Curly hair

Cierra and I are finishing up week three of a month in Dundas, Ontario, a small town of 20,000 swallowed up by the metropolitan area of Hamilton, a city of over half-a-million people. We are staying in a delightful condo in the quaint downtown area. Almost daily we have walked the roughly six-block main street, stepping in to a shop here or there, mostly looking for food. For the first two weeks we walked past the old post office that now houses small shops – a bakery, a clothing store, and a place called Ellenoire. But we didn’t go in. Ellenoire advertises on the sign outside that it is a place that specializes in curly hair.

The first time we walked by I noticed the sign and mentioned to Cierra that it was refreshing to see that they had emphasized their specialty in ‘curly hair’ not ethnic hair. (I have never understood that phrase which has always seemed such a stupid and even racist phrase. White people don’t have ethnic hair, we are the norm. Everybody else has ethnic hair.) We continued our walk. And on every jaunt since, we continued by until Wednesday. As we passed by the post office building once again, the smell from the bakery drew us in. (Like I said, we are usually out looking for food.) We decided to check the shops out. Cierra got a peanut butter cookie in the bakery and as we walked back into the hallway, I suggested we just stop by Ellenoire and what a delightful experience we had. Cierra has pretty short and straightened hair and the owner of the salon wanted to make sure that we new upfront that they focus on natural hair, not artificially straightened hair. There were four employees and several customers in the store. Everyone joined in the conversation to talk about societal pressure on black women to have straight hair – to conform to cultural expectations of the broader culture. As we talked, the owner made a comment about the impact if black female celebrities stopped straightening their hair or getting weaves. And I responded with, “or maybe a first lady.” She laughed and said, ‘Yeah. But can you imagine the uproar and the political costs to her husband if she decided to go natural?” But wouldn’t it be a seismic shift for American culture if Michelle Obama, in the President’s final year in office, decided to stop weaving and straightening? Anyway, she suggested that Cierra and I watch Chris Rock’s movie “Good Hair.” I had seen snippets of it, but not the whole thing.

As we walked back to our condo, I asked Cierra what she thought about the conversation. Her first words were, “I’m not ready to go natural. The cost would be too great at school. Maybe when I graduate from high school, but not now. The only girls that don’t straighten their hair or have weaves are the one or two black girls that are African immigrants. They can get away with it. The rest of us can’t.” (BTW, at her high school, one-third of students identify as African-American, so when Cierra says that only 1 or 2 black girls embrace their natural curls, that means there are about 200 that don’t).

Later that night we did watch Chris Rock’s movie and we talked during and after about the pressure on black women to conform to culturally-idealized standards. Cierra said, ‘we should write a letter to Michelle Obama and tell her to let her hair be curly.’ And, then she also said, but I’m not ready to go natural. I have too many other battles to contend with at school to take that one on.

 

The more things change . . . .

Sometimes I feel like all I do is complain about how bad things are and how nothing ever changes. As I was making notes of different topics I had been thinking about in the past couple of weeks, I was struck by how some things have changed. Specifically, we talk about things openly and publically in ways I certainly wouldn’t have envisioned thirty years ago. Here are some examples of recent public conversations along with my longings for how we might further the dialogue even more.

Last week, Inside Higher Ed.com posted a story about Grace University’s  (Omaha) expulsion of a female student for being lesbian and the subsequent demand that she reimburse the school $6,000 for scholarship monies she received for the semester in which she was expelled. A very interesting story and much to think about; you can read more at: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/06/13/student-expelled-being-gay-and-charged-6000-back-tuition-protests-online-petition#ixzz2WtC1PNaS

One quote in particular from the young woman jumped out at me, however. The former student, Danielle Powell, stated that she didn’t intentionally set out to deceive the school about her sexual orientation. In her words, “No knowingly gay person would ever go to this institution.” She is also quoted in the article as saying, “I don’t identify as being a lesbian. I love who I love based on my emotional connection with that person. It has nothing to do with gender.” Powell is now married to her then girlfriend and living in Nebraska.

