The Measure of a Priest: Racial Bias and White Privilege in The Episcopal Church

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Church Mould

The yard was the original standard adopted by the early English sovereigns as a basis of calculation. Under the historical influence of the British Empire, the term “yardstick” became associated as the ideal standard for making critical judgments about a person. Consequently, “taking the measure of a man” gained more meaning than simply assessing the amount of cloth required for making him a suit.

In many ways, the yardstick by which The Episcopal Church evaluates the suitability of would-be clergy is inextricably linked to the ideology of British colonialism. The standard for measuring candidates for ordination is subsequently biased towards Euro-centric models of education, formation, and proficiency/fluency in navigating dominant culture. As a product of colonialism and dominant culture, The Episcopal Church in the United States evaluates for whiteness in its people of color.

Several years ago, when I took the General Ordination Exams, the test writers included a question that asked for candidates to reflect on how The Episcopal Church was doing with regard to racism within the Church. I heard later from a member of the examining board how surprised they were by the scathing critiques that answered that question. Nothing has changed since then, because the way the Church prepares and evaluates for pastoral competencies is gravely culturally biased. It has been my personal experience that every single person of color and white ally intending to work in ministry with communities of color is at some point asked by evaluators if they believe they are “sufficiently Anglican.”

For example, anything other than a prayer life centralizing the Book of Common Prayer is suspect.  In my case, all it took for a Commission on Ministry to be concerned was when I shared that I incorporate my indigenous practices of burning sacred herbs and indigenous traditions of interacting with nature as important aspects of my spiritual practice and formation.  Within a diocese with a history of Native missions, this may not have been such a concern since such a context is generally more cross cultural, with education and information flowing in both directions. However, I am an “urban Native,” and my Commission on Ministry was primarily driven by white liberalism rather than by any real knowledge of or interest in my Native culture.  I was well aware that it was my burden to measure up and not their burden to alter their standard of measure.

Most recently, there has been a growing trend in The Episcopal Church in the United States to use the curriculum of the Iona Center as a standard of education as an option for local training for postulants seeking ordination. The local adaptation of the Iona material used in the Diocese of Olympia has taken the form of  “The Iona Olympia School” which is self-described as “a three-year program with a rigorous, curriculum (comprised of textbooks, videos, discussion and activities, and field study) provided by the Iona Institute of the Seminary of the Southwest.” It follows “a traditional school calendar year, beginning in September” and expects paid tuition as well as participation in large blocks of time away from home, work, and family.

None of these expectations is realistic for the majority of people of color, particularly Native people. Course content is not adapted for the indigenous context or context of the communities of color with regard to types of learning and the application of experience. Ultimately, those who undertake local option training are not expected to be paid much if at all once they are ordained – being mostly either deacons or people of color who may become priests.

The argument may be that (by setting “rigorous curriculum” that includes the Euro-centric history of the Church and its subsequent traditions of worship and governance) those who graduate from local training will not be considered second-class clergy. What standard has established that concern in the first place and who yet holds that standard of expectation? White people? Western academics? Bishops? General Convention? People in the pews? All of the above?

The General Board of Examining Chaplains in The Episcopal Church is charged with creating ordination exams that test for the seven canonical areas of study as ascribed by Canons of the Church. These areas of desired proficiency include: 1) The Holy Scriptures, 2) Church History, 3) Christian Theology, 4) Christian Ethics and Moral Theology, 5) Studies in contemporary society (i.e. familiarity with minority groups), 6) Liturgics and Church Music, and 7) the Theory and Practice of Ministry.

Informing each of these canonical areas of study is a massive amount of dominant culture history, perspective, and assumption that yardstick people into seemingly “standard” units of measure. The current ordination process is not benign, and its colonial nature is nowhere more apparent than in how it forms its people of color as leaders for the church. Any training program that does not address the academic areas from a dominant culture perspective towards overlaying a dominant culture identity is deemed little more than finger painting. The “Anglican” in Anglican identity is at its core white history and white identity.

The pedagogy of the dominant culture Church seems to need to shape the foreign into the friendly and familiar, rather than taking the risk of losing a Euro-centric identity. A genuine adult learner approach to leadership formation assumes diversity in experience, perspective, and practice. Therefore, evaluators must be tasked with their own formation before becoming evaluators – they must care about postulants and candidates as people and not as potential interchangeable widgets within the machinations of the institution. Candidates should not be in the position of trying to fulfill the evaluator’s own unexamined cultural biases and assumptions.

How the Church delivers spiritual care and organizational development will depend on genuinely collaborative efforts, not just patronizing gestures of tolerance. Barriers between levels of the diocesan structure need to be replaced with semi-permeable organizational membranes through which education, formation, and cultural influence can flow in both directions. Our candidates for ordination are not empty vessels to be filled with colonized history and identity; they are unique peers, partners, colleagues, and friends who should be joining a community already committed to learning new perspectives and willing to adapt structures and expectations to reflect new and emerging truths. Traditions are not immutable and timeless or universal things – rather, tradition is best understood as the adaptive mechanism within culture that provides the basis for creative change.

