Sunday, March 13, 2016

Keeping my Religion for Equality

I have always had a conflicted admiration for former President Jimmy Carter's infamous piece, Losing My Religion for Equality. In this revolutionary work, Carter outlines his reasons for leaving the Southern Baptist Convention, and ends with the following statement.
The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.
On one hand, I applaud and deeply embrace the various sentiments Carter expressed throughout the piece, (which I highly recommend you read in full,) and on the other, the terminology associated with "losing religion" disturbed me. I understand his statement, I truly do. I once told a friend with deep conviction that I "could not worship a god who encouraged the subjugation of half of his people based on a gender which he had assigned them", and was greeted with her horror and immediate defensiveness. This surprised me. I assumed that what I was saying was obvious; if a god gave equal gifts and abilities to all creation, then denied the use of them to half based on an element outside of their control, then clearly, that god was not God at all, at least not the God described in the Bible. God who created male and female in His own image, could not be the same god who says that women in fact get a little bit less of his image. I find that notion jarring with the very spirit of Christ in me, and I reject it utterly.

So why do we cling so dearly to our "religious" affiliations? I think to a certain extent, it is valid and understandable. Any individual who claims faith as a key life element needs to be able to define this influence and identify how it impacts their daily existence. Nothing quite like understanding why you believe what you believe and what God you associate with as when you are being tossed into an arena full of hungry lions (here's looking at you, early Christianity).

But how do we address issues of conscience, deeply rooted in our passion for social justice and Christ-like living in this world, that are antithetical to the teachings of a particular denomination? Well, I had to figure out how I felt about this right-quick, as my home church established its charter membership. (Quick note: my church has never in my memory had "membership", we were simply a warm and welcoming family to any who entered our doors. However, in order to build a necessary handicap ramp to the building, the church was required to produce a membership list to governing authorities. Hence, the establishment of an official set of bylaws.) So I was faced with a decision, to sign or not to sign.

Now, if you know me at all, you may be surprised that this was such a difficult decision for me. After all, my church family is my family, in every possible way. Sure, my dad is an Elder and my mom leads children's ministry, my brother played guitar on the worship team and I directed a youth ministry, but it is so much more than that. You see, my pastor and his wife are like a second set of parents, they know me so well and I look forward to the far-too-occasional catch-ups over tea in their living room. Another dear church friend made herself a cup of coffee and sat in front of her computer for the entirety of my 4 hour graduation ceremony to watch me walk across that stage in another state. I can count on more than one hand the number of people that I know are praying for me on a weekly if not daily basis. I walk through those worn, wooden doors after being away for months at a time, knowing that nothing but peace, love, and a multitude of hugs awaits me. That church is my safe haven in a world of pressure, conflict, challenge, and struggle. They love, and they love well.

Now, I am in no way saying they are perfect. We are a group of beautiful humans who are trying each day to submit our humanity to the glory of holiness, and in the struggle to glorify the God who made us and brought us together. But I am trying to illustrate how dear this place and these people are to me, so to better highlight the true depth of my struggle.

Because it was a struggle. You see, part of the new bylaws indicates that the role of pastor and elder may only be held by a man. And this, dear friends, is where my heart bled. You see, I find this truly heartbreaking, for many reasons. (If you have about 6 hours and a desire to buy me coffee, I'd be happy to fill you in on why.) But instead of embarking on a manifesto of God-ordained equality in the church, I'll simply say that this is one of the greatest issues that I wrestle with and advocate for throughout my life.

So what to do? I spoke with my dad, (who, by the way, is one of my biggest supporters. Even when we have disagreed, I have never doubted his unconditional love and pride in who I am and who I am trying to become.) He reassured me on several elements, including the differentiation between core elements of belief necessary for agreement with the bylaws, and those beliefs that reflect areas with which I may disagree and still ethically express commitment to the church as a whole. I sought counsel of friends and mentors (shout-out to my grandpa, who spent a significant amount of time on the phone hearing me process through this decision,) and prayed, a lot. And I fluctuated. After speaking with my dad, I leaned heavily towards signing. Then I re-read the bylaws, and leaned heavily towards not signing. But the decision was made on Sunday, March 6, as I pulled into the parking lot of the church, approximately 45 minutes late for the membership service. A series of circumstances had delayed my arrival from Edinboro, Pennsylvania, and I was sweating as I pulled into the gravel lot. Sure, I was anxious because of my late arrival, but I was also anxious because as of that morning, I still had no idea what I was going to do. My church was having a special afternoon service, celebrating this new chapter in the life of the community and offering an opportunity to sign the charter membership document. I wanted so badly to be there. It felt kind of like I imagine the desire to be at your best friend's wedding or child's christening; a significant moment in your relationship and in their development. But I didn't know what part I would play in that moment.

