Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What Does It Mean to Be a Man?

About 7 years ago I sat in a friend's kitchen as our children played.  Hers a daughter, mine a son.  They were in the early stages of language development - forming simple sentences.  My friend's daughter held a ball and stopped in front of us proudly declaring, "I have a blue ball."  My son stopped next to her, held up the ball in his own hand and said, "Me.  Ball."  I looked at my friend and said, "I'm raising a cave man."

In the years since I've gone between refusing to accept that reality and finding myself resigned to it.  Today as my elementary aged boys near the end of their tackle football season with choruses of NFL deactivations in the background, I am inclined to refuse to accept the reality that being a man means being a cave man.

(Let's be clear - much like the Catholic Church was not and is not the only church to experience sex abuse scandals and to hide sex abuse accusations, but was the one to make it to the front page, the NFL is not the only group of men among whom domestic violence is a problem. Let's also be clear that there are good and decent fathers, husbands, and citizens in the NFL.  Having said that, it is the NFL that is currently making front pages so it is from those conversations that we must ask what it means to be a man.)

While history claims we've evolved far beyond cave man status, we should be alarmed by how little some of our attitudes have changed.

Just think about it...

Violence - while we claim to be against it in many forms and while we act alarmed at lives claimed by violent acts in our cities, in so many ways we continue to teach our little boys to be violent.  The messages come at them in abundance that say it is good, even necessary to fight back or sometimes to start the fight.  These messages come in the games they play, in the way we talk to them about altercations at school, in what they see grown men modeling.  Even just watching some of the behavior and listening to the rhetoric at my first grader's football games reminded me of this.

Promiscuity - we've gained immense amounts of knowledge about everything from sexually transmitted infections to the ways promiscuous behavior and sex abuse (even between peers) impact self esteem and predict harmful behaviors and still we often live with a "boys will be boys" attitude toward promiscuity.

There remain so many things that we see as acceptable for men but not for women.  Just recently I was involved in a conversation with the GM of a car dealership where he and a woman who was car shopping got in an argument.  Both of them cussed but then he went off about how wrong it was for her to do so because she was a woman.  I finally responded by telling him that the fact that he was male didn't make it acceptable.

There remain so many ways in which we continue to support the idea that being a man means being rough and tough, means demanding your ways and getting what you want, means being in charge (without question) of women and children, means using violence and following your urges. 

But it doesn't have to be so.

Being a man means being strong...strong enough to feel and to listen and to cry and to show self-control.

Being a man means being respected...not because you are a man or because you demand it, but because you show respect to others.

Being a man means recognizing that guns and balls aren't needed for play to be valuable...but knowing that sometimes tutus and teapots are at the center of the most important moments.

Being a man means being a person of value...not because you earn a lot of money but because you have lived into who you naturally are whether that is a stock broker or an actor, a full-time parent or a construction worker.  And it means valuing who others are even when it's not who you anticipated they would be.

As I drafted this post, a friend sent me this article http://www.vocativ.com/culture/religion/heath-mooneyham-ignite/?utm_source=digg&utm_medium=email about a church in the city where I used to live.  As I read it I found myself offended on so many levels.  And I found myself wondering less about what would cause this minister to behave and say the things he does and more about what makes this attractive to so many people.  What does this say about who we are and the views we continue to hold? 

The reality is that nothing I have written is new.  I haven't said it better than anyone else.  I haven't said it nearly as well as many.  But I needed to say it.  I needed to say it because I am the mother of two boys.  I needed to say it because I am a woman.  I needed to say it because I see the way so many people - both men and women - are harmed by some of our attitudes and behaviors.  I needed to say it because we need to talk more about this. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Open Letter to the Mom in the Donut Shop

Dear Mom in the Donut Shop,

Thank you! 

You probably don't even remember me.  We did not speak.  Our only interaction was when I went to leave the donut shop.  You and your two young children had just walked in and they (likely overwhelmed by the abundance of sugar in the cases of donuts in front of them) stopped just inside the door.  When I turned to leave (and needed access to that same door) you quietly said to them, "Step over here, please."  And they did.

It's really a moment I could have quickly forgotten, or even not noticed.  But I did notice.

I noticed that your voice was quiet and calm.

I noticed that you didn't snap at them or grab them to move them.

I noticed that you said please to your children.

I noticed and I know they did, too. 

Thank you for being that parent and for letting me and others witness your actions and attitude toward your children. 

A grateful donut-eating stranger

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Are We Nothing More Than a Vagina or an Anus?

