You see, I’m a mutt. My brothers and I descend from six different countries of origin and that’s only what we know of our heritage, because there’s some mystery meat in there too. So even when I traveled to Germany (one of my “homelands”) I didn’t feel any particular connection to it the way I might have if I were, say 75% German. We’re not a majority anything, and certainly, there was no veneration of any particular ethnic heritage in our family. No traditional ethnic dish that we made on special occasions, no talk of the homeland, no words or phrases from other tongues passed down with the exception of the Dutch “jakabala.” However, when I brought this word up to an actual Dutch person recently he had never heard of it, and I can’t find it online. It appears that what my family called “jakabala” (and I’m only guessing at the spelling), Wikipedia lists as “broodpap.” It’s a dish of old bread, milk, and sugar that I have never eaten because, while my grandmother sometimes made it for my dad, the practice didn’t make it to the next generation.
My family cares not a jot about their ancestry. I usually think that’s a good thing since no one has any control over who they’re born to. A couple times in Australia when people learned I was American, they excitedly said “good for you.” I always wanted to say, “You know I didn’t have anything to do with it, right? It’s not like I was a bodiless soul floating around in heaven and said I think I’ll be born to an American.” Besides, super pride in ethnic heritage always makes me think of Nazis, or on a less extreme level when someone, for example, wears a 100% Irish T-shirt, I want to say “hey, at least my people got the memo about hemophilia.” (That’s an inbreeding joke if you didn’t get it.) But on occasions like my trip to Ukraine, or when I date someone who can trace their ancestry back to a castle in Scotland, I do feel I may be missing out on something. However, while I have no strong ties to any ethnic background, that doesn’t mean I don’t have any heritage from which to draw pride and inspiration; mine’s just a little different.
My family has a lot of pastors. My great-grandmother, Olive Haller, was the first pastor of the North Bradley Church of God way back in 1915. She and my great-aunt, Retha, served as pastors there again in the 1940s. I take great pride in the fact that the Church of God has always allowed female pastors from its inception in 1881, four decades before our country allowed women to vote. Unlike some religious movements in this country, the Church of God’s decisions on things like women in the ministry was Spirit led, not politically motivated. It was another pastor in my family, my second cousin, Sam Dunbar, who delineated to me exactly the theological thinking that led our forebears to the conclusion that women can lead in the church. I had asked him for some specifics because by that time I had run into some folks at college who really liked to subjugate women by misusing that “I don’t allow a woman to speak” verse. If you’re interested in some of my thoughts on the matter, you can check out a letter I wrote for a newspaper here: http://www.cm-life.com/2006/01/09/sexisminpriesthoodnotpartofchristsplan/
But this post is about my heritage. Sam was the senior pastor of my church when he asked me to serve as youth pastor. At that time in my life I had no interest in kids and no interest in teaching, but I said yes because I’d been raised to be active and helpful in church. Over time I discovered I did like teaching and I liked older kids. (I still wouldn’t want to teach ankle biters.) Furthermore, Sam asked me to sometimes preach on Sunday mornings, sometimes filling in for him when he’d be gone, but other times when he was there so he could hear me. I loved preaching and discovered I had a gift for it, something Sam must have picked up on long before I did. Sadly, he passed away just a few days before I left for Turkmenistan. I will always be grateful for his influence in my life, and for the fact that he left a good job on the west coast to move back to his dinky hometown. If he hadn’t, I never would have met his daughter, Jenny, who is also a pastor/missionary. She’s one of my best friends now and the only friend I can really talk to about theology.
However, Sam came to town when I was in college, and I hadn’t been told of my female pastor ancestors until he came along. Much before his influence in my life was the influence of my parents. My dad is also a pastor, though it wasn’t his profession. He preached as a side job, filling in the pulpit for pastors who were on vacation or serving as an interim for churches that were between pastors. My parents are what some people would call super-religious, though I would say they just take Jesus seriously. We went to church every Sunday morning, every Sunday night, and every Wednesday night. This was back when churches had that many services. Still, going to church doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Lots of parents drop their kids off for Sunday school to teach them good morals like “don’t lie” but then on Monday, tell their kid “say I’m not here” when they answer the phone. My parents aren’t like that. They’re also not the type who banned Halloween or burned Harry Potter books or worried about Satanic messages hidden in rock music. They are, what I would call, intellectual Christians.
Most important for me, besides leading me to salvation, is their influence in my self-identity as a female. So many churches and Christians get the gender thing wrong, it’s important to applaud those who get it right. My parents raised me to be strong and independent, and long before Sam moved to town, this conversation took place:
Me (at about 11 years old): I wouldn’t want to marry a pastor.
Mom: What if you become a pastor?
I had expected them to ask why, the answer being essentially that pastors are overworked and underpaid and are too often called away from their families to address the needs of congregants. But my mom’s question threw me for a loop. It’s not that it made me consider becoming a pastor (by then I believe I had made up my mind to be a spy for the CIA). But looking back I see how wonderful it was (and how it must have influenced me) to have parents that wouldn’t think twice about their daughter entering the ministry. It was a non-issue.
I’m not a feminist because of people like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. I’m a feminist because my ancestors followed Jesus. That’s a heritage I can take pride in.