Rearwards. Back to front. In reverse. Toward the rear. Inverted.
Guys. Life has never been stranger.
As I have put my finger on the pulse of emotions since the beginning of everything Covid, the rhythm, to my ears, sounds something like this: frenzied panic, fear, grief, grief, more grief, and now, finally, an exhalation and a quiet waiting.
By quiet waiting I mean the kind of waiting that comes before a hurricane touches down, the kind where you do everything you know to prepare, mentally and physically, but you have no clue when the storm will hit, for how long, or what sort of havoc will follow.
All this has gotten me thinking, a lot.
I bet you’ve been thinking too.
I’ve been pondering my thinking and its own inherent backwardness.
My Focus on Lack
Because nothing is ever good enough.
Nothing is ever enough enough.
And it never will be.
I have enough food, but I grieve the limited selection.
I have a wonderful family, but I grieve the loss of “hanging out with friends”.
I have a good marriage, yet I worry it will fall apart in the absence of dates.
You know what happens when I focus on lack?
I am blinded by it.
I am blinded to both beauty and to pain.
Because I am so lucky to have fun children and a best-friend husband.
And yet shame on me if I sit all comfortable-ish in my little house with my sweet family and do not have an awareness that for so many this is a dark time filled with abuse and fear.
Heaven forbid I sit here with plenty and do not have my eyes and hands open to the folks who are unsure where their next meal will come from or how they will pay their bills.
May I not be blinded by my own privilege.
Have you heard the explanations as to why Covid 19 is hitting communities of black people harder?
They come close, too close, to blaming the extra-hard sickness strike on genetics.
As blogger and podcaster Yolanda Williams points out in this excellent
article, “Systemic racism has biological impacts on the health of black people.”
Because, “Stress from hypervigilance, microaggresions, code-switching, navigating the never-ending cascade of white tears and playing white fragility bingo also contribute to the biological effects of racism.”
Williams goes on to cite a podcast episode in which she discusses the scientific basis of these claims with epidemiologist Dr. Theresa Chapple.
I must open my eyes and my heart.
I must see myself as part of the problem here.
Can I also be part of the solution?
And what are these terms Williams is referring to? What do they mean?
Microaggresion: “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”
I grew up overseas.
I remember being a young girl and running around in a dress, long hair streaming behind me. Yet the folks in the country I was living in called me a boy.
Because I did not have my ears pierced, a cultural tradition which was the only accepted signifier of female gender.
I grew tired of being mis-seen in this way, and begged my parents to pierce my ears so I could relax and quit having to explain who I really was all the time.
I also recall, when, living in Bolivia as an adult, a woman declared, “You Americans have it so easy; when you cook, all you have to do is open cans of food and eat them.”
Definitely a critique and a hard reminder of our privilege in America as well as, on the flip side, an insult.
Funny, not funny.
Microaggression, I think, is often unintentional and based on ignorance.
I am guilty of it, for sure.
It doesn’t hurt me, though, to think a little before I open my mouth, to remember that everyone has a right to autonomy and to speaking their own truth.
Code-switching: “any behavior of adapting to fit a new set of rules”...
People who are not born into the dominant white culture are often forced to code-switch in order to be seen, heard and respected.
Read this article for some excellent examples and explanations: https://metro.co.uk/2020/03/03/what-is-code-switching-12221478/.
When have I made someone else feel they must be just like me in order to “fit in”?
How can I change my attitudes and behaviors?
White fragility bingo: Reminding folks, “You’re not the only ones who have it bad, you know…” as a way of avoiding our own culpability. See this facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/allyhennypage/posts/presenting-white-fragility-bingosome-people-are-visual-learners-and-need-to-have/1293805774103063/
“‘White Tears’ is phrase to describe what happens when certain types of White people either complain about a nonexistent racial injustice or are upset by a non-White person's success at the expense of a White person.” Read more here: https://verysmartbrothas.theroot.com/white-tears-explained-for-white-people-who-dont-get-i-1822522689.
There is inequity in our world, in our societies. Some folks are on the front lines, doing dangerous work, while others hold jobs which enable them to stay at home safe and sound.
Check out this article.
By changing our mindset, shifting our focus, we can use this time of "in-between" to examine our hearts and minds, to change and be purified, to repent and apologize, and then to become humble learners and servants.
Because I have so much to learn from other folks who have completely different life experiences than I do.
Like the author of the blog Indigenous Motherhood who has some wake-up call words for those of us who feel our children hinder us, our "me time", or our careers:
“In our traditional kinship systems, children were the at the center of the family system.”
