This past April, I was up late in my Seattle apartment looking at the lights of the city and the glow of the Space Needle. I love the view from my living room. I still have a crush on my city; I still catch myself staring at her. But that particular night, I could hardly access my usual enchantment. It was the kind of night where everything that so often delights me couldn’t penetrate a deep kind of sadness.
I sat with my computer attempting to write, painfully putting together sentences for a book I am writing on faith and third wave feminism. The task was starting to feel daunting and very, very isolating. Looking out at my city, I was aware that the pastor of Seattle’s fastest growing church (one of the most rapidly growing churches in the country, actually) was boldly promoting a message on femininity that once again threatened to strip women of their whole selves and force them into a very tight prescription of “Biblical Christian womanhood.” Just when it seemed progress had been made, we find ourselves in a cultural backlash laced with its own neo-fundamentalism. And as a third wave feminist, I believe that is precisely what is happening, especially in some churches. Despite all the past advances for gender justice made by 19th century first wave feminists and 20th century second wave feminists,, so much more work remains to be done in this 21st century. It’s crucial that we continue casting new visions for equality.
But that night, I found myself exhausted with casting visions. I wasn’t sure that I could even hold onto my own hope, let alone be a voice to encourage anyone else. Writing itself is lonely work, but the problem was more than just the isolation of a computer screen. I needed connection with others who had walked this road and found endurance for the journey. Earlier that afternoon, I had been reading All We’re Meant to Be (coauthored by Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty in 1974), and something in me decided to find Letha’s email address on the Internet and write her. I had been amazed at how relevant her book was to my 20-something generation—despite having been written before I was born—and I remember thinking that Letha must have certainly faced even more opposition back then than I was feeling now.
So, I wrote her at 11 p.m., sending off my lonely thoughts from a Seattle apartment into cyberspace: “The reason I am writing you is because I find myself needy of conversations with older women who have walked something of this road. Honestly, I daily face discouragement with these issues. Can the church really change? Does my voice on this matter? While my book itself is hard to write, the harder work is within myself. Can I hope? Can I believe in what I have to offer?”
I must have sounded a little bit down, because when my words zipped across the country and were read by Letha in Norfolk, Virginia, she wrote me back almost immediately! Such was my first encounter with Letha—a woman kind enough to tend to a stranger’s heart at 2 a.m. What began that night of first “meeting” was a series of emails, letters, and phone calls, in which Letha and I have become friends and learned from one another as we discuss life, faith, and feminism. I am so grateful for her, and I am excited by how much fun inter-generational conversations can be. We write this column to share our dialogue with you.