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This is Not a Story of Injustice: Part 2

Posted on January 5, 2015

When I brought my concerns to the leaders of the Wesleyan denomination about a rumor that one of their pastors was unwilling to hire a woman to the ranks of leadership simply because he wasn’t “comfortable working that closely with a woman,” I was pleasantly surprised by the response I got.

In fact, what I encountered was swift action on the part of those in leadership to address any form of sexism that might hinder a woman from leading in ministry.

Primarily, I contacted David Drury, the Chief of Staff of the Wesleyan Church who works under the “top dog” of the denomination, Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, the General Superintendent. In his response, he cc:ed Dr. Lyon, as well as Russ Gonsalus, the Executive Director of the Education and Clergy Development Division.

Here’s what they wrote me, what they did, and what they are continuing to do across the denomination to help advocate for women in leadership:

1) Questioning the Legalism: 

Before I get into anything that Drury and Gunsalus told me, it’s important to read what Drury has written himself about working closely with women in ministry. As a second chair leader, working closely with a woman leader, he has a unique perspective on this issue, and a vital one, I might add.

He wrote a very well-read blog this past August titled, “Is Being Alone with a Woman the Eighth Deadly Sin?”

In this post, Drury calls into question the practice made famous by Billy Graham of never being alone with a woman. Graham instituted this practice out of a heart of integrity and a desire to be above reproach in his ministry, but unfortunately, his “rule” has been repeated across Evangelical circles and has inadvertently lead the way for sexism to take root.

In his blog, Drury makes the point that perhaps having healthy, appropriate cross-gender relationships should be the ultimate aim for those in ministry. And he goes onto insinuate that this Billy Graham Rule does not provide the context for such healthy relations. In fact, he states that it may even “preclude” appropriate relationships.

Very astute observation.

2) Making Women’s Leadership a PUBLIC piece of the Wesleyan Body:

There is a long list of ways that the Wesleyan Church is actively showcasing women leadership upfront in public forums. Here are just a few:

a) During the National Convention this year, Dr Lyon and her team have actively worked to diversify the panels so that women leaders in the church are represented, especially in high ranking roles.

b) Also during the National Convention, there will be a table talk focussing on men and women working in leadership together.

c) The denomination has initiated the process of launching a network of support and advocacy for women clergy.

d) In addition to all this, Dr. Lyon and Drury are working to open the doors for women to preach and lead in the most public roles. As Drury put it, “I think we need to make sure we have diversity up front to show that these things are workable.”

3) Focussing on the Emotional Health and Well-being of Pastors:

This initiative by the Wesleyan Church is near and dear to my heart. My knee-jerk reaction to resistance toward working closely with the opposite sex for fear of having an affair, is that abstinence is not a fail-safe for infidelity.

If I’m feeling drawn toward someone outside my marriage, I take that as a red flag that my relationship with Dwayne needs a little tender lovin’ care. And if it’s not our marriage that is need of some repair, then I have to ask myself am I run-down? Tired? Depressed? In what ways do I need self-care?

When I posited this idea to Drury and Gunsalus that perhaps pastoral care might be a way to help stave off infidelity at the highest levels, instead of segregated leadership, Gunsalus responded with a resounding “yes.”

He wrote, “We’re undertaking a myriad of new initiatives to help in the area of relational and emotional well-being for clergy. Many of them are being unveiled in the most public fashion at the [national convention].” Gunsalus sent me to this link covering Physical, Emotional, Spiritual, Intellectual, and Relational resources for Wesleyan pastors.

4) Calling the Pastor Out. 

Just these larger initiates alone would have been enough for me to feel good about the way my faith tradition is advocating for women, but to put the bow on the top, Drury went out of his way to write the pastor to whom I’d anonymously referred. He put two and two together. :-)

He didn’t mention my name, but he did want to ask the pastor if the rumor was true: that he wasn’t hiring a woman into the role of Executive Pastor, simply because he wasn’t comfortable working that closely with her. If it was true, he wanted to “throw accountability into the mix,” to put it in his words.

