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This is a Picture

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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.

Amos and Dubai

mjpvq7WI really like the prophet Amos.

After all, the brother authored a powerful book, full of vivid, poetic imagery and compelling teaching featuring a strong call to justice and righteousness.

On the other hand, I “like” the prophet Amos in the same way I “like” a trip to the dentist. Or a performance review. Or someone sitting me down and setting me straight.

What I mean is that it’s not always easy to have our experiences or our perspectives challenged.

And in Amos’ case, the challenge is about injustice and false spirituality. For me the central message of Amos is that God cannot abide injustice and so God’s going to do something about it. As humans, then, the right move is to whole-heartedly join God in that pursuit. To not be on the side of justice is, well, akin to the ironic horror of “a man [escaping] from a lion only to meet a bear.”

See what I mean? Amos is a handful.

One particular hotbed of injustice in the book of Amos is the city gate. In Amos’ day, the gate was the hub of civic life. If you had judicial business, you went to the gate. If you needed the marketplace, you hit up a vendor at the gate. If you wanted to debate the issues of the day, forget an early morning at your local Panera and instead go to the gate.

As one commentator puts it, “when the Bible talks of the ‘gate’ it may mean: the ‘market’, the ‘law court’ (either formally in criminal cases or less formally as the place where family business or disputes were settled), the public forum where community business was discussed and gossip exchanged or the administrative center – the ‘Town Hall’.”

Basically, the gate is where you took the pulse of the city, for good or for ill.

In the spirit of Amos, I want to call out some injustice right now at the global gate. Specifically, in the cosmopolitan yet socially traditional country of Dubai.

According to this article, over four months ago, Norwegian woman Marte Deborah Dalelv was sexually assaulted while on business in Dubai. After a court process, her attacker was sentenced, but only to a 13-month sentence for sex outside of marriage and alcohol consumption. I daresay that sentence feels too lenient for the caliber of the crime.

But then it gets worse.

Because Dalelv was ALSO sentenced. To 16 months. For the same two crimes with perjury added in. Simply put, the Dubai court didn’t believe her.

Why not?

It could be because Dubai’s legal standard for what constitutes sexual assault is steeped in male privilege. One London-based group is calling on Dubai, and the United Arab Emirates to which the country belongs, to overturn the decision, with the following rationale:

It said the UAE’s claims that it is attempting to end discrimination against women was undermined by a legal system that “prohibits the achievement of justice for cases of sexual violence against women”. According to the Emirates Centre for Human Rights, UAE law states a rape conviction can only be secured after a confession or as the result of testimony from four adult male witnesses to the crime.

An outright confession, or the testimony of four adult male witnesses? Really? That threshold for proof is just not good enough. It’s too high. Ultimately, it’s unjust to the violated woman.

And so in this case and too many more around the world, we join the prophet–we join the Lord–in yearning for a day when justice is established at the city gate. From Amos 5:21-24:

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

UPDATE: I know I’m good but not this good! About 10 minutes after I posted this, I read on the front page of cnn.com that Dalelv had been pardoned (here). She can now go home to heal. Great news for her, and yet the fact remains that the U.A.E. laws need to change!

Other People’s Shoes

mjBWTHGNo doubt you’ve heard the ol’ adage “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.”

It captures the idea that you can’t understand someone until you’ve experienced what they experience.

This notion became clear for me in college when I read the book Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. Published in 1961, Black Like Me describes how Griffin, a white journalist, transformed himself into a southern black man in order to, well, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Here’s Griffin’s summation of his experience:

“Nothing can describe the withering horror of this. You feel lost, sick at heart before such unmasked hatred, not so much because it threatens you as because it shows humans in such an inhuman light. You see a kind of insanity, something so obscene the very obscenity of it (rather than its threat) terrifies you. It was so new I could not take my eyes from the man’s face. I felt like saying: “What in God’s name are you doing to yourself?”

Sometimes, other people’s shoes are painful.

Meet Kim O’Grady. Believe it or not, Kim O’Grady actually walked a mile…in his own shoes. Sort of.

