Posts tagged power

So last week I look through my twitter feed, and come across a ton of articles on feminism and exploring what it means to be a woman. I discovered information about Sarah Bessey's soon coming book Jesus Feminist. I read a very insightful article on feminism by Bell Hooks critiquing Sheryl Sandberg's claim that Lean In is "a (sort of) feminist manifesto," a book I thoroughly enjoyed but would not call a feminist manifesto. I also saw this piece by Osheta Moore called we are pierced women, and this piece called Dear Patriarchy by Idelette McVicker. Then I ended the week unpacking evidence of white, male privilege in the church with a girlfriend. Its been quite a week!

After all of this, here is an incredibly simple conclusion I've come to: patriarchy is not the obvious purple dragon I want it to be. Instead it is subtle, insidious and often resides just under the surface. It is only occasionally overt and mean-spirited. In the evangelical church I have found that the "he-man-woman-haters club" has adopted some much subtler language.  

When I was a child, I remember attending churches where women were not permitted to preach or teach, being relegated to the kitchen and nursery room. There were churches who would not allow ordained women to sit in the pulpit, instead deciding the first row is as close to the cross as we were allowed. While I am aware that these churches and these rules still exist, the kind of patriarchy I find myself casting off now just isn't so clear.

Instead the patriarchy I am encountering doesn't tell me that I am not permitted to teach, only that my style is not as familiar, captivating, or desirable as my male counterparts. It makes men the standard for my success. 

It includes me in the speaker line-up at conferences, the elders in leadership, the voices leading worship but not with any conviction. My presence is little more than an effort to stay out of trouble. The voices of women are not sought after, pursued, or chased.

It doesn't tell me that an all-male line up is acceptable, but that I only need one female representative at the podium, the table, the microphone.  After all, there were many sessions, meetings, and emails trying to find that one woman. Our names, our efforts, our experiences don't easily come to mind. In order to find us there must be twitter shout-outs, google searches, combing the websites of other churches to find someone who can represent that elusive female voice. 

Its in the music- God as male, masculine, fighting, battling, winning  

Its in the prayers- God as male, masculine, fighting, battling, winning  

Its in the sermons- God as male, masculine, fighting, battling, winning

It doesn't ban me from leading, but it often questions my authority, always looking for the wizard pulling the levers behind me. It asks insulting questions like, "Who is really in charge here?" or "Who should I really be talking to?"

 It thinks my ideas are truly brilliant, but only after being repeated by a man.  

It doesn't tell me I won't be successful, but it needs to protect me from myself because I am, of course, incapable of success without it. I am too emotional, trusting, and inexperienced  to make it on my own. 

Here's the kicker, my complexion only complicates things further. I must also work around its whiteness, affluence, assumptions. I must hold my culture in tension. I'll bring that "black mysticism" to the table- the eternal prophetess of the Matrix, handing you all the insight you need to succeed, but I won't go overboard. I  wouldn't want to make our largely white audience uncomfortable with my blackness.

So best not be too sing-songy, too loud, too outgoing. I won't talk directly about race or anything that might be code for race- you know words like "hip-hop" and "urban" and "collard greens"… really black things. I mean, who can relate to any of that?

I'll be mindful about my language, too. I wouldn't want to get on stage and "sound white" so its really important that I use just a dash of ebonics, so that people can see I really represent the black voice. But its also important I sound educated (whether or not I am is of little importance), here it is all about the privilege of affluence. So many rules.

And I promise not to forget about style… I mean there is only one black style, right, so I had better get that right, too. 

No, this is no dragon. It's a slow and steady poison that will produce symptoms of insecurity and indentity crises so large that losing oneself, hating oneself is a real possibility. As much as I want to break out a sword to slay this thing, I have come to realize that the only anti-potion for this poison is the truth. 

So, Sarah Bessey, keep reframing our place in the gospel story. Bell Hooks, challenge us to always analyze the system. Sheryl Sandburg, call us to claim our space. Osheta Moore, remind us how we've been pierced. Idelette McVicker, keep challenging patriarchy. And to all my girlfriends, I am so grateful for the ways you have spoken truth with me; perhaps one day the truth will set all of humanity free. 