Isn’t God-given human sexuality really about intimate connection? We are often so busy trying to categorize people that we can’t hear or see what is really important. What if we could talk about sexual identity without the need for putting people into boxes or slapping a label on them?

Exodus International, “a controversial Christian ministry devoted to changing people ‘affected by homosexuality’ announced Wednesday night that it was shutting its doors after operating for more than three decades.”

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-exodus-ministry-to-shut-down-20130619,0,2132827.story

The decision to close its doors came on the heels of a public apology by its current president of eleven years, Alan Chambers. In a statement from the organization, Chambers apologized to members of the gay community for “years of undue judgment by the organization and the Christian Church as a whole.” In the statement, Chambers acknowledges the need for a public apology because the work of Exodus International was public. He does not apologize for his theological convictions – they haven’t changed:

“I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could encounter each other across the boundaries of our otherness with love and not fear? 1 John 4:18ff states: There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love because God first loved us.20 If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. 21 This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.

Rachel Held Evans was a guest blogger on Tony Jones’ blog this week. She wrote an elegant piece about the weight she carries for representing her gender every time she shows up whether in person or on paper. She gave voice to the angst of many women in ministry (and in other professions as well). http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2013/06/14/rachel-held-evans-a-womans-voice/

She notes her commitment to, as much as possible, set aside the burden of speaking for her gender and endeavoring to speak in “Rachel’s voice.” I applaud her in that commitment. She writes: “(b)ut more and more I’m learning to let go, to quit this fool’s errand of proving to the world that women have what it takes, and instead to go about the hard, unglamorous work of just showing up…as Rachel.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could celebrate the gifts we each bring to God’s table? Wouldn’t it be delightful if the planners for a ministry conference or church leadership workshop didn’t need to scratch their heads in befuddlement to come up with a handful of excellent speakers and presenters who also happened to be women and/or people of color?

Things have changed, but the old adage also still holds true: the more things change, the more they stay the same. I will continue to long for something more until the cows come home. Or, maybe until kingdom come.

 

The New Francis

My initial surprise at the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in mid-February quickly faded into indifference and disdain. At the same time the world watched as the ritual practices of electing a new pope were put into place, the archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, resigned for ‘inappropriate sexual conduct’ with other priests, five prominent Catholic American bishops opposed the Violence Against Women Act, signed by President Obama on March 7th, and the Los Angeles archdiocese settled 4 Catholic priest sex abuse cases for $10 million. What difference would a new pope make in a system that seemed incapable of addressing the sins and failings of its leaders? 

But then the announcement came that a new pope was elected and that he had chosen to be called Pope Francis I. I was intrigued. As the cardinals settled in behind closed doors to begin the process of voting, oddsmakers began setting the odds for papal names. Would the new pope choose Leo, the odds-on-favorite or Gregory? Perhaps Pius or Peter? Francis didn’t even make the list. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, now Pope Francis I, the first ever Jesuit to be elected as pope, chose a name whose symbolism cannot be overlooked. Sara Dover, writing for CBS News, notes that “(i)n Catholic tradition, St. Francis of Assisi had a mystical vision of Jesus Christ, who told him to rebuild his church. In light of the scandals that have tarnished the Church, from its financial troubles to widespread allegations and cover-up of sex abuse, the name may carry special significance.”  St. Francis of Assisi renounced all forms of wealth and lived a frugal and simple life. From all indications, the new Pope Francis I, has eschewed the trappings of materialism, as well. He chose to live in a simple apartment rather than the archbishop’s palatial palace in Buenos Aires, took the bus to work and cooked his own meals. A sliver of hope took hold. Could things – would things be different with this pope?

Obviously, it’s too early to tell how the Catholic church will shift under this new pope. Or if it will in any significant measure at all. Early reports indicate that Pope Francis is progressive – not hesitant to wash the feet of people with HIV/AIDS, but also conservative – opposing abortion, same-sex marriage, and the ordination of women.  In President Obama’s congratulations, he said, “As a champion of the poor and the most vulnerable among us, he (Pope Francis) carries forth the message of love and compassion that has inspired the world for more than 2,000 years — that in each other we see the face of God.” I hold on to only a sliver of hope, but pray that with this new Francis, Obama’s words will ring true.

