Category Archives: Feminism

What Feminism Cost Me

What feminism cost me.

(It has come at a price, and I’ve paid dearly.)

It cost me:
-abusive theologies
-abusive ecclesiastical structures
-abusive relationships
-a sense of place (as in, now I’m always out of place, out of order, and improper)
-a sense of propriety (in the sense of property: that culture or church or man owns me)
-orthodoxy
-willful naivety
-easy answers
-comfort
-self-doubt
-nostalgia
-the respect of some family and friends (you know who you are)
-an education (as I had to unlearn much of what I’d been taught)
-fairy tales
-notions of perfection
-jobs
-a future

What feminism has given me.

(And it has been generous with its gifts.)

Feminism has given me:

-life-giving theologies
-life-giving ecclesiologies
-life-giving relationships
-nomadic perspectives (against the parochial)
-ownership and responsibility for the persons, places and things by which I’m surrounded
-heterodoxy
-perpetual self critique
-the desire to be rubbed raw by the truth
-an anticipation of change
-the respect of some family and friends (you know who you are)
-an education
-oral traditions
-a deep love and delight in humanity and all its flaws
-a vocation
-a future.

If, in your mind, I appear to be all elbows…
I appear to be flailing…
I appear to not know the proper way to behave
or the right way to be…

Remember it is the bars of your cage I’m bloodying myself against.
I will not sit quietly by and allow the perch upon which you
(or the church, or society)
have been placed,
to be the parameters of my world.

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A recent cultural shock…

I have spent the last week in S. Florida on a business trip.  My whole Chicago office (five people) went to Ft. Lauderdale to meet with our team members there (15 people).  I have been aware in past meetings of the cultural gaps between these groups, so I made a point to note them as they occurred this week.  I have struggled trying to synthesize this material in order to present it in a some cohesive fashion.  But I realize that the cultural differences and resulting culture shock have left me mute.  I don’t know how to wrap my head around them, therefore I will simply list them here.

  1. No mention of Trayvon Martin.  In the week leading up to the closing arguments and verdict on the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case, not one of the Florida residents discussed the case with us–even though the trial was showing 24/7  on the lobby monitors.  This case has been of particular interest over the past year with the Chicago group, and we’ve spent hours over lunches, breaks, etc. talking about racism, what constitutes justice, etc.  It has impacted our lives.  But even after the closing arguments were made, not a single word was mentioned of the case by any of my Florida colleagues.
  2. There is a bizarre combination of machismo and hyperfeminity in the S. Florida office.  The men’s interests were either ‘gay’ (focus on bodies, musicals, and trash talk gossip) or machismo (motorcycles, sea runners, muscles, etc.).  The women wore full make up, mini skirt suits raised up to there and cut down to there, and platform five inch heels: they hobbled awkwardly from meeting to meeting.  The Chicago group wanted to talk politics, reform, ecology, poverty, postcolonialism, consumerism,  philosophy, and religion.  The Chicago women wore slacks, flat shoes, minimal make up: and our feminist hackles were raised over women who hobbled themselves for fashion.
  3.  There was an utter lack of sensitivity to colonialist discourse.  Our boss was downplaying the possibility of any raises or additional perks this year, and said as a means of making her point:  “You know, the natives in third world countries are happy to get a t-shirt.  They don’t expect more than a t-shirt.  They get a t-shirt and think that’s pretty cool.  You need to think like those third world people.”  And later we listened to a presentation about ‘smart tribes’, creature/critter mentality, idea monkeys, and the need for dom/sub swapping (dominant/submissive swapping roles).  The entire Chicago team sat there with mouths agape.  One colleague from Columbia was jokingly referred to as ‘the Drug Lord’.  The Florida team laughed heartily: apparently this is an ongoing joke.
  4. TV: this ice breaker left me cold.  In one of the ice breaker exercises, we were asked to name what guilty pleasure TV show we watched.  The S. Florida team named various reality TV shows.  The Chicago team responded with confusion: “I don’t watch much besides the news and sports”; “I don’t own a TV”; “I have kids… I don’t have time for TV”; “I have a TV but I made my own rabbit ears and they don’t work very well…”; and “It has been years since I sat down and watched TV.”   To which one of our S. Florida colleagues replied, “If you don’t have TV, what do you watch?”  We were speechless. Finally one of the young women from the Chicago group said “I don’t watch anything. I do things–I go out, participate in community theater, I read.”
  5. Reading.  The comment about Chicagoans reading resulted in a certain form of defensiveness from the S. Florida group.  Our boss said “Folk here read. We have readers in our group. But then we go and watch the movie made about the book.”  And once again, the Chicago group just gaped.
  6. Guns.  For the evening entertainment, the S. Florida group discussed the possibility of going to a realistic police training firing range where you can load a video feed of the streets of your home town, and shoot at people. “It is SO cool!”  The Chicago team refused.
  7. Materialism. The focus on acquisition of goods was overwhelming. Waste was viewed as the ultimate luxury. Our boss bragged about having thrown a corporate party with a budget of half a million dollars. “We found this really cute candy store in Manhattan.  It was perfect. The CEO said “Make it happen” so we rented it for the event.  The owner was concerned about his goods, so the CEO just bought out the store to put the owner at ease.  Then we could eat all the candy we wanted.”   The Chicago group were once again nothing short of stunned at the opulence and waste, especially in light of the layoffs we’d been through and the intention with which we strive to not be consumers (wearing second hand clothes, recycling, reusing, etc.).

