Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Gift of Wrath

I found myself engaged in uncensored honest discussion this week. The friend I spoke to queried me about my thoughts lately on women and the bible, women and the church, women in ministry. Frankly, I confessed, it's rather difficult for me to think too much on these subjects. Out tumbled my next secret: I get so angry as to get sidelined. Too much investigation into the workings of misogynistic thought will, I fear, prove debilitating to me. I can easily comprehend what tragedy it would be to avoid the questions that ignite such anger, but how do I walk the line between outrage and constructive response?

The assumption hidden in my logic: Anger is not constructive.

Is anger constructive?

As a strategy (mostly subconscious), I've worked terribly hard in most areas of my life at converting anger into meaningful, constructive conversations, devoid of emotional stickiness. I point out injustice and flaws in logic. I knit words and ideas together to form my (non-emotional) argument, appeal to mutually respected authorities on the subject. I know how to avoid words that indicate frustration and anger, certainly wrath or rage. Except in a few relationships, I rarely let on that a raw center exists, that my feelings, like anyone else's, can tumble about like nerves wired to an electrical outlet. This is in part due to an underlying belief that the expression of anger brings distance, while something less emotionally charged can bring about more positive change.

However, when it comes to the issue of misogyny and ministry, I have to face the fact that principle is not the only thing driving me to suppress my anger. I've been raised with the cultural pronouncement that "women are emotional." (I hear this as a slur most of the time). I've also been raised with the pronouncement that "women can't be leaders" because they are "so emotional." This understood, I've worked extra hard at pretending to not be emotional, so I won't fall into any stereotypes, and so I won't be discounted as a leader...or so my thinking goes. Obviously I see the pifalls in line of reasoning. I realize that practicing the suppression of the truth, even of one's feelings, is a surefire way to exhibit a false self to the world. Not only that, my suppression implies cooperation and agreement with the very system of thinking I find so destructive: that emotion is weakness, that those who feel cannot be strong leaders. It's unhealthy and dishonest, yet so darned easy to bow to.

If we could put matters of fear, honesty, and integrity aside for just a moment, I'd like to ask when and how anger in its raw form is constructive? Is it an uncalculated expresson of anger we witness in the accounts of Jesus flipping over the money-changers' tables in the temple? When is a shout, a flip of a table, an appropriate gesture? When should it be channeled toward other ends? And when should anger inspire us to be as creative and brilliant and wise as we can be in working out injustice, as we see Jesus--wise and brilliant--challenging the social and religious systems of his day?

Breaking the Good Mom (and Pastor) Myth?

(Here is a post full of questions and musings. I've arrived at absolutely no answers.)

I'm reading a book on motherhood (although it could be addressed to parents in general) this week. Here's one of its claims. "Myth: Good Mothers Manage Sibling Conflict.... The good mother ideal insists we manage our children's relationships, ensuring they do in fact love and care for one another....The current societal myth dictates that the good mother is responsible for managing this situation. She must jump in and break up kids' fights, discipline the batterer, and console the wounded. After all, good mothers run the family. It's their domain, and they gotta make sure it's all running smoothly, interpersonal relationships included."

Schafer's ideas run counter to the way things go in our family. Mark and I indeed try to manage, discipline, talk down every situation. We make ourselves judge and jury the second there's an outcry from a child. And we do it because we want to see justice and fairness in the relationships between the girls. We want the perpretrator of crime to contemplate and reflect on the inappropriateness of her actions. We want the victim to be comforted, to know justice. We wrack our brains to come up with "appropriate" consequences. It's exhausting. But I struggle with how much of Schafer's ideas to embrace. Her advice: dont' get involved. Make the kids work it out themselves. This is SOO hard to do with an irrational three-year-old, who claims with passion that her invisible owies are gushing with blood just so she can score a band-aid. Non-engagement is SOO hard to do with an almost six-year old who has an overly heightened sense of injustice and looks to mom and dad to settle the score every other minute. We've taught her well in regard to her role (she's a good student): no hitting, no screaming, no yanking. We've said, come to mom and dad when there's a dispute. When peaceful overtures at conflict resolution have failed her, we've told her: give up, get Mom and Dad on your team. We'll handle it. For the most part, she does. (Now, I give myself enough credit to think that eventually we'd start to hand the reigns over to her and her younger sister to settle conflicts, assuming younger sister continues to develop a certain degree of reasonableness.)

