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More Critique of American Sports Culture

2dQNkwjYesterday, I woke up thinking about sports.

It could well have been because of the amazing soccer match my girls played on Saturday, the one where we broke the will of our rival elementary school en route to a 2-0 win. Oh, and did I mention that both teams were undefeated coming into the match?!? Next up for us is a rematch versus that same school next Saturday in the championship game.

Yes, I’m a proud coach. Last week I offered two reasons why I love coaching girls soccer. Add a third one:

It’s fun to win.

And/or, it could have been because of this article from writer Marta Oti Sears. Similar in theme to my recent post on the topic, Sears offers an insightful critique of a sports culture that equates masculinity with success and femininity with weakness. Here’s a couple of excerpts, and I recommend the entire piece:

“As a coach and parent, I’ve become increasingly concerned about another form of injustice taking place in locker rooms, living rooms, and around water coolers across the country.

A frustrated middle school boys’ coach calls a time out and yells at his players, “You look like a bunch of girls out there! Come on ladies, get your heads in the game!” A dad says to his five-year-old son, “You’re throwing like a girl. Let me show you the right way to throw a baseball.” A high school football kicker misses a field goal that costs his team the game. The next day, he opens his locker and finds it full of tampons.

There’s a common message in all of these scenarios. Femaleness is equated with being weak, passive, and a loser. The accompanying message associates maleness with strength, aggression, and victory.

Sadly, kids and adults are as likely to hear this message at home and at the church picnic, as they are to hear it on the school playground or the local youth sports league. It’s the same kind of language we’ve heard for decades, kids calling each other “sissies” and men calling each other “pussies.” But in 2013, we can do better.”

And, later:

“If we want to raise boys and girls to become healthy, whole men and women who live and love like Jesus, we must release our gender stereotypes and embrace the complexity and paradox of being human. As image-bearers of God we are all strong and vulnerable; brave and fearful; aggressive and peacemaking.”

Amen.

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Thoughts on Dealing with Friction in the Church

mKlHzpaI love the word “kerfluffle.”

It’s an underused but interesting word, meaning “row or disturbance.” For me kerfluffle is sort of a hard word to say. Go ahead, try it out loud. See? In a way, it audibly represents the difficulties we often experience during conflict.

Two days ago, a bit of a kerfluffle erupted in the twitterverse, involving author/blogger Rachel Held Evans and Todd Rhoades, organizer of “The Nines,” a popular online church leadership conference backed by Leadership Network.

It began with Evans pointing out, on twitter, that of the 110 speakers featured at “The Nines,” only 4 were women.

Stop right there. 4 out of 110 is flat out ridiculous. It’s shameful. If you ever doubt that today’s version of Christendom bears Tertullian’s fingerprints, let this serve as a stark reminder. We’ve got to do better! Surely a conference with this kind of stature could field a speaking roster that is greater than 3.6% women?!?

But then the kerfluffle got worse as the tweeting continued. Take a look at Rachel Held Evans’ storify rendering here. For me the worst of the lot came from Rhoades, when he tweeted this:

“A female leader adds new perspective on important female specific topics such as pregnancy, abortion, and marriage.”

Huh? What’s going on here? Is this a joke? I mean, it’s difficult to read tone online, and when you’re dealing with twitter’s 140 character limit, it’s even tougher. But what does Rhoades mean? And does he really think this? In her storify retelling, Evans calls Rhoades’ tone  “patronizing.” I’m tempted to call it ignorant at best, sexist at worst.

But maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt. Yesterday, in this piece on CT, Rhoades defended the conference, blaming topic choice and an above average decline rate from female invitees for the lack of women on the roster. He wrote:

“We don’t pick speakers based on quotas, but we realize the importance. We’ve tried to do better, we need to do better, but we also don’t want to be misrepresented [as being against women leaders].”

If that’s the goal, there’s clearly work to be done.

Yesterday, I read this post, from Jonathan Merritt at Religion News Service. Following the online kerfluffle, Merritt did an informal online survey of the major Christian leadership conferences, looking at plenary speaker gender proportions. The result? Only 159 out of 805 plenary speakers at the top 34 major Christian leadership conferences were women. Merritt writes:

“By my count, that’s around 19% female speaker representation at these major Christian conferences–presumably better than it was even a few years ago, but still lower than it should be. While I don’t think we can conclude that the Christian conference industry is downright sexist, we can say that most conferences have some serious work to do if they want their stage to look anything like the 21st century church.”

Amen.

And this brings us to yesterday’s blog post from Evans. It’s perhaps my favorite piece she’s ever written. In the post, she laments how she’s experienced being slapped with the label “divisive” when she attempts to call the church to greater inclusiveness for women. In the post, she calls the church to become a place where we can have a frank, honest and, yes, public debate about these things:

“Maybe friction isn’t a sign of decay, but of growth. The world is certainly watching. But this doesn’t mean we hide our dirty laundry, slap on mechanical smiles, and gloss over all the injustices and abuses, conflicts and disagreements, diversity and denominationalism present within the Church;  it means we expose them. It means we talk about them boldly and with integrity, with passion and with love. I suspect that talking about our differences is better for our witness than supressing them, and I’m sure that exposing corruption and abuse is better for our witness than hiding them.”