There is more than one way to form a leader, just as there is more than one way to be a church within the Church. Our Church faces many challenges, and I believe that our people of color hold adaptive strategies worthy of our collective attention – they are, after all, experts in having to adapt to ways and methods not their own. It is beyond time for the dominant culture Church to learn to do the same.

Diversity & Inclusion: The Holy Covenant of Faithful Community

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Capernaum - Many Rooms

House Ruins in Capernaum, Israel – in the foreground is an example of a home with added rooms (Photo taken by the author in 2017)

 John 14:1-6 
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

The Gospel of John came into its current form between 90 AD and 110 AD. The historical context of time and place in which this gospel emerged helped shape the discourses and themes contained within it. Understanding the socio-cultural environment can help translate the use of symbols and metaphors employed by the gospel’s author in order to communicate the intended messages and teachings. This holistic approach underscores that it is not possible to understand any one passage from John’s gospel without a consideration of the way everything contained within the gospel is interrelated, internally consistent, and intentionally dialogical in construct.

The author whom Christian tradition names as “John” (although there is evidence indicating several contributors over time) is intimately familiar with the scriptures and symbol system of the Jewish faith, culture, and history. John is also familiar with non-Jewish sources of Greek philosophers and Greco-Roman mystery cults. By weaving together themes that were influential among the diverse populations of the Mediterranean, John presents an interpretation of Jesus that communicates common themes that would have been comprehensible and attractive to a wide-range of cultures and belief systems extant in the author’s time and place.

John is writing for a diverse Christian community experiencing a significant shift in communal identity as related to but independent of Jewish community and identity. The symbols and imagery evoked in the gospel open up the early Christian worldview to thoughts and influences beyond the Hebrew lexicon of stories and symbols representing the Israelite understanding of the Messiah. For John, the Messiah invites spiritual union between Christ and the individual that is unmediated and free-of-charge. This spiritual union is contrasted to the communal covenant with God requiring the fee-based mediation of Jewish priests and interpretation by Jewish teachers who have the exclusive cultural authority to do so. Liberating one’s relationship with the Messiah from Jewish mediation and interpretation is why John contrasts Christian belief from Judaism as it was identified in Judah, even utilizing messianic concepts from the Samaritan Jewish tradition.

For John, the importance of the innovation of a personal relationship with Christ is why the passage of John 14:1-6 is significantly illuminated when it is viewed in light of John 2:1-11, the wedding at Cana. I believe that that the symbolic language employed in the depiction of the wedding at Cana is a storyline that is completed in the symbolic language of Christ going to prepare a place in his Father’s house for those he will bring to where he is going.

Firstly, in the marriage traditions of the ancient Israelites, the father of the groom often selected a bride (kallah) for his son, as did Abraham for his son Isaac (Genesis 24:1-4). The consent of the bride-to-be is important. For example, Rebecca was asked if she agreed to go back with Abraham’s servant to marry Abraham’s son, Isaac, and she went willingly (Genesis 24:57–59). Mutual agreement was required for a valid marriage contract.

John’s gospel uses the image of marriage at the wedding of Cana as the central image of the nature of the believer’s relationship with Christ – namely, a spiritual, intimate, and mutual union. Further, the illustration of water turned to wine at the wedding feast encodes the early Christian teaching coupled frequently in John’s gospel, linking baptism to the pascal feast – both are celebrations and occasions of our spiritual union with Christ. The symbol of wine employed in the joyful experience of a wedding is linked to the wine used in the Last Supper, specifically the cup of wine reserved for after the meal which is traditionally associated with the joyful expectation of the arrival of the Messiah.

The link between the waters of baptism and the wine representing Christ’s sacrifice can be found in the traditional preparation for the Jewish betrothal ceremony. Namely, the bride (kallah) and groom (chatan) are separately immersed in water in a ritual of mikvah, which is symbolic of spiritual cleansing. For John, Jesus has already been immersed (baptized) by John the Baptist in the waters of mikvah at the Jordan River, in preparation for Christ’s union with his Beloved, which is each of us. From John’s use of symbols, the community is to understand that baptism serves a similar purpose.

After the immersion in the mikvah, the betrothed couple enters the huppah (marriage canopy)—symbolic of a new household being planned, to establish a binding contract. Within the symbol of home, the groom would give the bride a valuable object such as a ring, and lastly a cup of wine was customarily shared to seal their covenant vows.

After the betrothal ceremony, the bride returned to her mother’s house, while the groom departed to his father’s house. This period of separation lasted about a year, providing time for the groom to add additional rooms to his patrilineal household in order for him to prepare for welcoming his bride into the household of his father. Although the bride knew to expect her groom after about a year, she did not know the exact day or hour. He could come earlier or later than was expected. For this reason, the bride kept her oil lamps ready at all times, just in case the groom came in the night (Matthew 25:1-13). It was the father of the groom who gave final approval for the time for him to return to collect his bride.

