Thursday, January 24, 2008

Minisry and Gender-Role Conversation w/ the Girls

Because I recently took on a new role at our church, there's been some explaining to do to the kids about why I'm going to such and such a meeting, or why I might go out of town to a conference in a few months.

"So, you know how Pastor R. is pastor? And how C. is a pastor?" I asked the girls.

"Yeah. . ." they said cautiously.

"Well, now I'm a pastor, too, and I help out with things in the church more now."

Evvy, the three year old, scrunched up her face and her eyes welled with tears. "But Mom!" she wailed, "Dont' be a boy!"

It took me a second to comprehend her worldview. "I'm not a boy," I said, confused.

"But Mom," she continued, tears on her cheeks, "ALL Pastors Have To Be Boys."

And then I got it. And I wondered how she had this all figured out already, at three.

"It's okay," I assured them, "All pastors dont' have to be boys. Girls can be pastors, too."

"Oh!" Una, five, jumped in, and as in contradiction to her sister's hard-line sentiments, jested: "Well, ALL Pastors HAVE to be CHAIRS."

"No, no!" shouted Evvy, in the same spirit. "ALL PASTORS HAVE TO BE DOORS!!"

By this point, they'd proved Ev's arguement ridiculous and were laughing uproariously.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Christian Culture Anxieties, Part 2

A dear friend of mine was duped by a forward about a month ago. The email she received claimed that CBS discontinued the show Touched by an Angel because it used the word "God" in every episode. Madeline Murray O'Hare, the woman who succeeded in eliminating mandatory prayer and Bible reading from public schools many years ago, was blamed for the CBS/Angel fiasco. Not only that, the email claimed O'Hare had a hearing with the FCC, where, if her petition was successful, "all Sunday worshipservices being broadcast on the radio or bytelevision will be stopped." The email urged Christians to action.

Many of you reading this will think this sounds fishy. I immediately did a search and came up with a few urban legend-type websites that debunk these rumors (

The question that interested me most, once the rumor was debunked, was this: How does this sort of thing start? How does it spread? And why? The only true fruit of the rumor-spreading seems to be an increased level of paranoia among Christians. Paranoia and ignorance that prevents us from seeking real public change.

This brings to mind Y2K and my mother, who joined an organization called The Prophecy Club. After many hours on the phone with a "Prophet" named Tom, my mother took a carload of her possessions to Goodwill, applied for her passport, and pleaded with my brother to give his life to the Lord. What did she learn from her conversation with Prophet Tom? That there were Russian troops hiding out in WW2 Japanese internment camps, waiting for all systems to go haywire on January 1, 2000. When chaos commenced, these Russian troops would take to the streets, imposing martial law. Christians would be persecuted, Prophet Tom said, but there was a small farming community in Belize where Christians could survive by working the land, a safe and humble lifestyle.

Mom never made it to Belize, but she was damn sure immobilized by fear, not to mention bereft of her only copy of The Late Great Planet Earth, which she donated to Goodwill in her escape-planning frenzy. I know this story is a bit exterme, and most people I know are not this gullible. Still, there are plenty of organizations like the Prophecy Club making a whole lot of money off their products. And that money is coming from somewhere, likely from very anxious Jesus-followers.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Christian Culture Anxieties, Part 1

I got a forward last week from a friend of mine. The original email came from an Iowan who was urging her out-of-state friends to pray for the caucus on caucus night, that people would "vote according to the things that are on God's heart."

That doesn't bother me. But the rest of her email made me squirm. Here it is:

"[Iowa City] seems pretty conservative and 'harmless' to most outsiders. I live near Iowa City, one of the most humanistic cities in the US. Per capita, we have the highest rate of abortions in the nation. Nearly 5% of the population is murdered in abortion clinics every year. That's about 3000 babies. We are fourth in the nation per capita for homosexuality. The University of Iowa boasts a 13% gay population. We are also a hotbed for wiccan activity and all sorts of post-modern thought. And believe me. These people all vote and they vote proudly for the things that matter to them. Please pray that despite what we in this country have deserved, that God would set up righteous judges over our nation."

