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Gender Brokenness Trending

mgyPdjWIncreasingly, most of the important cultural conversations are happening 140 characters at a time.

Indeed, trending on twitter has in many ways become the cultural arbiter of what’s being talked about. According to the twitter company fact sheet, 500 million tweets are sent every single day. And many of those tweets are hash-tagged into  conversations. To borrow an idea from writer Andy Crouch, that’s a whole lot of “culture making.”

Over the last several days, the hashtag #YesAllWomen has been trending, as a response to the horrific shootings in Santa Barbara, where a student who felt spurned by women he wished to date went on a shooting rampage, eventually killing 6 in Isla Vista.

According to this Salon.com article, “the Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen, which began trending yesterday, has already begun this important conversation. It reminds us that sexism and misogyny exist — in angry, threatening emails, in the workplace, on twitter, in the kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian girls.”

To be sure, reading through #YesAllWomen is a heart-breaking experience. But it’s also instructive. Because in a way, #YesAllWomen represents the adverse effects of a culture gripped my male privilege. Here are some of the many tweets that have grabbed me:

Because when I was sexually harassed in 7th grade they told me “boys will be boys” and that I’m just “naïve”

Someone at a gas station shoved me against my car, stuck their hand up my dress and the cops asked me what i was wearing

Because I am so tired of women having to learn rules for safety when men should be learning rules for behaviour.

Because I just got a comment from a guy saying the shooting spree was God’s just judgment on sinful women.

Because I apologize whenever someone sees me without makeup. and I didn’t realize how stupid that is until just now.

Because my 15 yo daughter hears filthy things yelled at her if she happens to walk past 2 or more men

Because when I want to call out somebody for making a sexist joke or comment online, I worry I’ll burn professional bridges.

And there are more. Thousands and thousands more.

As you read these tweets, what’s your response? Anger? Sadness? Empathy? All of the above?

Personally, I’m reminded of (and consoled by) the words of Psalm 12:

Help, O Lord, for the godly are fast disappearing!
    The faithful have vanished from the earth!
Neighbors lie to each other,
    speaking with flattering lips and deceitful hearts.
May the Lord cut off their flattering lips
    and silence their boastful tongues.
They say, “We will lie to our hearts’ content.
    Our lips are our own—who can stop us?”

The Lord replies, “I have seen violence done to the helpless,
    and I have heard the groans of the poor.
Now I will rise up to rescue them,
    as they have longed for me to do.”
The Lord’s promises are pure,
    like silver refined in a furnace,
    purified seven times over.
Therefore, Lord, we know you will protect the oppressed,
    preserving them forever from this lying generation,
even though the wicked strut about,
    and evil is praised throughout the land.

Join me in crying out the Lord for intervention!

Commenting on the hashtag, writer Neil Gaiman tweeted, “The #yesallwomen hashtag is filled with hard, true, sad and angry things. I can empathise & try to understand & know I never entirely will.”

Amen. That’s true. As a man, I’ll never fully understand.

Today, I’m just thankful that twitter gives me a chance to understand 140 characters at a time.

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I’m Not Finished Yet

otchZSqEvidently, last week Tertullian was traveling in Canada.

How do I know?

This note, left on an airplane, spelling out an anonymous passenger’s conviction that the cockpit of an airplane is no place for a woman. Here’s the transcript of the note:

“To Capt./WestJet,” the note says. “The cockpit of airliner [sic] is no place for a woman. A woman being a mother is the most honor not as “captain” Proverbs 31 (Sorry not P.C.) P.S. I wish WestJet could tell me a fair lady is at the helm so I can book another flight! Were [sir] short mothers not pilots Westjet.”

Outrageous. Indefensible. Atrocious. Don’t get me started about the Bible reference.

And I wish the attitude behind were less common.

After all, there are so few women pilots. Think about it. When was the last time you were on a flight piloted by a woman? Heck, when was the last time you saw a woman pilot on the airport concourse?

The statistics demonstrate this reality. In 2010, nationwide, fewer than 7% of commercial pilots were women. It was even worse for “airline transport” pilots, with women constituting just 3.92% of the population.

On it’s website, American Airlines celebrates the facts that it was the first major airline to hire a female pilot (in 1973), to have a female captain (in 1986) and to have an all-female crew (in 1987). Still, in 2011, American’s pilot corps was over 96% men.

Amelia Earhart once said, “Men do not believe us capable, because we are women, seldom are we trusted to do an efficient job.”

It seems like decades later, Earhart’s observation remains accurate.

At least I’m inclined to see it as true.

What?!?

Obviously, I’m someone who cares a lot about gender equality. Every time I blog, I try to identify and call out the male privilege embedded in our culture. And, daily, I am working hard to bring to Jesus the male privilege embedded in my own soul.

But on the rare instances when I’m on an airplane and it’s a female voice telling me that “we’re first in line for take-off,” to be honest I pause. In fact, I do more than pause. What happens is that my sense of personal safety drops a bit. Not a lot, just a bit.