But what would happen if right now, we let them go? Maybe someone would hit. (In fact, someone already has, although it was interesting to note how that hitting was provoked by the other child). This afternoon I tried out some new words with the girls: "I'm going to let you two work this out on your own. I'm sorry this is hard for you. By the way, if you continue to argue (I don't want to listen to it), I'm just goign to make this toy off limits to both of you. You'll have to figure out how to share." After a few minutes of absolute indignation and frustration, both girls rose to the occasion, self-regulating their "turns," verbalizing their process ("okay, i"m done. It's your turn!") and handing back said toy almost like a baton in a relay race.

I had to do very little, other than hold my ground. But the question looms: at what point would we intervene if a conflict heightened in intensity. What about violence that could ensue and escalate? The author of the book seems to think a little physical fighting and wrestling is perfectly fine, although she says if we're worried about anyone getting seriously hurt we should enroll in family counseling. So, say I'm gonna overlook a "hit". What message is that sending to the kid? Will she resort to worse violence the next time?

Obviously I haven't had enough experience to know how this will play out in my family, but these questions have been dovetailing with a meditation on the role of pastors in resolving congregational conflict between individuals. I recently heard a teaching a pastor gave on codependency, how sometimes as leaders we need to be brave enough to let people suffer the consequences of their own actions, to let things play out in situations, withhold from micromanaging, and correcting and speaking on behalf of every party there is a conflict with. When it comes to handling conflict in congregant relationships, however, does it in some ways mirror what Schafer is saying about children? Don't get involved? Don't work it out for them? The tension hidden in that answer is similiar to the one found in the mother-child situation: What about power dynamics? What if one party is bigger and stronger? In this case I"m not referring to physical abuse--but the potential tyranny of power in any social set up where one person is one-up on another. A bible study leader and a class participant. A Sunday School worker and the Sunday school director. At what point do you use your pastoral position to guide the discuss, to bring correction, rebuke, and discipline when the apparent "victim" lacks in power?

The model Jesus gave us for confronting offenses is a one-on-one chat.* But if and when the one-on-one doesn't go so well, we involve others. And in contemporary life, pastors seem to get involved the most. But what position is a pastor to take? Sometimes the crime is easy to identify. Sometimes the sin issues are ambiguous, hidden in murky water, beyond the grasp of language's identification--no different than a scene I may stumble upon in the aftermath of a squabble. Who took whose toys? Whose motives are pure, whose dark? Each pair of eyes looks up at me pleadingly, feigning innocence, broadcasting indignation.

Is this how King Solomon felt when the two women came to him, each claiming motherhood of an infant? How courageous (foolish? crazy?) to risk the life of the second infant in order to discern the truth of the situation. 1 Kings says the people saw Solomon had "wisdom from God to administer justice." The wisdom, in this case, did not involve him making a decision upon hearing the case. He introduced a new element, put both women in the same boat, so to speak. They would both lose if one of them didn't acquiesce to the other. He watched and he waited, and then the answer came.

* Alyson Schafer, Breaking the Good Mom Myth
*Matt 18:15

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Twelve (?) Disciples

I get emotional when people start listing the names of Jesus' "12" disciples. Last year our church did a series about being a disciple of Christ. For the series trailer, my friend C donned his sunglasses for the camera and affected his voice to sound tough and cool as he listed Christ's notorious 12--the ones Jesus called "apostles" but whom Christians commonly refers to as "disciples." Simon (Peter). Andrew. James, son of Zebedee. John. Phillip. Bartholomew. Matthew. Thomas. James, son of Alphaeus. Simon. Jude Thaddaeus. Judas Iscariot. By the end of this long list, I was was fighting off the hysteria that can accompany rejection. Why weren't there any women in that list? Why wasn't I represented in that list? It wasn't anything personal, right? Because everyone knew Jesus called the twelve. The twelve men.

