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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.

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.

The Social Dimension of Easter

nuy6CmaYesterday churches around the world celebrated the most pivotal event in human history, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It’s the resurrection that brings life, hope and the promise of eternity. It’s miraculous and glorious, unprecedented and unparalleled.

As our pastor put it, “after Easter, death is dead.”

And I’m sure millions of lives were changed yesterday. According to a 2010 Barna Group survey, some 40 million Americans pledge to invite a non-believing friend to church for Easter Sunday. If even a tithe of that number follow through, that’s quite an attendance surge. And no doubt, many of those new attendees leave closer to Jesus.

For this I rejoice.

And yet I’m also bothered by how we do Easter. Because if I’m honest, I think we only get Easter partially right. And here’s the part we miss:

There’s a social dimension to Easter.

What I mean is that while the resurrection does create a way for an individual to come back to God, it also creates a way for individuals to come back, well, to one another. Indeed, resurrection power reconciles us to God, and it also reconciles us to others.

Here’s how the apostle Paul puts it in Galatians 3:23-29:

23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring,heirs according to the promise.

Over the years, some commentators have only seen a vertical reality to this passage. The thinking goes that Paul is saying that when it comes to salvation, God sees no difference.

The problem with this reading of the text is that it’s incomplete, that it fails to properly acknowledge that in the passage Paul chooses to use the three primary social divisions of his day: race, class and gender. It’s a rhetorical choice that brings with it horizontal implications to go along with the vertical.

Walter Hansen is a New Testament scholar at Fuller Seminary, and here’s how he interprets this text:

“the new vertical relationship with God results in a new horizontal relationship with one another. All racial, economic and gender barriers and all other inequalities are removed in Christ. The equality and unity of all in Christ are not an addition, a tangent or an optional application of the gospel. They are part of the essence of the gospel.”

At church this weekend, the kids learned the bridge diagram. I’ve used the bridge diagram for years. Indeed (and Hallelujah!), Easter helps humanity cross back to God.

But let’s not miss the fact that Easter also helps humanity cross back to one another. Spiritually speaking, the resurrection removes sin’s social consequences and replaces them with wholeness and reconciliation. And when it comes to the genders, there’s no room for male privilege when men and women are “one in Christ Jesus.” Join me in saying “hallelujah” for this as well!

Perhaps it’s time for a new diagram?

Green Beer and Gender Advocacy

n4xRJWGYesterday the world celebrated the life of St. Patrick. If you celebrated like we did in our house, you did so by dodging pinches and devising a complex and borderline inhumane leprechaun trap. But, I digress…

You’ve probably never heard of Eamon Gilmore, but he is Ireland’s #2 politician. He serves as the country’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister. Basically, the brother does a lot of ministering!

Eamon Gilmore was in the news this week for refusing to attend Savannah, Georgia’s St. Patrick’s day celebration. Why? Because there was an event that was only open to men. Here’s what Gilmore had to say:

“Count me out – I’m not doing it,” Gilmore told an Irish newspaper. “I don’t believe in segregation either on a gender basis or on any other basis.”

Good on you Eamon. Way to live up to your patron saints’ example.

By all accounts, St. Patrick is a person worth emulating. Kidnapped as a teenage boy from Britain and taken to Ireland, Patrick spent six years as a shepherd and learned Irish language and culture. At some point, he managed to escape and he returned home to his family.

Then, as the story goes, he was called by God to return to Ireland. Here’s his account of that moment:

“I saw a man coming, as it were from Ireland. His name was Victoricus, and he carried many letters, and he gave me one of them. I read the heading: “The Voice of the Irish”. As I began the letter, I imagined in that moment that I heard the voice of those very people who were near the wood of Foclut, which is beside the western sea—and they cried out, as with one voice: ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.'”

And so Patrick went. And, through him, Christianity came to the Irish.

In his book How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill describes Patrick’s ministry this way:

“In becoming an Irishman, Patrick wedded his world to theirs, his faith to their life…Patrick found a way of swimming down to the depths of the Irish psyche and warming and transforming Irish imagination – making it more humane and more noble while keeping it Irish.”

One particular aspect of Patrick’s story worth noting is his positive treatment of women. In her post about Patrick, Anita McSorley describes it this way:

“Women find a great advocate in Patrick….Patrick’s Confession speaks of women as individuals. Cahill points out, for example, Patrick’s account of “a blessed woman, Irish by birth, noble, extraordinarily beautiful—a true adult—whom I baptized.” Elsewhere, he lauds the strength and courage of Irish women: ‘But it is the women kept in slavery who suffer the most—and who keep their spirits up despite the menacing and terrorizing they must endure. The Lord gives grace to his many handmaids; and though they are forbidden to do so, they follow him with backbone.’ He is actually the first male Christian since Jesus, Cahill says, to speak well of women.”