So I write all this to say that I’ve not experienced that kind of culture shock in a while.

But no… that’s not true.

I was down in Southern Illinois for the 4th of July and we attended the fireworks at the county airport.  We parked our little car on the grassy lot, and were quickly surrounded by large four-door over-sized pickup trucks: guys sitting in the back in lawn chairs, drinking beer, spitting tobacco, throwing fire crackers and smoke bombs off the tailgate, Toby Keith blaring offensive lyrics from ginormous speakers.  I felt in a foreign land.

And now I don’t know how to go on.   There is much disparity in these states we call ‘United”.

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Mother God

An excellent sermon by Steve Van Kuiken about our Mother God:  HERE

A wonderful reminder of our failed attempts to apprehend or comprehend the Divine–of the limits of our language, and the joy of understanding analogy and metaphor.

–Sermon originally delivered on May 12, 2013 at Lake Street Church of Evanston, Evanston, IL.

The political roots of Mother’s Day…

Mother’s Day had its origin in the United States soon after the Civil War. In 1870, Julia Ward Howe issued the original Mother’s Day Proclamation shown below.  This statement promoted disarmament, the promotion of peace, and the end of bloodshed. What a powerful proclamation!

There is no sentimental mention of cards, flowers, or jewelry.

Anna Jarvis actually founded Mother’s Day in honor of her mother Anna Reeves Jarvis who was an activist for health and sanitary conditions for children in the 1850’s and 60’s. She was led to this activism by way of her own personal tragedy of losing eight of her twelve children to diseases.

Anna Jarvis

Anna Jarvis

Anna Jarvis wanted a day to raise the appreciation for mothers and for what matters most to them, the health and safety of their children. She wound up so against the commercialization of Mother’s Day that she spent every last dime fighting against it.

______

Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies;
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and
applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. ”
From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. ”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of
counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

-Julia Ward Howe, 1870

Julia Ward Howe

Julia Ward Howe

First world problems…

A new found friend has taken up the mantle of victim advocate in Gender Based Violence (GBV) in the capital city of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.  She is wielding the weapons at her disposal against patriarchal traditions which are both native to her land and imposed from certain Western ideals.  As such, she is actively on the web setting up groups for discussion, message boards, etc. and is posting images of women who have suffered unimaginable brutality.  She’s emailed and discussed curriculum options for weekend seminars, and requested resources. She recently emailed me privately some photos: they are graphic and haunting–including fresh wounds from axes and bush knives, burns from hot irons, broken bones and bruises from beatings, amputations, and even images of a woman being burned to death and a beheading.

I am honored to be trusted with such images–honored and deeply humbled.

And traumatized.

Since receiving the photos I’ve not been able to sleep.  Days have passed and the images dog me, sneaking up when I least expect it. It isn’t that the level of violence is new to me: I witnessed ravages as such as a child growing up among the poor and prostitutes in the capital. I grew up not knowing that wounds weren’t normal–that amputations weren’t just a matter of course.  Rape was a real possibility (even if I’d gotten the logistics confused as a child).  I understood scars as women’s history written large on their bodies.    Yet as an adult, with feminist-educated eyes and a wealth of theological study behind me, the images sting anew: the status of women hasn’t changed much in 30 years.

