Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Baby's First Oppression

I have something new for my baby book today. My mother has my book in Omaha somewhere with a lock of my hair from my first haircut and the birth announcements and information about my first steps and first words.

First you need to know that I have always been at best a reluctant feminist, that I was one of the last people around here to change to gender-inclusive language when talking about God. Next you need to know that one of the predecessor institutions which formed LSTC was Seminex, the Seminary in Exile from the Missouri Synod Seminary where students and faculty walked out of the Seminary and that tradition many years ago largely over issues like female ordination. When that body voted against female ordination, a large group of all men, including some faculty members who are still teaching at LSTC today, left with no plans for their future except that they could not be a part of that group anymore. Needless to say, because of that institutional heritage, LSTC is a very open place for female would-be pastors. In fact it was one of those Seminex Professors who finally modelled gender inclusive language for God enough that I started using it. Around here, the belief in ordination of females is a fundamental assumption that isn't even really talked about anymore. It's a given. It's like talking about the earth being round, earth shattering at some point in history, but hardly shocking today.

I have two friends who are remarkable men. Young men, both younger than me. Both are extremely intelligent. One is, in some ways, one of my closest confidants in the world. I respect both men implicitly. They are both very kindhearted, tolerant, progressive and unselfish. Essentially they are exactly the kind of people you want to have as pastors. I trust them enough to jump out of a plane if they told me it was safe.

Today I had lunch with these two men. We were, as we often do, talking about theology. My close friend said that he thought, now that we have agreed with the Catholics on justification, that we ought to rejoin them, "submit" to the Roman Catholic church was what he said. He said submitting was the Christian thing to do, even though as Lutherans we would have to just change some of our policies and confessional beliefs to do so. In the interest of Church unity, we ought to submit. My other friend said he thought it wasn't a bad idea exactly. I disagreed and put forth the standard reasons, the hierarchical structure, the Pope, the veneration of the Saints, the policy on penitence, etc.

Then, in the middle of one of my friend's statements, I thought about the differences and exclaimed, interrupting him, that there was no way we could return to the Catholic church because of its policies on women and because women cannot be ordained as priests. I expected I had hit a home run. For me the question was settled. I expected them to both say "Oh yeah, I didn't really think about that." Instead, both said something to the effect of yes, it was a shame, but that was essentially a sacrifice they were willing to make in the interest of Church unity. My close friend suggested that we could all work together inside the church to reform it and eventually women would again be able to be fully ordained as pastors/priests.

I was shocked. Surely they just hadn't thought about it I thought. So I thought I would make it less abstract for them. "That would mean that all of the women in your classes would not be able to be pastors." They were both willing to sacrifice their classmates ordination, the unqualified acceptance of women as equally acceptable to partake in all aspects of Christian community and practice. One of them said "There are lots of very pious happy nuns." For me that statement suggested that women should/could learn to adjust. I started shaking and said we needed to discuss something else. Tears welled in my eyes. I was startled by my own strong reaction. The men respected my boundary and we talked about something else. My close friend sought me out tonight because he wanted to understand and he felt bad and had detected some error in his thought.

I had never felt oppressed until this lunch.

Although I am a woman, I've not felt that I was treated differently because of it. I have more education than almost any men around (makes getting a date tricky) and I've been in traditionally male-dominated professions like law. I come from a now upper-middle class family. I have the kind of personality or a mean looking face, or something that makes people typically take me seriously and not doubt my ability to do something. Or at least I am argumentative and stubborn enough that people generally don't tell me I can't do something because they know they will just waste their time even if I really can't do it. I've generally been exempt from feeling the exercise of power over or against me. My parents were supportive and generally let me help my dad with construction projects while my brother helped my mom make lunch.

What I learned today is that oppression is latent. Discrimination is powerful because it exists in the silent places in the mind, because it becomes part of the fabric of a culture. If I had that same conversation with men I didn't respect quite as much or men I didn't think wanted to do the right thing or men who I didn't think truly valued and believed in the equality of women, I would not have been so disturbed. These are men I trust to look out for my best interests far before their own. I was not mad at them because they didn't understand they were wrong. I was shocked and horrified to realize I live in a world where men I respect, young men, still think that women's equality to men is not one of the basic premises of life, that it is something which can be sacrificed if necessary, and that it isn't shocking for them to think of living in a world where women are lesser and that they could think of asking of their sisters to submit to an authority which sees them as lesser and will not accept them as pastors.

So today I realized what it really means to be oppressed. It means to be asked by someone who is perfectly good intentioned to make a forced sacrifice for something they value. It means they are willing to decide that your feelings and thoughts are expendable in the right situations. It means well-intentioned people think that your equality with them is something that can be negotiable for the right reasons. It means that still, in the back of their minds, they think that open discrimination against you is acceptable in some way under some circumstances.

I confess, I didn't believe our brothers and sisters in other oppressed classes who told me that I and other good, well-intentioned people can be accidentally oppressive. I resisted the idea that discrimination was institutionalized. I worried that focusing on discrimination was actually more divisive than uniting.

After my lunch experience today, I am not sure exactly what I feel about what should be done. I still think that I have been given all of life's opportunities and that others are openly oppressed whereas I am living in a situation where the oppression doesn't really become a factor in my life very often. I did learn my grammar today. Oppression is a noun, not a verb. It isn't an action, it's a state of existence. That it could ever be justified by thinking people in the name of anything Christian is a hard reality to swallow. Mark my baby book. Today was baby's first oppression. Today my eyes were opened to some of the latent cruelties in the world.

