How to Dress for a Protest

This past Saturday, our Iowa winter weather pushed above forty degrees. The sun was warm, the air was humid, and the sidewalks were filled with puddles. It was a perfect day for our community’s Women’s March. It was a terrible day for figuring out what to wear.

I knew that I wanted to wear my clergy collar. I knew that I didn’t have any shoes that were both waterproof and comfortable for walking. I knew that I would regret looking too casual. I knew that I would regret looking too fancy.

I pulled on some black leggings and my gray jersey-knit clergy dress (with collar). I layered a half-zip fleece and a black puffy vest. I zipped up my brown boots (the flat ones) and challenged myself not to step in too many puddles. I slung my green cross-body backpack over my shoulder and filled it with meager essentials – wallet, cell phone, water bottle, a granola bar, some lip balm.

Finally. Dressed and ready.

Except for one thing. A hat.

The week prior to the march, I had purchased a skein of the bounciest, softest, squishiest pink alpaca yarn – the sort of yarn that I can only afford to buy one skein at a time. I loaded it onto my knitting needles and, a year out of fashion, knit myself a pink hat, square at the top so that subtle kitten ears would emerge when I pulled it onto my head. I’d finished the hat on Friday night and deemed it the softest, warmest, most comfortable had I’d ever knit.

I grabbed it on my way out the door. But instead of putting it on, I shoved it into my backpack, woefully indecisive about whether to wear it. Woefully indecisive about whether I should have made it in the first place. Woefully indecisive about whether I should be wearing my collar to the day’s march and rally. Woefully indecisive about whether I should be heading out the door at all, especially with my four-year-old son in tow, who had resolutely informed me that: He. Was. Going. With. Me.

He and I walked, hand in hand, along the bike trail toward Mary Christopher park, the kickoff spot for the the Decorah, Iowa edition of the Women’s March. As we walked, I tried to explain to him, in four-year-old terms, that this march was a way to say that everybody is special, and everybody deserves love and homes and food and doctors and jobs, no matter who they are. I tried to explain that we were marching because we believe that God loves everybody – everybody!

As a person of faith, I am convinced – convicted, even! – that God’s love and mercy are for everyone. I believe that God’s grace is the great equalizer. I believe that we receive God’s gifts of forgiveness and wholeness and hope in order that we can offer those gifts into the world. I believe that following Jesus means that we have an inescapable call to serve one another and to show self-giving compassion for all people and all creation.

It should have been easy for me to march. It should have been easy to wear my faith on my sleeve.

But the closer we got to the gathering crowd, the more insecure I felt. I was conflicted about bearing my faith into the public sphere. I worried about what I was wearing. I felt anxious about who would see me, what people would think. I was wearing an incredibly comfortable outfit, and still I felt so very uncomfortable. Read more

Naming Names

A colleague wrote on Facebook, wondering why women in the church have yet to join the wave of harassment and abuse allegations now crushing the establishment of entertainment and media like a tsunami. “Are we enslaved to fear, or just irrelevant?” she mused.

It was at the end of the longest day of these revelations in a while, and I know this colleague advocates for victims, and so I did not run with my first reaction–which was to break out the CAPS LOCK OF RIGHTEOUS ANGER about victim-blaming. I knew that wasn’t what she meant. I knew she was asking the question of the institution, not of me. But my reaction to her question was the same one I have of some many people asking a similar question, over and over:

“Why haven’t women been naming names until now?”

In that question, I hear the harmonies of men asking why women who are assaulted don’t come forward earlier, or don’t report assault to the police. They ask, “Why don’t you, as a victim, act in a way that relieves my discomfort in having this occur in my carefully-ordered world?”

Of course, as is repeated again and again, there’s no “perfect victim.” There’s no correct way to behave when you are traumatized. And our institutions are set up to protect the perpetrators in power, and not the victim. Sometimes that bias is subtle, and sometimes (looking at you, Congress) that bias is right smack in front of our faces.

