Feminist.

I personally identify as an Intersectional Feminist. I believe in equal rights for all (not just white, cis-gendered, heteronormative individuals), in the dismantling of the privileged patriarchy, and recognize that the fight for freedom and equality for women cannot be separated or properly understood without the consideration of the rights of all other marginalized groups. I understand that as a white, cis-gendered, heteronormative woman that I cannot ever personally experience the different kinds of oppression experienced by People of Color, the LGBTQ community, the disabled, or any other marginalized group. The only thing I can do is educate myself, check my privilege, and attempt in my own feeble way to try and fight back against the oppressive powers that be while never attempting to speak for any other group or individual. I can only speak for myself and speak to my own personal experiences.

Which now brings me the label “Jesus Feminist”. While I do understand why it was coined, I will be honest in saying that I find the term “Jesus Feminist” to be rather grating. I am both a Christian and a feminist, but I’m tired of the currently popular tone of apologetic Christian feminism. Based on the numerous articles I’ve read that would fall into this category I’m also disappointed in where the movement seems to be going. I disavow the notion that we somehow need the permission of conservative Evangelicals (especially) for our voices, for our existence as women, to be validated. I don’t need the Bible to tell me that I’m deserving of equality because I already know that I do. I don’t need any church, pastor, blogger, author, Pope, or even the words attributed to Jesus to give me permission to be heard and respected. Jesus is not necessary to justify my being treated as fully human. Jesus is not necessary to grant me my dignity and autonomy. I do not need Christianity’s permission to be a feminist. I do not need Christianity’s permission to be given my humanity. I do not need Christianity’s permission to exist.

I understand that there are some women who live within a conservative Evangelical world where unless the Bible can back a point of view it’s considered irrelevant. So I understand why some women do need the Bible to justify their feminism because they’re confronting an ideology that will consider nothing if it’s not Biblical (even loosely). But you know… those kinds of communities and institutions should be considered irrelevant and a waste of time. Why fight to be recognized by a group that blatantly disrespects you? Why all the back-bending to try and fit in some place that doesn’t want you there to begin with? Why fight to maintain a personal identity within a group that wants nothing but silent obedience? Why all the personal conflict and inner turmoil for a group that doesn’t even recognize your existence as valuable unless you’re producing children or cooking for a potluck? (I mean, how audacious to try and be more than your basic biology and cultural gender stereotypes.)

I recognize that the only way to bring about change in many circumstances is to fight for it. To me though, much of the popular “Jesus Feminism” articles, websites, tweets, etc. come across less like fighting for radical reform within conservative circles for equality and more like compromise & permission seeking so as not to seem too threatening to the establishment. After all, these are denominations and churches that build much of their identity around the premise of not changing. These are groups that pride themselves on not being a part of the “intellectual elite” and therefore reject evolution, The Big Bang Theory, climate change,  and the majority of science in general. These are groups that relish in the attention they get from stubbornly clinging to the “morality” of the pre-Vietnam War era when no one dared come out of the closet, women rarely worked outside the home, and everyone knew their place and staid there. Men were men and all that nonsense. These groups are right at home inside the conservative Evangelical Christian world – they thrive there because that is a culture that reinforces & demands antiquated social expectations in order to attain group acceptance. It is a culture which only works if people check their brains at the door, don’t ask any hard or challenging questions, and generally don’t upset the status quo that dictates what’s permissible in order to maintain membership. That is not a culture which is open to or respectful of new ideas. It is a culture which actively seeks to create fear around those new ideas so as to keep them from infiltrating their established “in-group”. They’re just fine, thanks!

