When Red Tent Living began, I don’t think any of us knew what awaited us. What we did know back in those early days was that sharing our faith as women felt stifled. There wasn’t an overarching community that welcomed our experiences as women and our experiences of faith.
In Red Tenting Living, our hope was to create a place where that community could begin to grow. A place where all of us could start sharing our ordinary lives together by living bravely, thinking deeply, and loving widely.
Over the last six years, I’ve learned how deeply women desire to speak and listen to real, heartfelt stories as we all wrestle with faith. I’ve learned to notice when passionate, story-driven women are present in a room.
And I’ve learned there are a lot more of those women than I once believed: pulling up chairs to confess, encourage, and bear witness to the beauty and brokenness we all find in loving Jesus.
A few months ago at a religion conference, I met two more women pulling chairs up to Jesus’ table, and today I’d like to introduce them and their work to our Red Tent community.
Grace Kao is a Professor of Ethics at Claremont School of Theology and Rebecca Todd Peters is a Professor of Religious Studies at Elon University. Together, they’ve gathered a set of brilliant and kind women to share their ordinary stories of femininity and faith in ways that will enchant, challenge, inspire, and encourage you. I recommend their book, Encountering the Sacred, for any group of women engaged in Bible Study, a book group, or mentoring space.
While I could rave about Grace and Toddie as well as the stunning stories they have captured in Encountering the Sacred. I thought it might be meaningful to let them talk about the project themselves. Here are just a few of my favorite snippets from our interview together:
Me: Tell me again the story of this project… how it got started for each of you?
Toddie:I do a lot of talking in churches and working with church groups, and I kept seeing these flyers for Bible studies with Beth Moore all over the place. This one woman was leading and guiding the spiritual development of hundreds of thousands of women around the country.
And more and more, it seemed like these studies weren’t quite the thing that women were looking for. I realized that women wanted to talk together with their sisters, mothers, friends, and daughters about their spirituality, and there are just no real resources out there outside of the evangelical publishing industry.
As an ethicist committed to helping women of faith talk about their faith, the onus for this dilemma falls on me and my colleagues. We weren’t writing books intended for lay women and church study.
So I emailed 50 of my closest feminist-scholar friends and I said, “Let’s talk about this.” Only one emailed back and was too busy. 49 wanted to be part of the conversation.
Me: Talk to me about the support community that the Encountering the Sacred authors built together? Do you think that community’s conversation had any bearing on the questions you came to write for each chapter?
Grace:I remember so clearly, we had two women’s retreats. We had a big one in New York and another, and this really beautiful thing happened as we all stayed together in the same house.
We were in pajamas, cooking meals together and we ended up sharing our lives, not just the content of our chapters.
We had personal writing time and then we would come back together and talk about our work. Women started tearing up as they shared what they had just written…Some of these stories were still very close, and we had the gift of processing with one another what was going on in each story.
Through that experience, we all decided together what this book would be. We sat together and said, “Who is this for? What should these chapters look like? How should we talk about these things? Should we include scripture and theology? Should we acknowledge that we are feminists?”
That collaboration was really beautiful and so new; I had never done something like that.
Me: This book went on quite a journey to get published. Tell me a bit more of that story.
Toddie: Oh! I hope this part of the story inspires Red Tent Living readers. We talked at length and went through the whole proposal process with 8 different publishers.
So many publishers said, “No one will buy a book from multiple authors and we can’t risk this.”
But if women want to hear from communities of women, then we need to demonstrate there is a market for this. Grace and I are actually planning to take the funds raised from this book to fund the retreats that inspire the next volume.
Me: If you could offer a blessing to the women about to pick up Encountering the Sacred, what words would you offer?
Grace: May you be enriched by the stories we share, and may you come to share your own.
Toddie: May our stories and words bring grace and challenge into the lives of the women who encounter them.
Encountering the Sacred engages the many themes and seasons of womanhood as seen through the eyes of strong women of faith. You can purchase your copy today on Amazon.Thank you for supporting the stories of women.
Katy Johnson lives, dreams, writes, and edits in a messy, watercolored world. She’s a 29 year old, discovering her hope, her longings, and the wild spaces in her own heart. Her favorite creative project right now is called Will I Break?, and someday, that manuscript may see the light of day. For now, she shares her thoughts here.