Am I? I don’t know. Am I? Let me see…

Not too long ago I took an assessment called the Intercultural Development Inventory, or the IDI.

I did it because I’m involved with a group that wanted to assess the group’s sensitivity to intercultural concerns. I wouldn’t have done this all on my own, and I appreciate someone else paying for me to figure out how I am doing when it comes to intercultural interaction and concerns.  After all, intercultural awareness is a part of my counseling continuing education every two years, and I am supposed to be sensitive to intercultural issues so that I can be a counselor who is fully capable of serving people from different cultures. 

I thought I was doing great…better than most, even.

I have to admit that the results given to my group as a whole indicate that yes, I actually am doing great, better than most, even.

Then I was a silly girl and decided to talk to the evaluator about my individual results.

You know, the whole group of us took this inventory, and we were not identified individually when it came to the group’s results.

I was not surprised to find that our group wanted people of diverse cultures to deny their differences, conform to the majority view of things, and move towards the cultural center when it comes to ideology, theology, and personal ways of being. We want conformity because our church would like our clergy to be of one mind, or of one theology (way of thinking about God) and of one way of expressing themselves.  Not that this has worked…but we sure would like it to be that way.

Getting my individual results was an exercise in disappointment in myself.

I was certain that I was very good at bridging cultural differences, at accepting cultural differences, at encouraging diverse cultural groups to fully express those differences publicly so that the American people can gain the benefits of diverse cultural understandings while retaining our corporate American identity (“the great melting pot”) and our individual identity (our personal ethnic/racial culture).

I was convinced I was doing a great job.

Yeah…that’s not the results that I got when I asked for my individual results on the IDI.

What I learned is that I use Minimization as a way of identifying with people of other cultures.

In other words, I try to focus on our similarities while skipping over our differences. It allows me to focus on things we hold in common while ignoring and skipping over crucial differences between us.

WOW…

I’m white, intelligent, well-educated, middle-class, and I received great healthcare and education in childhood.  The idea that we are all the same assumes that you received all the same privileges as I did, that you received all the same benefits that I did. How very presumptuous of me to eradicate all your struggles by focusing on all the ways that you are Just. Like. Me.

How convenient of me to make you, no matter who you are, no matter what gender or sexual orientation you are, no matter what your ethnic or racial background you have, into a relatively healthy, well-educated, middle-class white girl.

Damn! Don’t you wish you had been blessed with all that? If you are diverse in background from me, I will bet that you would have LOVED to have had such advantages of birth and lifestyle.  God knows that I benefited from such a big bunch of blessings.

It crushed me to realize that I was so stupid, so readily willing to whitewash your background, all in the hope of making us SIMILAR so that I could relate more easily to you.

Seriously, I count myself as a bitch for that behavior, and I am very sorry that I subjected you to all that, just to make me comfortable.  After all, by erasing your struggle, I also erased the extra work you had to do just to be considered on the same page with me…able to compete with me for the same jobs, the same recognition, the same levels of achievement. I am white and that grants me privilege…and you worked twice as hard as I did (at least) and I pretended that your effort didn’t exist and didn’t have to be acknowledged.

I wish that I could somehow erase all the ways that I whitewashed your experience so that all your beautiful colors could be seen by myself and the entire world…because my willingness to whitewash you eradicated your uniqueness and your particular beauty, and it denied the world all that you hoped to give to us when I did that.

I am genuinely sorry.  Seriously, it hurts my soul when I have to realize how much damage I did to you, how easily I held you down when I compared you to all the privileged assistance I received.

Please…forgive me my stupidity as I try to drown my privilege and as I work to highlight all the hard work it took for you just to be considered ‘equal’ when your hard work should have elevated you far beyond me.

I was brave enough to ask for the results to my individual IDI test only a week ago, and since then I have paid attention to all the ways in which our culture seeks to shove everyone into the same box in the hopes of making everyone “equal” and “similar”…

And I have been appalled and pained by what I have seen.

Everywhere I look, I find evidence that ‘minimization’ makes me and my white friends comfortable.

All I have to do is look at Facebook and how my friends post information that reduces all of the USA to our similarities.

The news media focuses on similarities, avoiding profound and often painful areas of difference.

My work as a counselor often focuses on similarities over differences so that counseling can be more homogenous and therefore more useful across cultural boundaries.

I was told quite bluntly by the clergy who shared my IDI results that Minimization was the stance from which “church growth” occurs, since focusing on differences only divides us and makes it harder to grow church attendance numbers.

I was pained to discover that church growth requires erasing the ethnic and cultural differences of the people in the congregation for the sake of making the church hierarchy happy.

I find minimization of cultural differences no matter where I turn, and it is starting to freak me out.

For the last two years, I have found myself enjoying watching CBS This Morning as I eat my breakfast. I used to watch The Today Show or Good Morning America, but I found them to be infected with ‘infotainment’ and the CBS show seemed to be soaked in newsworthy events in comparison. I am not getting any younger, and my advancing age causes me to love straight news over everything else. I don’t know if that’s a reflection of just how busy I am and how little time I have to parse through the news, or how old I am and how much I feel the demand to be on top of our nation’s struggles. All I know is that I have the New York Times on my phone and read it whenever I have a dull moment waiting for an appointment (or a few moments spent in the bathroom) and I feel the need to have my news fed to me without any fluffy entertainment data when I have only 10 minutes to eat my breakfast.