Here are some thoughts/questions that came to mind:

1. "That's about 3000 babies." I am not pro-choice (I can write more on that later), but this email reminds me of my beef with pro-life Christian culture--not so much with what the author is pointing out. For many Christians, one of the biggest factors determining a stance against abortion is the idea that life could begin at conception. If we are to be consistent with this arguement, why don't Christians, as a "pro-life" culture, have funeral or memorial services for fetuses miscarried ("spontaneous abortions") in the first trimester and embryos implanted in fallopian tubes (ectopic pregnancies)? And why do so many pro-life Christians use birth control pills, the function of which (advertised by the manufacturers), among other functions, is to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the walls of the uterus? These cultural observations make me wonder: are we really "pro-life"? Do we grieve the loss of life through natural (or pharmeceutical-related) causes in proportion to the grief we exhibit over the loss of life created through abortion?

In addition, do the politics that typically ride along with a pro-life sensibility fit harmoniously with that sensibility? In other words, the pro-life plank is typically found on the platform of a Republican party candidate, and Republicans are notorious for their cuts on welfare and assitance to the poor, the poor being mostly women and their un-aborted children.

2. So Christians believe the gay lifestyle is not a representation of God's ideal when he made human relationships, but I don't understand all the fear implied in the email. Gay people are just more people to love, right?

3. "hotbed for Wiccan activity and post-modern thought." Wiccans, too, are more people to love. And I'm not sure I understand why Wicca and post-modernism are lumped together here, and why there is an implied moral stance against post-modernism, as if modernism (which I'm assuming postmodernism is being pitted against?) did much for proving God's existence.

Many of you reading this know a lot more than I do on the subject of modernism v. postmodernism, so feel free to add your two cents

I guess the bottom line is I'm so tired of Christian culture anxieties, the "us v. them" mentalities that keep us out of the public square, and from befriending the multitudes of people to be found there.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Friendly (?) Produce Man

I love friendly people. Friendly people who go out of their way to smile at the grocery store, friendly people who say, when you tell your kindergartner she can't buy Hi-C because it's full of sugar, "It's horrible what we're feeding kids these days!" and shake their head, in full agreement with your decision to go for the box that says 100% juice--I like people like that. Secretly I want to be one, to insert myself more into the airspace when I'm in public places, sidle up to the woman debating which brand of diapers to buy and say, "Isn't it nuts how much diapers cost these days?" because that's exactly what I'm thinking and probably what lots of parents are thinking. And the two of us diaper-shoppers would grimace together and then maybe smile and then go our separate ways, having connected with some other in the universe, even if the connection is on a minute scale.

Today at an Amish-run grocery store (aka Bent and Dent) in the country, my father and my children and I ran into a man on the juice aisle. He heartily approved my 100% juice selection and then held up his own bag of cookies apologetically and said to me, "I'm a produce man and I"m buying cookies!." I laughed and shook my head, thinking this man looked awfully familiar, which I then stated. Yes, he told me, we had met. He looked in my eyes and smiled. "I told you you had beautiful hair," he said.

And then it all came flooding back. I'd run into him this past summer at the same grocery store; he'd followed me around for ten minutes, trying to talk me into stopping by his produce stand in Iowa City in front of the Ace Hardware. He had corns and canteloupes, the best prices around. As I made my way to the parking lot with my full cart of groceries, he was just leaving in his truck. He stopped in the middle of the lane and rolled down his window. "I have to tell you," he confided, "You have beautiful hair."

"Thanks," I'd said, and shrugged and moved on, glad to have met another friendly human. But today, when he reminded me, I saw caution lights. I let my dad talk to the friendly produce guy--who kept him talking a full five minutes by the mixed nuts--while I scurried around the store hoping to avoid a conversation. The two kids were getting restless and I didn't want to get caught in another produce conversation.

My father was able to part ways with the produce man eventually and I ran into him again at the checkout where he was in line ahead of me. "Have a great day!" he'd enthused when he left. "See ya!" I'd smiled. A few minutes later, as I was paying for my groceries, the produce man, having come back into the store, materialized before me with a box of chocolate covered cordial cherries, the sort that taste like choclate covered cherry Ny-Quil. He stuck it in front of my nose. "Happy New Year!" he said. I said thanks, of course, and as he was walking away said the only other thing I could think of, patterned after his earlier confession about the cookies:

"The produce man is handing out chocolate!" He looked back and smiled.
My father, after our shopping trip, opined that the produce man was lacking in social skills, or at least had little regard for the shopping other customers needed to do. I wondered aloud if he was merely misunderstood, a friendly soul society had not crushed and pounded into an emotionally repressed man. On the other hand, the hair comment and the chocolate cherries seem to add up to a little more than that, leaving me with a nagging little feeling of distrust, and the sadness that some super-friendly people after something other than friendship.