The twelve men were singled out by Jesus in Luke 6 as "apostles", but why are they the focus in our Christian education? Why are they the only ones commonly refered to as disciples? Why did I not grow up hearing about Mary Magdalene as a disciple of Christ (rather than the emphasis of her supposed former life of prostitution)? Why did I not hear of the disciples Joanna and Susanna and "many others" who accompanied Christ and the "twelve" (Luke 8:2-3) and supported them with their own money? Why do I know nothing of Mary, the mother of James? Nothing of Salome (not Herod's wife) at the crucifixion and tomb? Nothing of Mary, the wife of Cleopas? These women rarely speak in the biblical narratives, much like the concubine from Bethlehem in the Judges story (see previous post). While the concubine was unnamed, the female disciples might well remain unnumbered (were they included in the 70 Jesus sent out?), and church history has done all but obscure them from the canon.

I do not find fault with the makers of the trailer I mentioned above. What they did was perfectly ordinary, perfectly acceptable in the realm of conventional thought. We were talking about following Christ, being good Christians. Throughout the ages, the church has looked mostly to men as our guides.

On another note, I find it terribly inconvenient that most ideas that fall into the "realm of conventional thought" are absolutely distressing to me. I would rather not be distressed. I would rather bury my head in the sand than ask, "Why Jesus? Why did you not make any women your 'apostles'? Why has it been so easy for women to be marginalized and dismissed throughout the ages, within your church? Was it you? Could you have done better? Provided better stories for the writers for the books? Or was it them? Did they see through their own misogynistic lense? Through the lense of patriarchy, where women are property, unclean objects, gatekeepers of all evil to be found in the natural world? Was it in fact a massive victory for women that their names were recorded at all? That the story of the first female evangelist* is recorded in the bible? Was it in fact a massive victory that you appeared to women first after your resurrection, even though their stories were met with skepticism?"

In answer to the latter questions, my intellect, research and gut tell me that the answer is yes: What to me seem like small triumphs for women are massive in light of the cultural paradigm of Jesus' time. I know it. I get it. But it hurts that those triumphs failed to shape the present day in more radical ways. It hurts to the core.

*I like the fictionalized account of John 4:1-42, the Samaritan woman at the well, that is found in Saving Women from the Church: How Jesus Mends a Divide, by Susan McLeod-Harrison.

Aligning with Patriarchy

Recently, a female pastor I much admire made the following statement about her role in the denomination she plays a part: "By aligning myself with X (denomination) I am aligning myself with patriarchy." Immediately I thought of my own role, in my own patriarchally structured denomination and I took a sharp breath. It's not that inroads are not being made for women. It's not that female pastors are no longer allowed. But the fact is it is a system shaped, for the most part, by white men. There are not women in the highest of leadership ranks in the denominational structure. Therefore, any change a woman might bring to these denominations requires first aligning oneself with a system that was against the full expression of our gifts and callings from the get-go, and still has not embraced them fully. Eek.

My pastor friend went on to muse on narrative theology: We believe scripture is divinely inspired, but what does it mean that most of scripture is written through the lense of patriarchy, through a lense that makes the males the central figures, the figures of our attention and compassion even when they so wrongly deserve it?

A case in point. The story of the unnamed concubine from Bethlehem was highlighted for me this week*. A master and his concubine are the main characters*. Either the concubine "played the harlot" or "she became angry with" the master (depends on the translation) and she left him and returned to her father's house. The master goes after her to "speak to her heart, to bring her back." But when he gets there he speaks not to the concubine, but instead hangs with his "father in law" and drinks and eats for days and generally has a party. Then he saddles up, with concubine (who has been given no more speech in the story thus far, and whose heart has not been spoken to) and prepares to go against the father's warning that is not safe to travel at night.

On the journey, the master, his servant, and teh concubine find themselves invited to the home of an old man to stay for the night. At the house, the travelers "are enjoying themselves to their heart". In the middle of the party the men of Gibeah pound on the door and demand to "know" the male guest (the master) who is staying at the old man's house. The old man refuses the men, telling them not to act wickedly, and then says, "Look now, my daughter the virgin and his concubine. Let me bring them out. Ravish them, and do to them the good in your eyes."