That bias is also present in the narrative about naming names. That narrative is predicated on the assumption that previous to this moment in time, women did not talk about what happened to them, but when you think about that, it’s ludicrous. Women have been naming names for decades, and there is plentiful evidence of this once you start looking for it. Read more

“I Believe the Women”

With great understanding,
Wisdom is calling out
as she stands at the crossroads
and on every hill.
She stands by the city gate
where everyone enters the city,
and she shouts:
“I am calling out
to each one of you!
Good sense and sound judgment
can be yours.
Listen, because what I say
is worthwhile and right.
I always speak the truth
and refuse to tell a lie.
Every word I speak is honest,
not one is misleading
or deceptive.
-Proverbs 8:1-8 (CEB)

detail from Adoration of the Shepherds, oil on canvas, 1609

The allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct continue to mount in every sector of society. In response to the allegations against Senate candidate Roy Moore, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “I believe the women.” These four words hold extraordinary power, and the fact that they are so extraordinary points to how necessary they are.

The word of a woman is often questioned – including by women themselves. In the wake of #metoo, one thing we’ve seen is just how much women have internalized our victim blaming culture. Many have been reluctant to name sexual misconduct for what it is, or have felt partially responsible for it because they had been flirting, too, or they had enjoyed a drink with a friend. There is an inner voice asking, “Was this somehow my fault?”

In a culture that prizes women who are nice, sweet, and submissive, calling out harassment is strongly discouraged. For many women, speaking out would be detrimental to their careers or advancement. There is a pressure in many industries for women to be able to keep up with the men, to prove that they aren’t too emotional, too difficult, or any number of negative stereotypes that would prevent them from fitting in to the dominant culture. Louis CK’s sexual misconduct opened up dialogue among female comedians, who find that “not being able to take a joke” when it comes to sexual misconduct is a real career killer. Where men continue overwhelmingly to dominate certain industries, where “locker room talk” is actually the talk in whatever rooms of power – board room, green room, Senate chamber – women are under pressure to prove that we can take it, that we can hang with the best of them, while allowing the dominant rape culture to define the “best.”

Certainly, there have been, at times, false accusations made. But the vast majority of allegations of abuse and harassment are not false. Women have very little to gain in accusing men – particularly the rich and powerful – of misconduct. When women do speak out, our word is doubted, our character maligned, or worse. Women who have spoken out against powerful men have received death threats and lawsuits. It’s no wonder so many keep silent. Read more

Me Too

silencing women

It started appearing on the Sunday afternoon in the week after the story about Harvey Weinstein broke. A simple Facebook post that caught me off guard and made me suddenly unable to breathe. It said:

Me, too.

If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.  #MeToo  

Please copy/paste.

There wasn’t just one or two or three. I stopped counting at 10. Most of these were posted by colleagues and friends who are also pastors.

I did not copy and paste. I did not add my voice to the mix. I have shared my story in the safety of Young Clergy Women International groups and with close friends and colleagues. But to make it a status…well, that would change everything.

I’m looking for a job. Will this influence employers who may see it? Will my former Head of Staff (who, for the record, was not the perpetrator, and whom I never told) figure out which member had sexually harassed me on numerous occasions? Would those who worked with me at my former church know? Would members figure it out? What would my friends think? These and a million other questions swirled through my mind as I read and reread the words “me too” and my mind flashed back to those awful moments I, like too many women, have endured. Read more

The Cost of Unity

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
     did not regard equality with God
     as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
     taking the form of a slave,
     being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
     he humbled himself
     and became obedient to the point of death—
     even death on a cross.

 ~Philippians 2:1-8

 

Can’t we all just get along? In the midst of all the turmoil and division in the U.S. and countries around the world, prayers for peace and unity continue. I will always pray for peace and unity. But I’m having more difficulty with the calls for unity, which don’t seem to recognize the costliness of it.

Unity is important; division can destroy. I haven’t kept up with all of the investigations of how Russia may or may not have influenced the U.S. presidential election last year, but the most recent news has captivated me. Russian operatives created and disseminated thousands of ads and fake news stories – on both sides – through social media. The goal was to heighten the divisions between Americans even further, to increase the emotional and visceral reactions, to foment such unrest and hatred internally to tear at the fabric of our democracy. The effort continues, such as with the recent #takeaknee and #standforouranthem social media divides.