A day later, as an addendum to another e-mail to me, Drury mentioned that he had spoken with the pastor and gotten an answer. The pastor admitted to having felt that way in the past, but had since changed his mind and was now actively mentoring a woman on his staff to rise in the ranks of leadership, if not at his church then another church where the doors may open.

And that my friends, is how it’s done. That is how men and women in power turn sexism on it’s heel and walk it out the door. That doesn’t mean the Wesleyan Denomination has it all wrapped up.  Certainly not, the statistics still skew toward predominantly male leadership in the church. However, I feel good knowing that people like Dr. Lyon, Drury and Gunsalus are at the helm, using their power to tackle the injustice of gender inequality.

I’ll end with this thought from Joss Whedon, a leading feminist in Hollywood. While addressing a gathering of  Entertainment professionals he pronounced:

“Equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women. And the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who is confronted with it.

Amen and Amen, and may the church be Eden on this earth, the sacred space where gravity is restored.

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This is Not a Story About Injustice: Part 1

Posted on January 3, 2015

You know that story? The one where the woman sits in church and hears about sexism among the church staff and so she approaches the denominational leaders about this sexism, only to be scuttled, ignored and silenced?

This is not that story.

This is a story about how those in power are listening, acting, confronting, and empowering. And because we hear the first story all too often, I want to tell the second story. I want to send you off into 2015 with this new story reverberating in your ears: sometimes, when we speak up, we are heard, and things move.

Over Christmas, I visited a Wesleyan church. While sitting in the pews, I admired the woman worship pastor. Clearly, she was doing a remarkable job. “Pastor respects her so much,” I was told. “In fact, he has said before that if he felt more comfortable working closely with a woman, he would hire her to be Executive Pastor.”

I blanched. Then, I got really steamed.

All the way home I ranted to Dwayne. “I never thought I would hear that in a Wesleyan church!”

You see, the Wesleyan Church has a radical history of women’s equality. From the very beginning, we have ordained women pastors alongside men. The very first Women’s Rights Convention was held at a Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, NY, and we have a 5-page position statement on the matter of women in ministry.

In fact, the General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church, the “Big Dog” of the denomination, is a woman, Dr. Joan Lyon.  In other words, of all places sexism should be running with it’s tail between it’s legs, it’s in the churches of the Wesleyan denomination.

However, this practice of segregating men and women in ministry was made famous by Billy Graham, who went to great lengths to never be alone with a woman, and has been repeated ad nauseaum across Evangelical circles. I have spent my fair share of time working in church offices and I have shriveled to the size of a pea when a male pastor has asked someone not to leave the room so he and I won’t be left alone together.

On the one hand, I appreciate the desire to establish healthy boundaries and I recognize the stain of infidelity that has streaked across the church at large and made such rules seem appealing. But, I also know that refusing to hire a woman into the ranks of leadership simply because she is she, is sexism no matter how “righteous” the excuse.

“Well, why don’t you talk to Dave Drury about it?” Dwayne offered. And I knew he was right. I knew I wanted to go straight to the top and hear what the denominational leaders had to say about this rumor.

Dave Drury is the Chief of Staff of the Wesleyan Church, and is the second in command to Dr. Joan Lyon. He has a unique perspective on the matter as a man working in support of a woman leader.

In my e-mail to Dave, I wanted to be measured. I didn’t name names. I kept all the key details redacted. I acknowledged that what I had heard was a rumor and could quite possibly be groundless, but I was interested in knowing how he and the other leaders of the Wesleyan Church might be addressing similar sentiments among their male pastors. I wrote, “Men are in the highest ranks and so how do they open the doors to women without feeling they are compromising their boundaries?  How do men and women work closely together in leadership while also creating healthy boundaries?”