And my initial response is silence.  I cannot bear the weight of these images alone, yet cannot share them–I don’t wish this sort of haunting upon anyone, especially those who for whom Western media has cushioned such blows (we don’t show dead bodies on TV or in our newspapers, they are censored out of our common news sources).  We witness domestic violence through movies–comforted that it is merely makeup we are viewing, and not real wounds.

I go talk to my therapist.  And I find I don’t care to introduce such atrocities to her psyche either.  I pour my heart out in frustration, but hold the pictures close to my proverbial chest.

I tell my best friend of them, and of the impossibility of sharing their burden.  He listens, pained at my frustration.  He allows me to hold them at a distance.  And finally, he offers to see them.  “I’m willing.”  And tears begin to flow freely.  And I consider it.

But I can’t help thinking back to my friend in PNG and the life-risking work she is doing on behalf of the women there.  How can I tell her that because of her pictures, I’ve been traumatized? That her emails have sent me to therapy?  That while she lives and breathes this atmosphere of violence, I spend $150 to talk to a therapist? That I fret because I’ve lost 3 nights of sleep? That I feel utterly inadequate and ridiculous?

Yet I live and work in this world: surrounded by high rises, wealth, and opulence.

Damn my first world problems and first world solutions. Damn them.

 

 

tears

When it is hard to be ‘Christian’…

There are days when it is hard to claim the moniker ‘Christian’.  Last week I experienced this in a very acute fashion: a woman was accused of sorcery in Papua New Guinea, and a crowd beat her and burned her to death.  Such violence is deplorable under any circumstance, but the fact remains that the outrage levied against this woman was fueled in part by norms and traditions taught by Christian missionaries: that is, that indigenous religious expressions are suspect and a work of  ‘Satan’.  The animistic traditions indigenous to PNG certainly bore their own share of violence, but the outrage and form of vigilante justice evidenced in this crowd of 50 onlookers is reinforced  by rhetoric of ‘spiritual warfare’ and such, common to Evangelical-speak.  And I cringe that the teachings of Jesus could ever be carried so far as to commit such heinous acts.

And yet I am aware of a long history of such crimes in the name of the Christian tradition (see for instance, the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, etc.).  It is just hard to understand in the 21st century. Or so we think.

While people in Papua New Guinea were deemed ‘savage’  as the world looked on in horror while 50 people stood and watched a woman burn to death, last Tuesday we ‘civilized people’ in the United States watched by the millions as murder-suspect Dorner burned to death.  So much for ‘innocent until proven guilty’.  It seems Dorner required no trial–thus no attempt at stopping the fire or rescuing him was made.  Instead, it was urgent that ‘the threat be removed’.  How expedient we can be when brown skin is involved.

There are days when it is hard to claim the moniker ‘American’.

I have to confess I’m just grieved over both situations.  And at a loss.

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Binders full of women…

Thank you, Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite for this EXCELLENT piece on why we must continue doing feminist theology.

Thank you.

Walking Papers and the Indefectibilty of Grace

The following is a sermon I preached at my local church this July.  Some of the content will seem familiar.

Ancient Witness(s):

Matthew 10: 5-14

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts — no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.

The Normal Hand Opens & Closes

A devotee told Chan Master Moxian, “My wife is extremely stingy. She will not spend even a penny on charity. Could you please come to my house and talk to her about engaging in benevolent deeds?” Very compassionately, Chan Master Moxian agreed.

The next day, when he went to the devotee’s house, the wife came out to receive him. True to her miserly nature, she did not even offer Chan Master Moxian a cup of tea. Chan Master sat down and held out his fist, asking, “Madame, look at my hand. What would you think if my hand remained constantly in a fist?” The wife responded, “If it remained in a fist, then your hand is deformed! Something must be wrong with it.”

Chan Master repeated her words back to her, saying, “It is deformed!” In the meantime, he opened up his fist and held out a flat palm to her, asking, “Were it like this all the time, what do you think?” The wife responded, “That would be deformed too!”

…there should be a balance in your receiving and giving.