When the time came, the bridal procession was led by the sounding of the shofar to the home he had prepared for her. The final step of the wedding tradition is called nissuin (to take), a word that comes from naso, which means to lift up. At this time, the groom, with much noise, fanfare and romance, carried the bride onto the property of his father’s home. Once again, the bride and groom would enter a huppah, recite a blessing over the wine (a symbol of joy), and finalize their vows. Now in their home, the bride and groom lived out their covenant of marriage – the traditional Jewish version of “and they lived happily ever after.”

In her book, “Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas,” Elaine Pagels suggests that John’s gospel is a direct response to the emerging Christology of the community that gathered around Thomas, which is why John portrays Thomas as having a theologically challenged Christology. Now as then, different Christian communities have different
understandings of Jesus and can hold conflicting beliefs of how to interpret Jesus and the stories that are our collective legacy about him.

While both the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas value the individual’s relationship with Christ, The Gospel of John and its basic tenets seem to be in direct opposition to Thomas. John says that he writes “so that you may believe, and believing may have life in [Jesus’] name.” Thomas’s gospel, however, encourages us not so much to believe in Jesus, as John says, as to seek to know God through one’s own, divinely given capacity, since all are created in the image of God. The Gospel of John speaks from a multivalent symbol system in which there are “rooms” for each person to have a unique relationship with Christ but which are also an interconnected part of the common household of the Father. The Gospel of John, therefore, provides a foundation for a unified church, which the Gospel of Thomas, with its emphasis on each person’s search for God, did/does not.

For the author of the Gospel of John, the belief that Jesus is the Messiah is sufficient common ground for unity. Each believer is a bride to Jesus the groom, expressed and experienced through Baptism and communion. The house of Christ’s Father has many rooms, because Christ has prepared a place for each person that the Father has approved or “given to him.” When John reports Thomas asking, “How do we know where you are going?” the question represents the emphasis John perceives in the Thomasine community regarding the path of gnosis, which appears to focus on secret knowledge held by the few over belief that makes God readily accessible to all. The response given by Jesus, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” emphasizes John’s teaching on the primacy of belief. In the Gospel of John, a community of believers is bonded together through a shared belief that Jesus is the Messiah, while also making room for the validity of individual relationship with God through a shared and public belief.

For the author of the Gospel of John, the Christian community for whom the author is writing is diverse, informed by mystery traditions and covenant traditions, populated with peoples drawn from multiple faith traditions, histories, and cultures indicative of the Roman Empire. What they hold in common is a desire for liberation from tenants of the belief systems influential in their time (Jewish and Roman) that restrained them from practicing social and spiritual equality before God and with one another. Every individual in the community of the faithful has free and equal access to God, and the way to that access is by agreeing to enter a spiritual union with Christ that while mystical is not at all mysterious, and while binding is not legalistic in nature but rather a mutual commitment to love one another. Personal love for God is expressed in one’s commitment to live together in community, as represented by the many rooms in the Father’s unified house.

Throughout the generations of the church, ideas of how to achieve unity amidst our Christian diversity has been often elusive. We identify instruments or statements with which we are expected to agree, but such relationships seem always to be conditional. Alternatively, in the Gospel of John, we are all of us brides in love with the same groom, and if we are truly in love with God, then our hearts ought not to be troubled – for truthfully, in our Father’s house, there are many rooms. Within an incarnational theology of the Body of Christ — the church — the rooms are ours to build for one another. For John, the concluding line, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” is not exclusionary. Rather, the symbols used throughout the gospel convey that everyone can have access to God, if they simply believe in the love that Christ has for them and live by the wide embrace of that covenant for all people.

Life On Earth vs. Death by Patriarchy

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Singing Bird

Top Song Birds in America – Song Sparrow photographed by Bill Leman

In the mid-1940s, environmentalist Rachel Carson became concerned about the broad use of synthetic pesticides in the United States. Many synthetic pesticides had been developed through the military funding of science following World War II, and Carson’s friends living on Long Island noticed that while the local application of DDT was killing insects, it was also killing birds.

Because of the impact on bird populations, the Audubon Naturalist Society actively opposed chemical spraying programs and recruited Carson to help publicize the U.S. government’s spraying practices and related research. Carson then began a four-year project gathering examples of environmental damage attributed to DDT. By the end of her research, she had investigated hundreds of individual incidents of pesticide exposure and the resulting human sickness and ecological damage. Her conclusions were published in 1962 as the book entitled “Silent Spring,” a metaphorical title suggesting a bleak future for the entirety of the natural world, not only the literal predicted absence of birdsong.