Dave didn’t disappoint. Within 24 hours he had written back asking permission to cc: not only Dr. Lyon but also Russ Gunsalus, the Executive Director of the Education and Clergy Development Division.

What he wrote me not only made me proud to be a part of the Wesleyan tradition, but restored my faith in the ability of those in power to listen and respond swiftly to injustice.

Oh, and he also told me that he suspected he knew the pastor to which I was anonymously referring. (What can I say? It’s a small denomination. :-) He wrote the man directly, never mentioning my name. Dave explained, “thought I’d throw some accountability in the mix and have the confrontation now if needed.”

To be continued…

 

The Christmas Bell: A Reflection on Belief

Posted on December 15, 2014

christmas bellFrom time to time, I joke that perhaps I’m getting Alzheimers. This is only partially funny, I recognize, and not at all funny to those who have a family member with mental illness. But this joke is the only way I know to dissipate the anxiety I truly feel over my more mindless mistakes.

Take for example the time I walked right past our mini-van without seeing it. I was so certain Dwayne had taken it to work with Nathan’s stroller in the back, that I hauled Nathan out the door on my hip and walked right past the van parked in our driveway, never once SEEING it.

When Nathan and I returned from dropping Noelle off at school, I rounded the corner and stood nose to trunk with our mini-van. I was stunned. Had it been there the whole time? Had I truly walked past it, all the while mumbling and grumbling about how Dwayne had taken it to work and left me without a stroller?

I called Dwayne in a panic. “Dwayne!” I huffed down the phone. “I think I’m getting Alzheimers!  I walked right past the van today and never saw it! I thought you had taken it to work.”

Dwayne responded calmly, as if I wasn’t concluding the most devastating diagnosis for my mindlessness. “Christin, they have done studies on how people don’t see things they’re not expecting to see.  You didn’t expect to see the van in the driveway and so you simply didn’t see it.” I could almost hear his shoulders shrug over the receiver.

I took a deep breath, relieved. So there was scientific proof then. I wasn’t devolving into Alzheimers. Apparently, lots of people don’t see things right in front of their face, even things as big as a mini-van.

Just this past week, the college hosted a Christmas party for the entire faculty and staff at a renovated movie palace on the square. There were drinks and appetizers, cookies and hot chocolate, along with a special showing of the “Polar Express” for the children.

The kids and I grabbed our boxes of popcorn and sat at the very front of the balcony, the entire theater sprawled out below our feet.  We hovered in mid-air like this for the entire show, watching as the hero boy boards a steam locomotive to the North Pole. He’s unsure if he believes in Santa and he’s plagued throughout the story about whether or not he’ll hear Santa’s sleigh bells. When the moment of truth arrives, he stands in the main square of the North Pole amidst cheering elves, watching the reign deer leap and prance. He is panic-stricken to discover that he can not hear the beautiful silver bells bouncing along the reigns.

Suddenly, a single bell falls from the strap and rolls to his feet. He picks it up and shakes it next to his ear. Nothing. He shakes it again. Nothing. Fear and disappointment pinch his face. “Okay, okay,” he pants. “I believe. I believe!” He shakes the bell one more time and this time, it rings.

After the movie, the kids and I walked home through the mild winter evening. While we walked, our conversation turned to the other Christmas story: the one about Jesus and his birth. Noelle and I discussed why Jesus was born and what made his coming to Earth so special.

“Before Jesus came, people didn’t know what God was like,” she rattled on, climbing our steps.  “But then when Jesus came, he said, ‘This is what God’s like.’”

“That’s right,” I nodded, helping her and Nathan into the house and out of their coats.

She thought for a moment, her little face turned upward.

“Mommy? What if people don’t believe in God, though? What happens to them?”

My stomach dropped, as it often does when Noelle posits these larger-than-the-universe questions. How am I, with my puny non-theologian brain supposed to answer these questions? But then, I suddenly thought of the scene from “The Polar Express” with the sliver bell.