A story By Ven Master Hsing Yun: from Merit Times

 

The Sermon:

On Heroic devotion:

A recent mishap with a pair of kitchen shears brought to mind Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.  I’d been cutting up chicken breasts for a stir fry, and not paying much attention.  It was the difference in the density of the meat which gave me pause.  “Huh.  That must have been gristle I cut through” I thought as I glanced down toward my hand.  Huh.  It was more surprise than anything that registered. A deep V shape had opened up in the pad of my hand, just below the webbing between my fingers.  I paused with momentary interest, but then continued cutting up the chicken.  I only stopped when the wound began to bleed.  It was then that the line from Merchant flitted through my head: “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”

Bleed indeed!  It took a moment to start, but once the bleeding began the flood gates seemed to open.  I soaked a kitchen towel in blood trying to apply sufficient pressure to close the gap and achieve hemostasis; I even began contemplating the need of sutures. Gratefully the bleeding ceased (as it will always, eventually…).  I then found myself in a state of shock: how could I receive such an onerous wound and not even feel it?  The only thing which drew my attention to the wound was that the scissors weighed differently in my hand; that the tension somehow changed from when I was cutting chicken to when I was cutting my hand.  I’ve yet to feel pain at the site.  How remarkably odd!

That evening, as I lay in bed I thought more about the wound, and then more about the Merchant. There is an intense friendship in this play between Antonio and Bassanio. The description of their friendship at times borders on the erotic. It is that intense! Antonio, willing to sacrifice anything for the budding romance of his dear friend Bassanio, agrees to offer a pound of his own flesh as collateral in a deal with a moneylender (who happened to also be Antonio’s bitter rival). There is no hesitation in Antonio’s desire to help Bassanio.   Risky business, of course, but this never impressed me much: as a child having grown up on the mission field, I knew the lengths to which one might go out of love.

But it wasn’t this arduous love and passion which caught my attention in the play.  It was Antonio’s unexplained depression evidenced in this ridiculous statement— his amazing line: “In sooth I know not why I am so sad”—which stopped me in my tracks.  Scholars of English literature are all over the place in their interpretation of Antonio’s malaise: some offer back the complex plot line in a very straightforward fashion–that Antonio’s life was at stake because Bassanio failed to pay his debt, indeed his life was soon to be ended; others surmise there was more than meets the eye more than simple platonic love between the friends–that securing the loan for Bassanio’s betrothal to a Portia caused Antonio great pain—so much so that he experienced detachment to death itself.  The reader is left to speculate, as we always are with Shakespeare’s ambiguous, colorful characters.

But it is Antonio’s indifference, either to his fate or to his emotions, which would not let me rest.  It was too familiar: unrequited, impossible love mingled with an unreasonable and disproportionate devotion.  These seemed to have numbed him to his own emotions, to his own needs.  Indeed it was foreshadowed in the ominous words on Portia’s casket “Who chooseth me, must give and hazard all he hath”.  The words echo the language I was taught as a child regarding what it meant to be a disciple of Christ–that there was no limit to the sacrifice we might (be called to) make in the name of our devotion; to choose the Way of God is to hazard all things.  Such potential demands can be psychic-ally numbing to say the least!

Of course in Shakespeare’s play, Antonio is saved and everyone has a good laugh. The villain’s plans are thwarted, and it all works out in the end.

But what happens when the potential sacrifice is indeed accepted?  What if Antonio had indeed paid with a pound of flesh? Or in the tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures, what if Isaac is bound and splayed out on the altar, and Abraham’s fist clutching the dagger is on its way down, and no heavenly body intervenes?

Are there no limits to where my devotion might take me?  A recent reading of a good friend’s festschrift evoked these questions for me as well. In it, the editors of the collection of essays (former students) describe a radicality in my friend’s devotion which is dangerously seductive and inspiring: that nothing would get in his way of his discipleship.  As the editor’s wrote “Everything was up in the air.  Everything was to be abandoned to the way in which he felt himself called.  Marriage, school, career–everything.”

Such language stirs the valiant among us to noble ends! It motivates and radicalizes our best inclinations.  Our faith takes us to heroic heights, all the while leaving the vicissitudes of daily life for others to attend to.  In this manner, a sense of proportion is lost: this is how children end up raising themselves; how wives become mere ‘helpmeets’. These sacrifices become the fodder by which the mythology of the saints is built. I know of what I speak! (…says the girl relegated to boarding school so that her folks could do God’s will).

