By Julie Garber
This book I held in my hand was definitely a sign I had fallen over the cliff of heresy.
UnTamed, by Glennon Doyle, was next on my reading list. I’d heard just a snippet of her speaking (I don’t even remember where), and thought, “I MUST read this book.” I knew nothing about her, but could tell just by the cover that this book was going to be dangerous.
I was right.
The book is written bravely by a woman who dared to look at her life and ask where the beauty was. The book begins with short snippets… recollections, realizations, defining life moments… that illustrate the “taming”, the internalizing of what society says we should be. Then she unravels those areas in which we’ve been tamed, expertly weaving in her story of discovering her cage, unlocking the door, and finding more authentic life and love with the love of her life, Abby.
Chapter two is titled, “Apples.” In it, Glennon recounts an encounter with Eve in the 5th grade class at church. She is excited, inquisitive, and asking great questions… much to the frustration of the teacher. Glennon is expertly silenced when the teacher finishes the story by defining Eve’s original sin as “wanting to know more than we are supposed to know, wanting more instead of being grateful for what we have, and doing what we want instead of what we should do.”
At this point, I put down the book. That sentence triggered me. Big time. I picked up my Bible. As I read over the familiar second and third chapters of Genesis, I realized how very much of that same silencing I had experienced.
I’ve always asked questions.
At five it was, “Mommy? What’s a soul?” That turned out to be an easy question. They got tougher as I grew up in conservative, rural, white evangelicalism.
“Why didn’t Adam say anything to stop Eve when she was just looking at the tree?”
“Is Eve’s original sin greed, or pride, or disobedience… or is it wanting to know too much, because she’s a woman?”
“How did Martha feel when Jesus scolded her in front of her friends? Did Mary ever get up to help?
In high school, they got even tougher.
“Why does my value to God seem to hinge so very singularly on my sexual purity?”
“If Jesus ate with sinners, why are Christian youth counseled to avoid sinners at all costs?”
“Why are lock-ins at church appropriate, but parent-supervised co-ed overnight Lord of the Rings marathons aren’t?”
“If the Christians in church really do love each other so very much, why did Kara have to go to her aunt’s for 6 months? Shouldn’t the church pay for her medical expenses and the adoption, if that’s what she wants, or pull together to help her with the baby? Good grief, this isn’t 1947!”
“Why are we (parents and teachers and a couple of close friends) talking about Bethany’s eating disorder, but no one is talking about her father’s driving perfectionism that’s pressuring every area of her life? Why is she doing all the work of recovery, and he doesn’t have to address his behavior?”
“Why do women have to submit to men? Can’t we submit to God directly? Isn’t that the whole point of the gospel… there are no Jews or Greeks, male or female, but one in Christ?”
I was constantly imagining things from the “other” perspective. I loved thinking about how the Pharisees must have felt about Jesus, and drawing connections to how our church might respond to him today. I wondered if Noah’s wife had faith, or if she went along with him because she had no choice. I wondered if the Jews and the Muslims could rediscover their kinship, how the world would change. I wondered why our church was happy to pray and give money, but never be caught dead having a meal with a sinner… or a Democrat.
The response to my questions was always the same.
The Bible is not the place to use your imagination. We are given what it says; stop wondering about what it doesn’t say. Wanting to know more than you’re supposed to is prideful. Because that’s how God did it, that’s why!
It’s a wonder I didn’t walk away from church long ago. But here I am, 20 years later, wondering the same questions. Raising my kids to ask big questions. Trying to answer them with curiosity rather than absolute knowledge.
The thing is, I don’t necessarily want to walk away from church. In fact, when it is safe to do so again, I plan to return with my kids. I miss the community. I miss the singing. I miss reading the Word together.
Most days, I actually want to be an evangelical. But I just can’t assign myself a label that is connected to so much (dare I say?) ignorance? I need a group of Christians that’s not afraid of asking questions. Not afraid of facing past mistakes and finding appropriate ways forward. If the church is ambivalent toward the marginalized, then it is no longer the church of Christ.
I was encouraged today as I was listening to the Holy Post Podcast (with Phil Vischer and Skye Jethani). Karen Swallow Prior, Research Professor of English and Christianity & Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary was the guest, and the interviewer asked her about the following quote from a recent interview she’d done:
Dr. Prior goes on to suggest that imagination is one of the basic things necessary for empathy, or for imagining different ways to interpret a sentence, or appreciating art.
Oh. My. Word.
Dr. Prior is a leading female educator in conservative evangelical circles. And here she is, encouraging the use of imagination to improve communication, to appreciate art (gasp!), and to read books (including the Bible) thoughtfully and critically. She says that there is much to learn about life and faith from classic works of art, emphasizing literature, of course! She’s writing readers guides for classic literature designed to help Christians read, and think about what they’re reading. She said her favorite so far is Frankenstien. Dr. Prior is using her imagination and skills to apply her passion to a problem.
Glennon Doyle used her imagination to dare to ask questions. She dared to wonder why her heart was achingly burdened for all the hurting people. She dared to wonder if she was the only one. She dared to find out. She is now the co-founder and president of Together Rising, “a non-profit that identifies what is breaking the hearts of our givers as they look around their world and their community, and then we connect our givers’ generosity with the people and organizations who are effectively addressing that critical need.” Together Rising has risen to address the refugee crisis in Greece, emergency aid to Texas after the recent winter storm, helping a single mom get cancer treatment, working to reunite children detained in the US with their deported parents.
Basically, helping “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). Ms. Doyle is using her imagination and skills to apply her passion to a problem.
I have hope that someday, evangelical Christianity can learn to use it’s collective imagination and embrace the questions that can lead to reformation.
That the very tired “what would Jesus do” might lead to actually walking in his steps.
I continue to have this stubborn hope that one day the conservatives who “cancelled” Glennon Doyle after her disclosure that she was a lesbian will learn how to have conversations with people they disagree with. What might happen, if followers of Jesus used their God-given imaginations to apply empathy to their enemies? To create art that makes believers and non-believers praise God? To imagine the pain of the marginalized and the hurting, and imagine creative ways to meet their needs?
What if I use my imagination and skills to apply my passion to a problem?
What if you do?
Citations and resource links:
Doyle, Glennon. Untamed. Later Printing, The Dial Press, 2020. Page 8.
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Julie Garber is a Midwestern single mom to a boy who loves books and a girl who loves dirt. Words, big thoughts, coffee, and good food really turn her crank! If she isn’t busy navigating big thoughts and big feelings with her kiddos, she is usually reading, writing, or eating something delicious!