Friday, February 3, 2012

My Google Reader and A Rescued Perspective

I should have something akin to a TV remote for my Google Reader because I approach it with about the same fierce efficiency as I approach searching for something interesting on TV; quickly skimming each channel/article deciding in a fraction of a second whether or not it is worth any more of my time.  This works well for me because many of the items in my Google Reader are information oriented; a series of headlines about sports, news, and politics.  "Manning Cleared for Play in NFL".  "Romney Wins Florida".   "Unusually Mild Winter Continues".  These are things I like to know but not things about which I need a great depth of information so the headlines are quickly skimmed and discarded.  The usual exception to this are the blogs written by people I know personally; friends, family, and fellow pastors whose words are of more interest because of our personal connection.

But there is yet one other category within my Google Reader.  It is the very small group of blogs by people I have never met but whose writing by itself is compelling enough to keep me reading and even looking forward to their next post.  Some of these blogs, like this one, were shared by friends on facebook.  Others, like this one, I found linked to another blog I read.  And then there is this one, that my wife pointed out to me.  If you click on those links and read for a while (something I'd encourage), you'll notice that despite their different topics and styles, they have something in common.  They are all women.

This is not something I set out to do.  I certainly was not sitting around thinking to myself that I needed more of a feminine perspective on life.  In fact, I've been reading most of these blogs for a while now and it was only recently that I even noticed that the handful of blogs I found myself coming back to again and again are mostly written by women.  To be honest, I was actually pretty surprised when I realized it, at least enough that it caused me to pause and consider for a while why this might be the case.  Why did I find this writing, these stories so compelling?

Aside from the simple fact that all of these blogs are intelligent and well-written, there seems to me to be one other germane quality: perspective.  More specifically, a perspective that is not my own.  In these blogs, I come to see the world from a different angle, through a subtly different lens.  In these writings I am confronted with "otherness" and am therefore confronted with a truth I would not otherwise face quite so clearly.

Of course, the internet is not the only place to find this otherness.  I am confronted with it in my work as a pastor as well.  As a pastor, I often get to see circumstances that no one else sees and hear stories that no one else hears.  The unfortunate truth with which I have now become familiar is that more often than not those unseen circumstances, those unheard voices belong to women - obviously not always but in a disproportion that is surprising in its severity.

And that is probably the only reason this post is worth writing.  I imagine the last thing that most women need in their life is another man's commentary wringing in their ear.  But I bother writing a post like this - one that has much potential for awkwardness and misunderstanding - because there is much talk around the internet these days, sparked primarily by a handful of well-known pastors, about how the Church should be more masculine.  To be honest, there is a part of that message that could resonate with me.  If by "masculine" we are talking about activities that will engage more men in the Church and encourage us to hold each other accountable and become more mature disciples of Jesus then I say let's go for it.  But if by "masculine" we mean that men should do all the preaching, teaching, and leading... if by "masculine" we mean to say that male voices are the only legitimate ones... if by "masculine" we imagine that being male means we are any more an image of God than if we are female... well, then at the very least we, as the Church, have missed an enormous opportunity to be confronted by truth.

In the creation narrative, the woman is described as a "suitable helper" for Adam.  In English, this makes her sound something like a maid.  It sounds very much like she is someone whose very existence is defined by the service she provides another.  But in Hebrew the word translated as "suitable" means something more like "in front of" or "facing".  It denotes equality and otherness; someone who stands apart from the man but is face to face with him as an equal.  And the word translated as helper is also not one that represents inferiority.  In fact, there are several places in the Old Testament where this word is used of Yahweh himself.  God is the helper who rescues us in our time of need.  In short, Eve is a sort of hero in the creation narrative.  Unlike most Hollywood story lines where it is the woman who needs a man to rescue her, here it is the man who needs rescuing from his loneliness and God creates the woman to do just that by way of her equality to him and otherness from him.

I think this can be a pretty good picture of what women can be for the Church: those who are given by God to rescue the Church from the lack of wholeness that comes with being merely masculine by way of their equality and otherness.  We need not only the faithful service but also the voice of women -in all their otherness from us men - in our churches if we are to truly be the kind of people God has created and called us to be.  I believe we need to hear the voice of women, alongside of but distinct from the voice of men, if we are to hear the whole voice of God.  

1 comment:

Christine Marietta said...

Ohhhhh I bet you can guess how much I love this post. A LOT.

I've frequently wondered why so many churches are over 50% female while still being incredibly patriarchal. Even though the people in the pews may be more women, the norms are still traditionally masculine (a hierarchical leadership structure, as opposed to a mutual democracy, for example). The stories told from the pulpit usually center around men. And he most respected voices in a church are almost always male ones (as you've observed, hearing the "unheard voices" as pastor).

I went to a conference once where the presenter said, "As psychotherapy has become a feminized institution, it's lost both men and prestige." The same happened with secretarial work... it started out as a very "manly" job. Now it's all women, and not a very highly respected profession. It's a common trend that as women join, men leave. I wonder sometimes if the "feminization" of the church is causing men to leave, because of the way we've all been taught that female is more shameful than male. The men leave and the women stay, enjoying the fact that their reality is a tiny bit more represented, but wondering if they did something wrong to drive the brothers out.

I'd disagree with certain pastors who believe a church's progress is measured by how many manly men are in attendance. As we the church struggle to represent male and female equally--not just in numbers, but in structure and philosophy and voice and leadership-- we can expect some growing pains. It saddens, but doesn't surprise me, that the men are leaving churches. But I don't think the solution is to re-instate male privilege. I think it's to invite men and women to take a long, hard look at what we believe about gender and how that plays out in our spiritual and communal lives.

Dang, now you've got me thinking. I may just have to write about this one soon!