Anyway, I was watching CBS This Morning as I fixed my dogs their daily egg whites (low calorie protein is good for aging dogs who have to watch their intake due to age) and my own egg white breakfast (I’m not a young pup either).  That morning I paid attention to how often Gail King, an African-American woman, and Tony Dekoupil, a Greek-American man, focused on cultural and behavioral similarities in order to make the news features meaningful to their entire audience. I was stunned to realize that both of them was focusing on similarities to the point that differences were minimized and almost eradicated …which is exactly where I found myself on the IDI scale of intercultural development.

I thought about how I focus on cultural, attitudinal, and behavioral similarities in order to establish connection with my clients and parishioners I serve.

I realized that many of them do not share my middle class, comfortable, well-fed and well-cared-for, well-educated background…and yet, despite obvious differences that I often cannot ignore, I grant that same level of respect and consideration to those around me. I automatically assume that their opinions stem from the same level of education and cultural exposure as my opinions, which are fed by masters-level education and world travel. I expect that their family and their background are as meaningful and powerful as my own, being based in the multi-cultural background of the US melting pot, while still having the flavor and blessings of individual cultures that carry on despite their melding into the great US amalgamation of culture.

Where I once thought that my ‘minimization’ was unfortunate and useless, I realize that I grant many people who might easily be oppressed by my whiteness an equal stance when it comes to the significance of their culture and ethnic background…and consider their contribution to my country of birth as significant as my own.

The clergywoman who shared my results in the IDI tried very hard to help me realize both the benefit and detriment of my personal development in the Intercultural Development scale. It took me this entire week to realize the benefit of minimizing our differences, and the same time to realize just how much I erase significant cultural differences to my own detriment and that of the others around me.

Hear me clearly: you and I will always have so much to contribute to the US melting pot. Your cultural knowledge is just as valuable as mine, and the differences we bring to the melting pot contribute to the delicious flavor that is the United States of America and should NOT be ignored.

Our humanity and the good we seek for our children is a similarity that we cannot escape. We share so much in common, and the great good news is that you are NOT so different from me and the values I hold up as being the best of the best. Together we are able to build a much better nation that is crafted from the goods of our differences and the stability of our similarities…and we will find the deliciousness of the mélange that is our US culture when we taste ALL of the differences and emphasize them while knowing that the base note, the undertone of our country, is that we all want the same good, the same blessings, for ourselves and our children.

It turns out that I am on track to discover great things about our differences…and I refuse to let go of all the ways we seek the same things. I want to remember that when it comes to our basic needs that all of God’s children are the same, and that our differences are the spices that change the stew into the most flavorful mix it can be.

I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Truly…God bless America and spice her up with the greatest diversity of cultural spices that can be. Let our country be the fullest expression of the dream that all of the world can be ONE without having to give up our individual flavors and variation.

And until then, please be patient with me because I am working on getting there.

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I’ll Pass on the GWS, Thanks

The Great White Saviors strike again.

Earlier this week I read an opinion piece in the New York Times titled “Our Food Is Killing Too Many of Us”. (read here) I couldn’t agree more, as diet based diseases are at epidemic levels across all segments of society, but I have to admit that my first reaction to the article was to perceive it as soaked in the subtleties of privilege. The article is not aimed specifically at the working poor, but many of the recommendations the authors make drive home the point that the problems of a poor diet rest most heavily on the poor, and the authors are not wrong in that inference.

Among other things, the authors advocate for expansion of the Federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program that currently only serves elementary schools; for modification of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) to improve nutrition and dietary choices. The authors support taxes on junk foods and sugary beverages combined with subsidies on what are known to be ‘protective’ foods, or foods that increase overall health and prevent disease. The authors encourages workplaces to seek healthier choices for their employees, and for the government to create a National Institute of Nutrition, which would be a department of the National Institute of Health.

All these things make sense and I don’t take issue with any of the ideas individually, but the authors fail to fully acknowledge a far more complex issue: the day to day lives of the working poor.  All the subsidies and good intentions in the world cannot overcome realities that aren’t even taken into consideration in the article.

Let’s imagine a working single parent of two teenagers.  There is only one income in this household, and because this parent is not a skilled worker, this is a minimum wage household. Imagine what it might take to feed two growing children, the amount of food necessary to make sure that they don’t go to bed hungry.  Add to that the fact that the meal must be quick to prepare, because a working parent doesn’t have the luxury of spending extra time that needs to be devoted to household management cooking an elaborate meal. The meal is going to have to be built on inexpensive food that is shelf stable, because food that spoils might end up being wasted, and that is a luxury that the poor cannot afford.  At discount stores a pound bag of elbow macaroni is only 99 cents, and sometimes you can get it on sale for 79 cents. If you buy a bigger box, the price drops even lower. Add a can of chili and a couple of ounces of Velveeta (which is classified, not as cheese, but as ‘cheese food’), and you have a hearty meal for a hungry family that costs less than $2.60 for the whole meal!  Of course, this meal will be low in protein, high in non-complex carbohydrates, high in sodium, and relatively low in fiber. This is the kind of meal that contributes to the development of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease later in life.  Don’t forget that our single working parent is also eating this meal, and being decades older than their children, they can ill-afford to eat this kind of food frequently if they plan on remaining healthy into their advanced age.