I'm already sick of the conversation about Phil Robertson's interview with GQ.  And yet I'm about to enter it. 

I know people are reacting.  Some are reacting against Phil and some for.  Some are reacting against A&E and some for.  Some are reacting because of his comments on homosexuality, some because of his comments about blacks in the pre-civil rights south, some for other reasons. 

Mostly what I'm reacting to is the fact that we, primarily Christians who are a mere six days from celebrating the coming of the one we understand to be Messiah, can't have civil conversation but instead have to take side and vilify the other.  And we are claiming our Christian roots as our reason for doing it.  Meanwhile, we're preparing to welcome the Prince of Peace, the one who built bridges and broke down barriers...but maybe really we're just preparing to eat more food and get more stuff all the while not being changed by the one we claim to worship.  And that's the "we" on both sides.

But there's something else here that I haven't heard commented on.  (I'm sure it has been commented on...after all, I really haven't read much.  Mostly I've just noticed how often the name Phil Robertson has been in my newsfeed on Facebook). 

In the GQ article, Phil is quoted as saying, “It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes!..."  He then goes on to name homosexuality as sin.

Yes, because of my theology and faith understanding, I would take issue with his assumption that all homosexual activity is sinful.  But, I want to step back to something else that is startling and disturbing to me...the fact that relationships have been (in this quote and so often in the way we live them out) reduced to sex. 

Frankly, as a heterosexual woman I want to be understood as more than a vagina...more than the one who's got "more to offer."  As a human being I want to be understood as being a person, not a competition between vagina and anus (or vagina and vagina for that matter).

While people are being outraged about Phil's beliefs on homosexuality, I also want people to be outraged about how Phil expressed his feelings about heterosexuality. 

Today all I want for Christmas is for each of us, no matter where we find ourselves theologically or politically or any other way, to look at the other before we speak and remember the humanity that is there and the God that is living in and around each of us.  After all, isn't that what Christmas is really about?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

That Time of the Year

It is that time of the year again...

when some people gear up to take advantage of Black Friday sales and others complain about the sales including the fact that more and more stores open on Thanksgiving Day.

Should stores be open on Thanksgiving?  They are open on nearly every other holiday - no one but banks and the government are found closing for Martin Luther King Jr Day or Veteran's Day - so why not, some would say.  Others would argue that Thanksgiving Day is a "major" holiday and an important family time so they should be closed.

While I will happily critique our consumer culture (and not just on holidays)...while I will happily question whether we really need access to our favorite stories 24/7...while I will happily talk about what other things we could be doing with our money rather than buying ourselves and others more things we don't need...while all of this is true for me, I'm also not sure the worst thing to ever happen to humanity is stores being open on Thanksgiving Day.

Consider this:

  • Thinking that stores being open on Thanksgiving Day is an affront to family life assumes a Norman Rockwell picture that is simply not true for many people. 

  • There are those who can't afford to feed their families on Thanksgiving Day and are happy to work to earn extra money to support them.

  • There are those who are far away from their family who will have lonely Thanksgivings and are happy to have a diversion, perhaps even shopping for loved ones they are missing on Thanksgiving Day.

  • There are those who have experienced deep grief, health issues, financial difficulties or some other struggle or trauma that finds them struggling to be grateful and perhaps a bit of normalcy (even if just their local store being open) might get them through the day.
I do recognize that some people who have family festivities going on will have to leave early or miss the fun because their work is demanding it of them.  The same is true of nurses, doctors, and many other behind the scenes people who keep life as we know it going.  I suggest that we go out of our way to appreciate their commitment.

And if you don't think stores should be open today...don't shop today.  The reality is that business will do whatever the customers demand.  Don't criticize Target or Kohl's or any other store for doing what we the people have asked.  If it is important to you, have a conversation with your neighbors, friends, and family about - not demanding everyone do what you want, but talking about why it matters.  Or better yet, be a person whose kindness is so overwhelming that people would rather be with you than be getting a good deal at Target today!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What Do We Call Truth?

Driving to church this morning I heard a story on the news about a minister who had been shopping at a Costco and noticed that the price tag on a Bible was labeled fiction.  He then took a picture, posted it to social media, and Costco is doing the clean up dance.

