A woman almost won the Iditarod race in Alaska last week----again. I would have cheered loud and long. In the usually 9 – 10 day 1000 mile dogsled race across interior Alaska, across some of the wildest terrain on the planet, Aliy Zirkle slid across the finish line after beating her way through a blizzard less than 3 minutes behind Dallas Seavey, who didn’t even know he had won.
Both of them left the competition behind when a blizzard and high winds blew the front-runner off the trail, literally. It was a record-breaking race with horrifically bad trail conditions.
Not long after I came to Alaska, in the late 70’s, women were tearing up the “greatest race on earth.” In 1985, Libby Riddles made history as the first woman to win the famed race.
Susan Butcher won next, starting a three-year streak of wins in 1986, '87, '88 and then 1990.
In this overwhelmingly northern male world, women were top dog for awhile. It cheered me, especially as a woman who spent her summers in a virtually all-male world of commercial fishing. This year, 18 of the 69 mushers who registered for the race were women, and not all young.
(Cindy Gallea, Minnesota)
(Karin Hendrickson, Willow, Alaska)
(Monica Zappa, Kasilof, Alaska)
(Michelle Phillips, Yukon)
To this competitive tomboy, who could beat all the boys in arm wrestling until high school, who had no patience for girly girls, who felt ugly until the discovery of makeup (and shampoo), the world was black and white, boys and girls. Though I was clearly a grey, without access to pretty clothes or girl’s shoes and coats, I fought the good fight every day at school for girldom.
And then we grow up. And the divisions sometimes widen. Until we really grow up and realize that gender divisions and rivalries are contrary to the kingdom of God. That we cannot tolerate either a “war on women” OR a war on men and boys, both of which are ongoing. Even in our churches. No, especially in our churches, we’re tussling for power and influence---men and women both. Who has the right and the position to carry out this ministry? No no, women cannot do that. Women must only do this. (I attended a church for many years where one woman was allowed on the all-male Church board--as a secretary.) But do you know, we’re all on the same team??
Suzanne Burden has so many good words about all of this in her new book, Reclaiming Eve: The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God
Listen to this brief excerpt from Suzanne's new book:
On the Same Team
As a girl, I relished games where the girls played against the boys. When the girls won I would think, Score one for the team! We really are better than the boys. When the boys beat us, I would sulk: let’s try that again! But as an adult, God is transforming me into a woman who seeks out opportunities to team up with my brothers. “Score one for the alliance!” I think, when a brother and I fix a problem, feed the poor, or serve in a ministry. And as I move forward, I pray for grace to continue to follow my Savior’s lead.
Instead of raising boxing gloves against the other gender, Jesus encourages us to bend down and wash one another’s feet. When the world tells us we’ll never be on the same team, our Savior’s sacrifice reminds us we are already one in Christ Jesus. Just when we feel discouraged, we hear stories of others who have laid down the boxing gloves and are linking arms with their brothers for the sake of the gospel.
If we are waiting for perfect relationships with our brothers, we will be waiting until Jesus comes again for his bride and all things are made right again. But we don’t need perfection: we only need a way forward. In this, our Savior illuminates our path. Rather than encouraging his daughters to limit or silence themselves, he calls them into the limelight alongside their brothers. No records exist of Jesus relegating women to second-class citizenship, but only of raising them up to a higher status than their culture allowed. And just as surely as the gospel sets women free, it sets men free as well: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” Jesus commands each of us. “And, ‘love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27). We are not first of all to be known by our ministry opportunities (or lack of them), our differences, or our church affiliation—but by our love.
SUZANNE BURDEN holds an M.A. in Theological Studies from Grace Theological Seminary. She lives with her husband, David, in Indiana and blogs regularly at suzanneburden.com
This is not just the good fight---working toward mutual respect, toward reconciliation between genders---but ultimately we do it because of the only fight: Equipping women and men alike to wage their beautiful gifts inside and outside the Church for the salving and healing of an exhausted, bloodied, divided world.
Can we reclaim Eve's mistake and Adam's sin? We can indeed. It has already been done. Thank you, Suzanne, for these words:
"We are not first of all to be known by our ministry opportunities (or lack of them), our differences, or our church affiliation—but by our love."