Tuesday

when race is the elephant in the room




White people don't really like to talk about race, do we?

Some wax poetic about colorblindness and a "post-racial America," as if talking like that will make it so, but remaining oblivious to race is a luxury enjoyed only by those who've not been on the receiving end of racism.

White privilege is an invisible knapsack, conferring benefits to some that are denied to others.  We take for granted many of the privileges we enjoy that are conferred by race and not merit.

Some white people do notice: we see injustice and inequality, and our hearts are heavy, but we still are reluctant to talk about race.

Our silence does not go unnoticed.


Coming on the heels of the Invisible Children/KONY2012, a viral justice campaign which occupied a tremendous amount of conversation, especially among young white Christians, the lack of attention to Trayvon Martin's death was especially glaring.

{Several white bloggers did offer comments this week:  Jen HatmakerMomastery, Kristen with "required reading", and Natalie with this piece on race and faith.}

I don't know how we choose what to speak out about--or not.  For many, racial injustice is off our radar, especially if we only interact with white people.  Perhaps we prefer to keep hard stories at arms' length.

Sometimes, we are afraid.  We don't know what to say or how to say it, and don't want to step on toes.  We fear doing it wrong, so we don't say anything.


Talking about race is not easy.  Relinquishing privilege won't be, either.

We will get it wrong.  We may look foolish or ignorant, and it will certainly be uncomfortable--a small price to pay compared to the racial injustice suffered historically and presently in this country.

Learning is a process.  But we don't need to be experts or have answers in order to listen, reflect, demonstrate compassion, or amplify the voices of people of color.

It's a start.



Friday

vagina is not a dirty word


In Rachel Held Evans' forthcoming book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, she investigates what it looks like to live out Christian faith as a woman today.

Her publisher, Thomas Nelson, told her she had to change the word "vagina" in her text to "privates" to accommodate the delicate sensibilities of Christian markets.

WHAT.

Teaching toddlers to use the right words for their anatomy prevents body shame and lays the framework for honest conversations, unblurred by silliness and giggles.  My pre-schoolers use the words penis and vagina matter-of-factly, and they know their bodies are created by God.


If Thomas Nelson thinks Christian bookstores can't handle reading the word "vagina," the problem isn't really Rachel's book, is it?

There is a petition on Amazon to keep the word vagina in Rachel's book.  Yes, this is a ridiculous conversation to be having in 2012.  But I believe that it is symptomatic of a fear within the church of bodies and sexuality--especially female sexuality.

Are we not a people who worship an Incarnate God and believe that our own bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made?

Let's remind Thomas Nelson.




Edited:  Rachel herself clarifies the situation in a post.  Apparently, keeping "vagina" is up to her, but she's been warned that the bookstores are likely to refuse to carry her book.  An appeal then would be better directed at the stores. Thomas Nelson is not so much laying the hammer as making suggestions based upon the market.



Thursday

the youth exodus & consumer christianity


Much has been made in the media lately about a supposed exodus of young people away from churches and/or Christianity. Rick Santorum blames university education, but if faith cannot withstand learning, questions, and life beyond Sunday school, there's something far deeper at play.

Rachel Held Evans lists 15 reasons she left the Church and 15 that caused her to return, but I'm still not sure how one commits to the "big C Church" independent of a local, worshiping body of believers.

Tim King at CNN argues that hypocrisy and "political spectacles are driving a generation away from faith." I'd agree that actual and implied Christian voting guidelines are a huge turn-off to young Christians caring more about justice and poverty than tax cuts, but politicization may be as tenuous a boogeyman as higher ed. Plenty of Christians don't vote Republican and still manage to worship alongside, love, and be loved by those who do. The votes any of us cast in November have little to do with how we practice faith together daily.

An article at Sojourners says that hurt drives young people away, and that is a truth I won't ever argue against. Spiritual abuse is real and terrible, and the Church is often better known for its judgment, masks, and control than our compassion or grace.