“It’s like that scene in the movie,” I said slowly, trying to feel my way along. “Where the little boy can’t hear the bell. Remember? He can’t hear it until he says he believes.” I glanced down to see if she was listening. Her little face was still, pensive. I pushed on. “Well, if people don’t believe in God, they won’t see Him.  Just like with the bell, the little boy couldn’t hear it until he believed it.”

She seemed contented with this answer, and so I pulled off her glasses, tucked her into bed and snapped off the light.

Since then, I’ve thought about my answer. Rolled it over in my mind examining it for any cracks, any faulty logic. The skeptic in me chimes in, “But isn’t choosing to believe in something, just a form of self-deception? Don’t we conjure and create what we want to see, even if it isn’t there?”

And of course, I have to acknowledge that this is true. Just as we may be capable of ignoring something as big as a mini-van, right in front of our faces, then we must equally be capable of creating a reality that isn’t true, just because we expect to see it.

And while this may certainly be true for many areas of life, I keep coming back to this one small fact: while so much in life may actually be empty driveways and broken bells, there is this one time when the mini-van was in deed its whole self in my driveway, steel and paint and glass right beside me, the edge of my sleeve whispering past its glossy surface. The fact that I didn’t expect to see it and so didn’t see it, did not change the reality that is was there, all along.

This Christmas season I’ve been thinking about believing and hearing and seeing. I’ve been mulling over the essence of Faith.  I’ve come away with this thought: sometimes, choosing to believe doesn’t have to mean self-deception; sometimes, it can mean opening our ears to a bell that has been ringing ever since the first Christmas night.

5 Questions to Ask Every Shipwrecked Young Adult

Posted on November 24, 2014

Stressed-young-adults-millennials-hold-question-mark-signsI’m in the middle of a radio tour for my new book, Crew: Finding Community When Your Dreams Crash. Out of these interviews, I’ve begun to articulate a few key points about my book, my story and my research.

The first is: Young adults are facing very real social and economic obstacles that their parents never had to face.

Secondly: How do we, as those who love a young adult, or ourselves a young adult, walk with someone who is currently shipwrecking on the rocks of adult life?

I’ve come up with a list of five questions based on my research in young adult identity development to ask every young adult struggling with the very real challenges of modern American life. These questions can help move them beyond the black and white thinking of adolescence and into the more individuated stages of self-authorship. Big thanks to Marcia Baxter Magolda’s work. Much of my research comes from her studies. You can read all about her books here.

Here are the questions:

1. What do you need right now? 

This question forces us, the companion, to stop and listen. Sometimes, we come at our young adult’s problems with all sorts of fixes, but we will never help them get anywhere as long as we are focussed on what we want to tell them. The key is to stop and listen to what they think they need.

This question offers a second perk in that it forces our young adult to reflect on their own state of being. Being able to say what they need entails a level of critical thinking and self-awareness that helps move them toward reflection and self-authorship.

2. How are you taking care of yourself right now?

Again, it is so, so important to help our young adults begin to think critically about their own stories. Sometimes, when we are shipwrecked, we are tossed around on the waves of distress and stop taking care of our most basic physical and emotional needs.

Forcing our young adults to step back and look at themselves through the lens of this question helps them to start owning their mental and physical health. From there, they can start to turn outward and solve the problems that are stacking up around them.

3. What things about your shipwreck can you control? What things are beyond your control?

Once they’ve begun to take care of themselves, now they have the mental, emotional and physical reserve to start addressing the problems, and obstacles facing them.  The next step is to come to terms with what they can control and what they can’t. Once they can break down the obstacles in this way, the overall mountain of the problem can start to look more and more manageable.

The point here, as their Good Company, is not to fix what is out of control for them, but to collaborate with them on what they can control.

