Gabrielle shared her story in the way that Toni Morrison proclaims stories should be shared, as she implores the storyteller, “Make up a story. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.” Gabrielle makes a story that connects to the greater story of all of humanity. Her words reveal “belief’s wide skirt” as she offers us a glimpse into both the dark and light places that she has trodden in her first four plus decades. There were moments that I was certain that I knew this girl she writes about. I knew that catch in the back of her throat, that loneliness and that determination. She is clever and honest in her telling and, for me, she reveals that “stitch” Morrison demands as she loosens the veil of fear by connecting her revelations to my own. Revelations that remind me: I am not alone.
In her words, “Here’s the set-up: a girl walks into a bar….. (in oxford, mississippi), and here’s the punch line: Friends. For. Life.” That’s a great punch line!
(Posted on Post Script – 2/21/13)
Come meet Gabrielle and hear her speak about Blood, Bones & Butter at Emmett O’Neal Library this Saturday morning at 9 a.m (click here for more information). Read more from Jorja on her blog, Living Beyond the Pale.
February 1, 2000 was a day that was nicely planned and executed. I arrived at the hospital at dawn, went to pre-op, then to anesthesia and then off I went to the OR. Before I knew it, behind that blue cloth, the sounds that I had longed to hear for 39 weeks, my baby girl was here. Minutes later I saw my MH for the first time. I had no inkling that every single particle that made up my life to that point was now changed forever.
I know I haven’t posted in a long, long, long time. I have been slow to write as I have discovered, in the process of encouraging others to find their voice and to live beyond their personal pales, that I am not necessarily practicing what I preach. That won’t come as any kind of surprise for anyone who has ever chosen to step out to lead in some form or fashion, however, it has sent me into some fairly deep introspection in these last few months. I have no answers, as I have plainly stated before, but I am living out and through my own questions. When I feel that I can write with conviction, I promise I will resume.
However, in the meantime, I do not want you all to miss some really great things that I am personally learning along the way. I mentioned a fantastic book in my last two posts and now I am going to tell you about an organization that I believe is committed to doing just what I believe needs to be done, so badly, in our country and most specifically in my ‘neck of the woods’ – empowering women!
I was asked to consider becoming a board member of Leading Edge Institute this past week and I would love for you to go to their website, read what we are about and give me your thoughts on how to empower women.
This is how you can help and why others are helping…
So, now I want to address those who would consider themselves ‘liberal’ or committed to the ‘social gospel.’ Or, quite honestly, those who do not espouse faith at all. There are a limited number of individuals that do not see themselves as having some sort of responsibility for humanity at large. And quite frankly, I know far more liberal friends who are far more committed to changing the ills of this world than those who proclaim a strong faith.
So, that being said, does the other side of the coin offer a better soulution than those who come at it from a ‘faith’ perspective? Can education and poverty reduction be the answer to the atrocities that I have read about in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide ? It certainly is a foundational part of bringing about true and lasting change, but I believe, it is not either or, but both and.
We can give these women education and build into their lives a stronger sense of self by equipping them to provide for themselves and their families, but ultimately, if their hearts are empty, if their self-worth is found only in their ability to produce and survive, what happens when their efforts do not flourish?
They too must have a change of paradigm about the value of women, the value of their own lives, and if there is not a higher power that attributes that value, what will they do? We are what we worship and if there is truly nothing that is transcendent, where will these women find themselves? Even if they have escaped the brothels, the genocide, the rape, where will they be if they do not see beyond the finite? Faith, in my opinion, must be a part of the change that needs to happen.
However, many on the left side, those who have a deep-seated mistrust of the church and those of faith, have separated themselves from all that do not espouse their worldview. What would happen if we laid down our arms against each other in the name of coming together to end such horrible ills in our country and our world? What if the left, the liberal left, chose to respect the faith of the conservatives, or even the faith of many of their own, and work, hand in hand?
Jesus said, in one of the gospels, as his closest followers questioned the motives of a group who was preaching in Jesus’ name. It is probable that their path was different, possibly even the way they lived out their faith was different. Jesus answered the critique with a rebuke. He simply said, if they are not against us, they are with us. I recognize I am taking liberty with this passage, but ultimately, if we in the church long to see redemption, can we not work with and along side those who are working for the same thing?
Is God so small that we must fight for him to have the Christian fish stamped on every effort that we participate in or of which we are a part?
One of the women who read Part I of this topic wrote this:
“Jorja, Thanks for this. First, I would like to say that I am hopeful b/c I have found a Baptist church here in Frankfort, KY (our capitol) that is doing a great job caring for the sick, poor and marginalized. We have a medical and dental clinic and pharmacy that is run by volunteers and serves people in our community who don’t have other health care options. We also have a clothes closet that is like a department store and are a part of a local food pantry that is making plans to organize in a way where people get to ‘shop’ and choose the foods they need and want. We partner with the local health dept. and many other non profits and churches of all types to do these things. We manage to do this in spite of many differing political views within our own congregation. We also have a center for creative arts that offers free music practice and lessons to children. Now, all of that said, I am aware, thanks to you, that we can do more addressing issues that oppress women specifically. I celebrate that we are evangelical, but we ordain women as lay people and ministers and strive to use inclusive language, etc. Many churches do this, but sadly, not many Baptist ones in the south. Still there is so much more we could do to raise awareness about sex trafficking, slavery, etc. I will definitely be thinking and praying about how I can and should be a catalyst for this. Thanks a bunch.”
How encouraging to see that there are churches that are caring for the ‘least of these’ in a combined effort with a multitude of organizations who are committed to the same things. To see human beings coming together because they too, as Dr. King said in his Letter from Birmingham Jail believe what he wrote:
“…I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states…Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.“
I do not have answers. I only have questions. But they must be asked, and pondered if their is to be real change in this country and this world. I believe more than I ever have that I am a part of ‘an inescapable network of mutuality’ and a ‘single garment of destiny.’