 

 

 

What kind of academic institution are you running here?

I was asked a rather disturbing question in an interview recently.

I was asked “When teaching, how do you both teach and protect the faith of the students in your class? Specifically, how do you protect the faith of godly young men who do not believe women can be in ministry and will likely struggle with females in class who think this is possible?” The unpacking of the question went on to include me, in that I am female, and might actually make a young man uncomfortable having me teach in a position of authority. Ultimately the question was clarified to ask how do I skillfully teach a class, not harm the male students or even push them to a point of questioning what they have been taught about roles of men and women in ministerial leadership and state that it is good and right for them to not believe in women in ministry while standing before them as a woman in ministry.

I think the person asking thought it was rather innocuous. In hindsight, this one question revealed a tremendous amount about the person and consequently the institution asking.

So I'm curious just what this interviewer was thinking teachers do, specifically teachers of theology and ministry. I can appreciate not wanting someone whose agenda was to destroy the faith of young people. But to frame a class around not harming a specific category? This would even have made more sense to me had the person followed with a question about the balance of protecting young women in class who did feel called to ministry and may struggle with the men in class who disagree. But this didn't happen. There was also no concern for what this may do to me as the professor AND a woman in ministry.

The lunacy of this question was that it was posed not by a random peripheral person, or even someone just curious. It was posed by the one charged with casting the vision and protecting academic freedom. There was an immediate assumption that I was going to dismantle the faith of others which is annoying enough itself. The more troublesome assumption is that students can't handle anything beyond affirmation of what they already believe. That students are not mature enough to listen, discern, discuss and have their faith deepened by actual scholarship. Frankly, this person painted the students to be fragile boys who couldn't handle anything outside of their already existent worldview.

We do a disservice to young people when we refuse to pose controversial topics or present a variety of views as valid. We breed future ministers who fail in reflective practices for fear that their precious theological glass houses will shatter. We dishonor God when we treat young people as if they are pathetically fragile in the name of preservation of faith. Assuming these same young people are created in the image of God… That god too is fearful and unreflective.

I am not interested I dismantling faith. I am however interested in helping young people, men and women, to be in ministry for the long haul able to draw strength in the face of diversity and new ideas.

 

WHAT’S IN A LABEL?

For many years, the three of us on this blog have explored together issues of identity development, particularly the notion of how one integrates the different aspects of ‘self’ (e.g. gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality) into an overall self-concept. How does one make sense of the whole of one’s differing identities?

Today I want to point you to a beautiful, thoughtful, and poignant blog that gets at the intense questioning that one must engage in to stay on the journey of understanding one’s identity. http://www.danoah.com/2012/11/anything-other-than-straight.html

Dan Pearce’s blog also highlights the significance of culture, social context and community in supporting and undermining a person’s journey towards wholeness. A dear friend regularly sends me postings from Ten Minutes of Torah Study. Yesterdays post explored Jacob’s struggle with God by the Jabbok river (Genesis 32). I have been pondering two points from this study that connect, at least for me, to a person’s struggle in understanding self. First, is that our struggles – our wrestlings – about self and God are intertwined and it’s difficult sometimes to know whether we are struggling with God or struggling with ourselves. Secondly, “through struggle comes growth and reconciliation, and that only through direct confrontation are we able to change from who we are to who we were meant to be.” (http://view.mail.rj.org/?j=fec511767366017f&m=fe9315707361057572&ls=fe281776716c0479761d72&l=fefd167574660c&s=fe58127173610c747510&jb=ffcf14&ju=fe6215717d670579771d&r=0)

Sometimes (maybe more often than not) that struggle is not with God, or others, but with ourselves.

In the next few days, I am looking forward to pondering and writing about some of the questions that Pearce has raised.

 

Sexism by any other name . . . .