That’s right. When a woman is piloting my plane, my gut reaction is to feel slightly less safe.

All evidence to the contrary of course. Women pilots are just as competent, just as trained, as their male counterparts. That I know of, there is no data to suggest that I am in any way in more peril when there is a woman behind the controls. In fact, once my initial, millisecond reaction passes, I’m perfectly comfortable with whoever is in charge of my plane.

So what’s happening here?

Simply put, since my youth I’ve been breathing the foul air of culture that tells me that women are less competent, less trustworthy, and less safe when it comes to important things like flying airplanes. I’m at 41 years of having that message reinforced day by day, and old habits die hard.

You see, I’m on a journey. And I’ll always be on a journey. It’s a  journey that is taking me from a blissfully  unaware and privileged man to someone who recognizes privilege and seeks Jesus’ guidance for how to use it to bless others. It’s a journey toward shedding my biases and honestly it feels terrific.

What’s that old quote? “I might not be where I want to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be.”

Indeed.

So here’s my pledge. Next time I’m on a plane being flown by one of the 4%, I’m going to find my nearest napkin and write a different note. One of affirmation. One of encouragement.

One of personal repentance.

On Giving Up Power for the Sake of the Mission

mfpt0nSIt’s so rare when someone willingly gives up power.

It’s even rarer when someone gives it up joyfully. And yet you get the sense that that is exactly what’s happening in Indiana.

In case you missed it, last week I blogged about the dramatic shift that leaders of one congregation are entering into around gender and power. Specifically, after prayer and discernment, they are choosing to open up their church leadership, at all levels, to women. This is a full-blown reversal from the church’s historic, restrictive posture.

There’s a lot to appreciate in this willful power exchange, but I think I’m most glad to see the emphasis on mission. For these church leaders, there is a deep conviction that accomplishing God’s mission requires both men and women using their gifts. Truly, it’s “all hands on deck.” I’ve blogged about mission before, here and here. And you’ll see the focus on mission in the quotes below.

In any event, the story continues to trickle out. Here’s an excerpt from this Christian Post article about the story, and thanks to Jeremiah Gibbs for the twitter share. Enjoy!

The brokenness of the world is reflected in the “equity and dignity between men and women,” according to Teaching Pastor Tim Ayers, who preached on Feb. 9 the second part of Grace Church’s new teaching series. In that message, Ayers spelled out the results of the leadership’s painstaking exegetical endeavor into the Bible’s position on female leadership.

“Our governing board and our pastors deeply studied the overall tenure of all of Scripture related to leadership within the people of God,” explained Ayers. “Then, they wrestled with God’s initial intentions, the world’s brokenness and God’s desire to repair that brokenness. Then, they affirmed that the task of the Church is to heal the broken places that resulted from the Fall and to live out in this world as best as we can God’s initial desires for His world. And they came to the conclusion that one of these broken places is the inequity that exists between men and women.”

Ayers insisted, “This decision is not a slippery slope. It is getting in line with God’s initial designs for His people, it is taking the whole of Scripture seriously, and it’s standing against the structures of a fallen world.”

The Grace Church teaching pastor stated that “the issue in 1 Timothy is competence and character” and that “according to Paul, race and class and gender are not the issues.”

“We need the best people that God has given our community at the table,” Ayers stated, “people who meet the character demands that Paul gives us, people who know the Word, people who walk in submission to the Spirit of God, and who live lives of prayer.”

The leadership’s decision to lift Grace Church’s gender restrictions and affirm female leadership did not come as a compromise to culture or to “make a point.” But rather, said Ayers, the decision was about a desire to allow all the people of Grace Church to join God in His mission in bringing salvation and hope to the world.

This is a Picture

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 7.02.01 AM

This is a picture that caught my eye the other day.

This is a picture that speaks the proverbial thousand words. Words like joy. Freedom. Partnership. Mutuality. Respect.

This is a picture of Reverend Anne Robertson, a pastor in the United Methodist Church, anointing the head of Sean O’Malley, Cardinal of Boston. O’Malley invited Reverend Robertson to offer him a reaffirmation of his baptism (story here) after he had done the same for her.

This is a picture of male privilege being joyfully overturned. It’s a picture of a man laying down his power, willingly submitting himself to the leadership of a woman. It’s a picture of Tertullian being challenged.

This is a picture of vision. Of a future that we could one day see. What if one day it becomes as normal for women to bless men as it is for men to bless women today?

Most of all…

This is a picture of hope.

A Letter to Smurfette

SmurfDear Smurfette,

To be honest, I was more of a Voltron guy growing up. It’s not that I didn’t watch the Smurfs from time to time, it’s just that, well, to me Voltron was cooler. Five mechanical lions morphing into an evil-fighting robot? What’s not to like?!?