The development of chemical and herbicidal warfare gave rise to the domestic application of the same chemicals by the corporations that developed them. On September 20, 2016, top executives from Bayer, Monsanto, DuPont, Dow Chemical, and Syngenta testified before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington D.C. asking federal regulators to approve mega-mergers between the corporations, which have today fundamentally reorganized global agriculture. (Executives from the sixth company involved in the consolidation, China National Chemical Corp., declined an invitation to appear at the hearing.)

The worldview that allows for and supports the exploitation of natural resources is linked with patriarchal socio-cultural systems that are characterized by competition for land, the control of women and children, and subjugating peoples of other cultures considered to be threatening to nationalistic concepts of racial and biological purity. Social power within patriarchal systems is all about control – of men and women, of resources, of economies, of leaderships, and of nature itself. The patriarchal system is preoccupied with structures of dominance and submission, a dynamic that has put both human societies and Earth’s ecosystems in peril.

Carolyn Merchant is an American ecofeminist philosopher and historian of science. She is most famous for her theory presented in her book, “The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution” (1980), in which she identifies the Enlightenment as the period when science began to objectify nature as an inert resource for exploitation that needed to be forcibly dissected in order to be made to give up its riches and power. Her book and theory continue to be relevant in today’s Anthropocene era of globalization and global climate change. I highly recommend Merchant’s book, and she is currently Professor of Environmental History, Philosophy, and Ethics at UC Berkeley.

Just a few days ago, I read an article by Catwhipple in “The Circle” (an online magazine for Native American news and arts).  The article, Sex, Fossil Fuels, and Matriarchal Economics, connects the dots between exploitation of the environment by the oil industry with the phenomenon of missing and murdered indigenous women plaguing the United States and Canada.

Catwhipple writes:

The man camps and the consistent violence against Native women which occurs at the hands of the fossil fuels industry is a huge issue, and it’s also the metaphor. “Let me shove this pipeline down your throat”. That’s basically what the MN PUC [Minnesota Public Utilities Commission] just said to Native people, with the approval of the permits for Enbridge’s Line 3. That’s what $11 million worth of lobbying will buy you in Minnesota. The rape of the north and the rape of Native women. How much more graphic than “let me shove this down your throat…” do I have to be?  Consent is consent. Consent is about sex and consent is about pipelines and megaprojects. In the old days, the company men and their governments used to just rape and pillage. That was how it went. It’s not supposed to be those days now.

Sadly, most people realize that the days of colonialism, racism, and patriarchy remain a powerful influence. However, the current national and global struggles may indicate the last stand of a system that perceives its immanent demise.  The truth behind climate change is that either our current socio-cultural system is radically transformed or this planet will die by our collective hand.

Affecting many nations, men and women who identify with the toxic system of patriarchal authority and privilege have girded their collective loins today for what seems to be a 12th hour stand against those who don’t see nature or women as ultimately expendable.  Women and nature are inextricably linked within the patriarchal worldview, which long has been the dominant system informing resource exploitation and the oppression of peoples. What once may have contributed to the aggressive survival of our species is now condemning all other species to death, along with our own.

The origin of the term ecofeminism is attributed the French writer Françoise d’Eaubonne in her book “Le Féminisme ou la Mort” (1974). Ecofeminist theory posits that a feminist perspective of ecology does not place women in the dominant position of power, but rather calls for an egalitarian society in which there is no one dominant group.

As d’Eaubonne defines the approach, ecofeminism relates to the oppression and domination of all marginalized groups (women, people of color, children, the poor) to the oppression and domination of nature (animals, land, water, air, etc.). The author argues that oppression, domination, exploitation, and colonization from the Western patriarchal society has directly caused irreversible environmental damage.  With the rate of species extinction growing exponentially with each successive generation of humans, the impact of human habitation has had a catastrophic impact on every habitat. As ecofeminism makes clear, any positive change of course requires an accompanying change of the basic socio-cultural structures and economic practices informed by the patriarchal influences in many developed nations.

Socially conservative and militant expressions of the Abrahamic faiths in particular need to be challenged. The development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam each substantively arose within patriarchal societies as ideologies under-girding and legitimating the subjugation of women that accompanied the conquering of lands, including the habitats with all the species and resources therein.

Progressive Christian theologians and writers have long championed a rediscovery or socio-cultural archaeology of early Christian belief and context. We frame an understanding of the ministry and teaching of Jesus that emphasizes the transformational nature of love for one’s neighbor, care of community, and liberation from systems of oppression. The resistance to forces of empire calls for the social movement away from patriarchal structures and norms to those that emphasizes human equality, care of creation as a vital imperative, equitable economy, and governing principles that assure the same.

Recently, the current United States administration’s opposition to abortion has led to the watering-down of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning rape as a weapon of war and reaffirming the UN’s opposition to sexual violence. However, the US – along with China and Russia – insisted on removing all references to women’s sexual and reproductive health or else the three countries would veto the resolution.

