Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Deborah, HRC, and Women

It is not recorded of Deborah
That she settled down with Barak,
Raised a tribe of Children,
And left off judging Israel. 
                      -Janet Ruth Heller

I always love it when someone finally reads this poem that is hanging on my office wall. It's a large picture, so they miss it only because people tend to walk by these sorts of things. The look after reading it is always enjoyable, whatever it is. 

Even for a Bible nerd like me, the first time I read the poem, it jarred me a little. I'd never considered the fuller story of Deborah, or what did or didn't happen. Her husband is mentioned once in her story, and never again. There's no record of children. Four short lines remind us that Deborah was a badass. Undoubtedly, today, someone would call her a bitch because she'd be too competent, too direct, too powerful for our world to respect her. 

Her story gets two chapters in Judges. She was one of the judges of Israel, the rulers before there were kings. She summoned the general of the army to her office (the tree where she judged) and told him he was to go into battle. The Lord had proclaimed it. He'd only go if she went with him. So she did, telling him that this meant the general whose army would be defeated would be killed by a woman. Israel's general, Barak, is totally good with that plan. So he and Deborah go up to fight, along with the army, and are victorious. The other general flees, finding his way into the tent of a woman named Jael who hammers a tent spike into his skull, killing him. Meanwhile, Deborah and Barak lead the people in a celebration of their victory. 

The number of unnamed women in the Bible is jarring if you read it closely at all. The number who are celebrated because of their role as wife and mother is staggering. The names most people know readily are known because of the sons the gave birth to: Mary, Elizabeth, Hannah. If you're protestant, the honor of the women is diminished even more. For all the accusations of Mariolatry in the Roman Catholic Church that I've heard, there's also great reverence for her. 

I struggle to even name women who were not honored for their children or for being an important man's wife. Most of the women I can think of get only a mention, no long narrative. The two chapters that Deborah receives are astronomical in comparison. I remember Huldah, Miriam, Anna, and Junia readily. I started to type a few more, then remembered the men they were attached to. I can't help but point out that many scholars will fight to the death that Junia was actually a man named Junias, and some translations follow suit. The world would surely crash down if the Bible named a woman as an apostle. 

I could keep going and going, talking about the elimination of women's names and stories from the history of the early church--and the later church and the current church for that matter. I'm sure there have been many books written about it at this point. My own story of sexism in the church is deeply intertwined with my call to ministry. Lest you think being in a tradition that ordains women fixes a lot of those problems (and if you do, then we should probably talk face to face for a few hours), here are just a few of the things that have happened because I'm a woman: I have been hit on by male parishioners; I have been yelled at on a weekly basis by someone in the community who didn't qualify for help; my weight has been brought up in performance reviews; no one assumes I'm the pastor.

For all the institutional sexism of the church, of our Scriptures, of the things we do every day, never doubt that it is only a mirror of our larger culture. In fact, it is a mirror of a larger culture formed by Christianity, and all of our problems are only magnified there. Yesterday, Hillary Clinton became the Democratic presidential nominee, the first woman nominated by a major party. The response is as revolting as much of the rhetoric over the past months during her campaign.

Here's the things: you can dislike her. You can dislike her husband. You can complain about the people funding her campaign. You can use hard facts all you want. You should also consider if you have a problem with her just because she's a woman, or if the media telling you things about her has a problem with her being a strong woman. If a news story has an intentionally unflattering photo of her, that's not facts; that's sexism. If there's any mention of her dress, actually, that's a problem. If you dislike her demeanor, think she's not polite enough, wonder why she said it like that, yeah, it's sexism. If you call her a bitch, you've completely fallen prey to a world that says women should be anything but strong leaders. 

Never forget, though, that if you're Christian, your Scripture devotes more than a few verses to one woman. One. You'd do well to consider how that alone has shaped your world and ours. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Embracing Pokémon Go

Yeah, I had to up my data plan this month thanks to Pokémon Go. That's definitely something I wanted to confess. (Note: sarcasm font. Seriously, why doesn't that exist?) It all started when a young woman from my church popped her head in the door and excitedly told me that the church is a PokéStop. I mean, I pretty much had to download the app so that I could understand what it's all about. Really, it was a pastoral duty. 

I now have eggs hatching in incubators, my Pokémon regularly getting kicked out of gyms, and am still slightly miffed about the critter in my Pokédex that is just an outline. I spotted it, caught it, but then the app froze and I haven't seen it since. (Also, I totally get a life award for self restraint for not typing the previous sentence in all caps.) I know the three areas closest to my house that are teeming with PokéStops and often have lure modules on them. 

If none of that makes sense to you, it's all good. No worries. I promise. In fact, if none of that makes sense to you, sit back, relaxed, and don't get sucked into the black hole of Pokémon Go. But maybe let me know if you suspect there's significant Pokémon activity in your neighborhood. 

I suggested to my evangelism chair the other day that we do something in response to Pokémon Go. (Actually, in my church, we call evangelism "Good News" because evangelism makes us nervous, but that's a whole other conversation.) We couple place lure modules for a couple hours so that the Pokémon hunting is good, offer water, let people use the bathroom, play via wifi, and charge their phones. It's an easy offer to the community that we'll likely make in the next week. 

I don't know that it translates to visitors. If it does, great, if not, ok. You see, this week, I was also at the Prevent Child Abuse Arizona conference. Although my job is not counselor or social worker, sometimes my job is counselor or social worker until I can get someone in need to those people. (I was there as part of my service on a regional council for First Things First.) For all the good takeaways from that conference, the best reminder was that social isolation is dangerous for all age groups. In fact, most abuse happens when people are isolated--both children and adults. The younger the victim, the more they assume that what happens at their home is normal. 

