Many years ago, as a young InterVarsity staff worker, I got a short article published in a now defunct magazine called Student Leadership Journal.
Actually, truth be told, “short article” is probably a bit strong; it was more “blurb” than anything else. We had created a new ministry outreach, I noted it in my prayer update, someone at SLJ noticed, and…voila!
But though it was just a blurb, it was my blurb. Something I had written had been printed in ink, in a magazine that someone, somewhere could read, presumably forever.
These days, stuff gets published all the time. In fact, in about 13 hours, I’ll publish this blog post. Truly, one of the great breakthroughs of the internet era is that content can get to more people, more quickly.
Still, if I’m honest, publishing a blog post, be it on my blog or someone else’s, doesn’t feel quite the same as publishing something in print, which is why I am honored to share an article that is appearing in the Spring 2016 edition of Mutuality Magazine, published by Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE).
There you go, in case you need some light beach reading…
The article is a written version of a talk I’ve been giving for the past three years here in Fresno to a group of urban ministry folks, and the focus is on gender reconciliation. Using a narrative approach, my aims are to identify three barriers that keep women and men from being reconciled, and to offer solutions in the form of new, better, and live-able stories.
Thanks to the folks at CBE, both for publishing the piece, and for making the article available for free online here. Enjoy!
When people ask about sports in our family, I always tell them we’re a soccer family. And it’s true. Last Fall, for instance, every Saturday we had 3 kids playing on 3 different teams, and 3 of us were coaching 2 of those teams. And if that sentence confuses you, imagine living it, especially that one Saturday morning when all 3 games coincided…at 8am.
But the truth is that we are a sports family more broadly. And right now it’s volleyball season. Two of our kids are on teams at the moment, so the talk at our dinner table is about sideouts, platforms, sets and spikes.
And, clearly, the volleyball gene in our family comes from my wife. She the one that comes from a family of volleyball geniuses.
And, thankfully, they don’t hail from Iran. A couple of weeks ago, I came across this article, about a pending FIVB (that’s International Volleyball Federation) volleyball tournament being held on an island off the southern coast of Iran.
As the article makes clear, volleyball is big in Iran. Who knew?!? And the men’s team is one of the world’s best. Hence FIVB’s decision to award international tournaments to the country.
So what’s the rub?
Evidently, Tertullian plays outside hitter. Or, perhaps more to the point, Tertullian is running the Iranian sports ministry.
According to the article:
The upcoming men’s beach volleyball tournament could be a celebratory occasion not just on the volleyball courts but also for equality in Iran — if authorities reverse the discriminatory ban keeping women out of matches.
The irony is that volleyball was once an established public space for women, who could attend men’s matches in Iran until 2012, when the decision was made to ban them, without any clear explanation. Since then, gathering online and outside stadiums during the volleyball matches, Iranian women have tried to reverse this ban. Their efforts led to harassment and even arrest.
In 2014, Iranian authorities arrested Ghoncheh Ghavami and some 20 others when they sought to attend a Volleyball World League match at Tehran’s Azadi (“Freedom”) Stadium complex. They were released soon afterward, but Ghavami was rearrested and charged with “propaganda against the state.” She was held in the city’s notorious Evin Prison, including a stretch in solitary confinement, for nearly five months.
To sum up, if you happen to live in Iran and are a woman, you are not allowed to watch a volleyball match. And the penalty for doing so can be solitary confinement.
It turns out that FIVB’s own charter, along with the Olympic Constitution, prohibits discrimination of just this kind. And so the article ends with the following exhortation:
Now is the time for the FIVB to tell Iran watching volleyball is no crime for women, and insist on a formal overturning of the ban. The Kish Island Open should not be closed to women.
The above picture is of our daughter Lucy, serving at a recent tournament. Not pictured? Her mom and two sisters, watching from the stands behind her.
As it should be.
Now I can report that the story has been told, at least my version of it.
If you have an hour and are curious, you can find the audio here. The first 40 minutes are me presenting my seminar and the last 20 capture our time of Q & A.
To be honest, it was sort of weird to listen to myself. And, sure, my inner critic found plenty to fret over. For example, why was I saying “right?” so often? Do I really do that?!? Or, I cringed over little misspeaks, such as when I said “summer missions” instead of “world missions,” or when I somehow morphed the idiom “top notch” to “top of the notch.” And why oh why did I choose to spell out P-A-T-R-I-A-R-C-H-Y?!?
That said, I’m mostly satisfied with my work. I mean if you’re looking for a 40 minute lecture that surveys 2,000 years of missions history with an eye to how the bane of patriarchy has conspired to suppress the stories of faithful women, I can help with that.
As for the Q & A, I’ll grade myself with a “B.” On one hand, I don’t think I said anything heretical as I tried to answer some tough and deep questions. On the other hand, I think I would say some things differently if I had it to do over again.
In the end, it was an honor to present at Urbana. I’m grateful for the opportunity.
And thanks to those of you who were praying for me as I prepared!
PS…I was honored to appear again this week on The Junia Project (here). Turns out my post about gender-based humor in the pulpit has been viewed 36,000 times!
Well, I’m back from Researchville! On Friday, I took a deep breath and hit “submit” on my final paper for year 2 of my doctoral program. And then I celebrated with nachos. While the research process this year was a total joy for me, I’m pretty glad for a break.
Now let’s see if that break translates into more regular blogging or not…
On the Monday of Thanksgiving week, I had the opportunity to exposit Galatians 3:26-29 for a room full of Cal Poly Mustangs. I talked about how the text calls for both salvific and social implications. Indeed, according to the passage, God has no gender bias in salvation, and God’s dream is for there to be gender equality in the Kingdom community.
In other words, gender equality is designed to be good news, both eternally and currently.