Without any other action, the master (same man who followed her to her father's house with plans to speak to her heart) seizes his concubine and shoves her out of the house. She is raped repeatedly and tortured all night until morning. In the morning, her master leaves the house to be on his journey and is confronted with the victim. She has crawled to the doorway of the house and has her hand upon the threshhold. "Arise and let us be going," he tells her. "But there was no answer." Was she dead? The Greek Bible says she was. The Hebrew text is silent, leaving that open for interpretation. At any rate, the master puts her on his donkey and takes her home. When he gets home he "took the knife and he seized his concubine. He cut her, limb from limb, into twelve pieces and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel." It's unclear whether the master has actually murdered her, but he sends her body parts throughout Israel asking the peopel to take note of what the Benjaminite men did to her. Israel convenes. The master gives account of his story, failing to mention he pushed her out of the house to be raped and tortured. The tribes of Israel demand Benjaminites give up the wicked men who did this to the concubine. They refuse. The other tribes attack Benjamin. 25,000 Benjaminites die in a day. Not a single woman, child or beast survives. Only 600 men escape to the wilderness. However, the rest of the tribes cannot handle the idea of "there [being] one tribe lacking in Israel." Those men need to procreate! But they are not going to give their own women to the Benjaminites. So, the attack another town that wasn't part of the battle, murding all of its inhabitants except 400 young virgins, whom they give to Benjaminites. Well, that isnt' enough women for 600 Benjaminites so the men of Israel decide its okay to abduct 200 virgin daughters who dance in the festival of YHWH.

As Phyllis Trible says in her book Texts of Terrors, "In total the rape of one has become the rape of six hundred....the story of the concubine justifies the expansion of violence against women. What these men claim to abhor, they have reenacted with vengeance. They have captured, betrayed, raped, and scattered 400 virgins of Jabesh-gilead and two hundred daughters of Shiloh. Furthermore, they have tortured and murdered all the women of Benjamin and all the married women of Jabesh-gilead. Israelites males have dimembered the corporate body of Israelite females."

What this story underscores for me is that women were property. The outrage of the master and the tribes of Israel is not at the human rights violation of the concubine. It is rather, at the desecration of property. And an eye for an eye, right? or an eye for thousands of eyes? The men go out and seek their vengeance, committing human rights violation upon human rights violations.

Could we read this story a million times, "through the lense of patriarchy," as my friend asked, and never get it? In other words, could our attention be so focused on the actions, the battles, the "victories" of "God's elect" that we do not see the woman whose body, as Trible suggests, "was broken and given to many"?

*through reading Phyllis Trible's Text of Terrors
*the following story comes from Judges 19-21

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

1943 Guide to Hiring Women

This was reprinted in Savvy and Sage's September/October 2007 issue. Originally published in Transportation magazine, 1943, written to "Male supervisors of women in the workforce during World War II."

Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees: There's no longer any question whether transit companies should hire women for jobs formerly held by men. The draft and manpower shortage has settled that point. The important things now are to select the most efficient women available and how to use them to the best advantage.

Here are eleven helpful tips on the subject from Western Properties:

1. Pick young married women. They usually have more sense of responsibility than their unmarried sisters, they're less likely to be flirtatisous, they need the work or they wouldn't be doing it, they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to deal with the public efficiently.

2. When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home at some time in their lives. Older women who have never contacted the public have a hard time adapting themselves and are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy. It's always well to impress upon older women the importance of friendliness and courtesy.

3. General experience indicates that "husky" girls-those who are just a little on the heavy side- are more even tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.

4. Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination-one covering female conditions. This step not only protects the property against the possibilities of lawsuit, but reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job.

5. Stress at the outset the importance of time the fact that a minute or two lost here and there makes serious inroads on schedules. Until this point is gotten across, service is likely to be slowed up.

6. Give the female employee a definite day-long schedule of duties so that they'll keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes. Numerous properties say that women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them, but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves.

7. Whenever possible, let the inside employee change from one job to another at some time during the day. Women are inclined to be less nervous and happier with change.

8. Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. You have to make some allowances for femininte psychology. A girl has more confidence and is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.

9. Be tactful when issuing instructions or in making criticisms. Women are often sensitive; they can't shrug off harsh words the way men do. Never ridicule a woman-it breaks her spirit and cuts of her efficiency.

10. Be reasonably considerate about using strong language around women. Even though a girl's husband or father may swear vociferously, she'll grow to dislike a place of business where she hears too much of this.

11. Get enough size variety in operator's uniforms so that each girl can have a proper fit. This point can't be stressed too much in keeping women happy.