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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 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!

On Culture-Making

mxDSMY8Culture, it’s been said, is “roughly anything we do and the monkeys don’t.”

Indeed, there’s a certain broadness or vagueness to the idea of culture. In fact, in some ways, you only see culture when you are no longer in it. Culture is water to a fish. It’s soil to a plant. It’s air for a bird.

Simply put, culture is the sum of everything we encounter and interact with, day-in and day-out.

On Saturday, I’ll walk across a stage and graduate with my Master’s degree. In large part, my 2+ years in this program have been about thinking through the idea of shaping or creating culture.

Yes, culture can actually be made.

In his book Culture Making, Andy Crouch says this:

“Culture is what we make of the world. Culture is, first of all, the name of our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it’s given to us and make something else.”

For the last paper of my program, I spent 25 or so pages thinking about that “something else.” Specifically, I was dreaming up what it would feel like to make an organizational culture where women and men were truly equal and in mission together. Here’s my list of five marks of such a culture:

1. Men and women are aware of and repenting of their gender brokenness. What if we lived in a culture where you and I were aware of our brokenness (past pain, flawed perspectives, etc.) and seeking to grow into wholeness?

2. Women and men pursue reconciliation, extending forgiveness freely to one another. In such a culture, not only are people aware of and growing through their brokenness, they are experiencing redemption as they extend grace to one another. Imagine a culture where women forgive men for their pornography addiction! That’s a culture that the world needs to see.

3. An organizational commitment to teach and train on gender dynamics. Let’s face it, for many organizations or groups, the silence on these topics is deafening. Particularly in the church. What if we had a culture where the groups we are a part of were proactively engaging issues of gender dynamics?

4. A more equal distribution of organizational power. In a culture marked by gender equality, men and women share power. Decisions about leadership are made by gifting, not by gender privilege. Consider how this might increase our effectiveness in mission!

5. Permission to lead with authenticity. What if everyone–men and women–could lead in ways that are comfortable for them? In particular, too often in today’s culture, women end up leading in stereotypically masculine ways. Imagine a culture where people could bring who they uniquely are and apply it to the leadership task. The qualitative difference in our leadership culture would be profound.

There’s my list so far. What about you? What would you add? Subtract?

When Privilege Goes to Far: A Follow-Up

1mUxCNSince I posted last week about violence against women, folks have sent me a number of links to clips, resources and posts on the topic. Today I want to share two particularly quality clips with you.

First, enjoy this clip of actor Patrick Stewart (Star Trek’s Captain Picard). Stewart shares about his personal experience watching his mother suffer from domestic violence at the hands of his PTSD-suffering father. As a way to in some way redeem both experiences, Stewart now spends time with both anti-violence organizations and with pro-PTSD groups. Stewart’s testimony is terrific, and the hug at the end is just bonus.

Next, in this TED talk Jackson Katz calls for us to reconsider our perspective on gender violence issues. In particular, he invites us to think of gender violence issues as men’s issues instead of just women’s issues. One particularly insightful observation from Katz is that in our culture we tend to correlate the word “gender” with women. In that way, men essentially get locked out of the conversation.

The thing I appreciate about both Stewart and Katz is that they are calling for men, and particularly men in power, to step up in this area. Katz says, “there has been an awful lot of silence in male culture about gender violence.”

He’s right, and it’s time for that to stop.

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.

Garbage In, Then What?

mWk3jR0What you choose to allow into your brain matters.

The Apostle Paul had it right in Philippians 4:8-9 when he wrote:Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

In light of Paul’s words, let me pose a question:

When it comes to issues related to gender roles, power and mixed gender relationships, who are you listening to?

Are you listening to Pat Robertson? You remember Pat?!? Well, as you might have noticed, Pat was back at it last week, once again essentially condoning adultery. The full clip is here, but the most damning quote is this:

“Males have a tendency to wander a little bit. And what you want to do is make a home so wonderful he doesn’t want to wander.”

Because, evidently, it’s the woman’s fault when men cheat.

Or are you listening to Mark Driscoll? I haven’t done a whole lot of work with Mr. Driscoll, but I know that he is a polarizing figure. At the recent Catalyst conference, he was quoted as saying this:

“If you drive a mini-van, you’re a mini-man.”

Um, yeah, I drive a minivan…

In fact, you might appreciate this article that connects both of these two gentlemen.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying that these brothers are totally unworthy of your attention. In fact, my rule applies and without a doubt there is more that I agree with them on than not. But here’s what I am saying:

We need to be careful what media we choose to consume. Is it true? Or noble? Or right? Or pure? Is it lovely? Admirable? Excellent? Praiseworthy?

Next, we need to think critically. In Philippians 4, Paul uses the Greek word logizomai, which usually gets translated “think.” Perhaps a better translation would be “reckon” or “contemplate.” Indeed, the exhortation here is to give careful attention so as to understand what is factually accurate. I don’t know about you, but most of the time, I hear something and then just move on.