You may certainly try and make feminism more palatable to such groups and attempt to make it less “scary” by saying Jesus was a feminist too. (And he totally was, and the very early church was loads more egalitarian than some modern churches are today, and I fully appreciate the fact that authors like Sarah Bessey are pointing out this fact to the conservative populace.) However, I can’t help but notice though that all too often women in the Christian community feel the need to hobble and soften feminism before feeling comfortable presenting the term to others. This attempt to make oneself more “acceptable” is not unlike the everyday compromises women make consciously & unconsciously in order to pass through life as peacefully & unscathed as possible. “Don’t be too loud, too assertive, too quiet, too fat, too thin, too sexy, not sexy enough, smart, stupid”, and on and on. The approach that I’m most commonly seeing within the “Jesus Feminist” movement (though certainly not the only one) is one which makes the demands and desires of women smaller and less intrusive. This seems counterintuitive and antithetical to what the ultimate goals of feminism are.

I don’t need permission from groups like that to be a feminist. I don’t need the acceptance from groups like that for my point of view to be validated. I don’t need anyone’s religious ideology to grant me my worth and value as a human being. I certainly don’t need a narrow-minded misogynist’s twisted interpretation of scripture or opinion on the life of Jesus to tell me where my place in the world should be.

Essentially, I don’t see the point in trying to conform to the rigid & arbitrary expectations of a group in order to find acceptance within it when the goal was to change those rules in the first place. Reject that system and make your own. Find or make a community that recognizes and values your worth as a woman in all areas, not just in the kitchen or daycare. There are already so many Christian denominations and communities that fully accept the personhood and leadership of women with no qualifying buzzwords or labels necessary. Go there. When the other groups fail to evolve and grow with the rest of the world they will fade, wither, and die (as they should). No one needs to make excuses for conservative oppression and no one needs to try and contort their reasonable demands for equality in order to please them. Real change and real equality can only become the new reality when the old systems of degradation and oppression are utterly & totally done away with. Embrace your feminism and stop trying to apologize for it. Jesus can still come along too.

dontneedvalidation

+ Katie +

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Female Trouble

 

How we talk about God matters. Pretending how we address the Divine as if it were only a minor issue does a huge theological disservice to us all. God is not male, and yet the preferred pronoun used for God has long been He, with the assumption that this was a wholly accurate title. The exclusive use of male-gendered language excludes the feminine from being considered holy & sacred, and therefore can be used to diminish the role of women within the Church. Women have been excluded, degraded, demonized, abused, and shamed in the name of “tradition” for centuries. This entire charade has only ever been weakly bolstered by claims of divine male authority/appointment by cherry-picked Bible verses used to illustrate the inferior (and often diabolical) nature of women and our bodily existence. It’s our fault we’re in this whole mess of humanity, right? Male hierarchies relish in the power from their self-appointed position of rulers of the universe, yet don’t seem to want to share any of the responsibility for any of the resulting consequences. If you’ve been in charge for the better half of human existence, you can’t really blame the oppressed when the proverbial shit hits the fan.

But I am digressing slightly. The main issue at hand this: Why does the usage of female pronouns and metaphors make so many uncomfortable? What is it about the implication that the feminine can also be sacred that elicits accusations of blasphemy & heresy? What is ultimately so offensive & awful about just being female that it can’t be seen as holy? And what are the larger implications for women in the world who aren’t permitted a God that relates to their experience?

In fact, this aversion to referencing the holy as feminine is not without its consequences. There are so many denominations within Christianity that place undue and unhealthy shame on women’s bodies by convincing them that their only worth is in their sexuality and in the strict control of that sexuality. Phrases such as “modest is hottest” imply that only girls & women who maintain the imposed ideals of sexual virtue through chastity are valuable and godly. No such similar ideals are forced on boys and men. Teenage boys are not pressured and shamed by messages of “protecting” their virginity at all costs. Teenage boys are not discouraged from wearing certain clothes because they might be “distracting” to the girls. Teenage boys are not threatened with ruined reputations and titles like “whore” and “slut”. While men & boys are certainly exposed to harmful and unrealistic ideals of masculinity, it is not equivalent to the level of body & sexual shame that women have instilled in them their whole lives. In many faiths, the idea that women are entirely responsible for how men view & treat their bodies is inextricably linked to the notion that their bodies are more sinful, deceptive, dirty, and tempting, and should, therefore, be covered prior to being considered acceptable not only socially, but spiritually as well.

