Category Archives: Grace

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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On Rugby and Grace

My seatmate on the CTA this evening was a gentleman from Sierra Leone. We got to talking and laughing about the horribly lopsided score of the NZ All Blacks vs. US Eagles match on Saturday. He asked me how much I paid for tickets and I felt a little evasive. I answered by saying how much the face-value of the tickets were, then said I’d paid a bit more than that. He then added up the cost of parking and the food and guessed how much the afternoon cost me.

I grew horribly uncomfortable and a bit embarrassed by the extravagance. He realized that and said “But lady, some times things are once-in-a-life-time events, and worth every penny. Five years ago I insisted that my wife and I take our kids home to Sierra Leone to meet my family there. It was very costly and we debated whether we should. I finally told her to stop worrying and let’s just do it. Now, my children are older and might remember more and appreciate the trip more… but look at the world. With ebola like it is and the travel restrictions, and how many are sick and getting sick… we will likely never go again. So many in my family are dying, we’ll likely never see them again. It was good and opportune that we went when we did. I wanted my mama and papa to know my children. And they got to meet them. Some of my family is in the village… we can’t even phone and find out if they are still alive.”

It brought tears to my eyes. He reached out and held my hand for a moment, then dropped it and wiped tears from his.

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Never Forget: a Christian’s reflection on 9/11

Jesus had a vision of what it means to “Never forget” (the mantra of 9/11): that is, the open stance of “Do this in remembrance…”.

The open table might be the BEST metaphor for peaceable living and reversing the enemy-making process we are so good at.

In order to “Never Forget”: let us live openly, welcoming all who will come to the divine banquet of fellowship.

So out of remembrance:

Break bread with your neighbors today

Give to the poor

Encourage the weary

Welcome the excluded

Break the chains that bind

Out of remembrance…

 

Out of remembrance…

Refuse to be exclusive…

Refuse to ignore the needs around you…

Refuse to gain when others suffer…

Beloved, let us love one another.

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Life in the city…

I once attended a large ‘mega’ church in Oklahoma City because I was visiting and acquainted via school with the minister. They just built a new building and he was quite keen to show it off.

The building was in the suburbs, and new the sanctuary was large and spacious. There were clearly marked signs pointing to the restrooms, the fellowship hall, and the sanctuary. There were hand sanitizer dispensers outside each door. The bulletin spelled out the order of worship clearly, and gave hints and the customs of the congregation. There was theater-style seating, with wide aisles and lots of leg room. The arm rests were padded and I could stretch out my legs comfortably. The minister was only a few meters from me, but they also had large projection screens so that I could opt to watch the sermon ‘larger than life’. And there were no troublesome hymnals to have to locate or share. All the songs were projected up on screens for all to see.

My friend came up after the service SO very proud of his church and asked me my thoughts. In all honesty, all I could think of was “I just went to church and never touched anyone. My hip didn’t rub up against anyone’s hip. I never had to share a hymnal, or ask for help to locate things. I didn’t even have to look at the live ‘performance’ of either the minister or the worship leaders. I could do it virtually. This has been one of the loneliest worship experiences I’ve ever had.”

It is experiences like this which make me love the city: the hassle and the congestion, the inconvenience and the need to deal with that which is less desirable. I want to touch and be touched. Even when it means risking harm. I want to get my hands dirty.

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Wise guys…

Two wise guys.

Two wise guys.

I attended a conference in Baltimore this week, and had an evening free to take in the city.  These two guys noticed me with my camera and begged me to take their picture. I asked if I could email it to them, and they said no, they just wanted me to have it to remember them by.  I cracked up.  And sure enough… it worked. I do.

This morning I brought my cab driver to tears…

"This is the story of a cab driver. Not of a white, American woman."

“This is the story of immigrant cab drivers.  Not of a white, American woman.”

My cab driver this morning was pretty quiet, until he asked me what route I wanted to take (about 10 minutes into the fare).  I told him “I don’t care… you guys know better than I do what the traffic and construction is like in the city.  Take whatever route you think is best.”  That somehow seemed to open us up for conversation.

He began asking me the usual: if I’d always lived in Chicago, why I moved here, etc.  I find these questions are often an inroad for these immigrant men to talk about their own lives, so I’m always happy to oblige.  I answer their questions and then turn the same questions back on them.  He mentioned he was from India, but had lived in the U.S. now almost 20 years.

“What do you do for a living, ma’am?” was the next question.  “I work in technology.  Educational technology.”  He nodded in acknowledgement, then remarked about the scarcity of jobs these days, and asked if I thought getting an education was worth it any more, with college tuition now so high, and income so uncertain.  I responded with my industry standard (as someone who works in a for-profit educational institution) “I think the youth are going to have to focus on professions instead of liberal arts.”  And then I paused, because I was feeling a bit dishonest. “Liberal arts are important, and give you a broader perspective on life.  But it is very hard to start out in such deep debt.  I don’t know.  To be honest, my heart says kids should definitely get an education, but my head knows it is very hard to pay for.”