Until I pulled into the parking lot, that is. Then I heard the sound of voices coming from the sanctuary, singing together, with joy, peace, and the love of the Lord. And I knew my family was in there. Not just my mom, dad, and brother, although they were certainly there. But all the other members of my family. And in that moment I knew that committing to a community that loved God, loved me, and love one another was a privilege and a calling.

So I walked in, late, but welcomed with laughter and smiles, and sat next to my parents. I later walked up to the alter with my brother to sign the charter, with the strains of one of my favorite Hillsong hymns playing in the background. Appropriate, I thought. Christ alone Cornerstone. Weak made strong, in the Savior's love. Through the storm, He is Lord. Lord of all.

Do I still take issue with anything that smacks of inequality? Undoubtedly. (Just ask my poor, gracious friends who have heard me lecture, fume, and cry over the subject.)  Have I decided that equality is better served by me clinging to my "religious" family? Absolutely. Because, you see, these people view truth as superior to opinion, and I know that dialogue will always be an option.  For example, when my pastor called me to check if I had received a copy of the bylaws and if I had any questions, he responded to my concerns with, "I would have been disappointed if you didn't challenge me on this!" Because we follow the teachings of Jesus, we are able to approach one another as flawed, frail humans who bear the image of God and the compulsion to pursue His Way.

So, not in conclusion, as this story is very much "in the works", but rather, in continuation, I signed the charter membership. And I am at peace with that decision. No, more than at peace - at joy. I support these people and how they are seeking God in their community, and I want to be a part of that in as many ways as possible. Will I continue to challenge any exclusive, patriarchal mindset? You bet. Does my family expect nothing less? Believe it. And that is what makes us family. We push one another forward in our individual and communal journeys towards the very heart of God, and His calling for each of us on this earth.

"So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." {Galatians 3:26-29}

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Poked, Prodded, & ANGRY

This morning I had an appointment with my Gynecologist. [Insert involuntary shudder.] The last time I spoke with her, she told me that despite my commitment to abstinence, the fact that I was physically feeling fine, and overriding my best attempts at argument, she would in no uncertain terms refuse to continue my birth control prescription without an annual examination. I've been dodging that sucker for like 3 years running...

[By way of explanation, I have large ovarian cysts that occasionally decide to burst and send me to the floor in crippling pain, NBD...] Hence the very real need for this prescription.

Well, I showed up today in a less than positive mood anyway. I had done some research and found that the scientific community has largely found that annual examinations are unnecessary for someone in my situation, and yet the medical community continues to require them for continuation of services. Now, I do really like my doctor. She is funny, kind, and very genuine, and she did tell me that it was my right to refuse a pelvic examination. [She clarified that it was my right to refuse any examination, but that she would not give me a prescription without at least a "general" examination.] Anyone else feel the pressure? Yeah, I did. In a big way.

So I showed up, refused the pelvic exam, had my vitals charted, and underwent a very short and painless breast examination. 15 minutes in-and-out of the examination room. Prescription updated. Boom.

So why did I sit in my car and cry afterwards? It was stupid really, I mean, it was the shortest clinical visit I've ever had. I chatted with a doctor I like and it was completely painless - what was my issue? My mom hit the nail on the head when she asked gently if I felt upset because I felt powerless. Because that was it, completely. While I trust this doctor and in no way felt weird about her, I did not feel like I had a choice about when and how I was poked and prodded. Sure, I could have walked away, but I would have been without very important medication. Sure, I could have found another doctor, but that would have taken weeks to set up an appointment, and I would have had to undergo a pelvic exam at a new office anyway. If I wanted my prescription, I had to sit in a paper gown and be poked and prodded. That's just how it was.