This article tells O’Grady’s story of coming to grips with male privilege. Here’s the tale:

In a Tumblr post titled “How I Discovered Gender Discrimination,” O’Grady shared his story of job-hunting in the male-dominated fields of engineering and management in the late ’90s. Despite his impressive resume and relevant work experience, he was not offered a single interview — until he clarified his gender on his CV (curriculum vitae). O’Grady wrote:

“My first name is Kim. Technically it’s gender neutral but my experience showed that most people’s default setting in the absence of any other clues is to assume Kim is a women’s name. And nothing else on my CV identified me as male. At first I thought I was being a little paranoid but engineering, trades, sales and management were all definitely male-dominated industries. So I pictured all the managers I had over the years and, forming an amalgam of them in my mind, I read through the document as I imagined they would have. It was like being hit on the head with a big sheet of unbreakable glass ceiling.”

After tweaking his resume, O’Grady noticed how quickly his job “luck” changed. “I got an interview for the very next job I applied for. And the one after that,” he wrote. “In the end I beat out a very competitive short-list and enjoyed that job for the next few years, further enhancing my career.” Male privilege — it’s a real thing.

Taking Credit Where Credit’s Due

mhAL3YeWomen do good work, but too often you’d never know it. Why?

In large part, it’s because growing up in a culture marked by male privilege, women have been conditioned to not self-promote. Alternatively, women have been conditioned to defer credit-taking to men.

Indeed, according to this article, in mixed gender groups, women are more likely to underplay their contributions or achievements in the presence of men than in a single-gender group. Here’s a quote:

In a study recently published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers Michelle C. Haynes and Madeline E. Heilman conducted a series of studies that revealed women were unlikely to take credit for their role in group work in a mixed-gender setting unless their roles were explicitly clear to outsiders. When women worked only with other women, they found, this problem of not taking credit disappears.

“Women gave more credit to their male teammates and took less credit themselves unless their role in bringing about the performance outcome was irrefutably clear or they were given explicit information about their likely task competence,” the study finds. “However, women did not credit themselves less when their teammate was female.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m all for humility. After all, Jesus calls for it. Philippians 2:3-4 reads like this: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Lord knows, the world needs all the humility it can get.

And yet Jesus also calls for giving credit where credit is due. In Luke 10:7, in and amongst his list of directives for the 72 disciples that he is sending out, Jesus says, “the worker deserves his (her) wages.”

So, it’s good to be humble, but not to the point of not getting paid.

It strikes me that this context, the mixed-gender working group, would make a good case study. A couple of weeks ago, I posted about men needing to step back in order for women to have room to step up.

On one hand, women need to be bolder in taking their share of the credit when the group is working well. With humility, women need to rightly celebrate their successes and resist the urge to downplay their achievements. On the other hand, men need to be better about either encouraging women to take credit, singing their praises on their behalf, or not hogging the glory in the first place. The equation is simple:

Women step up as men step back.

And if that could happen, everyone wins.

Brave “Bookworm Beauty”

There I was, cooking up a Monday post, when I came across this blogpost.  After I read it, I thought, “I can’t write anything more heart-breaking, illuminating, disturbing, sobering or profound than this.”

So please have a read. It’s one woman’s painful experience in the church, and it deals with how the evangelical church does (and doesn’t) talk about sexual purity. And to me it’s a picture of what happens when a culture of privilege creates a context where women are made to feel like they have to protect the purity of men without the opposite being true.

To whet your appetite, here’s one of the closing paragraphs:

It’s really no surprise that I have come to believe that my body is a shameful thing, meant to be hidden, covered up, backed into corners. It’s no shocker that my conditioned response to men, young and old, openly ogling my body, is to internalize that shame, blame myself, and remain silent. It’s not a surprise to me, either, that thousands of women brought up in the paradox of strict evangelical modesty/purity culture and the hyper-sexualization of American culture have developed such an unhealthy relationship with their bodies. Whenever I hear of someone else admitting that they’ve struggled with an eating disorder or self-harm, I don’t think How awful! I think how normal.

And how tragic. In the church and in the larger culture, we need new ways of talking about purity, ways that involve both girls and boys, women and men.