Christianity Today posted a web-article this week, entitled The Benevolent Sexism at Christian Colleges. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/november-web-only/benevolent-sexism-at-christian-colleges.html?start=3 Biola University professors and researchers, Brad Christerson, M. Elizabeth Lewis Hall and Shelly Cunningham offer a glimpse into the experiences for many female faculty at Christian liberal arts universities. As I read through the article, I felt like they were describing my life. I’ll offer a few key comments based on my own personal experiences and then invite as many as would like, into the discussion, particularly my two colleagues on this blog.

Christerson, Hall and Cunningham call the particular dynamic of male-female collegiality on Christian college campuses, benevolent sexism. “Benevolent sexism refers to sexism that is not overtly hostile. In fact, it is often in the context of warm, friendly personal relationships between men and women.” I have taught in environments where the sexism was overtly hostile, but where I am now there is an ethos of collegiality and my relationships with my male colleagues are marked, for the most part, by relationships in which I am treated with kindness and respect. What makes my relationships different though, than what I observe in male-to-male relationships is that men tend to earn and give respect based on their intellectual and academic accomplishments. The respect and kindness afforded me most often seems to be for my being womanly – e.g. nurturing, tender.

The article points out that the results of this study show female faculty often feel excluded from male social groups in part because “evangelicals are more guarded about cross-gender relationships.” The theological wars over issues of women in leadership, the roles of women and men, among other things has fostered an ethos in which men and women are socially awkward in relating professionally with one another. Should a male colleague and a female colleague meet in an office alone to discuss a research project? Can they meet for lunch or at a coffee shop? If someone sees them, what will people think of them? The typical end result of this awkwardness and paranoia is that it’s often just easier NOT to engage professionally, which consequently means that women get left out of the discussion. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have felt excluded from professional conversations in which I knew or suspected that it was primarily because of my gender. And, sometimes, I was the one making that choice.

Finally, a point closely related, was “how social exclusion leads to professional disadvantages by virtue of being left out of informal information-sharing networks. . . .” In my own experience, for many, many years, I have watched as the men go to lunch together, talk shop over coffee, play sports together, socialize together with their families and very rarely was I or any other female faculty member included. And, here is where the benevolent part comes in. Many of my male colleagues would consider me a friend, and if I raise the issue of women being left out of social networks, I typically receive two kinds of comments: “We are not stopping you from having your own social networks;” or “you may be right, but it’s too uncomfortable, it’s not appropriate or healthy, etc.” And the researchers are correct, in that this subtle benevolent form of sexism leads to less academic and professional opportunities for women: advancement and promotion, grants, access to networks that lead to book contracts, journal articles, etc. Succeeding professionally is often about mentors and networking, getting your name out there because of the social networks you develop. The ethos of benevolent sexism on Christian college campuses makes it much more difficult for women to develop the needed relationships to thrive professionally. Sexism by any other name is still sexism.

“Man Fail”- Fail

For those of us who are seeking to build the kingdom and stand for a life centered around Christ, it is equally important that we shed light on situations that dishonor men as well as dishonor women.

I am often frustrated by how little regard we have for men in our society. In the Christian world over the last decade men have been encouraged to be warriors, barbarians, prince charming and a host of other mythical hyper masculine stereotypes that do them and the females around them no good. If they fall short of this (or simply differ from this), they have been called weak, gutless and perhaps now the worst of what I have heard…”man fails”.

I am not easily stunned but in reading an article from the Associated Baptist Press this week, I was left speechless and a little nauseated. Below is a quote from the story.

“Professor Owen Strachan of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, has a message for stay-at-home dads: You are violating the gender roles that arehighlighted and espoused in the Bible. Strachan’s views, which are obviously controversial in nature, have led the academic to refer to “dad moms,“ men to choose to stay home and raise their children as ”man fails” — a less-than-flattering title.”

There are so many things wrong with this I hardly know where to begin. Theologically, Sociologically, Biblically…or just plain old manners and humanity.

Let me be clear that I understand there may be more to Strachan’s argument than what appears in the article referenced above. But, one of the difficulties with Strachan’s argument is his lack of sophistication in dealing with the biblical texts he cites – Genesis 3, Proverbs 31, Titus 2, and 1 Tim 5. He shows no awareness of genre issues, the social and historical context of the stories themselves, or of the authors or editors of those texts. Even though the subject of authorial intent can be a tricky subject, Strachan completely ignores any attempt at discerning the authorial intent of these passages and simply applies these passages to his purposes without warranting his connections. This is a classic example of eisegesis.