“And the idea of children being seen as a disruption to daily living was non-existent.
During this pandemic, the invitation that exists is be mindful of that, and to make these concepts a way of life.
Be mindful of any thoughts or feelings that may come up that are oriented around seeing children as a disruption, an annoyance, or an inconvenience, when they’re home with you.
Because this style of thinking derived from residential schools and the forcefully implemented colonial education systems.”
I challenge you, friends, read this article, let the thoughts soak in deep.
What can you learn from the author’s unique perspective?
Where have we gone wrong? How have our societal systems hurt others?
For further exploration, check out this article and explore the links at the end.
My Belief that Might Makes Right
It’s easy to read a Facebook post I disagree with and then explode, either all over myself or, more regrettably, into that little white rectangular box labeled “comment”.
Our tempers tell us that if we just scream and stomp vociferously enough, then everyone will listen.
Over the years I’ve learned the only result to these loud declarations of mine was antagonism.
Recently, I heard a story about Ghandi’s grandson.
Arun was having trouble with anger, justified anger, actually, against kids who had been bullying him, so he was sent to live with grandpa Ghandi for a while.
Ghandi had Arun make an “anger tree” with two branches, one for “active violence” and one for “passive violence”.
Every day, Arun was instructed to add to the tree, noting the manifestations and the corresponding results of each type of violence.
Ghandi explained that anger was a powerful force that, when released into the world, always found a home somewhere new, where it was recycled, weaponized and re-inflicted.
The only way to break the cycle was to channel anger’s energy into something good, like compassion.
“Use your anger for good. Anger to people is like gas to the automobile - it fuels you to move forward and get to a better place. Without it, we would not be motivated to rise to a challenge. It is an energy that compels us to define what is just and unjust.” (from The Gift of Anger by Arun Ghandi)
Might doesn’t make right in my interactions with the adults or the children in my life either.
When I explode, I immediately shut down any opportunity I might have had to work toward resolution.
Not just that, but forcing my children to comply with my demands does nothing to nurture a caring nature in them.
You know what does?
My own attitude and modeling…
If a child complains of being tired when asked to do something, I have always offered to do the task with him or her, to help.
This has resulted in my son clearing the table for my daughter because “she said she was tired, so I wanted to help,”
In one of my daughters hopping up to grab forks when we realized there were none available,
In the kids cooking and joyfully sharing what they have created with one another.
We are so not perfect as a family by any means.
But I have seen the greatest results when I have lain down “might” and embraced and even served my children with grace and kindness,
When I have invited my children to share in the power of household decision-making, asking them what they would like to do and what their goals are,
In seeing that the way to win my children’s participation in something I’m invested in is to first enter their worlds and care about their passions.
My Desire to Hold Onto Safety, Security, Money
“There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money away, all of it.
Your heart is beating, isn't it?
You're not in chains, are you?
There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own.”
-Mary Oliver (Felicity)
I read this poem, and now I can’t shake the memory of it.
“Or giving your money away, all of it.”...“Your heart is beating, isn’t it?”
Though my knee-jerk reaction in these hard times is to hoard, that is not what will fulfill me.
You see, you can wait and wait and save and save and then, have.
And you will find that once you have that one thing you were waiting and saving so long for, you will receive the gift of a great big unsatisfied feeling and then,
You will begin looking for some new way to be filled, fulfilled.
Which leads me to realize that all that hoarding and holding on is really just a search for satisfaction, and maybe hoarding is the wrong place in which to find it.
Backwards writing can be understood if you just loosen up a little.
And reflections may be upside down, but they highlight natural beauty in a mystical manner that can just take your breath away.
And so, I urge you friends, in this time of uncertainty, if you have time, use it to introspect, to repent of wrong thinking, to be purified, to see, really see, those around you.
If you are suffering and can’t come up for air, please reach out and ask for help.
Not only have many of us been right there where you are now, wondering where the money for bill-pay will come from or the food to fill the hungry stomachs, but also, I know I have been a part of the problem itself, and now I’d like to also be part of the solution.
If you have been my victim, I’d like to apologize.
Sometimes the hurt I’ve doled out has been unintentional.
Will you do me a favor, though? Tell me where I’ve gone wrong, and why?
And do the same for others.
Let them know how what they’ve said makes you feel.
Let’s all learn and grow and do better.
Because while we don’t know what’s coming, we do know we will sorely need one another.
I've been there, and I wouldn't be surprised if you have too.
You know, that chilling place where you're at the end of your rope, your patience thin thin ice.
Have you been there, with children? With your very own little ones?