"I like your Christ," Gandhi famously said. "I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." We have much work to do if we truly want to be a people that welcomes, heals, and loves like Jesus. Our churches are a long way from being known as safe places for survivors of all kinds of abuse, and this desperately needs to change.

But the article's six other reasons [we're distracted, we're exhausted, mememememe] seem a lot more like excuses to me.

It's kind of sexy to harp on the Church, isn't it? It's so backward and nerdy and uptight! They're so this and that, and they just don't get me at all!

I know how it goes. I really do. My nose hoop and Jimmy's jeans will never in a million years fit in with the white hair and designer handbags peppering the pews, and it's lonely. Our generation is patently absent from our local church.

But I'm not sure it's "Their" fault. I mean, I'm the disciple maker, too, right? If the pews aren't full, what am I doing to enact a change?

I don't know where we go from here. Many days I feel like Peter telling Jesus he's sticking around because really, what else is there? But I know we can't approach the problems with the same consumer mindset that [in part] created them.

Consumers want, take, and expect everything to be catered to their perceived needs. But worshipers worship. Disciples serve, give, and love. Christians practice self-denial, pick up crosses, and follow Jesus into suffering.

People desire to be known and loved--not targeted, marketed, boxed, or sold. The Church is the naked emperor, and our gimmicks are showing.

If our churches are unsustainable and shrinking, should they be resuscitated? Our attractional ministry models are inherently flawed. What if our money, passion, and energies were directed toward something bigger than than building campaigns and filling seats? What if our worship and practice transcended four walls and one hour each Sunday?

Martin Luther King Jr.'s words* were eerily prescient:
Unless the early sacrificial spirit is recaptured, I am very much afraid that today’s Christian church will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and we will see the Christian church dismissed as a social club with no meaning or effectiveness for our time, as a form without substance, as salt without savor.
The Church doesn't need better coffee or cooler music to retain young people. A sacrificial spirit and love that lays down its own life: those are the markings of our Savior and a people called by his name.

Let's be about that.

*His words, of course, were not about disaffected white youth, and they are worthy of reading in context. Reading them today, especially as we talk about Trayvon Martin and the silence of white "beyond evangelicals" puts another spin on the youth exodus narrative. Would a vibrant Church engaged in justice work and racial reconciliation be bemoaning the same loss of young people?


trayvon martin: a black child is murdered


That if we're just "good" we'll be safe. If your son doesn't listen to hip hop, goes to the church camp, gets A's and Bs in school, is polite, says "sir" and "ma'am," if he's a good kid, he'll be safe. That's the bargain black parents make with their children. 
If you are "good" the gangs and the violence and the racism won't get you. You will be safe. You will live to see 25. You will have a great life. Opportunity will abound for you. We will be proud of you. The community will be proud of you. You will be Barack Obama and Michelle Obama and life will be beautiful if you just want it enough. 
Just be "good." Be good, Trayvon Martin. Stay in school. Listen to your parents. And you'll be safe. 
But that's a lie. No one can make you safe. No one can save you for that day some sick person just decides you're the bad guy because you're black and carrying a bottle of ice tea and some Skittles and he self-appointed himself neighborhood watch and some black teenage boys aren't good, therefore ALL BLACK PEOPLE ARE NOT GOOD. And you are a black person. And you're a boy. And you had on a "hooded sweatshirt." So, you're dead now.

Please go read the rest of this powerful post, No Apologies: On The Killing Of Trayvon Martin And Being "Good" by Black Snob.  
Read up on the story.  Be heartbroken.  Listen.  Get angry.  Ask questions.  Speak out until justice rolls down.




Monday

witness to the arc towards the sun



my birthday has a theme song this year.

and i've decided that 32 is the year i wear scarves.  look out, world.