Lastly, when it comes to gender issues in particular, we must make sure that we are listening to a diverse selection of voices. Want some options to get you started? Try this TED talk. Or read this blog. Or join me in not being able to wait for this book. Heck, if you have other voices that you listen to, please share in the comments.

And, finally, since you’re reading this, let me say thank you for joining me in “thinking about these things” on this blog. I appreciate it.

Is it Possible for Women to Step Up Without Men Stepping Back?

n4xgvw6In a comment a few weeks back, I got this insightful suggestion from a dear reader:

Maybe instead of trying to end male privilege you may want to extend the same privileges to women. Then men won’t feel like you are trying to take something away from them.

I’ve been sitting with this since then and here are two thoughts on the topic:

There’s not enough space to simply open doors for women without men stepping back. And, further, in the Kingdom, stepping back is actually good for men.

Let me break these two thoughts down a bit.

In her book Making Room for Leadership, MaryKate Morse uses the metaphor of physical space to describe how much power someone does or does not have. A person with a lot of power takes up a lot of space, and the converse is also true. And, for Morse, how much space a person takes up has a lot to do with who they are (or aren’t), with things like gender, ethnicity, positional authority, personality, age and access to resources factoring prominently into the equation.

My perspective is that there is a finite amount of social space or power. After all, there’s only one school principal, or soccer coach, or business owner, or CEO, or president. What I mean is that, in most contexts, there exists a cap for how many individuals can exercise influential leadership. And so how that limited social space gets filled is indeed a crucial question worth pondering.

As we’ve seen, in most every corner of American culture, men take up the most space. Visually, let’s say that currently the picture looks like this:


If indeed it’s true that space and power are finite, in order for the equation to change, two things will need to happen. First, men will need to give up power and, second, women will need to take up power (or, if you will, Lean In). I’m expressing this conceptually here; believe me, I know there are plenty of conversations to be had about how each of these things can and should actually happen. In any event, the redistribution zone is in gray:


And if that power is redistributed in healthy ways, if we can discern a way to share power equally, the final picture could look like this:


The bottom line, then, is that we need men to lay down power in order for women to take it up. And until that happens, there’s not enough social space or power for both genders to fully flourish.

Secondly–and this is the really good news for men–in the Kingdom of God giving up power is actually a good thing. I’ve written about this before, (here, here and here) and so let me repeat myself:

When Jesus invites us to surrender our male privilege, he’s inviting us into his story. He’s inviting us to use power his way and not the world’s. Seen this way, then, it’s an act of discipleship, as surrendering male privilege is one way to emulate Jesus’ surrender of his divine privilege.

So let me be clear: I do want women to enjoy the same privileges as men. In part, I just think that we get there by discipling men into joyfully and willing releasing power.

What about you? What resonates for you from this post? What doesn’t?

Good News from the Magic Kingdom

nzSE0lQAbout two weeks ago I posted about Disney’s Avenger shirt line, one that perpetuates male privilege by reducing the relationship between the genders to one where men are heroes and women need heroes. I said:

So, listen up Princess. Sometimes Prince Charming will indeed come save you, but sometimes he’ll need you to save him as well. And as that time comes:

Be a heroine.

So how about an update?

According to this article from the folks at

As a result of the pressure, today the “I Need a Hero” is no longer available on the Disney Store website.

Though they continue to sell the “Be a Hero” t-shirt only for boys (and a “I Only Kiss Heroes” t-shirt just for women) the removal of one t-shirt is significant in that it shows our voices are being heard. And that when we come together to talk back to sexist media we have tremendous power to influence change.

Keep the pressure on the Disney Store to stop using limiting gender stereotypes, and to begin creating t-shirts which empower ALL of us to be heroes.

Is it a small victory? Of course. But it’s a victory nonetheless.

So let’s celebrate a bit more empowerment for women and young girls.

Let’s celebrate a little bit healthier perspective for both girls and boys.

Lastly, let’s celebrate more baby steps that are leading in the right direction.

Hope From Piplantri

meRk6KkEvil sucks.

As someone who has run a marathon or two, it’s certainly been a difficult week. The marathon bombing is tragic on so many levels. And, while there is hope in the stories of survivors and heroic responders alike, make no mistake about it, evil won that day.

For too long, evil has won more than its share of days when it comes to the treatment of women in the country of India. You’ve probably heard the headlines, of women gang-raped on buses, of short-term “contract marriages,” and of women unable to succeed due to deeply entrenched cultural patterns of male privilege.

Evil sucks, but evil doesn’t always win.

Consider the village of Piplantri in northwestern India. The people of Piplantri are pushing against the tide of privilege that’s expressed in the abandonment of unwanted girl babies. Here’s the story:

For the last several years, Piplantri village panchayat has been saving girl children and increasing the green cover in and around it at the same time.

Here, villagers plant 111 trees every time a girl is born and the community ensures these trees survive, attaining fruition as the girls grow up.

