Thursday, October 30, 2014

No, you don't have to take it anymore

October is Domestic Violence (DV) Awareness month - sometimes called Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) to cover those relationships where the abused and abuser are not living together but are involved in an intimate relationship. It's a difficult topic and one the Church has a checkered history in addressing.

For too long the Church's leadership, dominated by men, often took the stance that violence in a marriage was because the woman was failing as a wife. She was often counseled to go back to her abuser and, in some way, be a "better" spouse. Of course that never worked. Deferring to the abuser just kept the cycle of abuse alive and well - no matter how deferential or demur the wife tried to be to please her husband.

Just in the past 30 years, with the rising number of ordained women in many denominations, the Church has begun to address this problem for what it is - an abuse of power by one spouse over the other. Yes, we also acknowledge that women can be abusers and men are much less likely to report due to culture norms about masculinity. We also know that DV/IPV can occur in same sex couples just as easily as in heterosexual ones.

Several of my Facebook postings this month have addressed abuse and violence. Too many people have misconceptions about how Christianity addresses DV/IPV. Admittedly, there are still corners where the pastor will uphold the position I previously described ... but this is not representative of all Christians! There are plenty of churches trying to address this issue and an excellent book on the subject is Breaking the Silence: The Church Responds to Domestic Violence by The Rev. Anne O. Weatherholt, Episcopal priest (and one of my mentors). She wrote the very first tract for Forward Publications on the issue of DV back in the early 1980's.

One area of serious confusion is over forgiveness and reconciliation when it comes to being abused. Often people think because Christ calls us to forgive those who abuse us (just as he did from the cross) and we are taught to follow St. Paul's instructions to "be reconciled with one another" it means that we must continue to remain in abusive relationships to be "good Christians." This is a misunderstanding and twisting of what forgiveness and reconciliation are about.

Forgiving your abuser is releasing the rancor, hurt and bitterness over what they have done. Ideally, you can do this face to face; however, this isn't always possible because of their abusive treatment of you. Forgiving doesn't require you to subject yourself to more violence. And forgiveness isn't really forgiveness when it comes with threats of more violence. When one is in an abusive relationship, the time to forgive is not while you are still involved with your abuser and still suffering attacks! True forgiveness can only come when the violence ends - whether due to your abuser getting help or you leaving the relationship.

In his book Forgive And Get Your Life Back, The Rev. Dennis Maynard explains that forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation or restoration - they are three distinct steps. Jesus taught us to forgive so we can let go of the anger, bitterness and resentment which hold us back. Reconciliation is the next step after forgiveness but due to our sinful nature it may never happen. Reconciliation can only happen when both parties turn away from the abusive cycle and seek to amend their lives and make the radical changes necessary to stop the abuse. For the abuser, this means counseling - deep therapeutic work to seek the self-understanding necessary to put a stop to their violent behavior. For the abused, it also involves deep therapeutic work to heal and to strengthen their sense of self-worth so that they do not seek out the same kind of abusive relationships again. If alcoholism or drug addiction are playing a role in the violence, seeking treatment for these conditions is also crucial as without it, the abuse will continue! Without substantive change on the part of both the abuser and the abused, there can be no meaningful reconciliation between them.

Reconciliation in the Church is a powerful sacrament which can be a means of grace to offer a way forward for one or both parties providing they are doing the necessary healing work to stop the abusive cycle. However, sacramental reconciliation does not promise that both parties will be reconciled to each other! It may be years after leaving an abusive relationship when one or both of the parties will seek the sacrament for healing and moving forward into the future. The sacrament isn't just about confession of sin and contrition over it. The sacrament calls us to change - to repentance and amendment of life because Christ calls us to be transformed people. Christ is always ready to meet us where we are but he is not content to leave us there!

Jesus suffered the abuse of the world when he died on the cross for you and me. He died on that cross at the hands of his abusers so that we would not have to. He came to bring us life. Abusive relationships are not life giving - they are death dealing. There is nothing in our Christian faith which condones abuse or violence at the hands of anyone.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Every ... single ... day

Every

single

day ...

I serve God as a priest in Christ's, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Not a call I asked for, mind you, but one born of Christian obedience to the One who claimed me in baptism and shaped me to be a priest for the sake of the people God loves. And in spite of this ...

every

single

day

I hear from at least one person why I my call as a priest is not legitimate because I am a woman.

Every ... single ... day.

Yes, it is born of the culture of patriarchy in which I live that posits the superiority of men over women - to the great damage and detriment of men and women (and all gender expressions in between). The "great" legacy of western civilization is grounded on men having power over women and children. This same culture was inspired by God to write our sacred texts ... with just enough gender bias to make sure the status quo of power was maintained and enshrined within them to make God the "source" of male superiority ... even to the point of being described and spoken of as "He" and "Father" ... never "She" or "Mother."

Every ... single ... day

I am told I cannot be a priest in Christ's Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church because I am a woman.

The message isn't always directed at me personally ... but it is out there. Maybe it was an evangelical pastor of a mega church who claimed women were to be "houses" for a man's penis (oh yeah ... that's my single biggest aspiration in life), or a Facebook troll who excoriates me in a theological exchange in a discussion group and questions if I really am a priest, or the extended family member who quotes Ephesians 5 at me to tell me I am doing harm to my family by going to seminary, or the male clergy colleagues (even within my own tradition) who will trumpet from the mountain tops how supportive they are and blessed by the ministry of ordained women ... but who will, when the chips are down, act in grossly condescending passive aggressive ways which tell me their respect for my ministry and that of my sisters is only cheap talk.

