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Lacking Cliches

January 28, 2010

If I were to follow the tide of friends and colleagues from every social media return, I should title today’s post “I’m Back” or “The Return from Sleepy Hallow.” Truth be told, I’m really quite excellent at dreaming big and not always following through when I get scared (welcome to my “I can’t pull the final trigger on my future” buzzer).

I could list 100s of reasons why I grew unabashedly silent during the majority of the last quarter. Reasons such as the dialogue which proceeded some posts left me both fearful, wounded and afraid (and yet a wee bit excited). Or that my life just got kind of busy.

Excuses mean nothing, though, and since I committed to processing my experience in returning to church, I can’t hide from my experience for fear of my peers’ responses. I am me. I have fears. And I refuse to be stifled by them.

The last 3 months leave me with a sundry more questions than answers regarding my return to an institutionalized church. It’s a key defining text I find crucial here. And to be perfectly honest, my (perhaps) naive expectation was that my suspicious response to church would change;  in fact, it has burgeoned outward. I am left wondering what another 5 months will hold, and how to balance responsibility, excellence and accountability (that is, accountability to my own response to the conception of church).

Honoring what I know church to be with my experience in its lack of functionality, both societally and individually, leaves me, at present, dumbfounded. And frankly, I’m not sure what else to say, but I know the worlds will soon arrive.

She’s Baaaaack

November 9, 2009

Perhaps one of the greater challenges in engaging this conversation is, as I have welcomed others in to this space, and learned more of their stories and hopes, I find myself fearing hurting people. So I hope that as I FINALLY start to blog this week again, that my words be heard as my experience and my questions, not necessarily ever directed at any one person or community. Yes, I am in a community which will force me to ask questions. And yes, past churches have done the same to me. I’m just making it more public, because I wholeheartedly believe that as the church has hurt me, it has hurt my friends and colleagues.

May we engage in these questions and experiences together.

If you have questions about what I’m saying, how I’m saying it, or why I’m saying it, I beg you to tell me – here or in private. I take your words seriously – and with occasional grains of salt.

Background and Foreground

October 12, 2009

I suppose it would be foolish to admit that I expected a different tone to emerge in response to my last post. Perhaps because I didn’t imagine the twinge of sarcasm (get it, sarcasm) that would pour out of my words would be missed by some – sarcasm to express that I did not want to engage the glass ceiling with those who believe it’s purposeful and God-ordained.

As a woman in the 21st century;  a strong-willed, opinionated, I’d-like-to-think-intelligent woman, I have already faced enough misnomers regarding my abilities solely based on anatomy. I have been told that because I am a woman, I would never be paid equal to a married man in my field because he is the head of his household (as though my household is less important?).

I was once sitting in the same seat. As a woman, I never wanted to hear a woman preach or be my only/head pastor. I was young and had never seen a female pastor preach until I was 24 years old. If I believed that women were not fully equal to men in her roles in the church, certainly it would take the pressure off of me from preaching. I could be tasked with leadership, or strategic thinking, but preaching God’s word would never be my business.

It was when I realized that people actually thought my mind was less valuable as compared to any man that I started to ask more questions. I wrestled with the idea of worshiping a God who thought less of me, and yet I was supposedly made fully in this Creator’s image. A less equal image? One where I needed a man’s penis as a stronger or more spiritual connection to the Living God?

I started to quietly ask myself why God would equip me with roles so much like a man that I was, perhaps, better off as a man. I would make sarcastic quips about how I wished I were a man, not because I felt “like” a man, but because it would be easier in my work if I was. I wouldn’t be a bitch, I would be a strong leader.

My own interests lie in both purported gender-roles. I like sports, so I must be more like a guy. Every profession I considered entering were littered with men: sports information, medicine, and ministry. Yet I love shoes, fashion (you’d be amazed by how I dress, but that’s for later), makeup, wrapping paper, and cards. I didn’t know as many “men” who find these compelling. At least, not based on how I was supposed to interpret manhood vis a vis womanhood.

Did God make a mistake with me? I often lamented.

As my questions continued to surface, I became astoundingly confident that the woman I am today is no less “good” (Gen.1.31) because the things I like may teeter in toward one of these purported gender roles. If I am blessed enough to have children some day, I imagine this impression will only continue to grow and evolve.

