Is She Going to Make It?

Untitled design-87

“The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.”
Audre Lorde

So far I’ve preached nine sermons. Each one is a birth – the preparation a labor, the delivery a relief. I preached this past spring on the relationship between Mary and Martha, and how as a Christian woman I’ve been coached over the years to believe that being a Mary is the Christian woman’s ideal, our gold standard. It is very confusing to me, as someone who carries significant parts of both Mary and Martha that Jesus would appear to rebuke Martha, while uplifting Mary. Wasn’t Martha just doing what she was supposed to do as an obedient women in the patriarchal culture of the day? I too can sit at Jesus’s feet, but I also know the importance of being productive, while respecting the tick-tock of the clock. As a mother with three children, pastoring a church, there are things to accomplish and gazing at Jesus all day wouldn’t fly well with my family and co-pastors.

The premise I offer is Jesus, in touting Mary’s dedication, is instead upending the patriarchal expectations of the day and inviting Martha to be with him. Jesus is inviting her into a relationship of restoration and renewal, of respect and inclusion. Jesus is calling to her toward rest – a luxury, I suspect.

We women still function within this patriarchal model. We rank ourselves in a room based on our bodies and accomplishments, our clean and wonderful children, the lines on our face, and grey in our hair. We participate in gossip to equalize the room, while injuring ourselves with fear of saying too much and doubt in our abilities. We try to play the patriarchal game too, but since our power is minimal in the world of men, we operate out of shame. We operate out of scarcity. We operate out of self-deprecating humor and downright anger.

And as I navigate this new world of pastor, the world of men is real. Many church systems have been built on the metrics of men – numbers, quality control, timeliness, etc. Churches, on the outside, are efficient, tidy, and things get done. Programs are built, meetings are had, people are processed in the name of Jesus. All contributing to the bottom line and to the good of the organization. If a church is growing, it must be healthy right?

The Church is equal parts She and He, and yet we function in this masculine-centric hierarchy oftentimes no different than any other system or corporation in America. And I wonder, is She going to make it? Is the Church going to come through this crisis of culture?

Only if we can return to our feminine roots – to the Church as a redeemed Martha.

I am now in the company of many remarkable and accomplished and talented women who adore Jesus. All would qualify as both Mary and Martha, the best of both. These women are building and leading and pastoring and mothering, redefining the hope of the Church, redefining the hope of the world. We are redefining the metrics, seeking abundance, setting aside the tapes of scarcity that speak messages of our worth being defined by appearance and accomplishment and age. Our worth is defined because we are.

Abundance is untrustworthy and suspicious. We are conditioned to believe there must be be winners and losers. Abundance is a new and unwieldy language that supersedes metrics. With no rank or hierarchy, abundance declares there’s enough with plenty of room at the table. But as women, as the Church, we have to reclaim abundance. The metrics of rank have no place in this space, it’s too beautiful and open. We cannot translate the patriarchal game of ranking and measuring, a foreign language of gibberish. Playing the game kills our souls and reduces our offering. This feminine work cannot entirely be computed or grasped, measurable data cannot define. This feminine work is ethereal and spiritual and air and light, weighty and fierce in the best of ways. Abundance is mother. Abundance is tender. Abundance is fierce. And abundance is an all-encompassing force of Love.

The shameful messages of scarcity in this patriarchal church culture are real and pervasive. And the She of the Church is suffering. She is withering under the current weight of the game. She won’t hold much longer. She can no longer compete over who has the best fashion or the cleanest children or masculine metrics. She must unleash and become Herself. She must know what it means to sit longingly at Jesus’s feet, while knowing her worth and value are in being, while affirming the beings of everyone else. She cares not for the accomplishments and the efficiency. She cares for the whole of people, the healing of the world.

She is a Mother.

Becoming and Being Me (by way of the dermatologist).

Untitled design-86

If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?
T.S. Eliot

It seems the Colorado sun has taken its toll. I had to visit the dermatologist today for some suspicious patches that need attention. As a person of English heritage, my skin didn’t turn out the olive tone of some, with an even distribution of color. The golden summer hue of youth has been replaced with pigmented spots and clumps, with no concern for my vanity.

I had a bump excised on the border of my upper lip and the numbing agent has worn off. Smiling hurts. I like to smile. It is my tried and true greeting, my main way of revealing my friendliness. Just as my dog bows her head before another in greeting, smiling is my pronouncement of submissive goodwill.

While skin concerns and dermatologist visits seem to be the collateral damage for an active, healthy lifestyle in this great state, I don’t like to lose my way of being me in the world. Smiling works for me. People succumb to my kind face. I don’t want to lose even for a moment the way I operate as me, no matter how small.

But there come times we all need to challenge and face our coping mechanisms. We have to ask ourselves why we do what we do and if it’s actually helpful or harmful.

I’ve resumed counseling these past couple months, participating in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. For those of us (all of us) who’ve experienced trauma, this practice is used to shift the negative beliefs we have about ourselves, re-forming these beliefs through reprocessing. We all operate from maps constructed to navigate through trauma, but as we mature the maps are no longer useful and in fact can become harmful.

While each session has left me somewhat disoriented and worn out, I know my brain is doing good work – pushing and striving to function as it was designed.