Every time I arrive at that place, I am overwhelmed with gratitude I don't use any form of punishment with my littles. I shudder at the picture of myself angry and out of control.
In the next few weeks, I am tackling the concept of punishment.
I'm going to chat especially about what we communicate with children when we punish them, how a punishment mentality affects us as adults and how not punishing can change our attitudes and outlooks in many areas of life.
As an intro to the topic, I'm going to share some poems I have written on the subject of how children are treated.
Her name was Mercy
Her name was Mercy and she was in her daddy's arms, golden hair, silk, climbing over his shoulders.
Her name was Mercy and she was sobbing,
Not even two years old.
Her name was Mercy,
And she was lamenting.
She was loudly lamenting the loss of her position in the racecar cart,
Now elder brother's trophy.
Oh, how she loved being the lone motorist!
Her name was Mercy and she was shrill with loss,
She was squawking and trilling the forfeiture
Daddy gripped Mercy, Mercy clung to daddy
He growled in Mercy's ear,
"You're okay now. Quit yer cryin' or I'll give ya something to cry about."
Little monkey, planted her face in Daddy's neck,
Shrieks morphing to sobs,
Sobs to sniffles,
Sniffles to silence.
She's in training,
Yes, she is.
Mercy is conditional,
Love's voice carries fear.
Mercy is learning,
Yes, she is,
What her name really means.
Who weeps for the children who
wept alone in dank closets while
the rest of the house slumbers?
It's easy to assume
A child's cries are
I know it pains,
The witching-hour when,
You were tired,
So you squealed and, and,
The day Doc said,
"This won't hurt,"
And when it did,
Denied it, since,
It didn't hurt him...
The Tuesday when tiny-you
Thought money was magic:
Went shopping, saw
Row upon row
Of rainbowed sugar-candies, then
In desirous-delight and received a, a,
Fan remembrance, momma:
It is empathy's
Friends, do you remember being children?
Do you remember times when the adults around you assigned motives to your behavior that weren't even in the ballpark of True?
How do you wish you had been treated?
More on this topic next week...
“All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
It’s an ancient but well-known tale: the people were building a great tower. Working together, they were unstoppable. It was all so very glorious.
Then, someone went and fixed their vocal chords, and their speech came out all gobbledy-goo. Not being able to understand one another, they fought.
The vision lost, the goal garbled, all work ceased.
Oppressed, downtrodden, hurting people of this world have something to say; they have vision.
United, shoulder-to-shoulder, they would be an unstoppable force.
Stir them up, turn them against each other, and you’ve gone and shattered the beautiful Vase of Solidarity, rendering it unusable.
I love how Martin Luther King put it: “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be…”.
Herein lies the intersection of faith and feminism: Faith says, “Love one another.” Feminism says, “Women ought to have dignity, rights, responsibilities and glories equal to men.” (See Sarah Bessey’s description of feminism in Part 1.)
Combine “love one another” with “treat women as equals” and you will create a potent elixir capable of bringing both healing and empowerment to “50% of the population”.
What do we women need healing from, you ask?
In reply, I shout, “SO MUCH!”.
And wrapped around the “SO MUCH”, I believe, is a thick saran-wrap called “Shame”. Without addressing this shame, I believe, we will never be truly free.
Research professor Brene Brown has spent decades studying shame (along with empathy, vulnerability and courage). In an interview on a website called “The Mothers Movement Online” , Brene Brown describes it in this way:
“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging. Women often experience shame when they are entangled in a web of layered, conflicting and competing social-community expectations. Shame leaves women feeling trapped, powerless and isolated.”
For this reason, I would like to begin Part 2 of my faith and feminism series with a conversation about womanhood and shame and the power of love to heal.
There is always this danger of saying, “I am a feminist” and then isolating all women who don’t fit into our definition of “feminist”.
I get this. I’ve been there.
I wonder if we do this to each other because deep down we worry we have gotten some things “wrong”. Seeing someone making different life choices than us can make us feel shame, deep down in our bellies.
And guess what, friend? Shame moves us away from one another.
In Part 1, I described a feeling of being trapped by divergent “views” about marriage, motherhood and womanhood.
Instead of life feeling open, free and good, it felt constraining and frustrating. Can you relate?
Brene Brown actually talks about this feeling of being trapped, and explains its relationship to shame.
She says that many women experience a “trapped” feeling because, “There are hundreds of expectations, but very few realistic options for meeting those expectations available to us.”
For example, many mothers are faced with the following choice: "Build a career and place your children in childcare" or "Stay at home and lose money, time, and necessary resources to pursue a career".