While some of you may have the same response he did, I am not disturbed by such a label.  Rather I have long asked questions like:

Why do we place lower value on that which we call fiction vs. that which we call non-fiction?
Do we sometimes forget to acknowledge that much of our written material transcends either category?
Why do we struggle to claim Truth if we can't prove facts?
In my own teaching I frequently talk to people about the difference between Truth and truth when we are reading scripture.  Truth I define as the big picture message about God.  Put a lower case "t" at the front of the word and it becomes about provable facts.  While the Bible has some facts that can be proven (and some that can be disproven) that does not increase or decrease the value of the Truth we find there.
I often look to the story of Noah when talking about this.  There are details in that story - how many of each animal, how big the boat was, how many days the rain fell and so forth - that could (given the right set of circumstances) be proven true or false.  But when that's where our focus is, we miss the point.  It seems to me that the Truth of the story of Noah is that even when God has every right and reason to give up on humanity and even wipe us out (and unfortunately we give God lots of reasons!), God chooses not to.  God is so committed to humanity, even when we break God's heart, that God will seek out a reason NOT to destroy us.  Yes, it is a difficult story.  And yes, many people do die.  But throughout the story what we see is a God whose love for humanity runs deep and who simply won't give up on us.  That's good news...that's Truth worth holding on to whether there was ever a man named Noah or a big boat full of animals. 
On one hand Costco is right...the Bible contains much that would technically be classified as fiction - some that we suspect to be so and some that comes right and tells us it is.  And that's okay.  Alongside fiction is some non-fiction, some poetry, some letters, and all sorts of other writing.  Even if we came to understand the whole document as fiction, that does not diminish the Truth. 
After all, no label we put on the Bible or any other book can diminish the Truth of God's love.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

An Open Letter to Parents

Dear Parents,

Please treat your children like you would treat mine. 

I watch you at ballgames putting up with my child's silliness but grabbing your child with (not so) hidden force you didn't think anyone would notice. 

I watch you in the grocery store smiling sweetly at my child while talking harshly to yours.

And I get it...I know your children push your buttons in ways mine don't have the chance to.  My children do the same to me. 

But, here's what I ask...look at your child and see mine for just a minute before you react a little too swiftly or harshly with yours.

And the flip side is true, too.

See, to your parents who are harder on everyone else while always favoring your own child, I see you, too.

I watch you assume my child must have started it because it couldn't have been your little angel. 

I watch you believe your child should get extra chances while mine should be required to follow all the rules.

Please extend the same grace to my child and give the same benefit of the doubt to him that you do to yours.

I know your kids are your kids.  My kids are mine, too...I get it.  There are no other people who I love more.  And there is not one who can hurt me more.

But just for a moment...before you decide how to respond...look at your child and think of mine and at least see how that changes things.

Another Parent

Friday, September 20, 2013

Undoing the Damage

I was raised in a mainline Protestant church.  I remain in a church of that same denomination.  I have no memories of anyone preaching about hell or damning anyone to hell personally or generically from the pulpit or anywhere else.  I remember nothing in my religious upbringing that was motivated by fear.  And as a pastor these are traditions I've chosen to continue in the churches I have served and in the life I lead. 

But this presents an interesting situation...time and time again.  I find that I am needing to learn how to have a ministry of undoing the damage that others have done.  And let me tell you, it's not easy to do. 

The number of people who have walked into my office, especially recently, struggling to see value in themselves is amazing.  And guess what they hold in common?  They were taught from the time they were young, usually by family and/or church, how little value they had apart from behaving in certain prescribed ways. 

The number of people who have walked into my office, talked about some choice they made, and followed it with the comment, "And after that I was going to hell anyway, so I figured why not?"  These aren't people who themselves thought they were going to hell for their actions but people who were told by others and who because this came from people they knew and trusted just gave up hope.  They resigned themselves to hell and in doing so did everything from abandoning their relationship with God to taking on destructive habits.

But, I look at these people and all I see are beloved children of God.  I look at them and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are loved and wanted by God, that they are of value - not because they follow the rules, but simply because they are created with value.  I look at them and I know that they are forgiven and that at the end of the day it is never hopeless. 

But, how do I mirror that back to them?  How do I give them my eyes or my heart through which to see themselves?  Even better, how do I give them God's? 

Each time I find myself in one of these conversations, I wish I had so much more to offer.  I wish that I could wave a magic wand and make it all better.  But, until I find that wand, I will just journey with them one step at a time and try with each moment to undo the damage that someone did to them.

And meanwhile, I will pray that each of us will pause before we belittle, before we condemn, before we say or do even the smallest thing that tells someone else that their value is conditional...I pray that we will pause and correct ourselves before we damage someone else. 

May it be so.