One week during fourth grade at the international primary school I attended in the capital city of Papua New Guinea, Lorraine, one of my classmates, went missing from class.  No one said a word to us students about it, but her desk was packed up and belongings were sent home. I went home and asked my mother about her.  Mom didn’t know, but we pulled out the weekly paper to see if any news would enlighten us.  There it was: Lorraine and her mother had been gang-raped and were immediately removed and sent back to their home country.  Her father was tying up loose ends and would be meeting them there soon.

I remember the look on my mother’s face when she read this aloud to me.  I didn’t know what ‘rape’ meant at the time, but I figured it must be just about the worse thing that could ever happen to you–worse than even death.

That night, I lay in bed and fantasized about what the ‘worst’ might be.  My ten year old mind could not wrap itself around a concept of sexual assault: at the time that was a distant and meaningless reality.  So what could be the worst thing ever that could happen to you? I remember coming to the conclusion that it must mean that someone cuts off your arms and legs (I’d seen folks from the leprosy colony nearby: I knew you could live with one of these missing, but I couldn’t imagine how you’d live with all four gone!).  From that night on, whenever I’d get scared (such as at fortnight when guys got their paychecks and had been out drinking and carousing), I would lay in bed in a ball, face down on my arms and legs, trying to protect them from being ‘raped’.

While I’d gotten the specifics wrong, it never occurred to me that such a thing couldn’t happen to one of my family members: we all knew someone who’d been touched by violent crime or some other type of catastrophe.  In my head, it was a matter of time: odds were, sooner or later something awful was going to happen–it was an issue of numbers.

And so we lived in expectation of the worst: danger lurked everywhere, but it didn’t keep us isolated nor was it paralyzing: the work of the church was far more important than any ‘thing’ that could happen to us.  And if something bad did happen, it would be “all to the glory of God” (thus enforcing the cycle of the work of the church).  It was fascinating to imagine: How much money could be raised if something truly bad happened!  I could be the armless, legless little girl who brought salvation to New Guinea. Money from the U.S. would pour in!  As would my guilt, subsequently, for fear that if I imagined it–it might actually come true: and I didn’t want to be an armless, legless little girl! I didn’t have the courage to be ‘raped’.

The scripture we read today in Matthew was the preamble to a text that was frequently levied against me as a child. If you read the admonitions at the end of this chapter in Matthew, what I didn’t have read this morning, you’ll hear that (Matt 10:37-39) “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than [their faith] is not worthy of [their faith]; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than [their faith] me is not worthy of [their faith].  Whoever does not take up their cross and follow my path is not worthy. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for the sake of their faith will find it.”  This was the text oft quoted by the denominational leadership to justify boarding school to us missionary kids. Everything was framed within the context of heroic faith, where sacrifice was uplifted as their highest calling, souls were at stake, and we were frequently told that to create problems (that is, to not behave and do what we were told, or to complain too much) would force our parents away from the work that God had called them to—the consequences were dire as souls might be potentially ‘lost’.  If our parents were tending to us, they weren’t doing God’s will.

 

Against heroics:

The question I asked then is the question I still struggle with today: Can we not with some semblance of certainty claim that anything worthy of our devotion would not require such fantastic offerings from us?

The problem was: I didn’t know how to be a moderate or ‘modest’ Christian.  I had no models.  Tales of moderation are not stories of the saints.  I didn’t know if it was possible to lead a faithful life of moderation? Or is radicality essential?

The ends of this radical devotion, martyrdom, bears with it the same ultimate escape of consequences to which the family and loved ones of suicide victims fall prey. Choose the way of radicality and you relinquish responsibility (that is, the ability to respond at all) to those left holding your urn.

I found that much like the North and South poles, these extremes in ideas (even in faith) were fun to visit–a feat to visit even–but no one lives there for good reasons as they aren’t habitable.  Humans are a temperate bunch, preferring more moderate and livable climates–we need places that are habitable.  And we need a habitable theology.

It is here that this Christian theologian begins finding Siddhartha Gautama compelling.  While Jesus stands singularly as ‘the Way’—his is a path which isn’t repeatable… a path that led to a cross.  Siddhartha Gautama explored several paths before finally arriving at The Middle Way–—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification.

And in many ways, The Middle Way seems far more difficult; far more challenging; and requires far more devotion to the path.  Living the middle way demands perpetual thoughtfulness and readjustment: it bears not the luxury of emotional decision-making, but demands presence without escape. It demands attention: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

And it is here that I want to return us to the text that was read in the ancient witness this morning.  Somehow how this is a message that was never fully conveyed to me as a child by my denominational leaders.  Allow me to quickly re-read the passage:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts — no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, find a worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.

