Sunday, February 17, 2013

Rant Take 2: The Problem with White Male Privilege

So, I’m kind of on an angsty Feminist-Hulk-smash kick at the moment. I’m not trying to be, y’all. Buy you white dudes just keep screwing it up. Seriously. I can’t describe it any other way. I love white guys. I’ve almost married white guys. But sometimes, I really just want to SMASH WHITE PATRIARCHY OMG!
What’s gotten underneath my skin this time?

THIS article. And the fact that it was published and no one in the whole writing-editing-publishing process saw any reason that the analogy being used might be…questionable. Insensitive. Down-right ignorant.

The 3/5th Compromise, for those of you who slept through high school history, was the compromise between Northern and Southern states about how to “count” the slave population in Southern states in regards to assigning representatives to the Congressional House. If the Southern states could count the entire population of slaves, they would then outnumber the Northern states in influence. So, the Northern states argued that since slaves couldn’t vote, they shouldn’t be counted as a whole person.
Think about that, for a moment, shall we.

According to the law, you aren’t a whole person. You are only 3/5th a person. You, by legal definition, are a sub-person.[i]

 So the Compromise was that 3/5ths the slave population would be counted. For every 5 slaves, three “people” were counted as part of the population.

This is some great compromise that we are supposed to lift up in history? This is supposed to be a shining example of democracy at work?

We’re just going to gloss over the fact that HUMAN BEINGS were being counted as only 3/5ths a person? We’re not going to touch that this “compromise” existed so that Southerners could still own slaves and Northerners didn’t have to worry about the increasing population of enslaved persons would overthrow their white, male grip on American politics.

But it was 1787.And he’s not trying to talk history, he’s trying to make this great point about compromise.
It pains me to claim it, but James Wagner is one of my folk – he’s a Presbyterian (and his daughter is a Presbyterian pastor!). And, when I’ve met the man I’ve liked him. But what this article smack of is that complete oblivion to privilege and to the harm/power of words that is so much a part of white male privilege.
Did President Wagner not think that this example of compromise might be offensive to the great-grandchildren of freed slaves, slaves who weren’t a whole person under the law? Did he not think that such a complex and painful political struggle might be a poor example of how we can come to agreement? Did he not notice that fundamental to the compromise was the assertion that entire group of people, based solely on their skin color, were deemed – under the law – as less than human?
Not to mention the irony of this week’s lectionary text (Luke 4: 1-13), in which Jesus is tempted – and one of those temptations is to compromise faithfulness to God for power and authority (4:5-8).
Is that unholy compromise exactly what the 3/5th Agreement embodies? Compromising faithfulness (in this case Galatians 3:28 and Romans 10:12) which declares that in Christ there is no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no male or female? Is this not compromising the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) which reminds us that we are to love God with all our heart, all our soul and all our strength AND love our neighbors as ourselves?
This is why I am constantly irritated by patriarchy. This is the problem of privilege. It is so utterly blind to the unholy reality that surrounds itself. [ii] There is no (discernible) self-testing of whether or not one is living, speaking, writing in such a way that we are manifesting the Great Commandment (or the Shema for all you Hebrew Bible scholars).
President Wagner should know better. But he doesn’t. And, as I suspect no one will make a forceful call for his resignation, he won’t have to know better. And that is problem. A huge, white, male privilege problem.
For all our blindness, Lord, have mercy.  

[i] There is the argument that those proposing the law did not actually consider slaves to be less than human, but merely saw this as a legal proviso. But, these same men also allowed an entire ethic group of people to be in bondage simply because they had dark skin. Just sayin’

[ii] Let me be clear here: I know that I too have blind spots because of my white, middle-class privilege; it is precisely because we ARE blind that our privilege is so dangerous. We assume all people experience our level of agency in society, and therefore we don’t stop to look deeper are socio-cultural-political situations.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Brekke Rants: Theology, Post-modernism, and Irony

Well blog-readers, this is a treat! Brekke updates twice in under a week! Don’t get used to it – there are still sermons to write, jobs to find (oh yes, more on that later) and Bible studies to plan.  But every woman needs to take a moment to rant. And Y’all, if you didn’t know it, I love to rant!