Indeed, Strachan suggests that any model for the family other than the one he proposes (men work, women stay home) is inappropriate and motivated by materialism. He accuses all families who have chosen to have the woman be the primary breadwinner and the man be the primary caretaker as being concerned with bigger garages,bigger homes and more cars. As if all who make this choice are greedy materialistic people who value possessions over their children. How dare he.

Strachan has already determined that his model is what men and women are called to, yet he provides no argument for his assertion, rather a series of proof texts. Would he claim that God would not call a woman to something outside the home? I would not presume to put words in his mouth, but this article is explicit in saying “women are called to the high calling of raising families.” How then should we deal with Deborah (Jdg 5)? Or Rahab (Josh 2)? Or Ruth? Or Huldah (2 Kgs 22)? Or Esther? Or Miriam (Exod)? Do I really need to continue? God did not call just one women as an exception to the rule.

How then should we also deal with this “high calling of raising families” as if men are incapable or unworthy? How dare he question the masculinity of men who decide to pour into their children for the betterment of their families lives and in turn for the kingdom.

Professor Strachan states in an article on the official ABP site that there are indeed exceptions for extenuating circumstances. How very gracious of him. It seems that illness or lay offs allow the man, for a season, to caretake in the home. He makes no attempt to understand why a family would choose a model different from his own. He has no thought that perhaps there are specific reasons why the man is better suited to be in the home.

With his assertion, he belittles an entire community of people. I would argue that he ironically belittles his own sex. When we assign roles to people forgetting that gender is a social construct we, dethrone God and place ourselves in the role of creator. Strachan believes his interpretation of scripture is the only option for God’s design.

While baptists do not officially hold to the Wesleyan quadrilateral – scripture, tradition, reason and experience – in practice, they typically affirm the value of each component. All four components suggest that Strachan’s position is little more than tendentious justification, using biblical passages to assert what he already believes.

Beauty IS the beast

Three times this past week I have had conversations with other women about the burdens of physical beauty. In the first conversation, a first-year student, in that still-trying-to-figure-out-what-it means-to-be-female-stage of mid-to-late adolescence, was weighed down by the expectations of her classmates, who expected her to look a certain way. She resisted and resented the pressure that she felt to wear tight-fitting and revealing clothes, walk in sky-high wedge shoes, wear makeup and on top of it all, pretend like she wasn’t intelligent or had any interests other than fashion, nails, and hair. And that pressure came from her female friends!

My second conversation was with a woman closer to my age, decades from her teens and early twenties. She was bemoaning the reality that aging women are viewed much differently in our culture than are aging men. While men are often seen as distinguished and even sexy, women are pressured to do everything they can to stay youthful-looking; dying, straightening, curling their hair, plastic surgery, botox and laser treatments, waxing, hair removal. Choosing to go “natural” and get comfortable with one’s aging body, can impact relationships, employment, as well as whether one gets a promotion or raise. As someone for whom sixty is a flashing neon sign just ahead, I am all too familiar with this conversation. What are appropriate choices when it comes to physical beauty? When have I crossed the line from loving, honoring and respecting my body to being co-opted into society’s values of beauty?

And my third conversation was with a young woman just entering her last semester of college. This young woman is physically very beautiful by our culture’s standards. She is the kind of woman that walks into a room and everyone pauses just to take in her beauty. She knows it and she hates it. She is a thoughtful and intelligent young woman, determined to use the gifts that she feels God has given her to make the world a better place. In that regard, she believes her beauty is a detriment to being a leader. She finds that people in her Christian context, too often think that women are called to be the ‘beauty-bearers’ or ‘beauty-providers’ to situations. That the best gift a woman can bring is to ‘make the place more beautiful.’ She watches as her friends and family turn to the young men around her to engage in ‘world-changing conversations’ – to talk with them about critical life issues, what their dreams are for changing the world, or more simply, just to ask them what they have been thinking about. “No one asks me what I’ve been thinking about. They just want to know where I got my outfit.”