(As an aside, I have witnessed so many amazing mothers coming up with creative solutions, refusing to be bullied by either/or options, and fighting for what is best for both themselves and their children.)
If, instead of pointing judgmental fingers at each other, we could step back and look at the problem of expectations-versus-options, we may just see a path through, a way to empower women.
Furthermore, a willingness to listen to other women’s stories would give us empathy.
Empathy, according to Brene Brown, is the polar opposite of shame.
What if, dear friends, we embraced a broad definition of feminism: “treat men and women equally,” and refused to hold up as unequivocally true other descriptors of what a feminist is or should look like?
What if we simultaneously embraced this motto: “love one another”?
For instance (and please forgive the generalizations):
As women, as human beings, our similarities far outweigh our differences. It is time for us to build solidarity. There is too much at stake not to.
If we as “feminists-of-faith” are a movement towards equality, we should not be guilty of isolating anyone.
Are you a woman who has experienced shame?
Have you felt trapped or guilty about simply trying to do what is best for yourself or your family?
How about the men out there, striving together through life with us? Any insight? Thoughts?
Last week, I promised to delve into the topics of sexual freedom, patriarchy in the Bible, the term “helpmeet”, and why it is important to give women equal leadership opportunities in the church.
I am so passionate about these topics, and am thrilled to share what I have learned with you.
As I’ve been researching, thinking and writing, however, I see these topics are juicy enough to take up several more blog posts (I wrote 15 pages this week alone).
I’m absolutely keeping my promise to address all these issues, and I can guarantee there will be one post every week, by Friday...
But would you hang in there with me over the course of the next few weeks to address all the issues I mentioned? There’s just so much proverbial ground to cover.
I appreciate you! Please do comment here or on my Facebook page. I'd love to hear from you.
And now, without further ado, let’s dive in.
On Marriage: Are We “Equal, yet Different” or “Equal”?
I’m not certain who began the narrative, or how it spread throughout the female population of our small church, but it went something like this: There was this gorgeous woman in a neighboring city whose husband was both verbally abusive and an alcoholic.
This woman almost left her husband, but in the darkening hours chose instead to do the “godly” thing and remain by his side, submissive and prayerful.
And, wait for it... because of her godliness, this woman’s husband became a believer, turned his life around 180.
You can imagine how this sounded to my young, “new-mother” ears. You can also imagine the feelings of horror it elicited in me. And yet…
Around the time this story was floating around, alighting on humble hungry ears, someone handed me “the best marriage book they had ever read”: Created to Be His Help Meet by Debi Pearl.
About the book, author Debi Pearl herself says, “[...] I want you to know that it is possible today to have a marriage so good and so fulfilling that it can only be explained as a miracle.”
I devoured this book, as always an avid and hungry learner. And though many of Pearl’s words made me feel ill, I could not pinpoint why.
She used verses and scriptures I had trouble arguing with.
If you’ve only ever been given one “narrative” for what scripture means, and you have simultaneously been told it is the simplest, most literal reading (whilst also being cautioned about your deceitful heart), it is very hard to think critically.
While I didn’t follow all of Pearl’s advice, her point of view about marital submission became mine, as did her view on the wife’s sexual role in marriage (more on that in a later post).
To sum up Pearl’s view on the woman’s marital role:
“If you are a wife, you were created to fill a need, and in that capacity you are a ‘good thing,’ a helper suited to the needs of a man. This is how God created you and it is your purpose for existing. You are, by nature, equipped in every way to be your man’s helper. You are inferior to none as long as you function within your created nature, for no man can do your job, and no man is complete without his wife. You were created to make him complete, not to seek personal fulfillment parallel to him.”
We will dig into the meaning of “helpmeet” later.
For now, I’d like to focus on this strong dichotomy between a husband’s role a wife’s role in marriage.
Remember how, in Part 1, I shared that I protected my “domain” from my husband? Yep, this is why.
Mrs. Pearl clearly states, “[...] no man can do your job.”
Furthermore, Pearl taught me that as a wife, I was created “to make him [my spouse] complete”.
Summed up, my life was to be about fulfilling a specific role only I could fill.
Furthermore, my purpose was eclipsed in completing my husband, and not in seeking any personal fulfillment.
How the "equal-yet-different" view affected my marriage...
Do you know what the fruit of this viewpoint was in my marriage?
I dropped my own desires and dreams in favor of “completing” my husband.
In losing much of my autonomy, I eagerly grasped at the little bit of power afforded to me by becoming the sole manager of my domain: the house and the children.