Mind you, I hear my mom’s voice in my head reminding me that a few substitutions would lead to a much healthier meal.  We didn’t have much money when I was in elementary school, and my mom had to make our food dollars go as far as possible. My dad’s garden helped by providing us with fresh produce for very little cost. Still, my mom had to be wise in her purchases, and she used her meager grocery budget to make sure that our meals were filling and nutritious.

If my mom were writing this, she’d tell you to buy whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta, which kicks up the fiber content and reduces the glycemic index. And instead of canned chili, buy canned chili beans, which is still high in sodium but kicks up the fiber content again and the increases the nutritional content significantly. And then for the meat, buy lean ground beef in bulk and freeze it in ½ pound packages… and you can even cook it in advance to speed up dinner time preparation! That’s a big score for the working parent!  Switch out the Velveeta for double the ounces in shredded cheddar cheese (which is actual cheese and not ‘cheese food’) and you will still have a creamy, cheesy chili mac casserole. And mind you, that shredded cheddar can be stored in the freezer and put into the meal still frozen (no thawing time) before the meal is warmed and served; talk about convenience!

Thanks mom…you have some good points there. Only a few problems with that.

First, there is an assumption that the working poor have a freezer large enough to buy food in bulk and store it for extended periods of time. Many families live in poorly furnished apartments with ancient refrigerators that have freezers barely large enough to hold some ice cubes and two or three pounds of other items. Buying in bulk isn’t very useful if you don’t have much space to store the food.

Second, the meal becomes more expensive when you start buying healthier products. Buying the meat separately (even on sale), whole wheat pasta, and shredded cheddar takes the cost of the meal up to $3.82, which doesn’t seem that bad.** And for families that aren’t living one paycheck away from homelessness, this is a great way to up the nutritional content of the meal and increase the health of the whole family.  The problem is that many working poor families don’t have an extra $1.25 to throw at dinner, and every extra dollar spent adds up.  That extra buck and a quarter comes to over $37 dollars at the end of the month if they ‘up the nutritional content of dinner’ on a daily basis. For a parent living on the poverty line, that is 14 dinners (assuming a $2.60 meal.) Fourteen days with no dinner meal for their family. So the parent gets to choose: make the meal a little healthier and go without dinner half the month, or buy the cheapest food available and eat every night.

You try making that choice while looking into the hungry faces of your own children, and your choice becomes clear in a big hurry.

I’m all for the idea that school children deserve healthier food in their school lunches and that SNAP benefits should encourage healthy purchases. I totally support the idea that healthy foods should be subsidized, especially for people receiving SNAP benefits so that a few healthy purchases don’t end up consuming a family’s SNAP benefits too quickly, leaving them food insecure for the rest of the month.

What I can’t endorse is people of privilege pretending to solve the problems of the working poor without any input from those people, without their wisdom and a dose of their daily reality.  Excuse my phrase, but the great white savior from the government hasn’t solved the problems of the working poor yet and it’s because the great majority of people in government have no idea what it is like trying to support a family on a poverty-line salary. I don’t have an idea of what it is like trying to support a family on a poverty-line salary, but I do know that a minimum wage salary doesn’t really provide the minimum for anyone, you know?

If the privileged few want to make a difference for the working poor, the first thing we need to do is make their voices the loudest ones in this debate. What do they think they need? What can be changed that will actually have an impact on their daily dietary intake? How can fresh foods be made readily accessible to folks who live in high-density areas that are often food deserts?

I’m pretty sure that the working poor want the same things as everyone else: healthy children, healthy food, and reduced rates of the diseases that stalk adults and reduce our life expectancy. I’m pretty sure we can all agree that everyone wants to be healthy…and after that, it’s time for each group to stand up and speak about what they need, what they are willing to do to get what they need, and how all of us can help make that happen.

No more Great White Saviors, please. If it hasn’t worked in the last 242 years, it isn’t going to work any time soon.

** I priced out both meals at Walmart, buying the store brand whenever possible and buying in ‘small’ bulk (i.e. 3 lbs of pasta instead of 1 lb packages) whenever possible. Even using the same number of ounces of cheddar cheese as you would have used Velveeta only reduced the cost of the healthier meal by 60 cents, which made the healthy meal 65 cents more expensive, adding up to almost $19 in increased food cost in a 30 day month. $19 equated to 7 days without a dinner meal.

Press Play, Then Press Repeat, Then Press Repeat, Then…

Lately my mother has been repeating herself a lot.

That’s not quite the truth. My mom started repeating her stories over and over about four years ago, when taking care of my dad became difficult because his dementia made him profoundly unstable on his feet and left him with little control over his temper.

At that time, I was pretty sure that stress was what was causing her to forget the things she had already told me and which news was new news. While I wanted to reduce her stress, I also had to admit that there was very little I could do to make losing my dad by degrees easier for my mom. So I did my best to be patient and remain interested, no matter how many times she repeated any given story, because I didn’t want to shut down the open lines of communication. It wasn’t too bad…she’d tell me the same story four or five times over four or five phone calls—with more repetition if it was a very important story—and never more than once per call. I thought the problem was temporary and stress related, and so I did my best to ride out the situation.