Mission accomplished? These campaigns didn’t create the divisions in our nation, but they certainly have fed the beast. Read more

Lawful and Beneficial: An Exploration of Faith and Academic Freedom

As we begin a new semester, and a new school year, after the summer we have had as a country, I am thinking about academic freedom. In 1 Corinthians, Paul writes twice that “all things are lawful but not all things are beneficial” (6:12 and 10:23). Paul was likely responding to a saying in the community at Corinth with the “all things are lawful” part.

There are, as with many Greek words, different ways to translate the second half: is he saying that not all things are edifying? profitable? expedient? helpful? I choose to translate it “beneficial” because I think that covers pretty much all those other options. All things are allowable, but not all things are beneficial. As a seminary professor and Christian, I think of this as a good way to consider the topic of academic freedom.

The academy (including Christian college, seminary, or secular state institutions), is a place where ideas should flow freely. Mistakes should be made, and even encouraged, so that everyone in the community (professors and students alike) can learn and grow. I often assign readings that I agree with wholeheartedly — readings that have challenged my thinking and broadened my perspective. I also assign readings that I don’t agree with, because they are important to have as part of the conversation in the class.

My students can expect to be challenged in their thinking in my courses. Read more

note at Manchester bombing memorial

Death in the Family

note at Manchester bombing memorial

Manchester victim memorials

There has been a death in the family. As I write this, less than twenty four hours have passed since the bomb at Ariana Grande’s concert at the Manchester Arena. Twenty-two people have been confirmed dead, and an unknown number of people are injured. Social media is awash with connected stories. How a homeless man cradled a woman as she died. Ariana Grande herself tweeting a sense of feeling broken. Grande is twenty four years old; much of her following consists of young girls and women. Another article suggests that this was an attack specifically targeted at girls and women. There has been a death in the family.

There has been a death in the family. As I write this I am attending the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. For the Church of Scotland, and for the United Reformed Church, their respective General Assemblies are the highest and final decision making bodies for their denominations. In some respects, for those Churches, it is these Assemblies who are the bishop or the archbishop rather than any individual person. This morning the Assembly received the report and debated the deliverances (this is the term the CoS use for what other bodies would call a motion or a resolution) from their Church and Society Council. The pain of the world was held before us as we reflected on what happened in Manchester along with many other national, U.K., European, and global, social and political issues. I have lived through too many of these tragic events. As I remember other bombs in other cities, in other countries, and on other continents, the creeping feeling of numbness and disbelief that humanity could treat its own so dreadfully touches me yet again. There has been a death in the family.

There has been a death in the family. Much has been written and said about how human communities and how Christian churches deal with death and tragedy. Among the most well known writing about bereavement comes from Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and her theory of five stages of grief. As a Christian minister I have presided over countless funerals where I have proclaimed the Gospel Good News of hope and resurrection trying to enable those left behind to make sense of the gap now present in their family or community. There has been a death in the family.

There has been a death in the family. The question that I am left with, again, is about why this happened? On one level, the answer is simple, someone – and someone that I choose not to hate, or label with insults – walked into the Manchester Arena and detonated an explosive device. The group styled as ‘ISIS’ have claimed responsibility. But where is God? And if there is a God, why do these things happen, and happen to children and young people who had their whole lives ahead of them?

While studying theology at university I was introduced to the biblical genre of lament. Read more

Hospital bed

Pregnant, No Baby

Hospital bed

Hospital bed

Now I wish that I’d had the “abortion.”

He dropped my hand to run across the room. A pan, anything to catch it, but the blood was coming and the staff was too busy and there was nothing he had, ultimately, but his hands. I know those hands so well. He calls them “bear paws” for the way he claws rather indelicately but with force just so when there’s a knot in my neck or to steady our toddling daughter.

The clods of blood embarrassed me and I apologized out loud, to whom, I’m not sure, since the hospital staff weren’t there. In between episodes, I bent over with a towel or whatever I could find to sop everything up, but in time the bleeding became too much and bending over was unwise and I sat on the bed, causing more mess and I hate mess. Then came the pain with an intensity I hadn’t felt since my beautiful baby girl’s birth. I pushed the button for the preoccupied staff because: PAIN. But no one could come right then and my husband took my hand with his sweet bear paws.