In terms of application, I challenged the community to do three things: check their hearts for gender bias, search the Scriptures on the topic of gender equality as a community, and work to build healthy male/female ministry partnerships.
I hope the students engaged the message, and I hope their community is changed as a result of it. Since I’m not there in the aftermath, I don’t totally know what the results might be.
What I do know is the impact on my kids. Because it was Thanksgiving break, the Dixon family made the trip together, and the kids came to hear Dad speak.
And as much as I care about college students engaging the message of gender equality, I’m more eager to have my kids embrace it. If you’ve read my blog over the years, you know it’s been a work in progress, but it seemed like this trip was a helpful deposit.
How do I know?
While I was speaking, the kids got some chalk and graffitied the back chalkboard. How’s this for some tagging, Galatians 3 style?!?
So there we were, walking down the hallway of a public High School, on our way to a volleyball game, when I looked up at a TV monitor and saw this:
I’m no expert on all things feminism, and I know there’s plenty to debate about the term, but I do know this:
If feminism is about the things on this screen, and particularly the fourth thing on the list:
I’M A FEMINIST.
(and, if I may, you should be too!)
In part, chalk it up to a lot of work on my doctoral program. Turns out interviewing folks is the easy part; it’s the synthesizing work that comes after that’s the challenge!
And, of course, it’s the fall. Which means the Dixon machine has cranked up again in earnest. Between work, school sports, soccer mania and training for this, it’s been tough for this blogger to find time for blogging!
But that doesn’t mean I’ve been silent. Far from it.
I won’t give you specifics, because each of these situations are ongoing and they involve people that I care about, but three times lately I’ve had the opportunity to offer a word of gentle (I hope!) correction in the area of gender.
What am I talking about? Subtle things, like someone using gender exclusive language when an inclusive term would be a better fit. Or calling out someone on social media for their clear bias toward men when the topic should be universal.
All of this comes in my attempt to be prophetic. In other words, I want to use my voice (verbal and otherwise) to correct our Tertullianized culture, particularly in the church.
But here’s the thing…I can only control my part of the equation. The response? Well, that’s about the person or people I am engaging with.
And on that account it’s been a mixed bag. Of my three recent situations, one went without any response at all. Like, crickets.
A second one involved a hearty back-and-forth, one that resulted in greater understanding but was ultimately less than satisfying for me.
And then the third one was, in a word, perfect. This person graciously received my input and asked for my help in generating a solution.
So, one out of three. Batting .333 I guess.
All of this reminds me of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. You know the story. A farmer goes out to scatter the seed, and tosses it indiscriminately across the ground.
And some of it hits the path, where it’s picked clean by birds. Other seed falls into the rocks, where there’s shallow soil. And though something grows, it quickly dies. Then there’s the seed that falls into the thorns. Again, initial growth followed by the plants getting choked out.
And then there’s the fourth soil, the stuff the produces the harvest. According to Mark’s account, it’s the really good stuff, producing a crop that ends up “growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”
To me this parable captures the plight of the prophet. You can’t control the results. Some folks will respond well and others won’t.
All you can control is heart towards God, your willingness to speak, and the words you use to deliver the message.
The rest is up to the hearer.
This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Christians for Biblical Equality international conference in Los Angeles. Picture a hotel ballroom full of passionate, committed egalitarians, gathering for a time of learning, community, and focusing on the Biblical theme of gender equality, and you’ve got yourself quite a meeting.
Hey Tertullian, watch your back!
I thought I would offer a selection of reflections from my experience at the conference, my first ever CBE event:
First, overall, I was proud to simply be present. Don’t get me wrong…I hope that, one day, a group dedicated to the earnest and thoughtful promotion of Biblical gender equality will be flat out unnecessary, because that would reflect a church that has embraced the full and equal participation of women and men in ministry. Until that day, however, I’m proud to be a part of a community of believers who is committed to challenging the status quo in this area.
Second, I loved the culture of the group. For instance, right off the bat the emcee exhorted us to charity and grace with those with whom we might disagree. May it be so! Next, before every plenary speaker, a brother or sister from around the world would pray for us, both in English and in their native tongue. I found it to be a beautiful reflection of God’s Kingdom (and CBE’s international scope). And then there was the high value for Scripture. As one example, I spent an hour in a seminar on Paul’s letters led by Philip Payne, and while I left with my head spinning, I also left more convinced than ever that Paul preaches a message of gender equality. In fact, perhaps the only thing missing was a bit more space to chew on what was delivered in community. Every session was screaming for processing conversation that came only through my own initiative.
Third, I was helped to think about gender equality through the lens of justice. Because the truth of the matter is that gender inequality is indeed an issue of injustice. And so I straightened up in my chair when plenary speaker Eugene Cho, referencing the global scourge of human trafficking, called gender justice “a matter of life and death.” Strong words, but, in my heart, true ones.
Fourth, the age demographics of the room were fascinating to me, as it looked to me like the majority of the conference was 45+. On one hand, this is terrific; I love that an older generation of believers is all-in on behalf of gender equality. On the other hand, the cause also needs a younger generation to take it on. And so I was challenged to think about my role as a campus minister; how can I mobilize the young ministers that I am privileged to lead, as well as students, to advocate for gender equality in their contexts?
Finally–and this was perhaps my strongest impression from the weekend–it was great to network with like minded (and hearted) folks. Because, to be honest, sometimes all of this blogging, reading, writing, studying and speaking feels pretty isolating. Being at CBE, then, was a powerful experience in community, for which I was grateful.
So, who’s with me?!? To join up with CBE, go here.
PPS…one final highlight. Here’s a shot of me and two of my staff friends with CBE President Dr. Mimi Haddad: