Our friends, Sarah and Chad Markley, hopped a plane and flew all the way from California to Podunk, Arkansas, just to spend the weekend with us, not knowing whether or not we would have anything to do other than maybe go cow tipping. They came because we have a small circle here, and we all just needed the time together, processing life and then singing and eating together. The Christmas lights were on the square, and we bought wool ear warmers and took silly photos after we ate some classically awesome Fayetteville food, proving we have more than cows here after all.
Later that night Seth and Chad played their guitars and sang to each other, and Sarah and I let our conversations slip to what we’ve been thinking about women in the church. Our conversations go in strings of questions, and that’s okay. She’s my friend who sticks, and I am hers. We can question in front of each other until the cows come home.
The next day we met up in Rusch land. Most people call it Bentonville, a town that hosts our local museum called Crystal Bridges. If our museum were to tangle with your museum, I’m pretty sure we’d win. I’m just saying name anything in the way of American art; we’ve got it or we will have it (huffs my fingernails and buffs them on my shoulder.)
We were all tender in the deeper waters of conversation, balancing our deep with inappropriate comments, how good friends do. It was cold and rainy. Our men dropped us off and then ran in to us laughing. Sarah, Corrie, and I were watching them be boys, brothers. It wasn’t long until we walked straight into Emma Marie Cadwalader-Guild’s Free. It was all laughter, turning a corner, then silence so thick we couldn’t swallow.
We walked around him, still standing solid after over a century, still telling his story. You should see his back. It’s too sacred to even spell it out. We barely spoke. The fact that this carving is titled Free, it’s what we wanted for him, freedom. It’s what we wanted for ourselves, the world.
When we moved on, Seth was feeling extremely introspective and so he held his hands together and pondered from painting to painting. Chad and Mike followed him for minutes and minutes, imitating his every move, and Seth never noticed. It was true strenuous work to not laugh and mess up the whole thing.
Again we came into the room to see my favorite girl: Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter. I’ve always known that I love her and was showing her off as if I had painted her myself, but a museum worker could tell we weren’t taking her in how we should. He wanted us to hear the story.
The museum guide pointed out that beneath her penny loafers is a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. I had never noticed that part of the painting. He asked us if we recognized Rosie’s stance from another piece of art. We stood listening, and the guide said in his soft museum voice, “She is Isaiah the prophet,” and then the air sucked up quiet again, and he was saying words, but I don’t know all he said. It all went slow motion, Mein Kampf and a woman as a prophet. I looked at Sarah, and she and I both had tears in our eyes. “She is a copy of Isaiah the prophet, as painted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.”
I can’t explain that moment in full except to say that we had a moment, and standing there Sarah and I believed together that we as women are meant to set people free. We don’t believe this just about women, but about the whole church, the whole of us, together.
Now I don’t believe I’ll have to bulk up like Rosie to accomplish it, but let’s look at history and let it teach us some things. Let’s look around at the ones in shackles. Let’s shirk free ourselves from what hinders us. Let’s trample the old ways of the world! Don’t we know who holds the keys to freedom?