The US administration opposed all mentions of reproductive health on the grounds that health services for women victimized by rape during times of war implied support for abortion. The administration has taken measures to avoid supporting efforts and organizations that provide abortion services to women, including victims of rape.

CNN reported that the US move against the UN resolution is “just another expression of the contempt that this administration has for women’s rights and reproductive health and rights,” said Stacie Murphy, Director of Congressional Relations at Population Connection Action Fund. “It’s certainly typical of this administration when it comes to anything having to do with reproductive rights, sexual assault,” Murphy said.

The current administration of the United States is a casebook example of how the patriarchal worldview – supported in this instance by a conservative Christian belief system – is operating at this moment and in our generation to obliterate those voices, lives, and landscapes most affected by its consequences. Violence against women is not only aided and abetted, it is sanctioned and frequently legislated.

Women are not the only one’s negatively impacted and subjugated within patriarchal systems. Patriarchal norms place men at risk in terms of their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Emerging literature on toxic masculinity illuminates our country’s current struggles with gun violence, the prison industry, violence towards women, and racism – just to name a few examples.

A recent article in the New York Times by Wil S. Hylton describes how as a young man he was influenced by the behavioral modelling of a male cousin. The author was drawn to cousin’s strength, his bravado, his violence until his cousin physically assaulted him, placing his life in jeopardy. As Hylton shares his story, we learn how the episode forced him to come to terms with how that idea of masculinity poisoned his cousin’s life and his own. Reading Hylton’s story is like watching someone, with their last breath after a harrowing climb, plant a flag in the top of an unfathomable cultural iceberg. It’s chilling, and no man should have to endure it, but Hylton makes us have to look.

Jared Yates Sexton has written about the challenges that men have to “detoxify their masculinity” in his newly released book, “The Man They Wanted Me to Be: Toxic Masculinity and the Crisis of Our Own Making.” Sexton addresses toxic masculinity as, “An especially potent and toxic system of power and control that has subjugated women and minorities for generations via methodical and organized actions powered by misogyny and racism, a unique brand of maleness that has held sway over the United States of America since before its founding.”

Perhaps, the results of our 2016 national election and the resulting societal destruction over the subsequent years have helped to illuminate the psychology behind patriarchy. Additional social factors such as the unrelenting phenomenon of mass shootings in schools and in places of worship are social symptoms of a common cause affecting our entire national life and role on the world stage.

Our current administration has made legislative incursion into our national parks, lands previously set aside as wilderness areas, and treaty lands held by Native American communities.  The language of climate change has been deleted from government websites and reports, while traditional energy corporations continue dangerous resource extraction methods and alternative energy resources are resisted.  Incursions have been made into legislating control over women’s bodies, depriving LGBTQ persons of basic benefits and employment, consolidating control over natural resources, jeopardizing long-standing peace negotiations and historical alliances, criminalizing refugees, and protecting gun rights ownership over the rights of children.

The voices of scientists, physicians, ecologists, progressive theologians, journalists, park rangers, Native leaders, human rights advocates, international representatives working for peace and social justice – all of these voices are being vilified by those invested in preserving the worldview that is now killing all of us and all of life on earth. We must keep speaking, writing, resisting, and insisting on justice and equity for all and for Nature herself.

The hateful movement of conquer and divide must be replaced with the loving movement of resist and unite. We are in the midst of a critical historical moment of social transformation, and we must be willing to take the reins of our social direction and not accept the bit being forced upon us by those who claim that life is sacred when all their actions speak otherwise. We must strive beside one another for the change that brings greater justice to all people as well as to our waterways, lands, and air.

The desperate ultimate landscape presented in Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” has haunted my fears since I was a child and first encountered her prophetic work. I need the birds to sing, which is why I pledge to them every morning – as they greet the rising sun –  that I will do all that I can so that their song will not be lost, that every spring will hold their voices of hope, endurance, and perseverance. If they can speak with such resolve, so must I –  and so must we all.

“There Was a Little Girl”

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Longfellow & Daughter

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his daughter, Edith, ca. 1868 / G. P. A. (George Peter Alexander) Healy, photographer

 

Much quality ink has been spilled in multiple academic fields concerning gender studies.

Research in the areas of world history, anthropology, literature, ecology, human sexuality, business leadership, religious studies, neurological sciences, and so many more have explored the millennia-long phenomenon of the oppression of the feminine and the suppression of women’s experience.

There are always the notable exceptions of examples of women’s empowerment in certain minority cultures or within societal moments in time. In the same way, there is always the revealed truth that women are frequently enculturated participants in enabling the patriarchal torture and abuse of their own daughters and sisters.

Additionally, there are those men in various places and times who are faithful allies in the struggle for women’s equality, who somehow – in spite of being subjected to the forces of patriarchal formation inflicted upon them –believe that women are people and that “man” is not the default for societal preferment or even the best moniker for the human species.