These things may not seem like much, but let’s not forget that Patrick would have been a contemporary with Augustine. You know Augustine, a man who, in the middle of saying lots of amazing things about the faith, also laid several misogynistic rhetorical eggs such as:

“I don’t see what sort of help woman was created to provide man with, if one excludes the purpose of procreation. If woman was not given to man for help in bearing children, for what help could she be? To till the earth together? If help were needed for that, man would have been a better help for man. The same goes for comfort in solitude. How much more pleasure is it for life and conversation when two friends live together than when a man and a woman cohabitate?” (De genesi ad litteram, 9, 5-9)

So, on this morning after St. Patrick’s, I’m raising a glass of green beer to two men who advocated for women. Eamon and Patrick, well done!

Will You Join in My Crusade?

nlJBpmgNote: Today I’m again taking a quick detour from a trinitarian look at the genders in order to, well, rant a bit. I’ll be back on topic on Thursday.

Recently, while writing my post on interdependence, I noticed something new when I went to link a passage to Specifically, I noticed that the option to select the TNIV (Today’s New International Version) of the Bible was gone. Poof. Vanished.

This bugged, since I like the TNIV because it takes the readable translation of the NIV and effectively baptizes it in gender inclusive language. You know, substituting “people” for “men,” “brothers and sisters” for “brothers” and other, in my view, appropriate updates.

So I did a little research and discovered that removed the TNIV option because they have now opted to go with an updated version of the NIV. From the website:

“The 2011 update to the NIV is the latest fruit of this process. By working with input from pastors and Bible scholars, by grappling with the latest discoveries about biblical languages and the biblical world, and by using cutting-edge research on English usage, the Committee on Bible Translation has updated the text to ensure that the New International Version of the Bible remains faithful to Howard Long’s original inspiration.”

A great statement to be sure, but perhaps a bit non-specific. Because one of the key 2011 updates to the NIV is gender inclusive language. Hence, no need anymore for the TNIV. If you’re interested, the NIV translator’s notes are here.

A bit more research revealed some predictable drama around this new version of the NIV. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, rejected the updated NIV in the middle of 2011 after discovering over 3,600 “gender related problems” with the new version. Then, in Fall 2012, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod followed suit, saying:

“The use of inclusive language in NIV 2011 creates the potential for minimizing the particularity of biblical revelation and, more seriously, at times undermines the saving revelation of Christ as the promised Savior of humankind.”

All of this brings me to my point today:

It’s time we abolish gender exclusive language in our Bibles, our worship songs, our promotional materials, and in our conversations in the Kingdom.

In fact, it’s past time.

Here are 4 reasons why I think it’s time to shuck our historic reliance on gender exclusive language in the church:

1. Gender exclusive language perpetuates the cultural malady of male privilege. After all, if “people” are “men,” where does that leave women? Institutionally speaking, one of the key ways we reinforce the problem of privilege is in our language. Change the language and you help change the equation. Change the language, and over time women and men find it easier to share equal footing in the church.

2. Gender exclusive language is simply inaccurate. If we mean all people, let’s just say so. Yesterday in church I experienced dissonance as our female worship leader led us in the song All Because of Jesus by Casting Crowns. It’s a great song, but it got a bit funky when she sang the line “it’s all because the blood of Jesus Christ, that covers me and raised this dead man’s life.” Huh? Obviously, the song writer meant “person,” but what’s the harm in saying so, particularly since congregations are full of both men and women, and especially if women are leading worship in our churches?!?

3. Gender exclusive language presents a barrier to faith for an increasing segment of the population. One of the objections I’ve heard to ushering in gender inclusive language in the church is that it would upset the status quo. First of all, how do you think Jesus felt about the status quo?!? But also, what if, increasingly, the dogged persistence of gender exclusive language was keeping people from Jesus? I know women who would walk out of a church at the faintest whiff of gender exclusive language. What do you think Jesus, or the apostle Paul, would have to say about that? If our practice of gender exclusive language is limiting the propagation of the Gospel, it’s time to rethink our approach.

4. Gender exclusive language doesn’t honor God. God is not a “him.” Somehow, in some way, God represents both genders. After all, according to Genesis 1:27, both men and women are created in the image of God (by the way, the updated NIV still uses the gender exclusive word “mankind” in their treatment of Genesis 1:27…sigh). As we’ve seen on this blog, God is interested in women and men relating in an equal and interdependent orientation. Maligning that intent by our use of gender exclusive language doesn’t honor God.

In another lifetime, I led worship for many years. And I balked at the thought of changing song lyrics to be gender inclusive. My reasoning was that it would stir up questions and possibly dissent. After all, who wants to sing “Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee, though the eye of sinful ones thy glory may not see,” when you’ve been singing it differently your whole life?!?

So, in the end, I’m sympathetic. It could be awkward. But I’m also resolute. After all, changing the words, rethinking our approach, will provoke a conversation.