I am convinced that the more we can do to create community, the better off the people around us are. I don't know that Pokémon Go is the answer, but I do know that it helps. Sure, it has its problems, like the fact that people who live in poorer neighborhoods aren't as likely to have easy access to things like Pokéstops. There's the problem of needing a smart phone with a decent amount of data. Still, last night, parks close to my house were teeming with people. There were kids as young as eight or ten all the way up to adults my age, several of whom were pushing strollers, too. Some of the teenage boys who play regularly in one of the parks are very amused by yelling, "Who's here playing Pokémon, say 'Yeah!'" Gradually, they're getting people to respond. 

In general, there's some talking among players. People share power cords and work out who is going to place lure modules to increase the number of Pokémon to catch. Maybe it's the geek in me, but I'm reminded that this is what certain fandoms and pieces of pop culture do: they create community. I mean, there's a person in my neighborhood who has a smart car painted blue and TARDIS painted on it, along with a couple Doctor Who decals in the window. If it wouldn't be super, super creepy, I'd follow them home to see if we could be friends. (Yes, I'm aware it would be super, super creepy and will never, ever do this.) The fact that this is an app played in public means those connections can actually happen. 

Maybe (for once) I'm being overly optimistic. But I am convinced that this is one of those things the church should embrace, play along with, and pray that the community created through this game is life-giving. After all, isn't that part of God's reign? 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Learning Racism

On Facebook the other day, a colleague challenged her friends to name the ways we have been taught racism. It's one of the worst questions I've ever been asked because, well, those are the things we learn without realizing we're learning them. It's strange how childhood memories become marred when you realize the brokenness associated with them.

Still, in the tradition of confessing sins--I sometimes wish my tradition had formal rites of repentance--I'm confessing to you that I am not innocent. I'm formed by and complicit in a system of racism. I have benefited from a racist system in countless ways. And here's how I was taught that system.

I've said this before, but it remains one of the things I just can't get over: when I was a child and misbehaved, my grandfather would tell me he'd go buy him a little nigger girl instead. I was an adult before I realized the implications of that threat. Some days, I still can't believe a man I loved so deeply thought a system where people were merchandise was ok. I didn't realize there was a racial slur thrown in until I was seven or eight. Also, it's fair to remind you that I'm 31 years old. 

When I tried to correct my grandfather one day after using that slur again--probably around seven or eight when I realized what he'd said--my mom quickly shushed me. She was doing my hair at the time, so very quickly, her hand was over my mouth and I got a swat with the hairbrush. I don't remember everything, but I do remember it was a rant about NBA players.

Most of the time, nothing I was taught was so overt.

Because I grew up in a very, very white world, much of the conversation about people with dark skin was in theory. It also meant everyone talked about "they" and "them" because in a world where everyone has light skin, the people who didn't were always other. The veterinarian in town and his wife who ran the office were both African-American. They were respected, trusted, and very light-skinned. I don't know how it would have been if they weren't so needed in that rural community. I was in fifth grade before I saw another child who wasn't white.

Before that, my only other memory of a person of color in my community were missionaries my church supported. I remember being fascinated by how very dark their skin was. I remember struggling to understand their accents. They were from Africa, but I can't tell you where exactly. I remember it was a country that grew cotton. For many years, my mom had some of that cotton in a box. It was as other to me as the people who brought it. Now that I think about it the conversations about they and them stuck with me more than anything.  I remember an uncle sincerely asking, "Do you really think they're like us?"

Occasionally, when I was older, we'd go to Lexington, Kentucky for something. It was not as large or diverse as Louisville, but my sister went to school there. To get to the University of Kentucky, we drove through the housing projects and shabby parts of town that looked like no place I'd ever been.  The people walking on the streets all had dark skin. I certainly didn't want to stay in those homes.

When my best friend and I were watching The Cosby Show or Oprah, as we often did after school when at her house, we had to quickly change the channel when her dad walked in the house.

A coworker of my mom's found out that in the teeny, tiny little town that was the county seat of the rural area there was a street where all the black people lived. I don't remember the street, but I do remember my mom disliking the woman's response that this was racist. After all, this was where they wanted to live. In that era, I doubt there were any housing laws. But in high school, when I was at a small town festival, walking around with a friend, we walked over there to where her family hanging out. When we walked over to that street--the name of which I no longer remember--we crossed the tracks to get there. I'd never seen a family that wasn't white before. Yes, my friend was African-American. At most, I think there were four children of color in my high school. This world was one I didn't know existed. Now, I realize the across the tracks housing was no accident, even if my white mother no longer remembered the reason.

I don't know how I was taught that I should tense up when a black man got on the elevator with me, but I was.

That's pretty much how all of this goes. No one ever sat me down to teach me racism, the way I was taught a million other things. I learned it just the same. I had it reinforced time and time again so that I learned this lesson well. Those lessons didn't stop just because I reached adulthood. I was stopped on a shuttle at my graduate school, the driver asking if I was in the right place. When I looked around, I saw I was the only white person in sight. I was chastised by a friend for getting off a train at the wrong stop; I'd jumped on the wrong line and needed to switch. In the middle of the afternoon, I didn't think twice about getting off and waiting ten minutes for the next train. I stood next to a little old lady for the entire time.

So I confess that I am part of the problem. (It worries me that many people refuse to confess there is a problem.) Can you, too, name some of the ways you were taught racism?