What about you? What feelings emerge for you as you read this?

When Privilege Goes too Far

miezN9WIn a 2005 speech at a concert in South Africa, Nelson Mandela said this:

For every woman and girl violently attacked, we reduce our humanity.

Tragically, by this metric, we are in cultural free-fall. According to a 2011 Center for Disease Control survey, “nearly one in five women has been raped or has experienced an attempted rape. The results also found that one in six women has been stalked, and one in four have been reported being beaten by their intimate partner.”

Heaven help us.

Thankfully, most of the time our cultural bias toward male privilege does not result in explicit violence. And yet, it’s also true that because our culture permits privilege, the door is opened to violence against women. After all, if women are second-class citizens–if they are objectified and commodified for men’s entertainment–how long before they become the object of violence?

So whether it is the 71% of Ethiopian women who reported physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime…

Whether it is women murdered in my beloved Guatemala, where according to this post, 2 women are killed, on average, every day…

Whether it is sexual assault in the U.S. military, where it seems like a new story comes out every day that implicates U.S. commanders with allowing and perpetuating a culture of violence against women

Or whether it is the gruesome kidnapping and 10-year imprisonment and assault of 3 women in Cleveland..

…it has to stop.

Jesus stands against violence against women. John 8:1-11 tells us the story of a women who is caught in the act of adultery and then dragged before Jesus to be a pawn in the Pharisee’s attempt to entrap him. For this poor woman, violence was likely behind her, and then violence is surely ahead of her if Jesus commands the men to stone her. On the other hand, if he refuses to issue the command, he comes off looking like he is against the Mosaic law. It’s a charged and difficult situation. What does Jesus do?

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Advocate. Defender. Challenger of the status quo. Jesus puts violence against women, and male privilege more broadly, to rights.

In that same spirit, I want to offer this list of 10 things that men can do to stop violence against women. While it lacks an overtly spiritual lens, it’s nonetheless a valuable resource. In particular, I appreciate the exhortation to self-awareness and understanding.

Because condemning violence and redeeming privilege starts with admitting that as men we have both within us.

The Myth of the “Self-Made Man”

By all accounts, Manchester Boddy was quite the character.

Boddy lived from 1891-1967. He spent the bulk of his vocational career as the publisher of the L.A. Daily News. As one of the city’s cultural elite, Boddy hob-nobbed with stars, lived lavishly and dabbled in politics. Personally, I appreciate one of Boddy’s other interests, horticulture. Growing up just a few miles from his estate-turned-botanical gardens, I benefited more than once from both his appreciation for nature’s beauty, as well as the power of his bank account, which allowed him to create such a breath-taking location.

Manchester Boddy. Entrepeneur. Publisher. Senate candidate. Agronomist. Oh, and add one other title:

Boddy

Because, as it turns out, Boddy’s story is also a rags-to-riches one, and, as the museum panel will tell you, that makes him a “self-made man.”

As you might imagine, my first issue with the descriptor is that it’s gender exclusive. What about the “self-made woman?!?” As if only men can, through sheer will and determination, end up “self-made.” It’s high time we eliminate such biased labels from our cultural lexicon.

That said, let’s take it a few steps further and debunk the myth of the “self-made man” with these truths:

1. God is the one who does the making in the first place. As Psalm 139:14 points out, you and I are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Friends, we’re no accidents!

2. God creates us, and then uses community and circumstances to shape us. What I mean is that we all receive helping hands along the way to get where we are. Take Boddy for example. Someone nursed him back to health after he was gassed in World War 1. Others saw potential in the young encyclopedia salesperson and promoted him to manager. Still others paved the way for Boddy to use his talents to turn around a struggling newspaper. My point here is that while Boddy was no doubt gifted, he was anything but “self-made.”

3. God creates and shapes, so God should get the glory. According to the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), you and I are called to do well with what we are given, but, all throughout the glory goes to the Lord. God gets the credit for who are become, since it’s God who does the work.

So, don’t believe the hype. Whether we’re talking about Manchester Boddy, Rob Dixon or anyone else–male or female–we’re all “God-made people.”