The most recent cultural manifestation of our continuing gender dialog has emerged in the conceptual language of “toxic masculinity” and “fragile masculinity.”  The former refers to unhealthy male empowerment that manifest as violence, including violence towards women (or patriarchal conceptions of the feminine), while the latter refers to unhealthy emotional responses to societal challenges to and critique of toxic masculinity.

The newest television advertisement for Gillette products depicted a series of instances in which men are seen intervening in the sexual abuse, bullying, or marginalization of others. [The ad can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koPmuEyP3a0%5D  Newly released during the recent Super Bowl, the ad campaign caused men informed by toxic masculinity to enter into the arena of social media commentary as though they were contestants in a communication version of WrestleMania.

Myriad comment strings foamed profusely with written hyper masculine spittle and smack. Their emotionally violent response – bullying, alienating, sexualizing Gillette’s ad and message – proved the point that Gillette was making. As the commercial stated, for men to be their best, men need to do more to be better people. A close facial shave is insufficient.

I would add that it’s vital to society and to men’s wellbeing that men need to be emotionally healthier in general.  Sadly, the concepts of masculinity and femininity within traditional patriarchal expectations of men and women don’t make it easy for anyone living within patriarchal culture (the current dominant culture) to become personally and socially healthy.  It’s an uphill, cold, muddy slog for all of us.

Various cutting edge corporate models and psychological profiles of leadership categorize me as an alpha female with a shared leadership style and commitment to empowering every voice, encouraging the contribution of diverse experience and perspectives. Evaluations conclude that I am a leader with multiple and broad leadership strengths that include competence, confidence, resilience, and grit. None of those qualities are associated with the feminine within patriarchal societal gender expectations. All of those qualities are required for leading organizations through the current global and national changes our world is currently experiencing.

The very premise of how we understand the role of what has constituted our social institutions for multiple generations is undergoing radical and rapid change. The tectonic plates of former international alliances, former tenets of religious belief, and former economic structures are all heaving under the socio-cultural pressures to shift from a global patriarchal worldview to one in which all playing fields are made level.

Throughout this global shift, the world that is passing away will recognize its demise in the rising influence of what it is not: of what is not traditionally masculine, what is not male, what is not white, what is not heterosexual, and in what is not resource wealthy.  The dying patriarchal culture will respond with what it has always relied upon to keep both men and women of all types in thrall – violence. That violence must not be tolerated, and it must not be met with the same.

Every society has the key within it to ending its own violence. In the case of a democratic society, that key is the vote. However, the key can only be turned by harnessing the anger (unrealized hope) of its citizens. Right now in the United States, influencers both within and outside of our borders are trying to direct and influence our anger by bending it towards one another, shifting our focus away from our national government –  a leadership that embodies traditional patriarchal tenets at every possible level.

Psychological warfare is an old game, but with the rise of social media it has become easier to influence large portions of the population within short amounts of time. Toxic masculinity is at the global controls of this mind game, and we all must be “woke” to its influence and impact, as well as its goal of self preservation.

I had a recent experience in my professional life that reminded me anew that I am an alpha female leader helping to shift the global tectonic plates within the patriarchal institution in which I work. Once again, I had the experience of the reality that women in leadership are not rewarded for the same attributes that are rewarded in men, which is an ongoing frustration for me.

Since the most recent reminder, I have been struggling with my feelings of anger (unrealized hope) as well as the subsequent guilt of how my anger has slipped out sideways to cause harm in my personal relationships and work over the past few days. For a man, this is simply considered to be career stress. For a woman, it is a personal failing. An angry woman plays into the pejorative judgment of patriarchy, even though anger in men is considered normative when their expectations, needs or hopes are not met.

Yesterday, I remembered a couplet from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), “When she was good, She was very, very good, And when she was bad she was horrid.”

You see, within the gender norms of patriarchal culture, women and girls are not permitted to be angry and are expected to sublimate their anger (sit on it), which can cause as many problems as when men are permitted to be as angry as they feel by expressing that feeling through violent action. Neither extreme is personally or socially healthy.

Longfellow’s poem is entitled, “There Was a Little Girl. Longfellow’s son, Earnest, recalled that his father composed and sang the poem while pacing back and forth with Edith [his daughter], then a baby, in his arms. Here is the full version of the poem:

There was a little girl,
And she had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good
She was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.

One day she went upstairs,
When her parents, unawares,
In the kitchen were occupied with meals,
And she stood upon her head
In her little trundle-bed,
And then began hooraying with her heels.

Her mother heard the noise,
And she thought it was the boys
A-playing at a combat in the attic;
But when she climbed the stair,
And found Jemima* there,
She took and she did spank her most emphatic.

Yes, that’s right. The little girl is punished by her mother for expressing her frustration at her needs being ignored, while her brothers are expected to play war. That’s patriarchal culture in a nutshell.