My dad died 16 months ago.

My mom is more repetitive than ever. In fact, she called me last night to talk about the quote she received for landscaping (it was more than she wanted to spend) and she repeated the same three minute story to me six times in the twenty minutes that we spoke on the phone.

You may be wondering if she does the same thing when we are face to face. Yes, she does, and with the same frequency of repetition.

I recognize that my mom is still grieving my dad very deeply; I am well aware that grief can make you feel like your brain is filled with cotton. It destroyed my memory for at least 8 months, and I anticipate recurrences of that ‘cotton brain’ feeling during those lovely grief anniversaries that come along like tidal waves, obliterating your brain and your motivation, leaving you a dense lump on the couch. Sadly, I understand that very well. I also realize that my mom’s grief is more intense than mine, which means that her ‘cotton brain’ is far worse than what I experienced.

But I am struggling to communicate with someone who seems to be slowly losing interest in regular conversation except for telling me the same stories over and over and over and over…

I finally had a long talk with the Lord about the whole thing.

I made the decision four years ago that I don’t want to be one of those kids who chides their mom, telling her that she’s already told that story multiple times.  I don’t want to shove my mom’s aging in her face or make her feel guilty about the shrinking parameters of her life. Most of all, I don’t want to make her reluctant to talk to me. 

I asked God for patience and a willingness to hear everything again and again because I know that one day I will long to hear her voice just one more time. I asked God to give me guidance on how to handle all this, because I am having problems with getting her unstuck long enough to hear me, to have an actual conversation that would feel connected with my mom.  I’m aware that she isn’t getting any younger, and I want the connection that we have to be strong and have as much quality as is possible until it’s time for me to help her die.

God reminded me of a conversation that I had with my dad almost two years ago.

I blogged about that conversation back in 2017 (read here).  In short, my dad told me that we needed to talk, so I took him out to lunch.  On our ride to the restaurant, my dad told me that I probably didn’t want to hear what he needed to say, and I remember telling him that whatever he needed to say was okay with me and that I was ready to listen.  He spent the next 20 minutes sharing deeply private details about his life that were very uncomfortable for me to hear. Just as we got to the restaurant my father turned to me and said “I know that I shouldn’t tell you these things, but I feel safe telling them to you.”  So I looked at him and said “Daddy, you tell me anything you want to tell me. You get no judgment from me, no matter what.  I’ll always be here to listen to you.”

After my father died, I expected to miss him a great deal, and sometimes I did, especially at times when we would normally be together. What surprised me was how much I didn’t miss my dad, how often I felt at peace with his death. While I was praying today, I realized that my peace stemmed from the fact that, as an adult, I got from my father what I needed: his love, his admiration for my achievements, and his trust. “I feel safe telling them to you” meant more to me than I can tell you and knowing that I was able to give my father what he needed from me is a great comfort. At the same time, his ability to trust me with his truth spoke more about what he thought about me than any words of affirmation he ever spoke to me.

As I prayed and listened to God, I remembered that the final years of my relationship with my dad were very difficult because of his advancing dementia. During visits and discussions, I was never sure if I was going to get my dad or some strange, childlike version of him where he misbehaved and said shocking and often rude things about my mom. I got through those years by holding closely to who I wanted to be for my dad as he aged and died. I also prayed about it a lot. A LOT! Looking back, I realize now my choice to hold to who I wanted to be for my dad made a huge difference in how his last years with me played out, and what those years meant to me after he died. It is also the source of my peace with his death now. I miss him, I cry about missing him, but I have no regrets about those final years.

God didn’t give me any specific details about how to handle things with my mom, but I think I understand why God reminded me of that ride to the restaurant with my dad while I was praying this morning. And I also realized that I don’t know what it is that I need (as an adult) from my mom before she dies…and despite having a good idea, I’m not totally certain what she needs from me. 

I need to do some more praying about the whole thing along with some deep soul searching. And then, if need be, I will go and have that conversation with my mom. Because I refuse to let something as small as a story on repeat (or 15 or 20 stories on repeat) put a dent in my relationship with my mom.  While we might have two years or twenty, we are on countdown to final liftoff so to speak, and when I look back on these final years, I don’t want any regrets.

I’m In. How About You?

Every time I turn around, someone outside the Methodist Church is asking me how things are going at the church.  I think that my reaction to the pain of GC2019 and its aftermath left my friends and counseling colleagues wondering if the UMC was going to suddenly spin apart into little fragments.

I have to admit that there are times when I desire that spinning apart greatly. The movement towards any kind of change, any kind of restructuring of the UMC, seems so slow and leviathan as to make me wonder if change is possible at all in our current, almost stultified church culture.

The statements issued at the end of the UMCNext gathering didn’t offer me much hope either, mostly because the statement sounded like we doubled down on inclusion without making any plans for how we were going to make that happen without first exiting the UMC as I know it.  Knowing that I was starting to despair, several friends suggested that I read Adam Hamilton’s invitation to UMCNext, and then they forwarded me a few blog posts written by participants in the UMCNext conference.

Thankfully, I found hope, inspiration…and a whole new host of concerns.