When presented with their spiritual path (with a ‘mission’-so to speak) the disciples were instructed to set their expectations high:

First of all: There is good to do.  And that they will be successful doing it: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

And moreover, that they should expect to have their needs met: “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts — no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.”  Being a disciple didn’t have to come at their own personal expense.  They could be both giver and recipient: and as such, they were not the final arbiters of grace.   Their hands both open and close…

And finally, that they deserve respect: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave.  Shake the dust off your feet.”  We do not have to be heroes.  We have our walking papers.  Our task, following our Spiritual Path, isn’t about making ourselves miserable or enduring abuse.  We have the freedom to leave, and to seek ministry elsewhere.  And as the text reminds us: we can do so in peace.

What a difference it would have made as a kid, if I’d have heard this good news:  That my needs mattered. That I don’t have to put up with abuse.  That there isn’t anything admirable in unnecessary long-suffering.  That there are appropriate times to walk away from situations. What is so often overlooked in the Christian tradition: that is, the tradition in which a ‘savior’ dies, is that Jesus had no expectation that his followers follow suit: Jesus provided for us in his teachings our walking papers!

Indefectible grace:

Saying ‘no’ to the heroic is neither an abandonment of faith nor a deviation from our spiritual path.  Indeed, it might call us to an even higher level of trust if we abandon our own self importance in any given situation and allow others to step up. It takes considerable faith in to be willing to open our hands in release.

When I first began attending Lake Street Church, my fellow theologians asked “What is a systematic theologian doing at a church which is pointedly nondogmatic and nondoctrinal?”  Well-intentioned folks inquired, concerned that I was having a crisis of faith:  How in the world can you be happy in a church where Jesus isn’t uplifted as savior?  Where doctrine—what you’ve dedicated decades of your life to studying—doesn’t inform worship? 

And while I could have set up shop in defense of the congregation, my responses have always been quite simple: I see evidence of the Divine here.  That’s what drew me, and that’s why I stay. All that the Christian traditions have passed along I’d mastered, but had I tried to manipulate answers or forced us into tidy categories, I’d have closed a tight  and suffocating grip on the very thing which made this congregation so special: the Spirit.

But aren’t you afraid of where this might lead you? What if you end up not believing in anything at all?

There is an old Reformed doctrine called the doctrine of Indefectibilty. Whereas in the Catholic tradition, indefectiblity functioned along the lines of ensuring the perfection of the church—that is, an insistence that the church can be trusted (which has been often used as a power play), the Reformed spin on the doctrine shifted the emphasis from the church to the Spirit.

In this way, in this shift in emphasis from the church to the Spirit, the doctrine is less about the promise of the church and more about the promise of the Divine: that is, that the Spirit is indefectible: she won’t defect from us.  She won’t leave us to our own devices.  She promises abiding presence, in spite of our selves.  She can be trusted!

So it is a robust pneumatology (doctrine of the Spirit) which has kept me here.  I can open my theological/doctrinal stronghold (open palm) and trust that where I see the presence of the Divine, I can relax my defenses, and I can stop pretending that ‘it is up to me’.  I can trust the winds of the Spirit to blow where she will… and I can breathe…

It yes to trust and a yes to the unknown, and a yes to the Spirit….

And more often than not, it is a YES to those who will eventually pick up the slack (and they will…),  to those who do things slightly differently than you would, to those who are testing the waters of their own leadership skills, to those who are learning…   Saying no to the heroic is a YES to the next generation.

 

Conclusion

What things heroic tasks have you taken on unnecessarily?  Are you functioning with an inflated sense of self importance? Perhaps the questions we need to be asking ourselves is not what it is I’m sacrificing, but who?  Can we trust one another to fill the gaps? Can we trust the presence of the Spirit….

BLESSED BE.

Call to Commitment:

“I wish for the seedling to become a tree. For a doctrine to become a tree, it has to be believed for a good while; for it to be believed, it has to be considered irrefutable. The tree needs storms, doubts, worms, and nastiness to reveal the strength of the seedling; let it break if it is not strong enough.  But a seedling can only be destroyed—not refuted.”

When he had said that, his disciple cried impetuously, “But I believe in your cause, and consider it so strong that I will say everything, everything I still have in my mind against it.”