I went about my day normally, but I felt off. No one should have to feel like this. I feel like this, and I was touched appropriately, by a doctor, and with my consent. So my frustration with the health care system aside, I think this situation really just brought to the surface deep feelings about the value of the female voice and an individual's right to self-determination. [If you are concerned that I am about to address this from a feminist perspective, damn straight. Put the kettle on.]

For thousands of years and from culture to culture, women have been poked and prodded, told when and where to go, told what to do and who to see. From covering heads and ankles in the Middle East to waxing and tanning in the United States. From military assignments that may never see combat but will see sexual harassment, to religious institutions that value the nurturing instinct of women but not their God-given leadership abilities. From wage gaps to "normal" groping on the bus, assertiveness seen as bitchiness, reservation as weakness, and an intolerance for the subjugation of half of the human race as "radicalism", I am so tired. And I am so not okay with any of it.

Did I take my rather generic experience today and run with it? Absolutely. Was I in any way harmed by my appointment today? Not at all. Is this an opportunity to realize an emotion that is a common reality for millions of people around the world? I hope so.

I'm not sure what to do with these thoughts and experiences, so I write. I hope that each of you, male and female, take your experiences, thoughts, and emotions, and use them as fuel to change this fragile world for the better. We, as women in particular, need to begin living the reality of the world we want to leave for our daughters. Ana├»s Nin wrote, “How wrong is it for a woman to expect the man to build the world she wants, rather than to create it herself?” And I believe this is true. We have many partners who will gladly join hands with us, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, children and friends. I believe that many are willing, and even eager for change. For something greater. For the beauty of humanity for which we were created. 

How will you use your story to begin the change?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

An Experiment in Transparency

Social media can be a dangerous thing. It can tell a compelling story that lacks detail, or show a beautiful piece of art, neglecting the shadows in the background. Social media is wonderful, because we can stay in touch with people we care about but cannot see or talk with frequently. It can be dangerous if that is the only way those people know us. It is so one dimensional.

So let's try an experiment in transparency.

I am not the perfect woman, friend, daughter, sister, leader, or grad student. Honestly, I am a perfect mess right now. I have large amounts of credit card debt and student loans that I will be paying for the rest of my life. I deal with anxiety and job stress on a daily basis, which often results in indigestion, hair loss, or migraines. I question myself, doubting if my abilities align with my sense of calling, or if I understand my sense of calling at all. I feel guilty about not being available enough for my friends, but resent too many demands on my all too little time. I struggle to overcome my controlling nature, and my "leadership qualities" (aka bossiness) often lands me in hot water. I am impatient, ungentle, discouraged, and tired.

....

I could just leave it there. I clearly don't have it all together, so maybe the point is that my messiness should encourage you, (“hey, at least I’m not sporting bald spots like that Graybill girl!”). Or maybe, just maybe, I should talk a little less about me, and a little bit more about those who are responsible for the best I have to offer. You see, my ungraciousness has been worn away by those friends whose gentleness shines from them like spring sunshine. My bossiness has been refined to actual leadership skills because of the guidance and example of supervisors, mentors, and bosses, who each took time to invest in who I was and who I am becoming. My self-absorption and roller-coaster emotions have been buffered and caressed into a more genuine nature by the unconditional and unfathomable love of my mom. My arrogance has been humbled by the wisdom of my dad, and my rudeness quenched by the grace of my brother. My irresponsibility has experienced accountability in the generous figures of my grandparents, and my anxiety quelled by the prayers of my best friend.

Ultimately, substantially, I owe any of the good I do or grace I exhibit to who I believe God is, and how I allow my God to work on and through me. That is the point I am oh-so-clumsily trying to make. I am not perfect; I am not even remarkable. I am very, very human. But each day that I grow to be a little bit more like the Jesus I love, I consider to be a good day. And each of those days I owe entirely to God and to the amazing people He has put in my life.


So to each of you, to those I owe my grand life and never thank enough, “thank you”. Stay amazing. 

And to each of you who feel like perfect messes today too, I highly suggest taking a walk in the wild. There is something incredibly healing about feeling totally accepted and at home in nature. Give it a try, I dare you. Just don't forget to come home again. Tomorrow is a brand new day.