And that’s a conversation that we frankly need to have.

Happy #IWD2013!

mC04g6MTomorrow, March 8, is officially International Women’s Day around the world. Established with the hope of promoting global gender equality, IWD was first observed in the U.S. in 1909, and the first international version was celebrated in 1911 in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland. Since 1913, IWD has been held on March 8.

According to the official site,

IWD is now an official holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.

So in honor of IWD2013, Tertullian and I would like to welcome our first ever guest blogger, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. This is his IWD2013 message:

As we commemorate International Women’s Day, we must look back on a year of shocking crimes of violence against women and girls and ask ourselves how to usher in a better future.

One young woman was gang-raped to death. Another committed suicide out of a sense of shame that should have attached to the perpetrators. Young teens were shot at close range for daring to seek an education.

These atrocities, which rightly sparked global outrage, were part of a much larger problem that pervades virtually every society and every realm of life.

Look around at the women you are with. Think of those you cherish in your families and your communities. And understand that there is a statistical likelihood that many of them have suffered violence in their lifetime. Even more have comforted a sister or friend, sharing their grief and anger following an attack.

This year on International Women’s Day, we convert our outrage into action. We declare that we will prosecute crimes against women – and never allow women to be subjected to punishments for the abuses they have suffered. We renew our pledge to combat this global health menace wherever it may lurk – in homes and businesses, in war zones and placid countries, and in the minds of people who allow violence to continue.

We also make a special promise to women in conflict situations, where sexual violence too often becomes a tool of war aimed at humiliating the enemy by destroying their dignity.

To those women we say: the United Nations stands with you. As Secretary-General, I insist that the welfare of all victims of sexual violence in conflict must be at the forefront of our activities. And I instruct my senior advisors to make our response to sexual violence a priority in all of our peace-making, peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities.

The United Nations system is advancing our UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, which is based on the simple but powerful premise that all women and girls have a fundamental human right to live free of violence.

This week in New York, at the Commission on the Status of Women, the world is holding the largest-ever UN assembly on ending violence against women. We will make the most of this gathering – and we keep pressing for progress long after it concludes.

I welcome the many governments, groups and individuals who have contributed to this campaign. I urge everyone to join our effort. Whether you lend your funds to a cause or your voice to an outcry, you can be part of our global push to end this injustice and provide women and girls with the security, safety and freedom they deserve.

Ban Ki-moon

You can follow IWD on twitter at hashtags #iwd2013 and #womensday.

Some Views From 30,000 Feet

2dLPWfINote: We’re in the middle of a series where we’re examining a trinitarian theological perspective on gender, but today we’re taking a short detour!

My supervisor is fond of the word “telescope.” In fact, he uses it as a verb. As in, “let’s telescope out and see what’s going on in the bigger picture.” I think it’s hilarious, quirky and mockable.

It’s also wise.

Blogging each week takes me pretty deep into a particular, focused topic.  But sometimes, it’s well and good to pause and survey the bigger picture. Sometimes, “telescoping out” is the right thing to do.

Today I want to offer a bird’s eye view of some instances of male privilege in our culture and in the church. To do so, I’ll give you some selected links and a bit of commentary. Most of these links actually come from you, so let me also say thank you for resourcing me. Keep ’em coming!

The Good:

According to this piece, “what is growing…is the diversity of leadership in mainline Protestant churches, where 28 percent of pastors are women, up from 20 percent in 2001. New research using survey data also finds female pastors are in general more satisfied in their ministry than male pastors and are strong in welcoming new people. Almost two in five pastors of growing churches are women.” Let’s keep these trends going!

There’s a lot to like in Preston’s post entitled “When We Need Women Behind the Pulpits.” Here’s a quote:

“And I know,” she goes on, “That not one of them in that room would have had a problem with a woman praying. I know you all well enough to know better than that. But it’s still resident within me, from the culture I’ve been in, that when there’s a man in a room and someone is asked to pray, it’s always his right and his role.”

The Bad:

Tis the season for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. According to this article, “this year’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue contains a new feature, a six-page style guide ‘to help women recreate the looks they see in the issue.'” Heaven help us.

Some controversy from last weekend’s Oscars ceremony. In this article, Philippa Willitts dissects host Seth McFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” musical number. Her verdict? Demeaning to the actresses and their craft at one level, horrific at another level. After all, several of the scenes being referenced were rape scenes.

The Ugly:

Lastly, in all this talk of Danica, let’s not forget that last week the young sport of MMA welcomed women into the octagon for the first time. The story is here. How should we read this? Is it privilege getting pile-driven, or equality gone awry?

I”ll leave you on a high note, quoting the tail-end of Anne Hathaway’s Oscar acceptance speech: “Here’s hoping that in the not too distant future the misfortunes of Fantine will only be found in stories.”

Amen to that.

What about you? What’s happening with  male privilege around you?