was appalled that the church would dare restrict the testimonies of God’s work in people’s lives. At the time, I saw the incident as having little to do with defining women’s roles and everything to do with quenching the Spirit and denying the power of God. If the story of God’s work in my life would be denied the right to be heard, then I finally realized that this was not a place that would allow me to be fully who God made me to be.

The choice to leave and find a new church seemed like a small step, but for me it was the turning point. I had left a church because I knew what they were doing was wrong; and that one choice changed everything. Perhaps that is why I had always been taught it was sinful to question or leave a church; because it does lead one to unexpected places. But from my perspective I had found a new freedom. Freedom to question, to think, to learn, to explore, to be myself as a follower of Christ, and to merge my talents with my faith. This was not a quick or painless process, but it was one that formed me as an individual and as a believer more than anything I had ever experienced before. I could finally dream, as a women and a Christian, of how I could serve God and be who I was created to be.

As I accept that I am free to follow God fully, my desire is for other women to discover what that same freedom looks like for them. I gave my daughter a strong name in hopes that her life will not be lived in a cage. I want her to experience a faith that encompasses all areas of her life and doesn’t offer conflicting messages about her worth as a woman. This is my dream for her and for all women in the church, and I will work to make that dream a reality. I will call for the voices of women to be heard alongside the voices of men. I will educate and encourage. I will help women learn, serve, and lead. I will help women be free to be who God made them to be.

Julie Clawson is a mother and an emerging church-planting pastor in the Chicago area. She enjoys being involved in Emerging Women activities, promoting social justice causes, and reading good books. She blogs at One Hand Clapping and she can be reached at

1 comment:

kate wallace said...

This is awesome! Thank you!

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