This is a confession. Through much of my life I’ve been plunked into groups of Christian women, either as a speaker or a writer, and basically because I’m a closet eccentric, I really haven’t fit well with the do-gooding, behavior-monitoring, appearance-managing parameters conservative Christianity often imposes upon its feminine members.
However, renegade types of women often sniff me out. One friend once said to me, “You’re the most normal schizoid I’ve ever met!” Another, who had been homeless because she defied certain codes of the Southern society into which she married, and who subsisted on medications to keep her from reentering the psychiatric wards said to me, “Outwardly, you look like you’ve got it all pulled together, but inwardly you’re just like me. Right?”
She was right. She liked me because the first time my pastor husband and I brought her home for Sunday dinner and I asked when she was expecting her obviously soon-to-be-born baby, she said, “Well, the next time I commit adultery I’m going to write down the date.” I laughed a hearty belly-full Karen Mains laugh. The man she’d committed adultery with was a black man; at that time, in the late ‘60s, that radical act had precipitated her flight to exile in the North as well as a soon-to-be-anticipated divorce.
Christian women, particularly those of my age set, often bored me—especially when young mothers waxed long on poop tales of their toddlers or bloody evacuation stories of birthing. Once I spoke at a Christian college for faculty wives, and one of them took me aside and thanked me for choosing a topic that was “intelligent.” The subject of many faculty wives’ teas (at least in this college) had been the proprieties of tea-making and tea-serving, and being supportive helpmates to husbands—oh well, some of you may remember and catch the gist and understand why this gal was so grateful for a little intelligence dropped into a topic.
However, times, they are a-changing. I was born in 1943. World War II ended in 1945. The feminist movement that I remember, the Civil Rights Movement that I almost missed, free love—which still appalls me—the Vietnam War protests, which demonstrated to me the power of the people, and the counterculture revolution all swelled together in the 1960s and ‘70s—during my late teens and my early twenties. I was profoundly formed by all the dialogues these movements incited, and I am old enough to be aware of what a rare and remarkable time it is when a whole culture is forced into this kind of dialectic. It is remarkable because we begin to think, one way or another, but thoughts and counterarguments, and heated discussions force our brain neurons to fire.
Whatever has happened since those days—and I’m willing to accept that the biggest changes may be in my attitudes—but the Christian women I’m working with these days are nothing like those World War II babies who became gals who used to drive me to frustration. No, the female renegades are out of the closet! They’re an educated, thoughtful, savvy, well-read, confident, creative, risk-taking, boundary-pushing group of gals. If they had personal inner issues, they headed into counseling. If they wanted to grow spiritually, they found a spiritual director. They work on their marriages, if they are married; and if they are single, they travel the world.
I suppose not all conservative Christian women are like this but the ones I know are! Perhaps it’s a matter of like attracting like. For some reason, there is not a boring one in the bunch of gals I know. Quite amazing. My daughter is just finishing up her executive life-coaching training (two years of work and lots of money)—but my learning has been running a marathon to keep up with her learning. My daughter-in-laws also keep me stretching. I’ve had the privilege of sitting in one way or another—as an observer or a facilitator or sometimes as a participant—in some 250 Listening Groups. Here, three or four of us meet for 2.5 hours each month, under the discipline of a particular listening architecture, and we tell each other about our lives. We meet for seven to eight months. I have been party to the personal joys and agonies and struggles and aspirations of Christian women in a way I’ve never know before.
I sit in awe. I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of the human capacity. I am glad, finally, to be part of this sisterhood.
What will happen when the renegades of the world unite?
Other projects involving Karen right now are: Working with teams of Christian women to design Retreats of Silence, in both 24-hours and three-days formats, through the aegis of Hungry Souls. Developing hospitality initiatives that train Christian men and women how to use their own homes in caring outreaches through the Open Heart, Open Home ministries. Launching the Global Bag Project, a worldwide effort that markets sustainable cloth shopping bags to provide sustainable incomes for bag-makers in developing nations. Researching the impact of listening groups while overseeing some 240 small groups over the last three years. Experimenting with teleconference mentoring for Wannabe (Better) Writers. Designing the Tales of the Kingdom Web site.