Rev. Dr. Tyler Schwaller, a participant in the UMCNext conference, wrote a blog post that clearly pointed out the biggest problems that we face as the progressives and centrists in our denomination try to move forwards from GC2019. (read here) It was heartening to read that he found it wonderful to finally be at a gathering of pastors and laity where he was not reviled simply for being queer.  I cannot imagine how painful it must be to have served the UMC faithfully for such a long time, knowing that many of your colleagues and your partners in the laity condemned you for existing, for your very creation.

Not that it changes the years of suffering for all my POC and LGBTQ colleagues, but I repent of not having been more obnoxiously vocal about radical and total inclusion. Entrenched oppression deserves loud and bold resistance from everyone who is aware that it exists, whether they experience the oppression firsthand or not.  I wasted valuable opportunities to speak up and make space for POC/LGBTQ clergy simply because I was too committed to being ‘nice’, and I believe that I did harm because I wasn’t willing to be disliked.  You are my treasured colleagues and friends, and you didn’t deserve that. I repent of my inaction and unwillingness to be uncomfortable, unpopular, and maybe even despised on your behalf.  Please forgive my inaction.

Having said that, I want to look at a few points in Schwaller’s post (please read it…it is short and revealing.)

Schwaller stated “the commitment to the preservation of power and control by the already privileged is palpable. Our Movement Forward summit created space to reimagine a church where power is shared within a framework of mutual accountability. UMCNext forced us around tables over which we had no choice, asked limiting questions that restricted imagination, centered leaders who have already failed and undermined us, was carefully scripted so to gloss over differences that matter, and completely ignored the collective wisdom of justice-seeking resistance movements. In short, it repeated the imperialist framework of the UMC as it already is. “Inclusive” imperialism is still evil.”

That’ll preach, brother.

The one thing that is going to have to change if we are going to move forward as a truly inclusive church is that we have to let go of the entrenched power structure. I don’t mean that we need to do away with Bishops and DS’s, or that we should advocate for anarchy within the church structure. I don’t want to throw away the baby with the bathwater, but at the same time, we need to ask ourselves what we are doing when we seek to preserve the structures that supported oppression in the first place.

Right now, it appears to me that we are too invested in making sure that we keep the larger churches happy so that apportionments will be paid and the coffers of the church, already threatened by the shrinkage of our membership, will remain robust. This means that we cannot place women, POC, or LGBTQ clergy in churches where their prophetic voice (let alone their simple existence and appearance) would challenge valued and generous members to listen to the gospel anew. God forbid some big givers should leave the church and take their money with them. I get it…we need money if we are going to do any kind of meaningful ministry. I am not blind to the needs of the church. But at the same time, I question why we are putting the (less than) almighty dollar before the honest proclamation of the radical gospel of Jesus Christ that extended grace to all the wrong people and frequently put the so-called ‘big givers’ outside the door of inclusion because they weren’t willing to share the table with people they found undesirable.

I am also aware that we continue to discriminate against anyone who dares to ask for ordination as a Deacon. A number of Elders have explained to me that the order of Deacons, created at GC1996, was denied rights to the sacraments because the Bishops feared that granting sacramental rights to Deacons would cause a mass migration of Elders, changing orders to avoid itinerancy. If the only way that you can keep an Elder faithful to their call is to discriminate against another entire class of people, you have a major problem with your Elders. Think about this: Deacons, who serve their congregations and community with the same love and devotion as the Elders, are repeatedly forced to turn away congregants who come to us, asking us to perform baptisms. When we lead worship so that the Elder can have a day off, we are forced to beg outside Elders to consecrate communion or are forced to ask the congregation to skip communion altogether, because we are not allowed to consecrate the elements. Try explaining to a church member that you cannot baptize their child because you are only a Deacon, not quite equal to the Elder, even though the BOD swears the orders are equal. None of this has ever made sense to any layperson when I have tried to explain it, especially when I also have to admit that I have the same MDiv as the Elder, went through the same candidacy and RIM process as the Elder, and am fully ordained like the Elder.  And as for the Bishop’s supposed fear that Elders would switch orders en mass, my experience of the Elders that I work with tells me that nothing except God’s call would convince them to change orders, and that when they do change orders it is for sake of continuing to be in obedience to God.  If we’re going to avoid perpetuating imperialistic church structure under the guise of inclusivity, we need to address all structures of oppression within the church. Inclusion isn’t a “this group now, that group later, and always somebody waiting in the wings for their full rights” kind of a thing. Inclusion is all people, right now, period.

As a white, cis-gendered straight clergywoman, I am aware that many of us, clergy and laity, will struggle to deal with the changes necessary to create a truly inclusive Church. It will be uncomfortable, to say the least. There will be a lot of fear and hesitancy, and we will need accountability and grace if we are going to find our way to new behaviors and new ways of expressing ministry that don’t involve adherence to the old imperialistic power structures.  I am not asking my POC/LGBTQ colleagues for forbearance with our unwillingness to move forward. We need to move forward no matter how uncomfortable that movement makes the clergy and laity who have been comfortable for far too long. We may, however, need to remember that epic shifts in thinking, attitude, and action involve a great deal of cognitive dissonance, something that our desire for inclusion cannot overcome and should not rush through. Cognitive dissonance is necessary and desirable, because it calls many accepted and unquestioned beliefs into question and even prompts their abandonment.  This means that our execution of the necessary changes will be filled with people dragging their feet, repeated moments of failure, tears of frustration and possibly shame, and the need for loving accountability. I am certain that I will fail my desire to be fully inclusive many times out of sheer ignorance and an on-going belief that I have somehow managed to avoid internalizing abusive and oppressive power structures because I’m ‘better than that’. I’ve already discovered that I casually accepted patriarchal structures without challenge, well into my adulthood. I’m certain that I will find myself sorely lacking in the ability to clearly perceive all the structures of oppression built into the UMC without being called to account by the people who suffer under those structures.  We need to let POC/LGBTQ clergy lead the way into a more inclusive church, and beg their patience with our overt stupidity as long as we continue to visibly struggle for personal change and structural change.  And those of us that have enjoyed privilege without cause to receive that privilege need to trust that God will guide all of us as we are conformed to the inclusive, prophetic image of Christ. It will be painful, and it will be worth it.