While I’m still in the middle of the work, I’ve noticed my negative beliefs about myself are waning, and the coping mechanisms I’ve clung to are lessening. As I trust my senses more, listening to my body, I notice that I am responding to desires and longings rather than the old recycled messages that bump around like sneakers in the wash with nowhere to go.

But this, oddly, comes with a sense of loss. How I operate as me in the world, while not always helpful, is familiar. Am I now destined to a life of laziness, without purpose as I set aside striving and proving? What if I don’t choose to compete anymore? Will I lose all motivation? There is so much blank space here, that has left me with more questions than answers. And as far as I can tell this is a risky business, disrupting that which seems to work – for now anyway.

To lay down the proving and striving and scarcity is a risk. I thought I had to be that Yes! person, the one who was game for a challenge. The one who was envied. The one who won. And now being the Yes! person makes me cranky and tired, resentful. There is so much for me to do in the world that involves me being myself, searching and waiting for that which delights. I want to be how I was made, serving who I’m built to serve, loving who I’m built to love, feeding who I’m built to feed.

Maybe it’s maturity that comes with age, the cycling and recycling that happens when we live long enough to see similar patterns in the lives around us. Maybe it’s the letting go. But my belief that I’m not enough, that has pushed and prodded me for decades, is on its way out. And the blanks are filling with a person who seems to be more rested and renewed, committed to life and love and beauty and wholeness. A person desiring to discover herself.

Our coping mechanisms – smiling, eating, drinking, pleasing, proving, you name it – they get us through. Thank God for them. They’ve served us well, keeping us safe in uncertain and frightening times. But a day will always come when these coping mechanisms become tools of division, separating us from the people and the work we love, as well as separating us from our own true selves.

I have too much to do in the world, in my home, in my person to get by with just coping. Now is the time to live, to truly live. I will not give up smiling, but for now it hurts, so I might curtail it some. And in the meantime, I’ll rest up, heal my body, and continue the good work I have begun.

An Iffy Fourth

flag

I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
― James Baldwin

It is no surprise I wrestle with holidays – a long standing theme in my life, has been for many years. For some reason rallying for another thing feels unnecessary and more than I choose to manage. Maybe I’ll grow out of it, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’m just lazy, but my family doesn’t seem bothered  so I guess I’m good.

Despite my bah humbug tendencies, I still enjoy a good barbecue and municipal fireworks display. But yesterday’s Fourth of July holiday felt different. Heavy and weighed, a firm reminder of where we are not as a people. The past three weeks have been most difficult as I’ve imagined myself a young mother separated from my precious babies, after journeying an uncertain and intrepid course for months. I knew it was going to get bad, I just didn’t think it could get this bad. And the holiday rubbed my nose in the mess just a little bit more.

And before we accuse one another of lacking patriotism, I would challenge us to consider these inscribed words:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus

These words are a prescription, an invitation to a nation that has lost its way.

As we prepare to launch our child from childhood to adulthood, I’m reminded of the early days of parenting iron-willed infants and toddlers. In this new-to-me sweet spot, I am celebrating the pay off of those desperate years. Screaming through every aisle of Target, testing at every turn, begging for every toy, the hopeless days were endless. Weeping in the shower at 6:30 AM, facing a day ahead with the despair of emptiness as my guide, my soul and body were wringed out from the screaming, testing, and begging. No amount of coffee, Diet Coke, McDonald’s cheeseburgers or M&Ms could sustain me to bedtime.

And the darkness pressed in, striving to envelope and declare my mothering inept and unqualified to lead this band of miniature tyrants through to the next Bob the Builder episode. I had no vision for the possibility that this work could ever render a set of teenagers with generosity and intelligence, capable of nuanced discourse. But it happened. And while I’m not out of the woods, I see the light. The once intrepid path is now about course corrections not parental overhauls.

Despite the darkness, the lonely, ominous and altogether torturous days never stole my ideals. I knew who I wanted to raise. I knew what I wanted them to become. And I fought like hell to get them there. It is now time to celebrate my part in their formation.

And now, as a dedicated citizen of this United States of America, I will fight like hell for our ideals because I love this place. I believe in this grand experiment and I welcome and trust our becoming. The words inscribed on the plaque penned by Emma Lazarus are in my bones. This is who we long to be, who we are at our best.

But the darkness is unrelenting, threatening and trying to envelope, to declare us inept and unqualified to lead this band of sisters and brothers. But it doesn’t have to. We know who we want to raise. We know what we want to become.

I see examples all around me – from the teachers in my kids’ classrooms, to the families shopping at the grocery store with coupons and SNAP benefits, to friends at the gym offering encouragement and bantered conversation, to neighbors caring for each others’ blown over trash cans.

I read about examples all around us – from the organization RAICES seeking to reunite separated immigrant families, to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who faced a ten-term democratic incumbent in the Bronx to potentially be the youngest Congressperson serving in the House of Representatives, to average people marching on a perfectly beautiful Saturday morning.

The darkness wrings us out, revealing the demand for lament and truth telling, admitting our historical wretchedness. The power of our collective joins to grow this nation up – to become a just and merciful, compassionate and generous, informed and .hopeful United States of America.

May we live into our ideals as the patriotic citizens we are becoming.