Every

single

day

And sometimes I even get a "two for one" special ... where I have to stand up more than once a day to claim the call of Christ face to face with people I do not know who feel the special need to tell me what the Bible "says." That was my day yesterday ... a two for one special.

The first came at an outreach event to the poor and struggling in our community. A former parishioner, an elderly woman, came over to our church's table and said, "I was a member there for 50 years." Wearing my clerics, I turned and introduced myself as the new priest and extended my hand to shake hers. She gave me a startled look and reluctantly gave me the "dead fish" handshake. She told me her name ... I knew of her and I knew she and her husband left the church over women's ordination. She was quick to tell me, "My son is a priest. He had a call from God." And I spent the next 5 minutes hearing all about her son and his call from God to be a priest before she wandered off.

The second came later that afternoon. I received a phone call that a parishioner had been rushed to the emergency room after having a seizure. I stopped to get a big cup of coffee (I needed it at this point) and fill up my car with gas. Again, I was wearing my collar and a younger man stopped me at the gas pump ...

"Um ... the thing around your neck ... are you a ... uh ... a ... minister?"

"Yes, I am an Episcopal priest."

"I have a question for you, if you don't mind."

"OK ... sure. What is it?"

"What do you make of 1 Timothy 2:12? How do you understand your role in light of that? I'm really curious and not trying to troll you." (Hint: when you have to tell me you are not trolling me ... you are)
For those of  you who don't know "chapter and verse" ... 1 Timothy 2:12 says: "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent."
"Well ... my own Biblical hermeneutic begins with a historical/critical interpretation to view the Scriptures in light of the culture and place where they were written and the audience to whom they were written. I take the Scriptures to be inspired by God but written by people who understood their experience of the Holy through their own cultural lens. To say that everything from a 2,000 old book, no matter how holy it is, applies 100% to our time, place and culture is not appropriate."

"OK ... but how do you decide what you choose to believe and not believe? Really, I want to know, I'm not trolling here." (Hint: if you have to say that a second time ... you really are trolling here!)

"We don't interpret the Scriptures alone - it is always within the context of a community and grounded in prayer."

"I see your point because we don't apply the passages about slavery anymore. We can read those in a different way today and maybe apply them to employer/employee relationships. But it still doesn't explain how you can be a minister in light of 1 Timothy 2:12."

"This is a bit too complex to stand here and discuss at a gas pump. I am on my way to the hospital because one of our parishioners was rushed to the emergency room. I need to go ... now."

"Oh ... OK ... uh ..."

"God bless you sir."

Every

single

day ...

One day we may come to a place where we regard these passages of female subservience and male domination the same way we do the ones about slavery - as a throwback to a time, place and culture which is no more.

But we are not there yet.

One day, I hope I can just be a priest in Christ's Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church ... without the word "woman" or "female" as an adjective tacked on like I'm some kind of misfit.

One day ... I pray that the gifts and graces of all God's children will be celebrated and allowed to blossom and flourish regardless of the bodily packaging this transitory life has dealt them.

But until then ... I will be questioned, grilled, condescended, ignored and rebuffed. It appears God has given me and my sisters this cross to bear

every

single

day.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

... from thence he shall come

Thirteen years ago, our nation experienced an horrific act of violence when men who claimed to act on behalf of God hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The intersection of religious zealotry, politics, and the nihilism of a Middle Eastern underclass conspired to destroy and kill on 9/11/2001.

I was the mother of two young daughters that day. I watched the events unfold live on television in a surreal nightmare of waking time. Everything would change ... but what that meant was not clear. My immediate thoughts were how to explain the unexplainable to a three-year old and a seven-year old. Hell, I didn't even know how to explain this to myself! There are no words to make sense of senselessness. I grieved that two little girls were exposed to such a horror as this and dreaded what it would mean for the world they would know.

Thirteen years have passed. My little girls are not little anymore: one is in college and the other a junior in high school. They have only known of their country at war and yet a war largely ignored and hidden from their eyes. The body counts and images of Vietnam I grew up with on television are replaced by the denial of "reality TV." Pictures of the caskets of our war dead taken when they arrived at Dover AFB ... suppressed in the media. War is a unreal reality for them and they do not know its cost.

What have we learned in thirteen years? I still do not know exactly. We've learned to be more polarized - "us" versus "them." We do it in our politics and in how we view foreigners. We've learned that our soldiers and their families pay a horrible price for being sent to fight when we don't always have a clear understanding of who the enemy is. We've learned that many of the factions we once sided with are now against us. We've internalized more violence and seen it spill into how we treat each other as we watch professional athletes beat their intimate partners or shoot them in bathrooms as they cower in fear or see those charged to protect us shooting unarmed youth. We are an anxious, fearful nation - a collective raw nerve.

I have no answers ... only grief and lament. Not only for the dead on 9/11 and for all who have died on both sides of wars that seem not to end, but also for the death of the world I once knew.

I cannot shake the old wording of the Apostle's Creed that I learned as a small child. Concerning our belief in Jesus Christ, we said he was:
... conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I doubt the existence of hell or heaven as places, per se. Rather, I believe they are states of existence in which we live - and it is much of our own making. We either live in the presence and awareness of God (heaven) or we reject and estrange ourselves from the presence of God (hell). But regardless of my own understanding ... I still pray that from the "heavenly thence" Christ will come to judge the quick and the dead and I long for the day when that which seems irreparably broken will be healed and set right.