The fact that the poem is composed during a moment in which Longfellow is apparently engaged in a nurturing act towards his daughter is rather akin to the gas lighting indicative of patriarchal behavior towards women – indoctrinating girls from an early age to perceive and receive oppressive and abusive messaging as loving action from a male. And gosh-golly, who could ever dare to judge Longfellow harshly – he was and is known as a great man and artist. Therein lies the trouble of the past and current age.

Men and women of every culture, nation, and generation are not passive products of their time and circumstance. Longfellow doesn’t get a pass in 1853 when Edith was born and neither does the President of the United States in 2019 when I’m an American citizen. People make choices in every generation. Resistance and persistence are not newly invented cries against the injustice and illness of patriarchy. These words of psychological and social wellness have been rediscovered and unearthed for our time. They should be uttered like a charm against disease, as a mantra of societal healing and global transformation.

My own promise is that I will continue to make noise no matter what the punishment, to work to change structures, and to give voice to my experiences so that they do not live harmfully within me or arise to cause harm in the very relationships that are dearest to me. I can be better, and sharing all this in a constructive way helps me achieve the health that I want for myself and to encourage for all.

To be better as a society and within a dramatically shifting world is something we can only achieve through healthy communication and commitment to being in relationship with one another, within our nation, and within our international alliances. At this epoch in the life of the world, it’s not about a having a close shave. It’s about whether we live or die. We cannot allow anyone to keep us from one another (domestic or foreign) in order to achieve greater mutual human understanding.

We are all people. We must not neglect one another’s needs. We must not allow violence to go without intervention. We must be awake to the changing world around us and find courage in one another so that in our day we can realize the hope that has been longed for by many peoples throughout many cultures, disciplines, and centuries – to be the best we can be – together.

 

*[Note: The pseudonym reference of “Jemima” in Longfellow’s poem refers to one of the daughters of the biblical patriarch, Job; Jemima was valued for her beauty].

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A Letter from John the Baptist to the Government Administration in Washington DC

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John the Baptist 3

Advent III – Sunday, December 16, 2018

Dear Brood of Vipers,

What do you think you’re doing? Are you ready to reap what you have sewn? It would be better for you if you had rather grown non-GMO fruits than made your money by investing in environmentally hazardous chemicals and toxic methods of mineral extraction and fossil fuels.  If you think that you are safe from the wrath of future generations, you should probably be aware that your care in your old age is entirely in their hands. If you do not invest in them, they will owe you nothing.  They will name their ancestors as only those who truly cared for them. The arrogant and self-centered are a dime a dozen and are easy to fire, while those who truly serve the people know that they nurture those who are not yet born and whom they may never meet but by so doing will themselves be honored forever.

Those who belong to the 1% are those who must learn to live with less, not those whom they would seek to deprive. Stop stealing what belongs to the people for all generations – clean water, national park land, entire species of animals, sustainable employment, just wages, healthcare, and even good health itself. You tax those who bear the greatest economic burden of your inflated prices – stop it! You give tax money to those who have far more than they need – stop it!  You build and populate prisons with minorities whom you have provided no viable alternative or route to human dignity – stop it! When they raise their voices and not weapons, you threaten the people with the same weapons you have created for fighting in foreign wars – these are your citizens – stop it!  You claim divine blessing and flaunt your so-called piety, dressing up your misdeeds within the robes of a corrupted belief – stop it!

As children are taught when they are very young, you must learn to share. You must be taught anew and learn well that you belong to a common God, a singular Spirit that binds you into one family called humanity. You must change your ways from fighting for an empire to cultivating common ground.

Well you may wonder, “Who does this person think they are who presumes to teach us and tell us what to do?” Your actions have already told me that you think that I am worth nothing. And you are right – not because I have no value, but because there is One who exists that is of greater worth than any of us. Neither you or I are worthy of his notice, yet he notices everything and forgets nothing and no one. I can’t harm you, nor would I want to do so even if I could.  No. Violence is your way, not mine and not his.

Do you know what Baptism is?  A little water, a dab of sacred oil?  These are only small signs, human gestures pointing only faintly to an immense reality far more powerful than anything you can do from your vantage point of human authority. Compared to one who was and is and is to be, you are as chaff that will be blown away on the winds of change. Baptism is a heritage of revolution from generation to generation. For, my friends, change is coming, and it will swallow you up whole. The people who are even now rising will be as a resurrection of hope to the world.  The fire of their love for one another and for all Creation will consume your petty greed and will set right all your common thievery and will till under the ground of your wars to plant a New Earth and new ways of being together that will bring life to all people.

So, prepare for your end, you Vipers. The poison of your work has met its healer, and only those whose action is illness and whose intent is death will know fear. Love is coming and is already here, dwelling as the flame of the Spirit within the hearts of those who champion the poor, the stranger, the victims of injustice. These are the truly Baptized, those who bring a revolution of Peace for all Creation.  If you do not change your hearts, you will not have the ability to enter into a better world – and that is your choice and your responsibility, not God’s.