The church hasn’t always bought into the ideal of beauty as mostly a female contribution. Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century American theologian believed that God was beauty and that all beauty derived from God: “God is God and distinguished from all other beings, and exalted above ‘em, chiefly by his divine beauty, which is infinitely diverse from all other beauty. . .  God is beautiful, indeed beauty itself, and the source and foundation of all beauty in the world. . .” The idea of real beauty is related to the character and nature of God.

True beauty is contrary to cultural norms of beauty. Beauty is a gift that human beings are able to bestow on others. Our actions that are honoring and confer dignity to another are gifts of beauty. When we loving and tenderly care for an aging parent, we are offering gifts of beauty.

The Greek words for call (kaleo) and beauty (kallein) are closely related and provide an understanding of the intimate connection between a person fulfilling a sense of purpose and beauty. We are all – men and women – called to be beautiful, living out our potential and purpose. Would that we would all throw off the bonds of cultural beauty that enslave and embrace the beauty of our personhood. But, I know, that even as I say that, when I get dressed this morning, the battle will begin again. Will I wear those 3-inch heels that I love, but my knees hate? (Probably, yes) Will I simply smile and allow that to serve as my ‘make-up’ for the day? (Probably, no)

 

Choices

I don’t know why I read or listen to political commentaries, especially in an election year. It doesn’t matter what flavor the commentary is, or whose political objectives they are trying to sell, political commentaries usually leave me with high blood pressure and a pounding headache. As I explode in my frustration at the latest factoid cited, Cierra shakes her head and wonders, “why, do you insist on talking to the newspaper or yelling at the radio.” But I continue to listen because I believe my participation in the process matters and because the decisions made in the halls of congress and the state capitols around the country impact and alter the daily lives of all of us.

Sunday, I read a commentary in one of my local newspapers by Katherine Kersten. (http://www.startribune.com/opinion/commentaries/167369255.html) Like commentators tend to do, no matter their political party affiliation, she crafted an argument, well supported by data, or ‘facts’ as they often term them. And, as usual, only data or ‘facts’ were used that supported her particular point of view. Her article debated whether there was an assault on women by Republicans or, as she argued, the assault was really one by the Obama administration whose policies, in her estimation, sought to undue all of the advances women have made in recent years. It is not my desire to debate the broader issue of which party has the best interests of women. I will say that I dream of public dialogue in which the conversation could move to a deeper level that allowed for a nuanced discussion. It’s too easy and simple to say, “Women now hold 51 percent of white-collar management and professional jobs” and, therefore, women are doing fine and men are the ones losing. First, it sets up a dichotomy that says the dynamic among men and women is one that necessarily is about one losing and one winning. Adam and Eve set us on that course when they decided to take a bite out of that apple.

Secondly, I think it would be more beneficial and we could move the conversation forward if we acknowledged that yes, women have made great strides in the last three decades or more in the workforce, and yet, in 2011 only 3.8% of CEO positions and 8.7% of CFO positions of the Fortune 500 were held by women.(http://dalmasetto.com/pdfs/US_labour_stats.pdf)  And, that even as women have made strides in education and employment, significant numbers of young men fail to finish high school and therefore, never have an opportunity to pursue higher education. Political sound bites and commentaries leave little room for that kind of nuanced discussion—a discussion that could look more closely at how women and men are faring in the economic landscape of 2012. Okay, so maybe this sounds like one of my rants at the radio. But here is what I really wanted to talk about today.

In her article, Kersten makes this comment: “In fact,” (there’s that word again) “the wage gap essentially disappears in “apples to apples” comparisons of the earnings of women with and without children. Women with children tend to choose hours, occupations and flexible work environments that result in lower earnings, while childless women earn virtually the same as their male counterparts on average.”