Still, I will say congratulations on the success of the Smurfs franchise. You blue-bodied, Gargamel-fighters have done really well. Comic books, nine years on television and now two movies. Bravo!

Smurfette, what I want to do in this letter is to express my sympathy.

Because it’s surely been a difficult journey for you. After all, it couldn’t have been easy to be the only female smurf in your community. I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like to be the only female out of about 100 smurfs. I’m sure you felt alone and isolated, the perpetual outsider.

As if that wasn’t enough, I’m sorry that you have had to go through life being identified solely by your gender. While all the male smurfs around you got names that reflected their personalities or attributes, you were defined only by your chromosomes. Again, I can’t imagine what it would have been like to watch Brainy, Grouchy, Lazy and Papa live into their names while you remained shackled with a gender-only moniker. Truly, as this article states:

“These characters, originating as they did in mid-century Europe, exhibit the quaint sexism in which boys or men are generic people–with their unique qualities and abilities–while girls and women are primarily identified by their femininity.”

Finally, it kills me that you were created by Gargamel himself. Not only that, you were created as a weapon. I’ve seen the cartoon that depicts your creation as an agent of revenge, as “a ruthless curse that will make them beg for mercy.”

Smurfette, none of this is right.

And while I’m glad that later on you were joined by Sassette and Nanny, I ache that you had to endure 100 years or more of smurf male privilege. Whoever the smurf equivalent of Tertullian was or is, I’m sure he’s smiling  at all you’ve had to endure.

So, Smurfette, keep your head up, hang in there and be tough. And look for allies.

Heck, where’s Egalitarian Smurf when you need him?!?

Pain and Hope in India

mgF5IziHuman trafficking remains a global scourge. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2013 report, “social scientists estimate that as many as 27 million men, women, and children are trafficking victims at any given time.”

27 million people.

And while we have come a long way in combating trafficking, the report estimates that only around 40,000 victims have been identified in the last year. In other words, we are barely making a dent in the problem.

Closer to home, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services estimates that California is one of the top three states in the nation for human trafficking (here). Just last month, the FBI recovered 105 sexually exploited children in this country, including several in this state.

Today allow me to share with you this photo essay. For me it’s equal parts pain and hope. Pain, in the sense that girls and women have to endure this in today’s world. Hope, in the sense that there are people who are doing something about the pain.

I recommend slowly experiencing the photo essay in an attitude of prayer.

Lord have mercy.

I’ve blogged before on these issues here, here, and here.

Some Thoughts on Power

I tmAoFLcgend to think about power as a neutral thing.

That is, in its pure form, power, defined as the ability to influence others in some form or fashion, is morally neutral. It’s neither good nor bad, it just exists. Like money, power is something with a whole lot of potential that’s wholly dependent on the whims of people for its use.

This isn’t to say, of course, that power remains morally neutral. Indeed, power often (always?) has morally significant results, either for good or for ill.

I realize that not everyone shares this notion of power being morally neutral. 19th century British moralist Lord Acton, commenting on the state of the monarchy, was famously quoted as saying, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Another British politician, William Pitt, was quoted as saying that “unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it. ”

Hmm…

I was reading this article the other day, about how power affects the mind, and I came across this insightful quote, from New York University Professor Joe Magee:

“What power does is that it liberates the true self to emerge,” he says. “More of us walk around with kinds of social norms; we work in groups that exert all pressures on us to conform. Once you get into a position of power, then you can be whoever you are.”

For me this quote captures a core truth about power:

How power is used depends on the character of the user.

In other words, once placed in a position of power, a person’s character is given a platform for expression. Who we are comes out when we have access, control and influence.

And maybe this is where Acton and Pitt come in. Because outside of the “Word made flesh,” nobody is morally pure. At least I’ve never met anyone, including when I look in the mirror. And so it could well be that power is a potent enough force to expose the subtle flaws in even the most pure person’s character, resulting in corruption.

What is clear is that due to the complexity of the human soul, there exists a million ways that power can be used.

And, no doubt, power can be used for good. When a mayor uses her political capitol to improve the lives of the homeless, power is used for good. When a painter manages to stir the heart of a nation to embrace the unity of all people, power is used for good. And, sorry Tertullian, but when a male pastor advocates on behalf of the leadership gifts of women in his congregation, power is definitely used for good.

On the other hand, too often power can become abusive. Politicians, reflected in the allegations against San Diego’s Mayor Filner, use their power to sexually assault women. Or, Hollywood takes the influence we give them and offers us an image of a world marked by mistrust, violence and broken relationships. And, yes, citing selected Biblical texts, male pastors too often shut the door to women serving in their congregations, particularly in authoritative teaching roles.

All of this ought to compel us to embrace the caution expressed by Jesus in Matthew 23, as he spoke to the power brokers of his day, the Pharisees:

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them…those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

May those of us with power indeed be humble, in our statehouses, marketplaces, houses of worship and in our homes.

Want more thoughts on power? Last December I blogged on “Christmas and Power” here.