These kinds of restrictions also extend to the structure and leadership of the church. If it is believed that women are less trustworthy, less intelligent, less capable, and more prone to sin, then they aren’t going to be entrusted with any power inside the church. After all, it even says in the Bible that women aren’t supposed to teach or speak up, right?

If you bring up the injustice that is presented by treating women as though they don’t matter and are in fact lesser humans than the males in the church, many fundamentalist Christians will often invoke their misogynist mascot St. Paul and treat you to such verses as:

“Women shall remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” – 1 Corinthians 14:34

“I do not permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” – 1 Timothy 2:12.

I mean, it says it right there in the Bible y’all! However, I would like to point out a few things that weaken the foundation of the good ‘ol “women in the kitchen” philosophy.

First, let’s discuss the issue of authorship of the Pauline letters. There are, in fact, only 7 letters in the Bible which are universally agreed upon as being authentic letters of his: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Those are what are referred to as the undisputed letters of Paul. Then, there are six letters whose authorship is called in to question and it is not certain whether Paul actually wrote them or not, his authorship is only traditional: Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.

Then there’s how these letters were written in the first place. Many of Paul’s letters mention co-authors. That, of course, begs the question: How much did those co-authors contribute? Consider also the fact that scribes were often employed in the process of letter writing during this time. Most folks who are even remotely familiar with Biblical history will probably be familiar with the notion of scribes, professionals who were hired to do the cumbersome task of putting ink to parchment. Interesting fact though: while some of these scribes took dictation and then copied word for word what they were told, many of them were just given broad topic outlines and left with the freedom to choose the specifics of the composition themselves. Isn’t that crazy?

Now certainly one would think that before an important document got disseminated bearing a certain someone’s mark of approval, that the individual actually reviewed said document and authorized its contents before release. That could certainly be the case. But knowing that the individual doing the transcribing had the freedom available to them in some cases to make editorial decisions, and knowing that we have no original copies of these letters, I think it’s entirely possible (and indeed very likely) that the versions of scripture we have today contain many differences from the original texts.

Secondly, let’s consider Paul’s own actions when compared to the verses quoted above. When trusting a person to deliver a letter to a community, you were choosing someone to act on your behalf. They would have to not only present the letter to the intended recipients, but also answer any questions posed by the community about its contents, and even defend it in debate if needed. Essentially, the person who delivered the letter was delivering the message and served as a kind of instructor for those on the receiving end. Paul chose such men as Tychicus and Epaphroditus to bear some of his letters (Ephesians and Philemon, respectively). However, the person that was chosen to deliver his letter to the Romans was a deacon in the church at Corinth named Phoebe – a woman. Not only was this woman already serving in a position of spiritual leadership in the early church, but Paul even deigned her fit enough to deliver one of his letters of spiritual guidance to a church community he had established. I find it very odd that a man who is attributed to phrases encouraging the silence and invisibility of women would also be a man to recognize and encourage their participation and leadership. One of these things isn’t like the other.

Indeed, Phoebe wasn’t the only woman recognized by Paul. Karen L. King, a professor of New Testament Studies and the History of Ancient Christianity at Harvard points out additional information about the roles of women in the church provided by Paul’s letters:

He greets Prisca, Junia, Julia, and Nereus’ sister, who worked and traveled as missionaries in pairs with their husbands or brothers (Romans 16:3, 7, 15). He tells us that Prisca and her husband risked their lives to save his. He praises Junia as a prominent apostle, who had been imprisoned for her labor. Mary and Persis are commended for their hard work (Romans 16:6, 12). Euodia and Syntyche are called his fellow-workers in the gospel (Philippians 4:2-3). Here is clear evidence of women apostles active in the earliest work of spreading the Christian message.

