Sunday, July 16, 2017

Defeating Sexism, how men can help.

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The other day, when the story about Mr. Trump saying that Brigitte Macron was "in good shape" broke, I found myself angry and bemused. Angry, because sexism is real and it hurts. Bemused because I am at a total loss as to how to deal with it.

Sexism in the Church is a real and current problem. It is especially bad when you begin to talk with female clergy. I have yet to meet a female priest who has not experienced some form of demeaning, objectifying or downright discriminatory behavior from both parishioners and, more worryingly, male colleagues and superiors.

But how do you deal with it when someone says something along the lines of, "You are in good shape."? After all, if you are in good shape you have had to work at it, and someone complimenting you should be just that, a compliment. The even harder piece of this is that for many older people it is a compliment with no thought to web of culture and misogyny into which is is woven.

One problem is objectification. Women have been objects for centuries, property to be passed from birth family to marriage family. Little wonder that generations of men grew up and were trained to look at whether women were a good asset and a sensible investment in terms of genetics. The underbelly of the compliment is , "remember to stay in your place, quiet and pretty, that is what you are for."

It might look as if we have done the hard work already, after all women are in all levels of leadership in the Church, so we must be OK. But in some ways, that is just the surface. There are layers of assumptions and culture which we have to learn to notice alongside the blatant sexism which allows people to tell me they would rather have a male priest do their wedding or funeral.

Jesus always challenged assumptions and stands up for those who have no voice. When a woman is victim of a system which is institutionally sexist she cannot stand up to it herself - this just compounds the issue. If you are a man and you are getting this, if you are nodding along and not writing me off as over-reacting or of otherwise reduced capacity then this is your job, this is what you can do. We really need your help.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Baby Talk

The Nativity of John the Baptist is a mouthful, but that is the name of the Festival we are celebrating this week. Nativity just means birth, and the birth of this child restored voice to his father. John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, has been struck dumb when he did not believe that God would give him, and his wife Elizabeth, a child. After the birth John’s mother said her baby’s name would be John. Family and friends questioned this, as it was not a family name, and deferred to Zechariah who wrote on a tablet, “His name shall be John.” This act of faith confirmed that this was the extraordinary work of God.
The prophetic work of John the Baptist was about preparing a place for Jesus – who would restore voice not just to those close to him – but would allow the voices of anyone who came to Him to be valued and listened to. The age into which John was born was one of noise and violence. Powerful people controlled state and religion. The voice of God had become confused with the voice of factions and party in-fighting.
This restoration of speech in the birth of John is a shadow of the restoration of the right of speech to all humanity. John is the prophet of the Christ, he is the foreshadowing of the Messiah. This baby whom Zechariah and Elizabeth never expected to parent was the “voice crying in the wilderness, prepare a way for the Lord.”
The wilderness into which John entered was not just literal, but a spiritual. A place of desolation and abandonment for God’s chosen people. His birth heralds a new time and, in the heat of the summer, draws us back to the story of a Savior who is coming, who is always coming to each and every one of us to listen and restore and hold.

Final Words

I remember being taught at school how to write a curriculum vitae. We meticulously wrote (by hand in those days) our classes and exam grades and details of after school jobs. Many years later the details that were so important to my earlier self just clutter up a page full of so many other things which have filled my life thus far. Things that were in exquisite detail thirty years ago, now disappear under a broad brush-stroke.
Like many Biblical characters, we do not know much about Barnabas. Details of his personal history and family are left to conjecture using the small pieces of information which are given to us in the Acts of the Apostles. We know he accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys and Paul describes him as an Apostle. Generally it is thought that he died a martyr in Cyprus in AD 61.
It would satisfy my curiosity to know more about Barnabas but it would not change the summary purpose on his Resume which was to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. His journeys were arduous and telling this story of his faith, dangerous. We have no idea what he thought as he woke each morning or the prayers which fell from his lips as he fell asleep at night.
The question I find myself asking is, if there were no details about my height and eye color, about my relatives and friends, what would there be to write about? Is my life absorbed in minutiae which will be lost to time, or is it given to telling a story which time cannot contain?