I’m in.  How about you?

Feeling Cranky

Warning: I’m venting.

I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.

I have spent my entire life dealing with autoimmune illnesses, many of them un-diagnosed for years while wreaking their havoc on my life and my health.

I do my best to remain healthy in light of my illnesses. I attend a variety of exercise classes to avoid repetitive motion injuries and to challenge my body in different ways (weightlifting, weight bearing exercises, dance fitness, yoga, rowing, walking, etc.) I eat relatively well and avoid processed and fried foods. I lost over 100 pounds almost 11 years ago and have kept 100 pounds of it off.

Despite all that, my health problems continue to get worse.

Some of it is just age: arthritis always gets worse with age.  My hands haven’t gotten any larger, but my knuckles sure like to grow, as do my bunions and every other arthritic joint on my body. And I have some really weird arthritic joints, like one on my collarbone and another on the side of my foot. I think my quest to be unique might have gone a little too far in this case.

It isn’t aging that is making me angry.

It’s all the crap on the internet that tells me that my autoimmune illnesses are my own fault, and if I’d only eat their diet/take their supplement/do what this specific doctor says, that I’d be pain free and living life like a 20 year old again.  Supposedly, autoimmune illnesses come from a leaky gut that is caused by a crappy diet that fills your body with toxins…and that’s why I’m sick. Bad Tina…look what you did to your body!

First of all, I had each and every one of these damn autoimmune illnesses by the time I was 20 and had already sought medical help for almost all of them. I spent much of my teenage years seeing doctors to try and deal with what we thought were outrageously painful menstrual cramps. The doctors even prescribed opioids to help with my pain (they did absolutely nothing to stop the pain).  Years later I found out that the pain was due to bladder issues and that opioids and other pain relievers are not effective on the pain from this disease, which is what makes that particular autoimmune disease so disabling.

It is disheartening to have spent your life dealing with progressive illnesses that can’t be cured while simultaneously dealing with people and internet posts that tout total cures. I get that Western medicine doesn’t have all the answers. Believe me, I get that really well, since the cure prescribed in 1975 for my vitiligo was to make me take medication that made me photosensitive and then have me sit in front of a sunlamp to induce a sunburn on the de-pigmented spots. That’s right…my doctor prescribed cancer-causing treatments (that did absolutely nothing to stop the spread of the vitiligo) for my disease. Fun.

I’m just tired of being told that my autoimmune illnesses are related to a leaky gut because my diet is filled with processed Frankenfood…when my autoimmune illnesses were so bad that my parents were told to move out of Chicago when I was still preschool age; the doctors hoped that a better quality of air in the open country would stop my chronic bronchitis.  We moved when I was four years old, and I had been a sickly child from the time I was born. Apparently, Similac causes leaky gut. Or maybe it was Enfamil.

I am frustrated and angry. I feel helpless to stop the progression of my illnesses and even my PCP is talking about this leaky gut stuff. It’s not that I’m unwilling to try diet-based solutions, it’s just that this has been all 55 years of my life and nothing has changed. Moving me away from Chicago when I was a child stopped the chronic bronchitis but didn’t stop the problems with my lungs. I still have bronchitis and pneumonia way too frequently because I have allergy related asthma (I didn’t get that diagnosis until I was 50…when I was a teenager, the doctor told my parents I was ‘allergic to ozone’ and that’s why I was having trouble breathing during the summers. WTH???)  If living on infant formula didn’t change anything, and moving to the ‘country’ didn’t really change anything, and eating vegetables and fruits from my father’s garden all spring, summer, and fall didn’t change anything, and advanced allergy testing and special allergy serum didn’t change much (I am better, just not cured), and the pain-causing autoimmune illnesses just keep getting worse, what the dickens am I supposed to be doing that is going to make it better? What magic food am I going to eat (or not eat) to reduce my C Reactive protein levels?

I am beginning to feel like no one knows what is going on, including me, and that I am being used like a human guinea pig by doctors and internet hucksters, all in the hopes of accidentally creating an impact for a few months so that I’ll proclaim myself cured and make someone else a bunch of money.

I’m beginning to think that the best thing I can do is to not believe any of the pseudo-science and stick with what I’ve been doing for 55 years: rest, exercise, eat healthy foods, and get up and get on with it no matter how crappy I feel. So far, that’s worked. I also think a fast from the Internet might be a good idea.

Vent completed. Thank you for listening.