Quite frankly, I am not here to argue or converse about your theological perspectives if you are unwilling to possibly think different than you once or currently have. If you are willing to think differently, on issues I am well aware are hot-buttoned and formative, then please, continue to join in. If not, feel free to stalk, but know your comments may not always be approved from now on.

I know that a shift can happen in one’s theology. As experience continues to shape our ideas about God, I am certainly that there is room for growth. But as far as my own hope for and lack of trust at times in the church as it exists right now, I need to know that those who engage in conversation here, do so with the understanding that the God whose image is reflected in both women and men, thinks not less of one than the other, nor does She require a type of language inescapably biased towards either.

EDIT: I do want to be clear, that I want to talk, I would love to see questions, and push back, and engagement. But what I do not want is an unwillingness for any side to think the other may be right, and perhaps, our own perceptions may be wrong. I’m willing to acknowledge that, I have been in the past, and if I’ve learned anything in praxis of my education, it’s that I am not a teacher unless I am a learner as well. I think Jesus thought the same, too.

Yes, I am a feminist.

October 5, 2009

Note to self: if a professor for whom you’re grading does not agree with feminist/liberation theology in the slightest, and assigns texts which not only go completely against this perspective, and is perhaps a slap in the face to engaging the role of women and the language of God, drink heavily before grading papers.

“Some reject Jesus’ maleness on the grounds that it is oppressive to women to think about God in gendered terms, but God had to be incarnated as a man in order to model and teach true servanthood.” Marva Dawn, Talking the Walk, (Grand Rapids, Mi: Brazos Press, 2005), p.22

Please discuss.

So what if I called God She?

October 5, 2009

I’ve returned from a week away from the church plant gatherings, as I worked at a conference on youth ministry (yes, please laugh at the irony, as I am acutely aware). I’m catching up on the overwhelming inbox. My mind is circling in a million and one directions.

If nothing else, I have become keenly reaquainted with the massive elephant I face when revisiting church. It’s one of the conversations that has acutely frustrated me for years, and in particular has left me somewhat paralyzed in the last year or so.

Why in the world is the church still living in 1920? I looked at the list of speakers at the conference: the ratio of women to men was easily 1:4 (ok, perhaps 1:3). It’s one thing if its 1:2 even. At least there’s positive movement forward. But when of your 7 main speakers, you have 1 woman, I am completely justified in making a statement.  When the two pastors and two consultants are each all men, what does that communicate to the genders. When your event management staff are women, and the faces of your organization are all white men, again, what does that say?

I looked at the tables of books – considering I both packed and unpacked them, I saw the titles. And not only did I see them, I saw who was writing them.

Some would argue that we’ll “get there.” Sooner or later, women will have an equal voice.

But I don’t understand why in 2009 we still are so marginally valued as “equals” in the church. Why should I remain in it when I am not an equal?

I try to understand the fervent belief that God would set apart one gender above the other for teaching, preaching, and responsibility; how this notion has extended into every nature of our being and doing; how it seeps in our language. And how for suggesting that inequality in the text is problematic makes me either a heretic or a crazy liberal.

Truth be told – I’d rather be considered a bit crazy for my concern with how the Bible is used as the basis for chauvinism than sitting idly by to support that abuse. I’m suggesting that as the English language is continually refined, redefined and emerging, the church needs to figure out a way to open its doors to the lost and hopeless, rather than kicking out those who are teetering off the edge of their seats with a question (or 10). If you want to be a face of reconciliation and hope, it doesn’t mean everyone always changes to match you. Sometimes the church errs too.

if you actually care, please act accordingly

September 23, 2009

One of my huge passions happens to be understanding and engaging adolescence – and in particular, how adults can and should support teenagers. Professionally, the plan was studying it further and more practically at one level, while far more philosophically on the other. I struggle in the tenuous balance of knowing there’s a problem, wanting to find a solution, and not wanting to do the fixing myself. I’d rather theorize about how others can fix it with my ideas. Cocky? Perhaps.