In our marriage, Amy and I don’t fight much. Praise the Lord for that! But when we do, in most cases we are not opposed to arguing in front of our kids. Why? Because at the end of the day, we’d rather teach them to fight fair and well, as opposed to not fighting at all. We want to give them good models for dealing with conflict instead of teaching them that it doesn’t exist.

That’s what we need in the church. How great would it be if the world saw us wrestle honestly and fairly with issues like these, as opposed to sweeping them under the rug? What if the world saw us debate with grace and truth?

In fact, what if we showed the world how to thoughtfully and peacefully handle a kerfluffle?

Choosing to Hope for the Church

nZdCsq0I am someone who is ever trying to love the church.

I mean, if I’m honest, I can lean toward throwing the church under the bus, as the source of too much pain for too long to too many people. As a poor reflection of its leader. And as the ultimate tragic symbol of unfulfilled promise.

Because of this, a verse like Matthew 16:18 really presses me. To Peter, Jesus says,

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

A church so strong that hell itself can’t touch it. One hand-built by Jesus and therefore about God’s purposes on the earth. Victorious. Untouchable.

Now that’s a vision for the church that I can get behind!

Still, as I think about the church, I muddle back and forth, between hope and cynicism, between possibility and despair.

This has been a difficult week with regard to the church and issues of race. On Monday, megachurch pastor Rick Warren posted an image that was racially insensitive at best and blatantly offensive at worst. After the outcry, and after tragically defending his post for hours, he deleted the thread. If you’d like to engage the issues, I recommend this post by Kathy Khang. Kathy is someone whose perspective I really respect.

Anyhow, as the social media world blew up in response to Warren’s gaffe, I wondered this:

Instead of causing pain in the area of race, shouldn’t the church of Christ be leading the way in facilitating healing? After all, aren’t we the church of Galatians 3:26-29?

“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

In this case, as with race, so too with gender.

Too many people associate the church with gender pain. With prohibition. With restriction. With abuse. With hypocrisy.

This week I started dabbling with Nadia Bolz-Weber’s provocative memoir Pastrix. About her experience in the church, she writes,

“Precociousness gave way to sarcasm as my ability to analyze the doctrine and social dynamics at church developed. The moment I was able to recognize the difference between what people said (all sex outside of heterosexual marriage is forbidden) and what they did (clandestine affairs with each other) and the difference between what they taught (women were inferior and subordinate to men) and the reality I experienced in the world (then why am I smarter than my Sunday school teacher?), I know that I had to get out. I was a strong, smart and smart-mouthed girl, and the church I was raised in had no place for that kind of thing even though they loved me.”

Shouldn’t it be that for women, the church of Christ is leading the way in promoting healing, peace, reconciliation and empowerment?

According to Laura Turner, it sure should. In her Christianity Today article “The Christian F-Word,” Turner challenges the church to agree with what she calls the core teaching of feminism, namely the equal standing of men and women. In the end, she conculdes:

“Christianity is most alive in us when we are alive in Jesus. And Jesus is most alive when the shackles of oppression are loosed, when there is no male nor female, because we are all one in Christ Jesus.”

May this vision for our church come to pass.

So with a deep breath, today I choose hope. More to the point, today I choose to believe that Jesus is enough to steer God’s church in a way that brings grace not pain, to people suffering from racial brokenness or gender brokenness or both.

Please join me in praying for Jesus’ church today.

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 missrepresentation.org:

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.

Tour de Kabul

nsr2ItOAfghanistan is not an easy place to be a woman.

Indeed, though the situation is changing as the nation emerges from the Taliban era, today only 15% of women in Afghanistan are literate and only 37% of the nation’s grade school students are girls. Further, patriarchy is entrenched by laws that dictate that husbands can divorce their wives without her voice being heard and, of course, the cultural practice of women wearing burqas when out in public.  To put it mildly:

Male privilege dominates Afghan culture.

Which makes the story of the Afghan women’s national cycling team all the more incredible. Enjoy the the story, excerpted from this article:

Challenging the long- held cultural belief that a woman cycling is offensive, these dedicated young athletes are standing up to social norms and becoming vehicles of change. 

“Daily in Afghanistan, girls risk their lives to go to school, women risk their lives to work in government, the police forces, and even the army.  Women activists march in the streets to fight for their rights, knowing that they are making themselves targets,” says Shannon Galpin, currently producing a documentary film about the team.  “The women cyclists are doing something very simple that we take for granted, but making a huge statement in a country that doesn’t allow their women to ride bikes.” 

In Afghanistan, it is very rare to see a woman on a bike other than sitting sidesaddle behind a man.  According to Mountain2Mountain, there are currently only about 60 to 70 women cyclists in the entire country.  However, the newly created women’s team has around 12 members who are passionate about their sport and about changing the lives of women in their country.

Currently, the women on the team train once a week, due to safety concerns. Riding at the risk of their own lives, members of the team train in the back roads and highways outside Kabul.  They ride borrowed, donated, and scrapped-together road and sport bikes.  Their gear is mostly donated.  Their lone sponsor helps pay for their jerseys.  Despite opposition and social taboo, however, these women ride their bicycles as a statement of freedom.

In 1896, Susan B. Anthony, iconic American reformer said: ““The bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

Thankfully, step by step, this vision is becoming true in today’s Afghanistan.

In an NBC News piece here Shannon Galpin is quoted as saying: “If they are willing to take the risk, then the least we can do is support them.” Indeed. Let’s celebrate their story, and if you’d like to contribute to the cause you can do so here and here.

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?

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.