And while we are at it, please be kind to the people around you. Not all illnesses/disabilities are easily visible and evident, but they are challenging and disheartening at times. And if you are the person suffering from illness and disability, know that whatever you are able to do today is amazing and enough! Hang in there!

Keeping Feminist Balance

I have a feminist itch that I need to scratch, but I am heading out of town in just a few minutes. Please forgive the lack of editing and textual mistakes, as my time to write this was extremely limited.

I have been listening for the last few days to the controversy over Joe Biden’s actions. If you are unaware, Vice President Biden has a habit of approaching people, specifically women, from behind. He places his hands on their shoulders, leans in to speak candidly into their ear, and most recently coupled this behavior with sniffing the woman’s hair and planting a kiss on the back of her head.

Some Democrats and feminists are saying that this kind of behavior, which is overly familiar and just a bit creepy to women, renders him unfit for the office of President.

That’s a bit difficult to swallow knowing that President P*ssy-Grabber has been in office since 2016 and grabbing a woman by her genitals far exceeds Biden “kiss them on the back of their head and sniff their hair” behaviors in terms of offensiveness.

But I digress.  Let me explain what I find so disturbing about the Biden controversy.

The first problem is the repeated assertion by the women complaining that Biden’s intentions don’t matter.

On CBS This Morning I heard the interviewee say “His intentions don’t matter. It’s about how (the behavior) was received.”  There is certainly some sense in this statement, since many men have defended their bad actions by saying that didn’t intend any harm, or didn’t mean to be disrespectful, when they behaved in a deplorable fashion.  The thing is that there are many different behaviors that can come under the label ‘deplorable’. Apparently, Congresswoman Lucy Flores finds having her hair sniffed, her shoulders touched, words whispered into her ear, and being kissed on the crown of her head ‘deplorable’ and I am not going to disagree with her own assessment of how she wants to be touched.

My issue with this argument is that it has been used against women in rape cases for years. You know…the ‘what were you wearing? Why were you out that late alone? But you were drinking…’ arguments that are so common in rape cases.  Basically, women are told that by dressing provocatively, or by being drunk in a public space, or by being out late alone…or any combination of those three…THAT THEY DESERVED TO BE SEXUALLY ASSAULTED BECAUSE THEY WERE ADVERTISTING. After all, it wasn’t her intentions in getting dressed and having a drink that mattered, it was how the man received (chose to interpret) that behavior that makes it reasonable for him to sexually assault her. Women have suffered under the ‘but you were advertising…’ argument for so many years, and now we are going to turn the tables on men and tell them that any behavior can be considered sexually inappropriate, even when it has nothing to do with sex, simply because the woman received (chose to interpret) it that way?

Are we really sure that we want to make this argument just because women have more power now?  Do we really want to turn the tables on men and treat them the same hateful and oppressive way that we have been treated for centuries?

The second problem is that the media has established a false equivalence, where all bad behavior by men is considered to fall under the #metoo movement.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, sexual assault in my late teens, and sexual harassment at work, I can tell you that I’d much rather have a man I do not know touch my shoulders, whisper in my ear, sniff my hair and kiss me on top of the head than to ever have another man rub his crotch on my leg or my hand while telling me what sex acts he wants to perform on me. I never again want to have a doctor touch me inappropriately during an exam that requires absolutely no skin on skin contact, especially in that region of my body. I’d take a dozen kisses on the head and hair sniffs to avoid even one more minute of unwelcome sexual contact.

There is absolutely NO equivalency here.

After all, if there is an equivalency here, you have to ask why Biden is not in prison like Bill Cosby, who only raped women after he had drugged them into a comfortable sleep. That’s not so bad, is it?  Personally I find Cosby disgusting…and again I’d rather be head-sniffed than drugged and raped, but apparently some feminists find Biden’s actions so deplorable that they consider this a #metoo moment.

I beg to differ. Screw it. I differ and I refuse to beg. I am a woman, and there is no equivalency here.

The third problem is that we offer men who behave badly absolutely no chance to redeem themselves.

What is the path to redemption for a man who commits a bad action? What does a man have to do to be considered ‘rehabilitated’ or to have ‘learned his lesson’?

Some of you might think that we shouldn’t allow for ‘second chances’ because they are nothing more than a chance to re-offend, another chance to behave horribly, and in all honesty, you are not wrong. Giving anyone a chance to redeem themselves always involves the possibility of re-offense.  On the other hand, women have suffered for centuries from labels that made them unredeemable, labels like “adultress” or “fallen woman” or “unwed mother”.  It wasn’t so long ago (in my lifetime, and I am only 54 years old) that young women who became pregnant out of wedlock were sent away from their family and community to a home for unwed mothers where they were expected to give up their child after birth. Women unwilling to give up their baby were often not allowed to return to their family’s home lest they bring ‘shame’ onto their family. The Scarlet Letter describes how women were branded as an adultress and shunned by the community for their action, despite the fact that the man was not held accountable.  The horrifying reality was that the real scarlet letter wasn’t a ‘letter’ sewn on their clothes (as portrayed in the movie) but a letter branded onto their skin so they could not ever escape judgment.