So raise a glass to turnings of the season
And watch it as it arcs towards the sun
And you must bear your neighbor's burden within reason
And your labors will be born when all is done

And nobody, nobody knows
Let the yoke fall from our shoulders
Don't carry it all, don't carry it all
We are all our hands and holders
Beneath this bold and brilliant sun

xo
zan




Thursday

of resurrection & cobwebs


hope bursts green through untended earth, and sun beckons dirty windows open. we plan a family ride, but my bike is somewhere in new jersey.

resurrection's in the air and cobwebs, too.

ten chicks, all black feathers and down, pile together in a basin in the bathroom.  their cheeps melt hearts and betray uncertainty all the same.

the insurance company covered the theft, but the money went to groceries, pre-school, and life.  we'll replace it yet.  spring only just begins.

a heavy heart finds solace in the liturgical year.  this penitent season, the now-and-not-yet, mirrors stirrings unmatched by the beauty out-of-doors.

there's beauty in hard places, too, She whispers.

i lean in and breathe deep.


shared with Just Write.


Friday

Ministry, Mentors, & Holy Imagination



Presence is powerful.  So is absence. Seeing women in leadership matters to girls and equally to women still longing to have their passions, talents, and personhood affirmed by the Body of Christ. The void of women's leadership in the Church is painful and palpable, and the spectrum of God's image will never be fully visible so long as any are silenced, diminished, or excluded.
It's difficult to dream what we haven't glimpsed. Christ's Bride suffers for lack of holy imagination.

Ed Cyzewski is hosting a powerful series on women in ministry, and I am privileged to share part of my story there today.  Ed is a peacemaker who writes with the kind of grace and restraint that is as refreshing as it is rare, especially in a climate that seems to reward polarizing and hostile voices.  If you haven't visited his site, remedy that!  

Read the rest of my post over there, and consider contributing your own to the series.



empty limbs


Now is the barren season, and it's lasted many winters.

Spring nears.  I hear her whisper; her breath warms the earth.  The sap flows fast, and we tap trees for syrup.

But I've been disappointed before.

There is a tree on the horizon, its stark beauty unmistakable.  The cold silhouette haunts; empty limbs won't ever blossom.

Winter is terrible company, casting shadows and aspersions, daring to hang on as long as death.

Remember spring swaps snow for leaves

Tonight, I will believe.



shared with five minute friday (although it took a bit longer to nail down). prompt: empty



Thursday

worship, activism, & the roots of womanist theology

In honor of International Women's Day, I wanted to post an excerpt from an old paper of mine: "Black Women Church Leaders at the Turn-of-the-Century as Early Womanist Theologians." The fact that women are still being punished for raising voices in public spaces makes me even more grateful to the trail blazers who fought boldly for racial and gender equality in a time when neither was imaginable to so many.

                                                        
"For a number of years, there has been a righteous discontent, a burning zeal to go forward in His name among the Baptist women of our churches and it will be the dynamic force in the religious campaign at the opening of the 20th century."

At twenty-one, Nannie Helen Burroughs was already a dynamic force on the intellectual and religious scenes. In 1900, at the first meeting of the Women's Convention, Auxiliary to the National Baptist Convention, she delivered a fiery address entitled "How the Sisters are Hindered from Helping."

Burrough's description of black churchwomen's "righteous discontent" is a fitting characterization of their resistance to exclusion and injustice. African American women were not content to remain at home in the manner prescribed by white culture's cult of domesticity, and they continued to envision themselves as fully answering God's call through public service.

Having observed the celebration of Women's Day in congregations across the country, Burroughs called for the national observance of such a Sunday at the National Baptist Convention in 1906. She marveled at what might happen on the day that women across the country would take the lead in worship:
"A million women praying? A million women singing? A million women desiring? A million women laboring for the coming of the Kingdom in the hearts of all men, would be a power that would move God on his throne to immediately answer the petitions. It would mean spiritual dynamite that would blast Satan's greatest stronghold and drive sin into its native health."
Burrough's image is one of feminine strength. Discontent with society claiming that women belong at home and church leaders relegating them to Sunday school classrooms, Burroughs longed to see more women take the pulpit.

Anna Julia Cooper was another activist who fought her way into the public sphere to champion the rights of African American women. In 1882 she published A Voice from the South, the first book-length black feminist text, recounting her experiences and arguing for women to embrace their role as moral reformers. Cooper charged the community "to recognize this force to make the most of it--not the boys less, but the girls more."