He looked at me skeptically in the rear view mirror.  “Look,” I said, “You are talking to a woman who did doctoral work, but is working in a completely different field now just so she can pay her student loans.”  He seemed surprised.  “You have a doctorate in technology?!?!” he asked with more than a hint of incredulity.  No, I reassured him. I studied theology.

He stared straight ahead and said nothing more.  Then I noticed his shoulders began to shake. A hand reached up and he wiped his eyes.  Finally, he simply pulled over, apologizing the whole time.  And that’s when I realized he was laughing.

“You spent 20 years studying theology and you manage a technology group?!” he roared, cracking up.  “That is the best thing I’ve heard in a long time.  This is the story of immigrant cab drivers.  Not of a white American women.”

And I had to laugh too.

What a cab driver from Kashmir taught me about hockey…

Jun 8, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) celebrates with center Andrew Shaw (65) after scoring the game-winning goal during the second overtime in game five of the Western Conference

Jun 8, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) celebrates with center Andrew Shaw (65) after scoring the game-winning goal during the second overtime in game five of the Western Conference

I got stuck in traffic on Lake Shore Drive Tuesday night, the first night of the Stanley Cup finals between the Bruins and the Blackhawks.  My cabbie was visibly frustrated as time passed with little movement.  He counts on multiple fares each hour to meet the cost of renting the cab each day, let alone make a profit.  Sitting for over an hour in traffic doesn’t bode well for his income for the day.  I caught him watching me in the rear view mirror. He’d been pretty quiet thus far in the trip.

I smiled and told him to put me on the clock, instead of charging me by the mile.  He smiled REAL big and said “You understand taxi drivers, yes?” I laughed and said, “Well, I understand what it is like to be struggling to make a living wage.  And I want to be fair with your time.”

We chatted about the usual ‘stuff’ then, the ice apparently broken by reliving his financial anxiety.  We talked about places we’d lived, and about the city of Chicago.  I asked him if he was a hockey fan (seeing that night’s traffic was due to the first game of the Stanley Cup finals).  He shook his head no, but then said “Wait.  That’s not fair. Let me explain…”

“I do not care for the violence, ma’am.  I have seen too much violence in my life.  But then, it is not any more violent than any other sport, is it?  At any rate, it is not a sport I grew up with. But I must confess that I rejoiced when Patrick Kane made that goal last week.  That goal paid a million people.”

I looked at him quizzically.  He smiled. “You see, he scored that goal, and hotel workers, airline workers, cab drivers, restaurants… all of Chicago benefited.  That goal set in motion (like a trigger or a catalyst) a series of events which will ensure that we have plenty of work, and good income. For that goal, I thank Allah.”

And I smiled, pondering the thought that it takes more than a village: it takes a hockey goal.

Paper strong…

My remarks here are written in response to this blog.

Several years ago after my Grandmother died, I was sorting through her things for the sale, and found, tucked in the piano bench along with her favorite hymnals, the aerogrammes I’d sent her from Papua New Guinea as a child. I sat on the floor next to the piano and read the ramblings and concerns and the joys of a little girl away at boarding school, trying to explain the world as I knew it in the jungle to someone on the farm in Ohio. Sprinkled throughout those letters are hints of homesickness coupled with fears of returning ‘home’: such tensions for a little girl to hold!

In a filing cabinet I found a bundle of the aerogrammes my Mother had sent her Mom. Many of them detail the same events or the same time period, but told instead from the perspective of a very young woman, trying her best to make good decisions for her children, and trying her best to serve the Lord in a very patriarchal, patronizing mission station. Her grief on so many levels was evident, even among the more heroic claims of faith.

The juxtaposition of the two sets of letters was very healing for me. And Grandma, bless her, managed to hold both close to her heart without betraying confidences. Those thin pages wielded a mighty balm!

The thinnest of paper bore the weight of the world.

The thinnest of paper bore the weight of the world.

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With an open palm…

children light up under his gaze
my beloved

said to be a Bodhisattva
without desire to possess or be possessed

he none-the-less turns heads
seeing the best in everyone:
and we thus become.

admired and desired
independent yet interdependent

either find myself on that same path
or let him go

to learn to love
without strings
without possession
without desire
without need for return

we’ll hold each other’s hand
never in each other’s arms.

and its enough.

My life….

This poem is not original to me, but it bears repeating and re-reading:

AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN FIVE SHORT CHAPTERS

by Portia Nelson

I
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V
I walk down another street.