Paul’s letters also offer some important glimpses into the inner workings of ancient Christian churches. These groups did not own church buildings but met in homes, no doubt due in part to the fact that Christianity was not legal in the Roman world of its day and in part because of the enormous expense to such fledgling societies. Such homes were a domain in which women played key roles. It is not surprising then to see women taking leadership roles in house churches. Paul tells of women who were the leaders of such house churches (Apphia in Philemon 2; Prisca in I Corinthians 16:19). This practice is confirmed by other texts that also mention women who headed churches in their homes, such as Lydia of Thyatira (Acts 16:15) and Nympha of Laodicea (Colossians 4:15). Women held offices and played significant roles in group worship. Paul, for example, greets a deacon named Phoebe (Romans 16:1) and assumes that women are praying and prophesying during worship (I Corinthians 11). As prophets, women’s roles would have included not only ecstatic public speech, but preaching, teaching, leading prayer, and perhaps even performing the eucharist meal. (A later first century work, called the Didache, assumes that this duty fell regularly to Christian prophets.)

Women having full participation and leadership in the church is nothing new. In fact, without women’s involvement starting from the earliest days of the faith, we may not even have a church today at all.

To discount women as not being important contributors to the church, to restrict them solely to “traditional” roles associated with mothering and childcare, and indeed to actively shame them into submission does a massive disservice to all parties involved. Not only that, but it’s wholly baseless and dishonest to do so, completely ignoring the historical evidence proving the contrary, and disregarding the rest of the words and actions by the man who’s alleged to support that whole mindset (Paul). If women aren’t allowed to explore and realize their full potential as spiritual and community leaders, then not only are younger girls discouraged before they even try, it also creates a void for the whole community to lose out in hearing the voices and visions of those that are silenced. How can the body of Christ possibly be complete if entire limbs of it are severed and tossed aside?

Both women and men need to be valued wholesale for their gifts. Both the masculine and feminine need to be recognized as being equally sacred and equally worthy of praise. The bodies and minds of women need to be given the respect due to them, their humanity being recognized and honored in doing so. We need to become so comfortable with these things that should someone refer to God as “She” we will no longer go into fits of insolence – we won’t even bat at an eye. Hopefully, one day we will truly recognize that God is present in all of humanity – male and female alike.

+ Katie +

Waiting

totoro-rain-waiting

Liturgically speaking, we are stepping in to the beginning of a time of waiting called Advent. We symbolically wait for Christ’s birth which has a predetermined beginning and end. We have full knowledge of when our season of expectation starts, and we have no concern about when it will finish. This is not a season fraught by an uneasy anxiety gnawing away at our bellies due to unknowns and uncertainties. We have every assurance in the world that what we are waiting for will arrive as scheduled. It’s not unlike the soothing balm of being able to track a UPS package en route. There are other things, however, which do not carry such simple, easy blessings.

I sit on this grey & rainy afternoon inside of a laundromat painted Ronald McDonald yellow. I am waiting for my laundry to dry. The machines make it easy to figure out how much time lies between myself and the warm comforts of my pajamas and reheated leftovers. I am left with plenty of time to scroll through my social media feeds, to think, to mull over all the violence: violent actions, violent words, anger, vitriol, venom. I think how badly we are left wanting for justice, for safety, for love, as a result of all the carnage left in the wake of angry and scared white men. Because our suffering is, in fact, most often inflicted at the hands of white men armed with guns, self-righteousness, and voting power.  And we wait. We wait for the next inevitable mass shooting, the next scene of heartbreak and terror, and we wait for something to be done to make it all stop. We wait for someone, somewhere with the power to do something to finally reach their breaking point and say that this time it was the last straw.

We cannot foretell when our nation will cease the slow and agonizing process of committing the genocidal suicide of it’s own people, it’s own soul. A country with a population of 0-1 can no longer call itself a world power. It’s a wasteland. Ours will be a desert littered by the glitter of gunmetal, stained by hubris and wrath, lest something can be done about our lust for firearms and power.

