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Social Justice As An Embodied Soul

It has been a busy few days since I wrote about my own middle-aged single lady experience with rape culture. I have had a huge number of responses from clergy colleagues who have written to express their solidarity, share their own stories and ask, “Why aren’t we talking about this in our churches?” And you can see the many comments from other readers at the post itself.

I feel curiously lighter after having published my thoughts on the matter. Like many women,  I know and take to heart the feminist adage, “The personal is political!” I believe that to be true. And when I was in my 20′s, ALL my personal anger was political. Ask my old boyfriend. Boy, did he hear about it all the time! It was the era of my feminist awakening and every example of sexism in society felt deeply personal to me, while every sexist insult to me personally felt huge in its cultural resonance.

But after some years, I got over my constant rage and became a happy, busy professional woman working in ways (teaching and ministry) that fed my spirit and gave me a sense of meaning, hope and shalom in a broken world.

I think I actually forgot that my personal experiences as a woman were part of the social justice work I was doing. How in the world did that happen? Two reasons, I think: First,it is hard to integrate our own “personal” with the political when other oppressions seem so much more urgent. The second factor is  denial. I’m a strong, feisty chick. I don’t want to see myself as a victim even when men’s abusive behavior has crossed the line from creepy to criminal.  It’s easier to move on and re-direct my rage toward what’s happening to other bodies than to remember that my own body is part of the society I’m working to change.

I think we’re all much more comfortable when religious leaders live in their heads and preach, teach and write from that place. Me, too. I much prefer to ignore my incarnate reality in my ministry. I want to show up looking bright and shiny and ready to go, but I don’t really want to bring the Vicki who experiences all that gross misogynist stuff to the work. I keep her experiences for days off with friends, to laugh and weep and fume over while we talk a walk or have a glass of wine.

And that’s kind of weird. I have worked for years to evolve popular perception of clergy past the 19th century “pious young man of good prospects” model. You would think I would have done a better job integrating my own life experience with the social justice concerns of my denomination and my congregations. Go figure. I think good boundaries and privacy are important. But concern for appropriate boundaries should not lead to self-silencing about one’s own experience with the “isms” my own faith community is combating.

We’re all a work in progress.

Thank you all for sharing your stories and contributing to the conversation. Let’s keep having it in our communities.






Posted in Cultural Commentary, Mind of the Minister, women's issues and feminist rants | 2 Comments

A Time To Speak Up, And A Time To Shut Up (Apologies to Ecclesiastes)

I don’t think that’s actually in Ecclesiastes 3:1, but the phrase occurred to me in a sarcastic, exhausted moment today as I read an article by a very sweet and usually thoughtful male Christian minister about the Isla Vista massacre and Elliott Rodger.

The article contained a few qualifiers about the author’s uncertainty about whether or not he should even broach the subject (he shouldn’t have), before launching into how much empathy he had for Elliott Rodger. And he encouraged his readers to consider how this young man was suffering before he killed seven people and wounded 13 others.

As I skimmed this piece — my eyes rolled too far up into my hairline to read it carefully –  I thought, in the words of RuPaul,  ”Oh no you better don’t.” This was not just a personal reaction. It was a collegial response.

The institutional Church — Catholic and Protestant — has a thick crust of blood on its hands as a result of centuries of preaching understanding and empathy to abused women and other victims of sexual violence, locking women into a strictly obedient and nurturing role, forcing them to return to abusive relationships with men and silencing them through discipline and torture.  It is not just tone-deaf  for a contemporary clergyman to express sympathy for the murderer at this moment of justified female rage; it is a time-honored, sexist abuse of spiritual authority.

By introducing theological reflection on compassion (which is just one small theological jump from forgiveness) hours after an act of misogynist extremism that generated an outpouring of passionate witnessing by women, this representative of the Church executed a rhetorical body blow powered by the dual power of male privilege and spiritual authority.  Am I repeating myself? I’m okay with that. The author may have written his piece in a disarmingly pastoral tone, but he unquestionably implied that good Christian girls would be praying for Elliott Rodger instead of tweeting in solidarity with their sisters to #YesAllWomen.

Today on my local classical music station, the news reported the sentencing of Jared Remy, a privileged man whose many acts of savagery toward women (and men) was treated with leniency by the courts until he stabbed his girlfriend and mother of his child, Jen Martel, to death.  Jared Remy is the son of famous Red Sox sports announcer Jerry Remy.  The report featured an audio clip from the trial in which Jared Remy’s attorney informed the public that his client felt that his famous father had received too much negative attention for his son’s acts. That’s what the reporting focused on: the murderer’s father getting a bad rap in the press. Because of course this story is about how Jerry Remy’s public reputation may be suffering, and isn’t about Jen Martel.

We don’t need pastors gently suggesting that good Christian women should feel compassion for perpetrators in a world where the back stories of male abusers are already lifted up to the exclusion of the women they stalk, abuse and kill, and where victims get no compassion because they’re dead. Coming into a room at a time of rage and trauma and introducing the topic of compassion to the portion of our species that has had obedience and subservience to men beaten into it isn’t just questionable timing. It’s silencing and shaming, however nicely dressed up as a personal pastoral reflection.

A time to every purpose under heaven. A time to listen to women.



Posted in Cultural Commentary, Social Justice, women's issues and feminist rants | 2 Comments