I felt ashamed about this, but I often swallowed bitterness and anger at having to take care of all the cooking and cleaning.
As the years passed, my husband and I found ourselves settling into this way of "doing marriage".
Changing my mind
I remember vividly when, one day, my husband, frustrated, pointed out to me that the pet passage for “separate-male-and-female-roles-in-marriage” opened with the statement: “Submit to one another” (Eph 5:21a).
Submit to one another...
I sat with this for quite a while.
It was the beginning of many “aha” moments for me about marriage.
I pondered why so many preachers focused on the woman’s job to “submit to her husband”, when it was clear from this passage that husbands and wives ought to be “submitting to one another”.
What did it mean for a husband and a wife to submit to each other?
This was a radical departure from everything I had thought up to this point; it was the seed which grew radical change in my marriage, change for the better.
Before I get into specifics, here are a few thoughts:
Here are some websites which discuss the two views of marriage. Some of them take a neutral stance, while others lean towards a certain conclusion:
And now, back to my new, “radical”, conclusions about mutual submission and how they changed my marriage (for the better).
Marriage Equality For the Win!
When I believed I had to submit, I appointed my husband as the final decision-maker in our home. It is stressful for a man to be “stuck” with making all the decisions himself.
Really, how can we say that a man, simply by nature of his male-ness, is all-knowing and all-discerning?
It was nice for my husband to know that I was standing beside him to face life, and not behind him.
As my husband and I navigated the new landscape of mutuality, we had more conversations than we had ever had. I learned that in some areas, I knew better what would be the right move to take, while in others he did.
Our conversations and debates sharpened each other, and, ironically, brought us both into more humility, mutual respect and admiration.
When we were doing marriage by playing out each of our "roles", I hadn’t realized how much I suppressed my own desires and dreams.
The more I awakened, the more I began exploring my own interests; I became much happier and more fulfilled.
Prior to this, I often looked to my husband to affirm me. After all, what else did I have? Submitting, meeting his needs, that was my job.
What a load off my husband’s shoulders when I found my own satisfaction and vision.
And what husband would not desire for his wife to feel capable and satisfied?
Stepping out of claiming any “dominion” over the house and kids also did wonderful things for our marriage.
First off, I used to denigrate housework as “woman’s work”.
Yet, isn’t all work around the house necessary and good? (Not to mention, since when did we begin qualifying work as work by whether or not we make money doing it?)
Oddly, seeing my husband cleaning the house and cooking elevated "house-care" and affirmed it as good work.
Secondly, my husband began to cultivate his own unique relationship with our children as he partnered with me in caring for them.
No one is perfect, and I have areas of weakness as a mother.
Disallowing my husband from comforting the children and meeting their needs was shortchanging them: how they have benefited from my husband’s nurturing style!
He has gifts and skills I do not, and vice versa.
Last but not least, I gained freedom to pursue my own business ideas and higher education opportunities. This made me a better mother.
My view of myself changed: I was not “just a mom” or “just a home-educator”, I was a smart, talented and creative woman.
I began to treat homeschooling as the job it is. This has greatly benefited my children.
Beauty in Equality and Covenant Relationship...
My pastor shared last Sunday an amazing vision for marriage as a covenant relationship: both parties enter said covenant agreeing to grow and learn and be affected by one another.
(A little hint about what I think of women's roles in the church: my pastor is a woman; I have learned so much from her...)
How often do we realize that God chose to enter a covenant relationship with us, "the bride"?
And because of God’s relationship with us, God is affected by our joys and sorrows, our celebrations and our pain?
In her book, Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey says this about marriage:
“[...] if our marriages can give some small and imperfect glimpse of the Kingdom of God in action, warriors fighting in distinct unity, then we need to dance, in and around and with each other, in intimacy and mutual submission.”
Wait, did she just call men and women, “Warriors fighting in distinct unity”?!
Single friends reading this: I promise, this entire discussion has to do with you, too. I know single women are often marginalized, especially in faith circles.
Dear one, you are just as important as the rest of womankind. The world needs you. We’re going to crack that powerful notion open.
Men reading this--we need you on our side, respecting us, fighting with us for equality in marriage and in the church and in the world.
So what does it mean for a woman to be a "warrior" fighting alongside men?
Let's continue the discussion next week.
Stay tuned for a post by next Friday, August 30...
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A warm thank you to everyone who commented on my first post: your thoughts were super insightful and a blessing.
Hey, you. I'm glad you dropped by...
I'm a busy mom of three asking hard questions about my faith.