As Americans, we are enamored with our guns and our idea of “freedom”. We love to wield this second-amendment freedom with reckless abandon by buying absurd numbers of guns, the biggest and most powerful guns we can possibly manage. They make us feel invincible, important, like we’re in complete control, rugged individualists mastering our own destinies. White America in particular rather enjoys utilizing guns as a tool to maintain the self-ordained position of privilege and power it has grown accustomed to. When BlackLivesMatter protesters are shot, when Planned Parenthood clinics are attacked, when black church members are shot in their own house of worship, when women are threatened with rape and murder for voicing an opinion, these are acts of terror meant to keep those voices and those bodies in line with the kinds of lifestyles and behaviors deemed appropriate and acceptable by white male conservatism. The black community isn’t supposed to raise too much of a fuss, women aren’t supposed to have control over their own bodies, and no minority group is supposed to hold more influence or have a louder voice than the white men in the room. It makes them uncomfortable, it offends their sense of superiority, and when these white men feel threatened they reach for the thing which can make them feel powerful again the fastest way they know how. They reach for their guns and they try to intimidate those who are intimidating them. This violence is a very telling symptom of their fear.

What to do? Despite my being a Christian I’m not going to say “pray”. Simply praying for things to be different isn’t going to magically make all the rage and fear evaporate and replace it with love and understanding. Changing the kind of mindset that acts in such a way is not an easy or fast process. This is not just a “mental health” issue. You can make it harder to get possession of military grade weaponry in the first place, the kinds of guns that can send out endless barrages of bullets in the time it takes to blink your eyes without the hassle of having to reload. We can make an effort to educate our population about the value of diversity; that someone being different than you does not automatically mean they are a threat to your very existence; that empathy is a more valuable trait than having a ruthless competitive nature; to value human life more than nations and symbols.

I am not naive enough to believe that we can ever get rid of all violence, hatred, and greed. These traits are inherently human and cannot be eradicated. But we can at least try to make things better. Can’t we? Surely we cannot be content with the way things are, with the way people act towards each other now. I know I’m not and I know I’m not alone. I’d rather keep dreaming, keep loving, keep creating, keep educating, and continue to try to make this world a little bit better just a little bit at a time and not just wait for it to happen.

americaloading

+ Katie +

 

A Bloodless Revolution

atonement-lg

True forgiveness does not require payment.
Forgiving a debt is to void –
To void is to not hold a ransom.
Atonement is not a blood-stained piggy bank;
It’s not even an action.

The vapid vapors of smoke machines choke my lungs,
they sting my eyes
as they settle into soft & vulnerable membranes.
This is not the Holy Spirit that I came for
to settle in my soul,
gentle as rolling mist.

I do not wish to be washed by broken bodies
of innocent lambs;
To be made to feel guilt for uncommitted sins.
I do not wish to be told that I am worthless
while shining eyes never leave my checkbook.

My body is a temple which does not burn.
The sacred dwells within as surely as platelets.
This truth is what they cannot see:
Christ imbued in all,
Wafers and wine reminders of his humanity.

We are to take this our daily bread,
take Him in and take Him out,
To live our lives amidst the glorious,
the grit,
the grime,
His being the example.

Amen.

+ Katie +

Slave to the Wage

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Taken by the great Dorothea Lange

Today in Sunday school while studying the women of the Bible, we reviewed the story of Hagar in the book of Genesis. She was an Egyptian slave who was Sarah’s maidservant, whom Sarah told to sleep with Abraham so that he could have a child and an heir. Per the custom of that time, any child produced by a slave was seen as the property of the master and could therefore legally constitute as an heir. Issues of consent arose in the discussion: How could a slave who had no personal freedom to decide anything for herself truly have consensual sex with a man whom she was ordered to sleep with in the first place? She wouldn’t have been permitted to say no even if she didn’t want to go through with it purely because of her station in life. The topic of consent gave way to discussion on modern day slavery. Where does slavery continue to exist in our world? Sex trafficking, human trafficking, sweat shops, factories, and even figurative slavery to things and ideas like money, power, alcohol, and political correctness were all brought to mind. The people who came to my mind, however, were the migrant farm workers right here in the United States.