4. What are you keeping as important to the “essence” of you during this shipwreck?

And here is the coup de grace of all questions. We ask our young adults what they are doing to preserve the “essence” of themselves because the entire point of being good company is to help them become Self-Authored. Marcia Baxter Magolda coined this term and has done years of studies around helping young adults learn to become self-realized adults. Some amazing books of hers to check out are: Authoring Your Life and Making Their Own Way.

5. Who can you identify as supportive partners in your Shipwreck? What are they doing that’s helping you own your own story?

Finally, no young adult can make it through their twenties and early thirties alone. While they may feel totally isolated and abandoned, this can often times be more a result of their physiological responses to difficulty and distress than actual reality.

First of all, they have you! You’re there asking them these wonderful questions, but also, they need to think critically not just about their own well-being, and self-authorship, but who they are inviting to walk with them on this journey through shipwreck to home.

Why I Chose To Make My Daughter an Outsider

Posted on October 10, 2014

Given my background as a missionary kid, I thought sending Noelle to Spanish Immersion Elementary School would be a no-brainer. I didn’t realize that in the process of helping her gain a multi-cultural experience, I’d be introducing her to some of the toughest parts of my own childhood — being the outsider.

My latest article over at NY Times, Motherlode is here.

Enjoy the read!Hola

Everything Nailed Down is Coming Loose

Posted on October 9, 2014

wood-and-nails

“I was 27 when I stopped reading the Bible for a year. I didn’t stop for the reasons you might think. I wasn’t rebelling. I wasn’t necessarily doubting my faith. I quit because my spiritual mentor told me to do so. It’s important to understand the circumstances that led to her somewhat radical piece of advice.”

This is the start of my latest article out in Wesleyan Life today. You can subscribe to Wesleyan Life and get the hard copy or go here and read it on line. My article appears on page 22. http://wesleyanlifefall14.easyviewer.net

Enjoy!

letting-go

And Nathan Walked By …

Posted on August 22, 2014

Today I arrived early to pick the kids up from school.  I’m anxious, these early days of school, to get my hands on them.

I’m hungry to hold them and listen to them talk, to touch them and make sure they’re okay.  After six hours away from them each day, imagining what they’re doing in their new classes, all those new little faces bobbing around them, all the new experiences, the new challenges of being a grade older, I want the concrete, tangible presence of their voices telling me everything I’ve missed.

I plopped myself down on the bench outside the front doors and checked my phone. Ten minutes early.

Just then, a string of little bodies wound its way down the sidewalk from the playground. They have recess right before dismissal, and I watched as the teachers lead the long line of children back to their classrooms.

I watched, attentive, wondering if Nathan’s class was in the mix.

“Are you Nathan’s mommy?” a little voice reached me. I looked to my right and spotted Allegra.  She had pulled away from the line, toward me. I smiled and nodded. Allegra and Nathan were in daycare together, and now they are both attending preschool together.

“How are you Allegra?” I asked.

“Great,” she said matter-of-factly, her big brown eyes studying me.

“Allegra, come on,” the teacher called, and Allegra stepped back into the thin stream of bodies moving past.

Suddenly he was there, right in front of me — my Nathan.

He didn’t see me.  He was transfixed instead by a leaf on the ground. He stopped, just two steps away from me, knelt down, touched the leaf, his little face a study in concentration.

The bright blue line of his sneakers creased the white cement, his plump little calves curved above his socks.  My boy. I know that hook of his nose, the purse of his lips, the smell of the skin just below his ears, the feel of his apricot hands in mine.

Breath slipped between my lips. I stopped myself from saying his name, calling out to him and sweeping him up in my arms. If I did that, the spell would be broken, the moment gone.  Besides, he needed to go into his classroom, get his bag and get ready to leave like everyone else.

Still, I wanted him to turn ever so slightly to the left, to see me sitting there, waiting for him, always waiting for him.

“Nathan, keep going,” a teacher coaxed. He stood quietly, stepped back in line and kept going. He never turned. He never saw me. He just walked by.

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