Sacred Friendships

Today I am posting some Q & A with my colleagues Dr. Bob Kellemen and Susan Ellis. They are the authors of the new book:

Sacred Friendships: Celebrating the Legacy of Women Heroes of the Faith
Uncover the Buried Treasure of Women’s Soul Care and Spiritual Direction

For far too long, we have silenced the voices of historic women believers. Sacred Friendships fills this void by giving vote and voice to our female forebears in the faith. It listens to their voices communicating the unique shapes and textures of their practice of soul care and spiritual direction. Sacred Friendships assists female and male lay people, spiritual friends, spiritual directors, pastoral care-givers, professional Christian counselors, and students of all races to become more spiritually aware and skillful by deriving modern implications from these recovered resources.

Bob: Honestly, because men have typically been the writers of church history. And as men, we tell our story our way. That’s one reason that co-authoring Sacred Friendships as a male and female co-authoring partnership was so vital.

There’s also a sin element involved that we can trace all the way from Genesis 3 to today. Read Genesis and see all the “texts of terror”—the passages where men demean women, where men fail to protect women. Sacred Friendships is one salvo in the war against Satan’s despicable lies about women.

Sacred Friendships lets history speak. In some ways, Susan and I are not so much co-authors as co-editors. We don’t tell our story. We let the lives of women speak for themselves. The great cloud of women witnesses, though dead, their lives still speak to us today.

Susan: To put it simply, I think women have been blamed for just about anything you can think of since Eve took a bite of the forbidden fruit and for some people, trying to keep women quiet solves the problem.

Bob: That’s a broad question and certainly it varies from person to person and ministry to ministry. I think in general we see some overall improvement.

But here’s my concern: when we silence the voices of godly women today, we end up with insights, decisions, and conversations that exclude the feminine imago Dei. God created us in His image, male and female, in body and in soul, for a reason. The Body of Christ functions best when all parts do their work and all parts are honored.

Of course, none of this at all implies that there are not different callings and different roles for men and women. The women of Sacred Friendships were not anti-male nor were they interested in usurping males. However, within their understanding of their God-ordained calling, they ministered powerfully, effectively, and lovingly; and the Church was healthier because of their voiced involvement.

Susan: That’s hard to say. It partly depends on what part of the world and what cultures we’re talking about. It still exists no matter where you are, but it’s more prevalent in some areas than in others. The sad truth is that we will always have some people who have a bias against other groups of people and women happen to be one of the target groups, even in the church.

Certainly, in the US we still have room to grow, but we’ve also seen a great deal of improvement. Anne Judson paved the way for women in missions. Henrietta Mears opened doors and increased the level of respect for women in Christian education. Scores of women have demonstrated the value of women in the social action area of church ministry.

One of my hopes and prayers is that no matter where someone falls on the issue of a woman’s role in church, they will see that women are a vital and essential part of church ministry; that women were also created in the image of God and have been uniquely designed and equipped to be a part of God’s plan for building his Kingdom. Sacred Friendships demonstrates that women have been effectively ministering to and with men and other women since the onset of Christianity.

I’d like to think I’ve always respected women. I’d like to think I’ve always tried to honor my Mom, wife, and daughter, for example. But I do have to admit that I understand now that in the past I’ve evaluated women through the eyes of our culture. I have a renewed and ever-growing respect for women, for . . . the feminine soul.

I saw strength in story after story. I’ve always been aware of the tenderness of the feminine soul. But now I have a new appreciation for the persistence, resilience, and perseverance that are central to how God designed women. I think of Macrina, who nurtured three generations of Christian leaders, passing the torch of faith to her daughter and then to her three grandsons, two of whom we know as Fathers of the Church. Macrina endured great suffering and ongoing hardships, yet she modeled perseverance. Researching and writing Sacred Friendships has motivated me not to quit when the going gets tough. I’ve not faced half of what these courageous women endured.

It was great. I was so encouraged by the godly strength and courage of the women we studied. But perhaps even more than that, I was inspired to see the way they infused feminine grace and gentleness with their strength and courage. Many of these women were faced with strong opposition and challenging circumstances and yet, somehow, they never seemed to lose their femininity. It’s impressive to see how great an impact these women had even during times when women were much more stifled than they are today.

One of my biggest take-aways from this experience is that we don’t have to try to be like anyone else. We don’t have to do the things other people are doing. We simply have to do what God is asking us to do. When I was researching Anne Judson, the first female missionary from the US, I felt so inadequate. The only missions trip I’ve ever been on was like an extravagant vacation compared to the life she chose. And, not only did she choose it, she had to fight to get it.

But as I continued my research, I came to internalize what I knew in my head to be true. God has designed each of us differently and uses us to impact His Kingdom in different ways. Our children and next door neighbors need to know Christ just as much as the people living in the most remote and dangerous parts of the world.

How I minister will also look different from how someone else ministers and that’s ok, too. As you read about the women in Sacred Friendships, you’ll see commonalities. They all spoke the truth in love, for instance, but they did it differently. That’s very freeing.

Bob: Susan and I have known each other for over a decade now. First, she was a student and I was her professor. Then we were co-workers at Capital Bible Seminary in the counseling department. And then we were co-authors.

Through all the different roles we have been friends—spiritual friends, sacred friends. So working on the book was simply one more extension of our connection in Christ. We learned from each other. We encouraged each other. We benefited from each other’s different perspectives. Co-authoring can be hard and tense at times, but we really never experienced a negative blip. So, it was fun. It really was!

As far as the nuts-and-bolts, Susan read every word that I wrote and provided feedback on every sentence. I did the same for Susan. So every chapter is co-written/co-edited. In particular, we jointly crafted chapter 1, and then I was the primary writer on chapters 2-12, and Susan was the primary writer on chapters 13-15. My guess is though, that if I had not mentioned that, most readers would not be able to tell. Our co-authoring process really allowed us to blend and mingle our styles throughout.

Susan: Working on the book with Bob was a blast, but I can’t honestly say that I thought too much about us being a male and female co-authoring team. We’ve worked together for years so it seemed like a natural extension of what we already did. There were certainly times that we helped each other see something from a different perspective, but how much of that was personality and how much of it was gender is hard for me to say.

I suppose that in itself says something about the environments I’m accustomed to as well as who Bob is. Over the years, I have often found myself in male dominated environments and thankfully, have, for the most part, been treated with a great deal of respect. It’s also very much in Bob’s nature to build bridges and give a voice to the voiceless. Everyone who works with Bob or who has been his student has seen that so it didn’t strike me as unusual or different.

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