Love,

John

Families Belong Together

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I was invited to be a keynote speaker at the “Families Belong Together” rally and march at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, WA. This gathering was one of 750 similar gatherings held around our nation today, protesting recent actions taken by the current administration separating children from their parents upon crossing the border and the reality that there are no mechanisms in place for reuniting them.

This is the text of the speech that I gave.

Families Belong Together, Everett, June 20, 2018

Wherever you are on your faith journey, whatever your philosophy, or your approach to life, those who represent organized religion are duty bound to our societies to speak out and speak up when the values of our faith are misrepresented; when our values are manipulated to justify crimes against humanity; or when our values are used to abuse adults and children. The sacred texts of our faith – of the Abrahamic faiths – should not be used as a cudgel with which to beat down God’s gift of the glorious and free human spirit.

Jeff Sessions does not speak for us.

You need to hear from faith leaders like me that for more than a century The Episcopal Church (along with many other traditions of Christian faith) has been engaged in the ministry of welcoming immigrants, walking with them as they begin their new lives in our communities and advocating for immigration policies that protect families from separation, offer meaningful access to citizenship, and by our Baptismal Covenant serve to respect the dignity of every human being.

Our Presiding Bishop, The Most Reverend Michael Curry, preached of the socially transformative power of Love during his sermon at the Royal Wedding of Harry and Megan in Windsor, England in May. He didn’t speak of love just because it was a wedding – he preaches of love every single time he preaches. Love has the power to unite people across any divide of history or society. In so doing, love make societies stronger and turns strangers into neighbors who care about one another. Love can also make diverse peoples into family. As it our priests say after uniting two people in marriage, “What God has joined together, let no one put asunder.”

We believe that the same principle applies to the incarnation of love in the diverse expression of families – whether bound by blood, by vows of commitment, by adoption or by the recognition of kindred spirits.

We affirm the family as a foundational societal structure to support human community, and we understand the household as an estate blessed by God. The security of the family provides critical mental, physical and emotional support to the development and wellbeing of children. Our congregations and immigration and refugee agencies serve many migrant families that have recently arrived in the United States. Leaving their communities is often the only option they have to provide safety for their children and protect them from harm.

Tearing children away from parents, who have made a dangerous journey out of circumstances of certain death in order to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is morally and ethically reprehensible. It is unnecessarily bullying, cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children.

As people of faith, our obligation is first and foremost to the vulnerable, especially to children. In this moment of history, I believe that we are called by God to protect them from being punished by forces of discrimination and racism in our country and inculcated in the policies of the current administration.

Therefore, informed by our faith, we call on our nation to live up to its highest ideals and most deeply held values, and we call on Congress to take action to protect families and children and to formulate a comprehensive immigration policy that is moral and consistent and that allows immigrants who want to contribute to this country the chance to do so.

This nation was founded upon the principle of liberty for all, it has been forged by the hands, hearts and minds of diverse peoples. Our diversity is our greatest strength; we must rise up to insist from our government and from ourselves a shared commitment to honoring the dignity and value of all people.

For those of us who adhere to the principles of radical equality and the unconditional love of God taught through the healing ministry Jesus Christ, our Christian values are at stake. Humane and loving care for the stranger, the alien, and the foreigner is considered a sacred duty and moral value for those who would follow the way of God. In his parable of the last judgment, Jesus commended those who welcomed the stranger and condemned those who did not (Matthew 25:35 & 25:43). This teaching of Jesus was based on the law of Moses that tells the people of God: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-35).

Just as Christ and the first century Christians stood against the violent forces of Empire that separated peoples into the wealthy, by virtue of injustice, or into the oppressed, by virtue of moral violence, we in our time are also called to stand against the cultural currencies of hatred, racism and greed. We will do so not by returning violence with violence – but rather by incarnating into this world what the alternative can and should be and what we dream together that we will create.

The Kingdom of Heaven – or however you conceive a just and ethical society – is not intended to be a comforting myth of some far off time or place. Rather, it is ours to create in every place and time, and in every generation, through actions of challenging injustice, healing the wounded and the broken hearted, feeding the hungry, and rejoicing in the beauty and strength of the diversity that God has made on this good Earth. We must – each of us – extend to one another the inestimable gift of human love that can truly create peace on Earth for all peoples.

We must today stand with those fleeing from violence and must not quietly abide the cruelty of children being separated from their parents, whose lives will be impacted forever by such action. There is no version of Christianity that can truly be called a Christian faith that permits or advocates the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual harm against God’s children.

To those who would dare quote Scripture to justify hatred, violence and rejection of the stranger, we say, “Separate Church from State, not children from their families!”

We who are willing to follow Christ to the service of love in the face of an oppressive and unjust Empire must bring the ministries of healing and justice into our time and place for building up the kingdom of peace on Earth, as a place for all peoples. We must insist on a nation and a government that truly reflects the best of our spiritual and moral values as people of diverse faiths and as citizens of these United States, a country of liberty for all who come to these blessed shores.