Then the expunging surges my uterus proffered to get this all done began and he dropped my hand to try to go see what he could do between my legs, positioned like a midwife at a birth, checking, catching. I saw him look into his cupped hands at this Nerf football-sized clotted thing that he then carefully set aside, as the staff had asked us to do “for analysis” before they left for the other things.

A few weeks before, we were on the primary care side of the hospital complex, excited to have the ultrasound. There was a pregnancy sack, all of the things that say “pregnant,” a positive pregnancy test, but no heartbeat. The midwife was more shaken about it than I was and I found myself reaching out to comfort her when her voice got shaky. My pain was for later, for my secret space in a room by myself in some time with my God.

Faced with two options, one was cheaper. I am grateful to have health insurance through the Pension Boards of the United Church of Christ, the denomination I serve as a pastor. Our plan had covered our daughter’s simple hospital birth at 100% once our deductible was met. But, as I have known for years, as our insurance representatives reiterate consistently when asked why they do not cover dilation and curettage surgeries: “The United Church of Christ does not cover abortions or other elective procedures.” So our second option would be paid entirely out of our own pockets. My health plan did not prioritize my health. Maybe I did not, either.

In earlier, harder days, in between insurance coverage, I frequented Planned Parenthood for my routine women’s health needs. But those were hard days and I did not want to go back to them. Moreover, I was scared of the idea of an abortion. I have close family members who vote solely on whether or not a candidate supports women’s access to abortions, and I knew that if I went forward with one – even though there was no life in my womb – I would be at extreme odds with their position. I was too afraid to face the kinds of conversations that could ensue if I had that D&C. Read more

women protesting

Young Clergy Women, on Strike or Not

women protesting

Women Protesting

On March 8, 2017, in observance of International Women’s Day, activists called for American woman to strike from paid and unpaid labor, or to participate by joining a protest rally, not shopping or supporting women owned businesses, or simply wearing red to show support for women.

Clergy women made many different decisions about how to observe the day. The question for many came down to the nature of their work, family life, and questions about what the strike might accomplish. Fidelia’s asked them about their decisions. Read more

Young Clergy Women on Marching

On Saturday, January 21, young clergy women participated in the Women’s March on Washington, DC, and in sister marches all over the world. We’ve gathered some of their reflections on these events.

On the visibility of being clergy

  • I intentionally wore my collar to serve as a public witness as a faith leader: I had a conversation with a woman my age who has an advanced degree in Hebrew literature and Scripture, but did not go on to be a rabbi because she didn’t have female role models. She expressed gratitude that I was showing young women today that they, too, may be called to lead faith communities.
  • A reporter interviewed me and another clergywoman, and was surprised to hear that we were pastors. “Wait, you’re Christian, but you’re at this march?” I explained that I was marching because of my faith, not in spite of it: part of my baptismal call is to follow the example of Jesus, serve others, and strive for justice and peace for all.
  • I wore a collar to show that young women clergy exist, and that Christians stand for love and justice. My husband observed that when photographers saw a young woman in a collar, they ran over to snap a picture. It was interesting to notice how young women clergy were “desirable optics” for a reporter’s narrative. I’m still trying to sort out how I feel about that.
  • I had planned to wear my collar, but I start a new job next week at a non-profit that is primarily donor funded, and is supported broadly by churches and synagogues across theological and political spectrums. While I wanted deeply to participate, I also didn’t want my collar to get me on the front page of something and alienate church folks in a new city before I get to know them.
  • I marched beside my mother, also a clergy woman. I wore my collar because the reason why I march is my faith and my role as a faith leader: I was marching for congregation members who are queer and don’t feel comfortable being out at church; for undocumented parishioners who have sought help but come up against roadblocks; for the woman who had an abortion when she learned her much-wanted baby would not live and was in pain.
  • I marched with a group of fellow clergy women wearing matching jackets that said “Nasty Clergy Women.” The comments ranged from “Pray for me sisters!” to “I’m not religious, but that I could get on board with!”

Read more