The Innovator laughed in his heart, and wagged a finger at him.  “That kind of discipleship,” he said then, “is the best; but it is also the most dangerous, and not every kind of doctrine can endure it.”

–Fredrich Nietzsche,  Aphorism #106, The Gay Science

BENEDICTION:

Go in peace, knowing the good you have to do in the world, and also knowing that it all doesn’t rest in your hands!

50 Shades of Respect: A feminist fantasy

50 Shades of Respect: A feminist fantasy

This is up (in my estimation) for the best cartoon of the year.

Dear men-in-my-life…

This evening I had to work late, and took a cab home because I was tired and didn’t want to spend an hour on the train.  I got into a cab without thinking much about it. We started down the street and the door automatically locked.  I noticed the cab smelled bad: as if someone had been smoking in it.  And that it was filthy.  I told the driver where I wanted to go the corner of “Sheridan and XXXX”.  He said “I’ll take you via Ashland.”  I told him I normally go on Lake Shore Drive when I take a cab, but he argued with me, in a very patronizing tone, that he thought traffic would be better if we went his route, and that the last time he took Lake Shore (my route), he got stuck and had to ask his passengers to get out of the cab.  Slightly alarmed,  I asked “you aren’t going to leave me stranded somewhere, are you?”  I would gladly get out and hail another cab, if that was the case.

The next thing I know I’m on I-94 (quite the opposite direction) heading north and feeling quite panicked.  And my anxiety went through the roof.  He didn’t talk, he just drove erratically and very fast and turned the radio up.  He didn’t answer my questions.  He finally got off on Peterson and then drove east over to Clark and then to XXXX, running lights and take curves too fast.  I was almost in tears, feeling like I was being kidnapped, wondering how to roll out of a moving car without getting hurt.  I pulled my cell phone out and had the emergency number under my finger tip.  By the time I got home the fare was about $10 more than it normally would be, and I was a mess.

When we arrived, he said “See.  This was quicker than Lake Shore.”  When I got out, I stood there next to the car with the door open and lost it with the driver, yelling and ripping him a new one.  “You NEVER ignore a woman and take her or a route in the dark that she’s not familiar with, and you NEVER refuse to talk to her.  You NEVER lock a woman in your car like that!  YOU NEVER DO THAT AGAIN. How dare you!!”
I was so upset when I got inside that the doorman came over and hugged me out of concern, afraid I’d been assaulted. He also went out and yelled at the driver once I explained in gulping sentences what had happened.
And now I’m embarrassed.  But angry. It just didn’t feel safe at all: very vulnerable in the hands of some strange man who wouldn’t listen.  And all in an attempt for some complete stranger to prove a point to me.
Now I recognize these are unusual circumstances, and that the guy was a jerk.  But let me be clear to all the men-in-my-life: women experience vulnerability differently from men.  
In a society where 1 out of every 4 women experiences rape, you need to learn that women spend a great deal of their time being ‘careful’ and guarding themselves.  The world is a potential hazard: so we have learned to be cautious in ways you don’t think about.  I have a good friend who finds it silly that I don’t like to walk alone to and from the train stop near my building after dark: he sees it as no big deal–just a couple blocks.  He also laughs because I’ll walk way around a parking lot to go somewhere, instead of between parked cars, especially at night, as I don’t like the shadows and feel unsafe.  I’ve tried to talk to him about this: that women have a very different perception of what is and isn’t safe… but he never quite gets it.  “Aren’t you feminists supposed to be tougher than this?” he asks.  Or he jokingly comments “Oh, Donna… you’re a big girl.  You could take him.”
I have been quite shaken by the cab incident.  And I unreasonably feel foolish about it.  I say ‘unreasonably foolish’ because I have every reason to have been shaken.
I had to take a cab again this morning, and found myself in silent tears in the back seat: this time, for no good reason.  This time, the driver was polite, asked the route I wished to take, ensured I was comfortable in the car, etc.  But my irrationality… my ‘hysteria’… my nervousness was rooted in a real cause.
So please remember: when we ask you to walk us to the train, or out to our cars, or whatever… we are not looking for etiquette.  We are not envisioning some romantic perspective on the world, where men hold doors open, throw their coats down in the rain to keep our shoes from getting wet/dirty, always pick up the check, and bring us flowers.  We are asking that you acknowledge that the word is a dangerous place: more so for some than others.  And to do your part.