Australian beaches are renowned for their deadly rips. From an early age you are taught to swim between the flags to avoid getting into trouble. It is a part of our collective memory and consciousness as a country – ‘swim between the flags’, ‘never try to swim against a rip’, ‘stay calm if you get caught’. It is hard to spot a rip, they are hidden, running deep and fast under the surface.
For most of my life, by some Great Orchestrating Hand, I have found myself surrounded by people who’s understanding of women has reflected the impartiality of God’s grace. Churches that honour the gifting planted, birthed and nurtured in and by both men and women have been my home.
I have swum between the flags.
As an eager and naive 19 year old I set off to fulfil my ‘calling’ to study theology. I was determined to make my mark and to become a diligent student. I was little prepared for the rip tides I would get caught in.
Because of my gender here were those who believed that I was sinning by committing my life to studying the word of God, men who told me I was going to hell for assuming to teach and I was told that I was dishonouring God for having my ears pierced.
I wish I was joking.
This was not a conservative college, not by any measure.
It was a gathering of people who were all attempting to understand God and his words more. But for some their starting place, and eventually their conclusions, were so vastly different to mine. Some had found their home deep in the words of the Old Testament, others in their deeply rooted church traditions.
There were times when it felt like unsafe water to be swimming in.
But home was always between the flags amongst God’s people who knew that God’s Kingdom was wide and generous. They would call me back into the safe place of truth and speak words of life over me. Men and women who were certain of their standing before God and who whispered to me to lift my eyes and my head, who told me to hold my head straight and keep my heart true. I have been one of the ‘lucky’ ones. Despite the rip tides that attempted to drag me under and suffocate truth, there have always been people to guide me back to safe waters.
In many ways I have not had to do the hard work of working out a theology of gender. God’s people have worked it out for me, in front of me, guiding my and gently showing me the way. By their words and their simple declaration that ‘everyone gets to play’ they have taught me that God’s grace has no prejudice and that God’s justice is extended to me, as it is to all the men and women who have doubted my ability, motive and heart.
I am grateful that I have ‘swum between the flags’ for the most part. And I am grateful for the men and women in my life who have guided me through dangerous seas.
God’s Kingdom is wide and generous. And we all get to play.