Over the last six years, people here have managed to plant over a quarter million trees on the village’s grazing commons- inlcuding neem, sheesham, mango, Amla among others.

On an average 60 girls are born here every year, according to the village’s former sarpanch Shyam Sundar Paliwal, who was instrumental in starting this initiative in the memory of his daughter Kiran, who died a few years ago.

In about half these cases, parents are reluctant to accept the girl children, he says.

Such families are identified by a village committee comprising the village school principal along with panchayat and Anganwadi members.

Rs. 21,000 is collected from the village residents and Rs.10,000 from the girl’s father and this sum of Rs. 31,000 is made into a fixed deposit for the girl, with a maturity period of 20 years.

But here’s the best part.

“We make these parents sign an affidavit promising that they would not marry her off before the legal age, send her to school regularly and take care of the trees planted in her name,” says Mr. Paliwal.

It’s poetic, right? Instead of abandonment, there is celebration. Instead of an forgotten child, trees are planted. Instead of evil, there is a commitment to the communal good.

In the aftermath of the Boston heartbreak, a meme of Mr. Rogers has been making the rounds on facebook. It’s a shot of Mr. Rogers accompanied by one of his quotes:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

It’s a good word. Thank God for the helpers, for the brave men and women of Boston, and, a half a world away, for the counter-cultural people of Piplantri.

What about you? How can you help someone today?

What About Princ-ess Charming?!?

mjYztekDon’t get me wrong, we certainly have princesses here in the Dixon house.

After all, with three little girls growing up in a princess-ized world, it’d be tough to avoid the phenomenon. And so it’s not out of the ordinary to have Belle, Cinderella and Snow White bounding around the house yearning for their hoped-for salvation at the hands of some mythical prince. Around here, sometimes the princesses need their heroes.

The question is: Is this a good thing?

I’ve thought a lot about this, and here’s where I’ve landed:

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the princess narrative. You know, the captured princess, pining away for her virtuous and brave savior. As a story, Prince Charming, he’s not so bad.

But what is bad is only telling that one story. Or with over-emphasizing that story. Or with setting that story up as the ideal.

Prince Charming, you’re not the only show in town.

Several readers sent me a link to this story, about a new line of shirts from the folks at Disney. Rather than recap the story, I want to share a screen shot:


The message here is pretty clear. Disney is letting our kids know that boys are heroes and girls are not. In the process, Disney is reinforcing the presence of privilege.

Tertullian would tell my kids that Disney is right and that the princess narrative is the only the only true gender story, that a girls’ lot in life is to be the saved, the protected, the pursued.

Because of this, around our house, we’ve realized that it’s up to Amy and I to tell different stories, or at least to tell additional ones. Stories where women are the heroines. Stories where women are tough. Stories where women save others. Stories about women that Jesus values, stories like these.

I’ve been enjoying Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In. In her first chapter, Sandberg describes what she calls the “leadership ambition gap,” a term that describes how men are more eager for influence than women. She writes:

“Professional ambition is expected of men but is optional–or worse, sometimes even a negative–for women. ‘She is very ambitious’ is not a compliment in our culture…Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishments come at a cost.”

So, listen up Princess. Sometimes Prince Charming will indeed come save you, but sometimes he’ll need you to save him as well. And as that time comes:

Be a heroine.

Baby Steps

mFuDuv6Change is hard. That’s true when you’re talking about starting an exercise program, controlling your temper, working on a relationship, or, as I well know, wrangling your adorable children into picking up after themselves.

And it’s certainly true when it comes to rethinking a system. What I mean is that cultural systems are so vast, complex and embedded that they defy easy answers.

After all, how do you change something that just is?

So when it comes to overturning the unequal system of male privilege, the watch word must be baby steps. Baby steps are small yet significant. They are real and purposeful. At the risk of being a bit cliche, I’ll quote Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

For the guys in our seminar two weeks ago, baby steps include grieving the reality of an unjust patriarchal system, learning the stories of their female peers, displacing themselves and learning from women pastors and looking around them to understand the privilege they enjoy.

Baby steps. But vital ones.

This week two stories caught my eyes, two stories that may indicate that some baby steps are being taken. I say “may” because sometimes only time tells whether baby steps will lead to change.

First, the new pope made news for stressing the “fundamental” value of women in the church. In particular, he noted the presence of women as witnesses in the resurrection narrative. Here’s how one theologian interpreted the effect of his words in this article:

“The fact that the Pope acknowledges that the progressive removal of female figures from the tradition of the resurrection … is due to human judgments, distant from those of God…introduces a decidedly new element compared to the previous papacy.”

Staying in the world of religion, there were potential baby steps in the Mormon faith this past week, as Jean Stevens offered the closing prayer for the recent LDS general conference. According to this article, it was the first time that a woman has prayed in that important gathering.

Here’s hoping that these baby steps combine with others to produce wholesale change in these contexts.

And here’s also hoping that the baby steps we all take now will get us a thousand miles down the road one day.