I began writing in a journal when I was seven years old. My mom recently sent me five boxes of my old journals; I'd confided my thoughts and feelings to these wire-bound notebooks right up through my early twenties. One day I realized I was living too much of my life in notebook form, and needed to become less introspective. I kept writing about my travels, however, so even now I can revisit places like the coast of Morocco; Southern France; London; L'Abri in Switzerland; and Managua, Nicaragua. When I got married in 2003, I picked up the journaling pen again. I'd never lived in Newberg, Oregon, and in some ways it was also a foreign land.
I grew up relatively poor in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the wealthiest places in the country. So, along with my writing habit, I acquired the tendency to notice injustices and inequalities around me. When we moved from California to a little town in Georgia when I was fifteen, I was flabbergasted to discover that blacks ate at a table by themselves in my high school cafeteria. I didn't know how to change things, except in small ways, but I knew the situation was wrong, and it gave me eyes to see other injustices.
I met Jesus in the evangelical church, which emphasizes abortion as the main societal injustice. In university, after reading and praying over some Keith Green tracts about abortion, I decided to start a group called Students for Life and Responsible Choices. In about four years, I was completely burned out on anti-abortion activism, but other things emerged out of that time.
One, I realized I was a pro-life feminist and there were others out there like me (e.g., Feminists for Life of America). I wasn't eager to be potentially misunderstood by embracing the term “feminist,” but for me it was an issue of being true to conscience. I realized, too, that something was wrong in the way churches treated women, and that the Bible had something to do with that. As a child, I had mentally “skipped over” verses that seemed unfair to women, assuming they were no longer relevant. But the churches I visited told me repeatedly that they were extremely relevant. I was even told by an elder's wife that I should consider leaving that church since I didn't agree with their stance on women. It was that important.
After a few years of this kind of response on this issue, I realized I would not find community without leaving the area. Instead of heading to the Northeast or back West, however, I went even deeper into the heart of the South to a little Christian community in Comer, Georgia (not far from Athens), called Jubilee Partners. They have hosted new refugees since 1979, and done other social justice work such as advocating for those on death row, raising scholarship funds for young people in Managua, and providing prosthetics for victims of political violence there. At Jubilee I learned better how to serve and how to love, not just how to point out or get angry about injustices. I taught English to refugees from Vietnam, Bosnia, and Central America, and became friends with my students. I worked in the garden, and drove the refugees to medical appointments and to the grocery store. I took my turns at cooking for 30, washing dishes for 30, and cleaning the “K[oininia]-House” (where volunteers lived). I also tried to figure out what it meant to “love my enemy” in my personal life (community is never easy!) and tried to respond with grace in challenging relationships.
My time at Jubilee gave me profound inner direction in terms of my character, but not outer direction. When I left Jubilee after almost two years, I really had no sense of what to do next. During that time of reorienting, I went back to my default position, pen in hand (though by that time it was a seven-year-old computer, not a pen). I went to work cultivating the seed of an idea that came from coteaching a Sunday School class on Jesus and Women, prior to Jubilee. I knew that I didn't have the seminary training to do a good job, but I wrote anyway.
It turned out that seminary was where I was headed: Regent College in British Columbia. I packed up the little Ford Festiva that Jubilee had generously sold me for $200, and drove out west to Vancouver, Canada. I didn't really know why I was there. But in a few months time, I found a beautiful little church that shined in a million ways for all its brokenness. It was—in some crucial ways—a church where gender didn't matter. There, I learned to love the church, instead of finding being a part of it a joyless exercise of duty as I had before. Out of my time learning to serve in my beloved church, I decided to obtain a Master of Divinity degree.
Around the time I was finishing my studies, I met my husband, Mark McLeod-Harrison, on a Christian Web site for singles. I believe he was the only one on the site who used the term “feminist,” so right away the field was narrowed for me! He was a most unusual man who was not only egalitarian in his personal beliefs, but also took the risk of being an outspoken advocate for women's justice issues. He saw through the evangelical church's foibles, yet was also committed to it as a part-time Episcopal priest of a home church.
Well, falling in love also meant tumbling down the map from Vancouver to Newberg. My beloved had a difficult-to-find job as a philosophy professor, and I would soon have a 13-year-old step-son who would not have been eager to move somewhere else. I had to figure out how to be me in Newberg, which is very different from multicultural Vancouver. I returned to my calling as a writer and as someone committed to the challenge of “doing justice and loving mercy” (from Micah 6:8) by working on my “Jesus and Women” book—but this time from the perspective of a seminary education. I also began studies in the Doctor of Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.) program at George Fox University, and had a baby (named Micah!).
And finally, I set about trying to find a publisher. My husband would occasionally give me an idea for which publisher to try, and one day he suggested Barclay, which is just across the street from George Fox University, where he teaches and I attend. Mark talked with Corey Beals who is on the board, and Dan McCracken became interested in my book proposal. My writing and my desire to “do justice and love mercy” came together effectively through the book Saving Women From the Church: How Jesus Mends a Divide.
From the time I started the book to the time I ended it, I received much healing through both Jesus and the church from wounds the church itself had inflicted! I pray that you, also, will find healing in Jesus and those in whom Jesus lives.