There are a number of things I question in this statement, but there is one word that flashes in my head like a blazing neon sign: choose. Here are a few of the questions that come to mind as I think about choice, motherhood and employment:

  1. Why don’t men with children tend to choose hours, occupations and flexible work environments? I know many do, but are the impacts of those choices similar for men as for women? In my own context, female professors feel greater pressure to not let their parental responsibilities get in the way of their work responsibilities and are often hesitant to ask for greater flexibility and are often critiqued by students and colleagues if it seems like they aren’t carrying their full load. I have, on the other hand, observed male professors who are fathers, seeking similar flexibility, lauded for their ‘commitment to their children.
  2. Is it choice, or necessity that puts women with children in lower paying jobs? Are there factors at play in the economy and society that make the ‘choice’ for mothers? For example, the cost of childcare, when weighed against potential earnings often lead women to make the ‘choice’ to work in jobs with flexible hours, or to work part-time, to avoid paying for childcare. That isn’t the whole picture, for sure, but it is part of the equation. These choices have long-term implications for lifetime earnings, health insurance and retirement benefits.
  3. Women ‘choose’ occupations that pay less? What about a discussion about why the occupations women choose pay less? Is it because the jobs done primarily by women aren’t valued as much? Or maybe it’s a bigger issue about power and dominance? As I noted above, many men are in low-paying jobs because of a lack of education and many ‘choose’ to be in what are now becoming lower wage jobs, such as manufacturing and the auto industry. Sometimes it is not about choice, but about have no choice.

It’s time for another political commentary on NPR. I think I am going to go yell at the radio.

 

identity and what others say

The following question was posed to a grandmother (who also happens to be a psychiatrist) from her twenty-something year old grandson who has recently come out as homosexual. “How am I supposed to figure out who I am when it seems everyone else has already decided?” The conversation was much longer than this one question and well…in all honesty I overheard it when it was on Days of Our Lives the other day. (Don’t judge me…I really was passing through the room.) This one simple question gets to the core of identity formation in our world today.

My family visited a church today we quite liked. We are looking for a new church home and this was on our short list. At the end of service, we spoke to the pastor briefly. My husband asked one question “Where does this church land on women in ministry?” (In full disclosure, he let the pastor know we did believe in women in ministry, all positions of leadership.) The pastor very politely began with valuing women but believing the Bible to allow only men to be pastors, stating that the Biblical term pastor is really known as an overseer and God designed it that male headship was God’s plan for things to run as they should. He did say a woman could teach but never in a lead pastor role. We didn’t go into nuances of pastoral roles as the next service was about to begin.

Long ago I had to deal with this very topic. After much soul searching, Bible study,  talking with every seminary professor, Christian writers, trusted pastors and friends, I had to submit. I had to submit to the reality that God called me to ministry and that I believed in my soul that women could do anything that a man could and that this was supported through scripture, tradition and reason though at the time I had not yet experienced it. I had to choose to be obedient and pleasing to God  or to men and women who didn’t believe my genetic make up allowed certain roles in life. It was a journey that became a part of my identity formation.

The three of us who write this blog and many of our colleagues have spent our entire adult lives circling the question of identity formation and how to best come alongside young people in this journey. For many young people others have already decided who they are based on one aspect or another be it gender, race, sexual orientation, region of their community, country or world. In stead of getting to grow into their identities, they spend a lifetime trying to break free from the identities others have placed on them.

Earlier this year Pamela, Calenthia and I led a training in MN on identity and how to better relate with others. We addressed everything theologically as we talked openly about gender, race and sexuality and the intersection of these three in our identity. In the introductions one person said he was from Edina,MN…and well you know what that means. Calenthia and I are not from MN and stared blankly at him. We didn’t know what that means. The rest of the room giggled and offered knowing glances. We were trying to clear space for this young man to work on who he is but also to not assume about others based on one factor. God certainly doesn’t, why should we?

In more ways than I can count I have heard the question “How am I supposed to figure out who I am when it seems everyone else has already decided?” There are days when even as an adult I still feel this. Today, hearing from a well meaning pastor that women cannot be called to pastoral ministry…he has decided how to interpret a part of my identity. He is wrong.

If someone hasn’t said it to you today… your identity is impacted by the world around you but it is not completely defined. Don’t let someone interpret away who you know God created you to be.