According to the USDA Economic Research Service, hired farmworkers make up less than 1 percent of all U.S. wage and salary workers, but are vitally important to our nation’s agricultural system as “wages, salaries, and contract labor expenses represent roughly 17 percent of total variable farm costs, and as much as 40 percent of costs in labor intensive crops such as fruits, vegetables, and nursery products.” In other words, with the cost of labor being such a huge chunk of farm expenses, keeping those wages low enables keeping the cost of the product low. As of 2002, the average income for individual farmworkers was $11,000, while for a family the average income was $16,000 (1). And according to the FLS, the real median hourly wage for non-supervisory farm laborers has staid between $10.50 and $10.70 since 2007. In some states farmworkers are paid by the bucket at a rate as little as $0.40 for each bucket of tomatoes (2). In case you haven’t had to do it lately, trying to support a family on those wages is impossible to do. And contrary to what many conservative pundits and talking heads would like you to believe, these workers are not living off of the system as they simply aren’t eligible. Less than 1% use general assistance welfare, only 2% use social security, and less than 15% are eligible for Medicaid (3).

In addition, farm work is ranked as one of the three most dangerous professions to participate in. Workers are exposed to long hours of heat and sun with little to no respite in the shade and ridiculously high levels of pesticides on a daily basis. These individuals have the highest rate of skin disorders and and toxic chemical injuries in the country, and much higher rates of heat stress, dermatitis, tuberculosis, and parasitic infections. Children of migrant workers have higher rates of pesticide exposure, dental disease, and malnutrition, while being less likely to be fully immunized than other children (4). These workers are also generally less educated with only 13% having completed highschool (3) and 31% having less than a ninth grade education, compared to 3% of the general population who also have so little education.

This is a group of people who are by and large uneducated, uninsured, underpaid, and unrepresented. This is a population at high risk of exploitation and harassment as some 60% are undocumented and are therefore open to threats of deportation and arrest if they don’t comply with the demands of their supervisors. Women especially are at high risk of exploitation in the form of sexual harassment and rape. Women make up roughly 24% of the agricultural labor force, and many who have experienced sexual harassment or assault are too afraid to report the crimes making it difficult to find numbers on just how often such crime occur. According to an article from the Huffington Post:

“While previous studies have said that up to 80 percent of women who work in the fields have been harassed or assaulted, a counselor in the heart of California’s agriculture region says her experience puts it at closer to half. She said the problem exists in all businesses where immigrant women may lack English language skills and trust in law enforcement, but that farms are the biggest employers so the abuses occur more frequently there.”

We the consumer benefit from paying these workers slave wages and denying them many of the basic rights that the majority of other workers in this country enjoy. These workers are viewed as criminals, job thieves, subhuman. I have to laugh and cringe at those who claim that these “illegals” are “stealing” jobs from good Americans. Really? I don’t see anybody else standing in line asking to go pick watermelons by hand, wrangle chickens, or slaughter cows at the same wages that those “illegals” get paid. What I do see is a massive amount of denial going on. So long as it’s their bodies staying out in the hot sun for hours at a time, so long as it’s their lungs inhaling the pesticides, so long as it’s their backs that are breaking to provide the food on our tables and to make our middle-class lives more plush, we don’t seem to have any problems at all with letting their suffering sustain our low grocery bill. But we really need to ask ourselves, at what point do we finally decide that slave labor is not only immoral but also antithetical to our vision of what America should be? When do Christians and other people of faith decide to make a statement that these practices do not coincide with their beliefs? At what human cost are we so willing and eager to pay for cheap produce?

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” – 1 John 4:20, NRSV

“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1 John 3:17-18, ESV

+ Katie +

(1) Rural America, 2002; (2) US Dept. of Labor, Prevailing Wage Surveys (NC), 2002; (3) National Agricultural Workers Survey, US Dept. of Labor, 2005.; (4) National Center for Farmworker Health.