What do you think? What are your questions?
In reading Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide I have begun to contemplate what really is at the bottom of this oppression and abuse of women around the world. And for that matter, the inequity that women suffer in this country. The statistics are overwhelming and truly I could not begin to give you an adequate picture of all that has and still is transpiring. I think that this quote, from the book helps sum it up well.
“The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine “gendercide” in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century. In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world.”
Those numbers, those facts, are almost impossible to wrap my head around. I am the mother of two girls. And the results of those numbers are not only found in the developing world. The wealth of the West has enabled these traffickers to bring these sex slaves to the United States where they are daily sold to the johns of America. This is our problem, it is not the problem of the developing world alone. But what can be done?
I want to explore some of the perspectives of what can be done and I am certain that I can not cover this ground in one post. So, for today, I want to begin to look at the perspective of the community of faith, specifically, the evangelical church. Regardless of where you fall out, regardless of whether you profess any kind of faith at all, I believe the call of Jesus to love the orphan and the widow, the less fortunate, the least of these can be agreed upon by most people. There is a sense, even in those who don’t believe in a higher power, that we are all apart of humanity and have some sense of responsibility to care for others. This line of thinking, in my faith, is the result of human beings being made in the image of God. We as humans reflect his nature in general, but in specific ways by caring for other human beings as God himself would care for them.
Unfortunately, the institutional, Bible believing, evangelical Christian church in America has lost its voice on multiple levels because of its failure to do just that, care for others. Now, while I do not intend to address every facet of the perspective that I am referring to, I do want to raise some questions…you know I love questions.
As I begin this quest, I want to put these words before you, they are from N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. In his chapter on justice, Wright writes these words, which I find unbelievably compelling:
“…there are those who declare that nothing can be done until the Lord (Jesus) returns and everything is put to rights. The forces of evil are too entrenched, and nothing save a great apocalyptic moment of divine power can address them or change the deep structures of the way things are. This kind of dualism breeds very effectively within societies where, though injustice can be seen and named, it is politically inconvenient to do anything about it. We will get on, such a view says, with the real business of the gospel, which is that of saving souls for the future world. We will even do mopping-up operations, Band-Aid activities, to look after the people at the bottom of the pile. But we won’t do anything about the structures that put them there and keep them there.”
Those in the community of faith can tend to see the most cruel injustices of the world from this perspective. They may not be opposed to education and poverty reduction, but their bottom line is saving souls. The dualism that Wright speaks of is rooted in a view that says only the spiritual (saving souls) is of value, not the material (working to change the actual injustices suffered by real human beings) and certainly not the political if it steps off course with our conservative politics.
If you pull that string, where does it lead?
This question has given me much to think about and I don’t necessarily believe I have found my way through the twisted and quagmired mess that is American thinking on such an issue, but I want to talk about it.
How does this play out in the action of the church? I will say that I have seen, in my twenty-four years of being a part of said community, more effort given to the political causes of this country than the least of these in this country. If you pull that string, you will find that the Christian community has become little more than a mouthpiece for fiscally conservative candidates who play on their moral sympathies. Some would even say it has become a political sub-group to be manipulated and motivated to give to the causes of one particular (now two particular) parties.
Stumping for ‘pro-life’ candidates seems the logical thing to do if you believe in the dignity and honor of every single human life. However, isn’t that a very easy and neat topic to choose? Why doesn’t that same belief extend to those who are trafficked as sex slaves or to those who are dying every single minute because they can’t deliver the babies that they actually have chosen to keep?
I recognize that these questions are provocative, however, they must be asked. The faith community must crawl out of the bed of conservative politicians. In my opinion, conservative persons of faith have all but whored themselves out and become the sex slave of the political candidates that best represent our political agendas.
On a second point, Kristof and WuDunn repeatedly bring the bottom line of how women are treated around the world is rooted in the paradigm that women are ‘less than’ men, that their lives are expendable. They write,
“In much of the world, women die because they aren’t thought to matter. There’s a strong correlation between countries where women are marginalized and countries with high maternal mortality.”
So, if that is the case, are those of faith, specifically in the United States, contributing to this “marginalization” of women in our own churches here in America? It has been my experience, and the experience of a multitude of other women, that the church has not only allowed such perspectives to dominate, but the predominantly male leadership has used its spiritual power to perpetuate and teach such doctrine.
I recognize that I am treading on sacred ground when I bring this marginalization to the forefront. I also readily acknowledge that those men and women who are settled in the status quo, regardless of whether or not it is based in truth, will be angered. But let me be clear, I am not writing a doctrinal thesis nor do I have the emotional energy to write specifics of the experiences that I mention.
If you have never, as a woman, experienced the abuse of power by male leadership in the church, in your culture or in your marriage, then kudos to you my friend. This is not an indictment on all men, all churches and all leadership, but the truth remains that there are some churches that could be equated with a Muslim state, one in which a woman’s word counts only a fourth of that of a man. My question is not, is it pervasive, but, does it exist at all? And if the answer is yes, then we must address it. If we profess to love this Jesus, why does the church not value women the way that Jesus valued women?
Those in the faith community must broaden their perspectives, and that includes me. We must consider our dualistic views. Responding to the injustice in this world must go beyond addressing the spiritual and begin to consider how to care for ‘the least of these’ in this material world.
This piece, aired on ABC News with Diane Sawyer, is one example of those who are addressing both the spiritual and the material where these injustices are the norm. Why aren’t there a million stories like this one?
What do you think? Are you a part of the marginalized community that I mentioned? What has been your experience?
Pull the strings attached to your own views and truly consider where they lead you and leave the world.