So a way to stay engaged in youth culture, pay bills, and not be in a world with the same people 24/7, I started tutoring math in 2007. Some days I hate my job (mainly the days that students or parents expect my brain to be inserted into the brain of their child on test days. I don’t care how good of a tutor I am, I cannot take your child’s test). Other days I am obsessed with the challenge to help in a tangible way the lives of students, and not just academically. But telling a student for 4 months that he can get an A on a test, and then witnessing that A, or having a student tell me that she now ‘likes math‘ melts my heart. I have witnessed attitudes drop, eyes brighten, and in some instances, insecurity wash away and self-trust develop – all because of a pesky math tutor who makes her students repeat, “math is great.”

But what baffles me is the level to which parents are hurting more than the kids, and how that hurt completely influences their parenting. How parents are inadvertently ignoring their child’s safety for the chance to be their kids’ friend. So when I had a parent tell me a pretty depressing story today – one that I knew at some point would befall me, I was unfortunately reminded of how frustrating it is to see how little the church seems to willingly step up to the plate, when the plate doesn’t represent exactly what it wants of it.

I am reminded that I don’t quite understand what the church thinks it is doing. In short, this student, who has been involved in “church” her entire life, has been in a small group since I’ve known her the last 2 years (which is enough to know who her small group leader is, where/when her small group meets, and what they were most recently studying). I know every sport she plays, I know her parents’ travel schedule (loosely), and I know that the nanny she’s had since childhood is really just the cleaning lady and barely speaks English – not as much a support emotionally or physically, as a gatekeeper for the family calendar.

And so, when drugs entered into the scope of the conversation today, on top of alcohol, I got angry. The mom with whom I spoke knows what I am studying. She has seen me become jaded. She asked me what to do with her concern for this student, explaining that when, in the past, she’s told the girl’s mother about her daughter’s antics, it is completely dismissed.

I don’t get how this girl has had adults – adults who work professionally with adolescents for 30+ years within the so-called Christian framework, surrounding her with such a blind eye. I don’t get how after 3 years of these issues, this girl is still completely alone apparently without a safe adult presence.

I know I’m judging what isn’t happening, supposedly, from of one conversation.  But this crap is what makes me mad, angry, frustrated, disappointed, and untrusting of the church. I’ve felt that abandonment myself. I worked at a church and was quickly forgotten for pete’s sake. I know what it’s like as a young teenager to feel forgotten by the church for fear of hard conversations. No doubt this is why I feel so strongly.

All I want is to be that safe person for her – and yet professionally and interpersonally, I have absolutely no right to know what is going on, let alone assume I can provide that safety. It’s not just about the influence of “faith” that supposedly calls me to action, but %&^#%!!!, others with faith in her daily life seem to lack the ability to go beyond what meets the eye of a child who is clearly hurting. And I can’t quite reconcile that lack of accountability and see what the church is doing for people within its walls. And goodness knows I’m not even touching upon the people outside.

I really am not offended simply for the sake of one girl – but it’s watching what I see day after day. Countless students who are dealing with tons of crap, and a church who is more worried about the numbers on Sunday, the building projects, or the assurance that their missions work look the best. The church is in decline for a reason. Teenagers know how to engage agnosticism and atheism because the alternative has forgotten them, not because they aren’t involved in perfect small groups or because they didn’t come to youth group. In fact, the whole thing isn’t about you.

It’s about the other. Please, act accordingly.

Square Pegs

September 19, 2009

At the first meeting of the launch team for the church plant, I had a conversation with the guy heading it. As he started to describe a thematic representation of the ways someone suggested humans leads, I somewhat hastily cracked a joke.

If there are three ways to categorize our natural tendencies in leadership (strategy, spirituality or community), I have some thoughts on where I align.

The suggestion (if I’ve paid attention well enough) is that we each can find our natural focus of the three, but when we find people who lead in each of these three paths, we find holistic leadership and synergy, if you will.

Let’s be honest, I can deal fine with the first and the third foci. In fact, I would say I relatively thrive when called upon thinking strategically. And as an extrovert, I relish ‘community.’ All told, I could care less about the third focus, however. Spirituality. Hmmmph. And apparently I’m supposed to if I’m really going to effectively and comfortably be an intern.

As I described it, I’m fine with have a ladder, rather than a three-pegged stool. Ladders just look cool, no?