The way that she portrays women as a force emphasizes strength much like Alice Walker's description of a womanist as "Responsible. In charge. Serious." Earlier, Cooper argues "'I am my Sister's keeper!' should be the hearty response of every man and woman of the race," highlighting the role that community plays in promoting the advancement and education of women. This kind of community solidarity is reflected in contemporary womanist theology. Anna Julia Cooper was a womanist theologian before they had names.

An important way that women rose to prominence was through the black church-sponsored press that grew as black literacy rose from 5 percent in 1860 to 70 percent in 1910. The black Baptists alone published forty newspapers and magazines in 1887, and they became a forum for disseminating feminist ideas. Because there were no widely distributed national black newspapers, and white papers never gave fair representation to blacks, "the role of the church cannot be overstated" (Higginbotham). In the period between 1883 and 1905, forty-six black women were journalists, eleven were editors, and three were owner/managers. These women used education and the church to forge a way into the public space and change the discourse.

Though many looked to the bible to justify women's subordination, these women looked to the "Bible as an instrument of liberation," reclaiming texts as support for their place in ministry (Townes). Black feminist theologians like Mary Cook, Virginia Broughton, and Lucy Wilmot Smith were firm believers in women's power to influence men and community in positive ways for the gospel and looked to biblical mothers as examples.  They were not theologians in the strictest sense of the word, but as Gordon Kaufman argues, "Every attempt to discover and reflect upon the real meaning of the Gospel...is theologizing," and these women, as well as regular members of women's clubs and organizations, did just that (Higginbotham). Their Christian activism was theologically-derived praxis--their way of building community and the Kingdom of God.

If contemporary womanist theologians are heirs to the ideas and work of Cook, Cooper, and others, they are also indebted to women who first paved the way, like Julia A.J. Foote. Foote became the first ordained woman deacon in 1895, and the second deaconess of the A.M.E. Church in 1899, but her ministry began decades before. In 1900, when Nannie Helen Burroughs was speaking at the Baptist Convention, Foote was completing her last of fifty years as an itinerant evangelist. She was reclaiming scripture on behalf of women in ministry long before she had peers in the struggle.

Her confident determination is womanist through and through:
"We are sometimes told that if a woman pretends to a Divine call, and thereon grounds the right to plead the cause of the crucified Redeemer in public, she will be believed when she shows credentials from heaven; that is when she works a miracle. If it be necessary to prove one's right to preach the Gospel, I ask of my brethren to show me their credentials, or I cannot believe in the propriety of their ministry. But the Bible puts an end to this strife when it says: 'There is neither male nor female in Christ Jesus.'"
Contemporary womanist theology has deep roots. It grows from a rich tradition of struggle, activism, and celebration of the strength and capability of black women to shape their identity and community in powerful ways. At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, African American churchwomen created womanist theology with the lives they led as orators, activists, mothers, sisters, journalists, teachers, preachers, and community leaders. They did not draw their identity as women from from their husbands or white feminine ideals but from one another and the scriptures. They build a legacy of loving themselves, their God, and their communities. Regardless.
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Reading:





Wednesday

words like weapons



We're weary of words like weapons:

crazy angry ugly shrill
unsubmissive Jezebel
brazen bossy strident shrew
harpy whore hysterical prude

contentious licentious divisive
dyke feminazi trashy skank
foolish frigid uptight bitch
temptress diva catty witch

so slutty (too plain!)
too smart (so dumb!)
emotional, heartless
Less Than, Too Much

Settle down, silly, you're overreacting

Our silence isn't golden; big girls cry hot tears.
We bear on our bodies the wounds of 
un-winnable wars. Be sexy, submissive, and
available, a bar canyon low and unreachable.

He hated her more than he loved her

Women aren't goods to trade, degrade or
dismiss. Labels are lies ten sizes too small.
Shed them at the shore, love, crumpled and
cast off like skin. Drowned and saved and
luminous, christen me unashamed.

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