Champions / by Sarah Schwartz

"This may sound weird, but I feel like you're supposed to make a mental list of all the men who have championed you and spoken into your life...all the men who have exhorted you over the years. And I feel like you're supposed to prepare for class tomorrow by picturing those men in that room, as though you were speaking to only them," her text read.

I smiled, able to hear Danae's voice giving life to those words in my mind.

I was preparing to lecture in a Theology of Gender class that week, and had texted her earlier, asking for her prayers. I had never lectured in a college class before, and was nervous. Speak in a chapel? I can do that, no problem. Write a blog? Sure thing. But teach a room full of college juniors and seniors? I wasn't quite sure how to do that, even if only for a few days.

I'm halfway through my graduate program in Bible Exposition, but that does not a professor make—not to mention, the vast majority of our students have never heard a woman lecture in a Biblical Studies class before. And if they have, they have not heard her advocate the perspective that women are called to preach and teach and lead, as well as be equal partners in their marriages. I was already mentally laying out my outfit for the next day to be something simple and understated, lest I remind them of my womanness, and discredit myself before I even opened my mouth.

I trust Danae, and her sensitivity to that mysterious Spirit, and so I began to pull the faces of the men who have championed me over the years, the ones who saw what I was made to do and told me to go forward boldly and do it, to the front of my mind. The men who did not need me to be less so that they could be more, whose own competence or leadership were not threatened by my possession of those same things.

I thought of the men in my life whose own dignity or sense of manhood was not built on the backs of others, who did not need the women around them to shrink in order for them to feel like "real men." Who understood that everyone wins when men and women work together and see each other as valuable partners, not opposites and not enemies, calling out the very best in each other, lest we fail to spur each other on to live into the fullness of our Imago Dei.

I thought of my Dad, who raised his daughters to believe that they were capable, brave, and strong, slayers of their own dragons and dreamers of their own dreams.

I thought of Dy, who saw something worth cultivating in my mouthy 17 year old self, & gave me my first opportunities to teach and preach and lead.

I thought of Dean, an elder in the church where I grew up, who never hesitated to ask me to pray for him after I gave a Sunday sermon, believing me to be his sister in Christ.

I thought of Derek, who was often asked, when we led a student ministry together, "who wore the pants" in our relationship, and never failed to reply, "it's a three legged race."

I thought of Chase, hugging me tight with tears in his eyes after my first chapel talk, more aware of what had just transpired than I was.

I thought of Matt Huffine, who never misses an event I lead, whose eyes I can always find for comfort in the second or third row of the audience.

I thought of Elias, Matt McKirland, and Ryan. Of how one of the major reasons I am a feminist is because I believe in the humanity, dignity, and goodness of men, as evidenced by the truly remarkable ones in my life and my faith community.

I thought of the professor who entrusted me with this class, who, even when I was his student, looked me in the eye and treated me like a person, which seems like such a simple gesture, but never fails to undo me with it's holiness.

And how even now, he signs his emails to me, Partners in Ministry, Ron.

I thought of how they are imitators of that God Man, Jesus, who revealed he was the Messiah to the Samaritan woman, who made space for Mary to learn at his feet, and whose ministry he was not ashamed to have funded by female disciples.

Of how he set us free to be our child-of-God-selves, brothers and sisters once more.

"Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man - there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as 'The women, God help us!' or 'The ladies, God bless them!'; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious." (Dorothy Sayers)