Women have suffered for years under the concept that once stained we cannot be redeemed. If you believe society has changed beyond that, just take a close look at Monica Lewinsky.  While Bill Clinton continued his life and went on to earn handsome money for public speaking and book tours, Monica was forced to live off of family and friends for years before finally crafting a life as a woman who speaks out against bullying, which she deals with even now, over 20 years after she became the ‘harlot’ who sexually dallied with a President.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not advocating for clemency for men who commit acts of sexual violence. That needs to be dealt with using our justice system, and they can work to redeem themselves inside that system. I am asking for a path to grace for men like Louis CK and Joe Biden, men who behave badly and need to change their behaviors after offering a heartfelt apology for their failure to perceive how their behavior impacted others.

If we let our outrage at the tidal wave of horrible behavior that is being revealed every day keep us from crafting a road of grace—a path to redemption—we risk losing a sense of proportion regarding bad behavior. We risk creating false equivalencies between acting badly and being a sexual predator. And we risk our outrage becoming so ever-present that it becomes background noise and easy to ignore. We cannot afford to lose the progress that the #metoo movement has made towards challenging male privilege, so we better spend our outrage wisely, lest we win the battle and lose the war.

 

To the GC2019 Delegates who Voted for The Traditionalist Plan

Dear Dad,

We haven’t talked in a while, mostly because our last talk didn’t go very well. It ended with me crying while you were screaming at me, and I thought that maybe things would go better if I wrote you instead of trying to talk face to face.

I know that you are disappointed with the way I live my life and the way that I conduct myself. You raised me to follow the Scriptures as they are written, to add nothing to and take away nothing from God’s commandments like it says in Deuteronomy. You raised me to live in strict adherence to your interpretation of the Word, and I know that you feel that I am not living a life that reflects what I was taught; that my life doesn’t give glory to God because I am disobedient to what you think is God’s word.

I also know that you disapprove of my relationship with Jes, that you think his skin is the wrong color, and that he loves in all the wrong ways, and that he is a hippy-dippy liberal who wants to give away everything to everyone when they should have to work to earn it.

I am writing these things to you, not because I am agreeing with you, but because I want you to know that I have heard your admonishments all these years. I really have listened, Dad. I’ve listened until I can listen no more. I know what you think of me and my life. I know that you think I am a disobedient child that needs to be taken in hand and ‘schooled’ until I behave correctly.

Dad…I am 54 years old.

I am not a child. I am an adult. I pay my own bills and run my own life. I don’t ask for anything from you but love.

Sadly, for all the disapproval and lectures that you seem to be able to give, love doesn’t appear to be on the list of things that you have for me.

Love isn’t another lecture.

Love isn’t telling me just how badly I’ve screwed up my life or yelling at me about my disobedient nature.

Love isn’t telling me that you don’t want to speak to me until I’ve set aside my childish behaviors and started acting like the adult YOU taught me to be.

Finding Jes and falling in love with him was amazing for me. I never felt so alive! It took years of him loving me without judgement for me to realize that he knew I wasn’t perfect, that I wasn’t everything he wanted me to be, but that he loved me anyway. That’s called unconditional love, Dad, and it is life changing!

It took a long time of me being with Jes to understand that you never really loved me, because love doesn’t treat another human like an object to be bent to the owner’s will. Real love doesn’t seek to control and dominate. Love doesn’t oppress and demand obedience. True love invests in relationship knowing that close, loving relationships have influence, and influence brings change without demanding that one person ‘submit’ to the other. True love leaves space for individuality, and for appreciating differences of opinion and choice. True love doesn’t demand conformity, because that isn’t love for another; love that demands conformity is love for self over all others, and Jes says that love like that is diseased and broken. When he says these things to me, I cry, because I want so much more for you and I, Dad. Jes wants more for us too, and that’s why he’s stood by me all these years while I tried to make our relationship better.

Love isn’t me letting you tell me how to live my life, Dad. Real love is a set of choices based in a commitment to the best for another person, even at the cost of self-sacrifice for their good.

When it comes to love, Dad, Jes taught me that the proof is in the pudding. The pudding that Jes has for me is sweet; it feeds my soul and nourishes me in ways that I cannot even describe. The pudding that you have been shoving down my throat for my entire life tastes of domination, dehumanization, and verbal and emotional abuse, and I can’t stomach it anymore.

I’m letting you go, Dad.

This has been a long time coming, and I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but Jes keeps telling me that I deserve better than this.

Jes doesn’t always think I’m right, Dad. Jes has disagreed with my decision to keep in touch with you for a long time—for years in fact—but each time he just tells me what he thinks and then reminds me that no matter what I decide, that he will have my back and be here for me because he loves me.

I don’t remember you ever telling me that you had my back, or that the decision was mine. The only times I remember you saying that you loved me was after you yelled at me for being wrong (again). You would remind me that you only spent time correcting me because you loved me.  I get what you were trying to say, but there is more to love than correction and demands for obedience.

Jes has been telling me for years that your ‘love’ is toxic, and I think he is right.

So I’m done, Dad. I’m done trying to make our relationship work. I’m done trying to please you, to mollify your demands for obedience to your way of thinking and living. I’m done with all of it.

If you ever change your mind and decide that you are willing to accept me as I am, to love me without trying to change me, Jes(us) and I will be right here in Arizona, and you will always be welcome when you are ready to give and receive real love.

I love you, Dad.

Goodbye.