Before the Blogosphere: authority in sacred genealogy
If my Grandmother Pauline taught me about family through her storytelling, and my Grandma Avis still speaks to me today in dreams, how did we end up here?
In a world that has told stories century after century, we are still telling them, but instead of sitting at the dinner table or by Grandma’s recliner where she does her crossword puzzle, we are engaging with one another across a computer screen.
For better or worse, it’s where we are. But we began somewhere.
I’m an Indigenous Christian who grew up Baptist, if ever one existed, and I’m tethered to a geneaology of the women who come before me and the spirituality of my native and church-given roots. And because of this background, authority may look different for me.
The definition of authority is: power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior; someone’s ability to grant freedom.
Let’s remember a genealogy of women, a sacred thread of brave females who fought dangerous waters to have their voices heard, who were not afraid of the authorities of their day.
What, for instance, might Moses’ mother’s friends or family have said to her that day she placed her baby in a basket and floated him down the river with prayers carrying him on the wind and waves?
What authority-advice was given to Rosa Parks the day she sat on that bus, or to any native woman who stood up to a government that had already massacred their tribes and communities?
And we are warned today to follow the rules and voices that are there to influence and guide us. Really, you don’t have to throw a stone very far to find someone willing to cast authority over you, to lead, to teach, to govern. But authority is a construct, and we all choose the way we wade through the waters of its sometimes overreaching voice.
Authority is not meant to be a lording over, but a leading on.
In native culture, the authority of the elders of a tribe matters, especially women, because they have known life. They’ve journeyed, they’ve overcome, they’ve made it. Therefore, we listen. We sit at their feet and we learn. The children and the elders, they say, are closest to God, and therefore, we hear them. We heed their words.
But our society doesn’t follow along that way. We have built institutions and formed societies, and we just love the pyramid scheme with the man at the top, patriarchal in almost every sense, and the rest at the bottom.
It would do the church some good to see the rest of the world at work, for even those in authority to humble themselves, to take advantage of curiosity, of opportunities to learn. Do we need church leaders? Sure. But the idea of the institution, created around a dominating top-down model, doesn’t always bring others to the top. It leaves loud voices at the top and silence at the bottom.
The least of these — the uneducated, women, creation, people of color, the poor, the children- still teach the world, even in stories that are “unauthorized.”
And for future generations, we look back and remember those stories, even following through the oral, story-telling culture of the bible and other societies in that era, and we pave the way forward for future generations.
And in story-telling, the authority of the storyteller comes from their ability to bring lessons to life, to tell us why things are the way they are, to help us think more fully about birth, about death, about God, about ourselves, about each other.
This is beyond the church’s walls, and it’s beyond faith borders.
I am so honored by the “authority” given me in my friends who are agnostic, who tell me that my words speak to them, honored by the people who say to me, “Your ancestors would be proud of you,” honored by the still, small voice of the people in my life who sometimes say, “Don’t write that. Now is not the time.”
Sometimes the way we find God is outside authority’s walls, and it can be dangerous for everyone there, but that’s why it’s wilderness.
Still, we belong to that thread of women — a sacred geneology that is bigger than an institution, but actually woven into the fabric of our identity in THIS generation, in THIS day in age.
And in whatever authority is handed to us here and now, we use it just as it is: power to influence thought and grant freedom, which means, sisters, we get to break down barriers and then step out of the way to let others do the same, and often that happens when the powers-that-be don’t approve.
Ask Rosa. She knows.
Ask Winona LaDuke. She knows.
Ask a grandmother who protested the Vietnam War.
In belonging to this thread, the blogosphere may see us here, with our words and our opinions and ideologies, but it is in the everyday faith that we live and breathe and have our being.
It is in our everyday language and life that we live authority, that we pass on authority, that we say we are below, in the midst, at the bottom, listening.
The most humble one, with the truest authority, is the leader who knows that to lead is to be quiet, to wash feet, to walk slowly, to know the stars, to listen to the things and people that no one else listens to.
Ask Jesus. He knows.
May we journey there, remembering that before us and after us, authority is measured by a mystery that we may never fully understand.
Still, we journey.