A Series on Peter


When Peter descends from the rooftop, the Spirit tells him that there is a group of men looking for him. This is probably not strange for Peter until he sees the men, that is! I imagine he was a little surprised to discover that the men weren't Jewish; they were Gentiles! 

Peter's culture was pretty clear about the protocol for spending time with Gentiles- don't do it. But Peter is told not to ignore these men, so he invites them in. He extends to them what might be considered a remarkable amount of hospitality. Perhaps Peter himself washed the feet of the strangers before inviting them into a meal, sitting with them, fellowshipping with them. Perhaps he gave them as much food and drink as he could supply, and offered more even when they were full. Though the Old Testament certainly required Peter to be hospitable to strangers, there is little doubt that this experience was a stretch even for him! 

Similarly to Peter, our churches have become pretty good at extending hospitality. As a result too many churches who have been called to multicultural ministry are actually practicing multicultural hospitality. The difference mostly lies in the maintenance of power. Believe me, I love extending hospitality to my friends. I would rather invite people to my home than meet at a restaurant.  In my home I can better express my love, making sure my friends feel comfortable and special. Hospitality is a beautiful expression of love and concern for others, but we are kidding ourselves if we don't also acknowledge the power dynamics involved in hospitality. I make the decisions. I set the parameters. I determine the extent of graciousness. 

Do you see the similarities with multicultural hospitality? The dominant group considers the church "theirs", and therefore has the right to make decisions, set parameters, and determine the extent of graciousness offered to those who are "just guests" who should be grateful for any amount of hospitality shown. 

But here's the thing, Peter wasn't told to extend hospitality. He was told to go with the men. Hospitality will never get you to multicultural ministry. It can be a great first step, an introduction, a time of learning, but ultimately you will have to walk the road of inconvenience and inquietude to truly experience the revelation of multiculturalism.

What I love next about this story, is that two communities of people- Jews and Gentiles- begin a 30 mile overnight journey together in which neither can claim power over the other. They are forming relationship in the space between their isolated communities, while on their way to immerse themselves in the "other". How many churches can you think of that are more interested in recruitment and hospitality than journeying and immersion?

If we want to follow Peter's example, we must be willing to release power, to journey with others, to risk hostility and experience a little discomfort in our lives. We must be willing to obey the Spirit and go. 


Ida M Flood
Ida Flood Harvey.jpg

Ida M Flood was born in February of 1884 in Virginia. She was the oldest of her siblings, and by the age of 16 was being raised by a single mother. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find what happened to Ida's father. There is a great deal of mystery swirling around her "mulatto" identity, as listed on every census record where her name appears. Following her father's death, her mother took over supporting the family by becoming a cook. At the age of 20, Ida married into the Harvey family. Despite the fact that Ida's father-in-law had been a slave, the family was quite well off. 

Following the civil war, Ida's father-in-law ran a thriving tobacco farm. The farm was so successful that the family hired white sharecroppers to work the land, and the family frequently took shopping trips to New York, proving that shopping is in fact in my blood.

By 1920 Ida's in-laws passed away, and she and her husband, Paul, ran the tobacco farm, along with extended family. They had 3 surviving children, Hattie Lee (my great grandmother), Grace and Paul. 

I am told that every Sunday Ida cooked a full meal for all the hired hands who worked the farm, skills she no doubt learned from her mother. The kitchen would fill with the smells of dinner and dessert- pies and cakes which my great grandmother helped cook but could not touch. There was a rule in this house- those who worked ate first and to their hearts' content. This family refused to treat the hired hands like slaves. The family would not feast in their faces, or leave them wanting food; they did not receive the left overs or the trash that the family did not want. They got the best, the first, and they could eat as much as they wanted. 

Though this was torture for my great grandmother, a child trying to resist the smell of cakes and pies, in case she received none, I am so proud to know this about my great, great grandmother. How easy it would have been to lord their power over the farm hands, to wallow in resentment of the past. Her own father in law, who she lived with for at least a decade, would carry the marks of slavery, and perhaps her own father as well. Ida refused to be like the oppressors of the past, and I love her for it. 

May we all aspire to be people who choose our way forward, not based on the wounds of the past- no matter how painful the memories. Let us instead give our best and give it generously.