Friday, March 23, 2007

I am Barabbas

"I was sitting in chains, both hands and feet, in a dirty, cold and damp prison. I had robbed. I had murdered. I knew someday I would be caught, but until then I had always been able to slip through their fingers..." This is a part of a monologue from the perspective of Barabbas. What happened in Barabbas' mind once he heard the news that he would be set free after all the terrible things he had done? How did he respond to this radical grace? How do we respond grace in our lives?

This monologue was part of a Lenten Wednesday worship service series I am doing with Lara (another LSTC student) at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in West Chicago for our Ministry In Context (field education) project. Each week I memorize and perform a different monologue from a Lenten drama series called "Am I Guilty?" by Audrey Surma (published by Contemporary Drama Services). The monologues have been from the perspectives of Caiaphas the High Priest, a moneychanger, a member of the mob, Barabbas. Next week I will be Cornelius a Centurion and then Peter for Easter. I perform these monologues in first person story form, walking around the room, and then inviting discussion. Each monologue has sparked discussion on the parallels between these biblical characters and us today. Do we seek power like Caiaphas? Do we practice unethical business like the moneychangers? Do we follow the crowd like members of the mob? Do we still see a lot of these tendencies today? What does this tell us about sin? What does this tell us about grace? These are many of the questions the people of St. Andrew and I have been reflecting on and engaging during this Lenten season. Peace and grace to all of you.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Day Trip

Despite all the homework and grading I REALLY ought to be doing, one of my seminary friends and his wife and I all went on a day trip today. We travelled up the west coast of Lake Michigan since it was raining on the east side. We took a tour of the Jelly Belly factory and then went to a state park somewhere north of Milwaukee. It was really nice to get out of the city and see the lake shore in a quasi-natural state (there were still bits of pink Styrofoam floating in the rocks at water's edge and the occasional plastic bottle lodged into piles of shells).

I am absolutely convinced that God is revealed in nature. And God works in nature. Of course humans are natural too and therefore human-made items must be, in some way, natural. And God obviously works in humans. But you know what I mean--the non-human made stuff out there in the world is pretty revelatory. I feel closer to God from going out and walking on the beach. I feel more at peace.

But we don't have much "nature" left really. And although it is possible to enjoy the little bits-- the snowdrops and crocus flowers blooming in the yards along Woodlawn Ave-- it is sometimes very helpful to get the more dramatic dose of nature. Not everyone gets that opportunity. And if everyone did go out and walk on the beach like I did today, the beach wouldn't stay "natural" for very long. It's an interesting balance. We are in a position very different than the one that confronted biblical peoples. Then there was a struggle to survive for humans in a large world of "nature." It was necessary to be fruitful and multiply or we might not have made it as a species. Now the tables have turned.

I am faced with a series of dillemmas when I think about the Earth and "environmentalism." First. I come from a large family and I think I derived a lot of benefits and life lessons from the size of my family. But if I ever have a family of my own, should I keep it small because of the overpopulation of the earth? I love taking unnecessary road trips, but I probably hurt the environment by driving with fossil fuels. Think globally, act locally. How can you act when you are crippled by the enormity of the problem of thinking globally? What can we do when there are so many people alive and we want to keep them all alive and yet the world is straining under the bulk of our population? What happens if only certain factions in society curb their reproduction-- when the demographics of the society change will the environment be in better or worse shape if only those who don't seem to care as much bear and raise children?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Middle Times

Right now we are in the middle of the Semester-- a busy time in some ways with papers due just around the corner. For me it's my middler year in Seminary in a way that is even more true than for other middlers. I am taking three years to do an M.A. and so this really is the middle year.

It's sort of a moment of peace and familiarity. I know the schedule; I know what's expected of me. Life is a little bit settled for the moment. I guess most of the world operates in that moment, in the middle times. For me it's the most enjoyable time because I can focus on things other than putting fires out. So I took a quick trip home to Nebraska this weekend to see family-- it wasn't as quick as I'd hoped since the train was 10 hours late on the way back! I am working on a paper for Systematics and I have enough time to work just a little each day, then set it down and come back to it. My friends and I are talking about driving up the East coast of Lake Michigan tomorrow just to see what we can see. Since it's reading week (a whole week this semester) we have the day off.

The flowers are just starting to bloom and when the sun shines you feel like you just might have glimpsed eternity. This is Springtime! I don't really think it is the new beginning. It's the middle time. The time between trying to survive in muck and snow and cold in winter and the oppressive heat of summer. The middle times when things grow even if you don't water them.

I guess I don't live very well in the middle times. I get anxious and want to get moving on past them. But I almost always look back and wish I hadn't been so eager. It's easy to love spring, and I am enjoying this year, but stretch out the middle times into five or ten years and I get restless. I'm not sure why.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

how I long to smell the shoe

I enjoy playing basketball with a group of LSTC students every Thursday. Last Thursday we had the traditional bi-anual Student vs. Staff/Faculty Basketball Game. This semester's game we pumped the court with the Rocky theme song, and had team shirts that said: "HERE I SLAM, I CAN DO NO OTHER."

Unfortunately, we lost again (which is usually the case). They won the much coveted trophy, the president's "Shoe." I must mention that their team consists mostly of younger staff that are very athletic. However, we will have our day of glory, just you wait. Now as we sing the familiar tune of "next year," we do not sing it as the Cubs sing it, we sing it with fullness of confidence. I won't be here to see it, but next year will be dawning of a new era, I can feel it...and the students will win that shoe, and we will take it and we will smell its glory.