I may be 33 years old, an older “Millennial,” but I love to read on paper. I subscribe to the paper Seattle Times daily, I tote a heavy paper planner in my purse along with an assortment of pens, and paper books are my most treasured possessions. I lug my leather-bound study Bible to my weekly Bible study, even though the entire text for that day’s lesson could be easily accessed on the phone I keep out in case my son needs me in the Child Care Center.
But for all my love of paper, I have to say that a few blogs (online journals) have had some of the largest impacts on my post-college faith journey. Through the wizardry of the internet, the musings and life experiences of women scattered throughout the world have opened my eyes to new dimensions of God and the life of a Christian.
The blogger who has most challenged my theology and ways of reading the Bible came to my attention through a friend’s Facebook page. This friend is a pastor in Indiana, the husband of a friend from high school marching band. When he shared a link on Facebook, it had been awhile since I had given much thought to gender roles in the Bible. That topic had occupied much of my time in college, though—far too much time, I realize looking back. But it seemed that every Bible study, every devotional book passed around my church, every conversation with my church’s leadership eventually circled back to how men and women could please God by being a certain way. It went beyond the “submission” of Paul’s letters and into gross exaggerations of how men and women were created to reflect different attributes of God. Of course all people were uniquely and wonderfully made…but within the confines of their gender. I squirmed a lot in those years, wondering why those molds never seemed to describe me and, later, why they never described the man who became my husband. Book after book stuck to the same old script. Eventually, I let the whole topic go without a lot of closure.
But here on Facebook one day, my high school friend’s husband linked to a blogger about our age named Rachel Held Evans. In her post, she spelled out all the reasons she felt prescriptive gender roles were harmful to the Christian witness, things like why it was silly not to allow people to use their unique gifts in service to God and others or how different cultures assigned different tasks and attributes masculine or feminine traits. It was as if she reached into my head and turned all my intuitive squirming into a clear, concise rebuttal of my college Bible studies. Without even knowing me, she told me I wasn’t alone.
It turned out Rachel had been blogging for several years before I stumbled onto her corner of the internet. I loved combing through her archives, first reading other posts that spoke to gender inequality in the church, then branching out to things like her struggles to reconcile faith with science. Some posts were sermon-like, focusing on a particular theme or biblical text. Others were more personal, like why she sometimes went for long stretches without attending church. She also wrote books I thoroughly enjoyed (paper!!!), but reading her blogs on my computer or smart phone made her feel like a friend. I got to see her life progress and her views evolve as she tackled topics from different angles over the years. Across a few thousand miles, we grew together.
I also grew to love the community that can grow out of a blog via its comments section. I left comments when an article especially moved or challenged me. I engaged with other readers who left comments, some of whom also had blogs that I started to read. I discovered some of them explored the same topics like gender roles and came to similar conclusions. So it’s not just me and Rachel, I thought, relishing this collective encouragement. For awhile, Rachel ran a feature called “Sunday Superlatives,” where she assigned online articles from the past week awards like “Most heartwarming” or “Most thought-provoking.” I still eagerly await new material from some of the authors I’ve discovered through those lists of links.
The internet has a powerful, Spirit-breathed way of bringing together people who have common bonds.
While Rachel helped heal my heart about not being a stereotypical meek, subservient Christian wife, a new set of challenges crept into my life: a miscarriage followed by chronic pain and infertility caused by endometriosis. Though endometriosis is far from rare, no one in my “real life” had this awful disease. Few people I saw regularly understood how my chronic pelvic pain, the loss of my first pregnancy, the inability to have another pregnancy, and a long roller-coaster journey of adoption were wearing me down and making me question where a loving Father, let alone Great Physician, fit into my life. I found a blog written by Jamee Miller, a pastor’s wife battling endometriosis who had adopted her daughter after a hysterectomy at age 27. (I eventually had my own hysterectomy last year, after miraculously giving birth to my son.) She detailed her health struggles while always asking how she could serve God right where she was. Her blog was an outlet for her frustrations and a ministry all at once. Same with a British blogger I found through Rachel’s “Sunday Superlatives,” Tanya Marlow, who is largely housebound due to chronic fatigue syndrome. Though our conditions are different, her questions and her admissions that sometimes God’s presence isn’t easily discernable have resonated with me. I’ve gotten to email and converse through blog comments with both Jamee and Tanya, finding understanding and encouragement in a way only possible when someone has been where you are.
Though cognitive dissonance, chronic illness, and infertility can be isolating, I am thankful that if I must experience these things, I’ve done so in the internet age. Of course virtual communities don’t replace in-the-flesh ones, but the internet has a powerful, Spirit-breathed way of bringing together people who have common bonds. God has used this expansive, often unwieldy technological advancement to tell His lonely and hurting children, You are not alone.