So here’s the beef this week (moment?). I’m reading this great post over at HomebrewedChristianity which is a discussion about the terms “Liberal” and “Progressive” as used in Christian (mainly Evangelical) circles. It’s a defense against the pejorative nature of those labels. And I say my two cents and am rather enjoying the discussion, when I notice something: I am the only woman commenting. And there are not people of color. It’s a bunch of white dudes in plaid talking about “progressive” and post-modern Christianity. And there are no voices coming from the margins. None. 

Wait, what?

And – to preface the forthcoming rant – I want to say I like these guys over at Homebrewed Christianity. I disagree with them sometimes. I get a little wrinkled when Evangelical languages crops up. But generally I appreciate what they’re doing. Rather a lot.

So, what’s the problem?

That these folks who are talking about a post-modern, reshaping of theology which doesn’t give pride-of-place to white men, and which intentionally does theology in un-Orthodoxy ways, is completely dominated by white men!

For example, in a discussion with one such gentleman – with whom I was disagreeing politely on a point – he says:

“I'm a pastor-in training in a mainline church as well and really value feminist epistemology! :)”

I suspect the sentiment was to say “I’ve read your people and I appreciate their contribution to the academy and its effect on my own perspective.” But how it comes off is “oh hey I’ve read some women’s lit and I this it’s just precious how y’all try to talk about God!”

In a conversation last month with a prolific post-modernist author, I was told rather curtly that the time for “identity politics” was over. Now, on one level I don’t disagree. If we are ONLY advocating from our context we are not lobbing a thorough critique of ideologies. BUT, when we strip away the space to advocate from the margins/context many people lose a platform for their voice to be heard. It was frustrating that a Ph.D-holding white European male (who, I will grant him, grew up in a situation where he experienced serious violence and oppression because of his religious tradition) could say without any hint of irony that his position was not informed by his privilege. As a Ph.D-holding white male in America he represents the highest form of privilege imaginable (sans being a billionaire). And there is no need for contectual politics/theologies? Because you’re clearly the expert on what folk who can ONLY speak and be heard from those contextual spaces need or want. Ugh.

This kind of selective blindness – the idea that one is open to marginalized voices, but really only when one wants to hear them, rather than allowing them equal exchange – has been driving me absolutely up the walls. One Womanist theologian does not equate to an equal exchange of ideas. One queer author is not a conversation, it’s a token.

Mostly, this rant boils down to: we have a hell of a long way to go. We have a hell of a lot of privilege to unpack (I include myself among those who still struggle with unpacking it!). And is post-mods think they’ve got an edge on traditionalists, today has made clear to me that they are deluded.

I suppose I should look at the mirror and say this: we need more brave voices to be writing, and speaking, and challenging the all-white male forums. But really, me? You have to be joking. Right?

Here I am Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord. If you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Being Ruth

In case any of you who were hoping I’d update regularly once I re-vamped the blog, sorry to admit the cold hard truth. I will never make it as a professional writer because I procrastinate and have less than zero self-discipline. That’s why I’ll make an excellent pastor – right? *sigh*

Whatever, this space isn’t about eloquence. It isn’t about building a “platform” for my latest book project, or my church plant. It isn’t about me selling myself as a specialist in this or that. It’s about me having one space where I can live into the awkward, painful, beautiful reality that I am – reluctantly – a shepherd of God’s people. Or something.

My two favorite books in the Bible (yeah, yeah, you aren’t supposed to have favorites – whatever) are Jonah and Ruth. Jonah I identify with because he absolutely does NOT want to go where God sends him (sound like someone we know…?). And Ruth – well she’s an outsider brought to live as a witness to God’s love and faithfulness (and to teach some good lessons to those ol’ Israelites).

I see much of my own weird faith journey in Jonah and Ruth. Now, let’s be clear – I am not someone who God is bringing to teach some marvelous lesson. I’m just me. But there is a truth in their stories that resonates so loudly with my story that I cannot help but love them, and lean on them.

So Ruth. That pesky Moabite who is so damn good and faithful and obedient that you can’t help but like her. She works so damn hard in those fields, you can’t help but admire her. She’s so damn loyal, that you can’t help but hope she gets included in the covenant by the end of the story. Even if it means going expressly against the Law? (Deuteronomy 23:3 anyone?)

Yep. Because God is a God who loves in bigger ways than we can imagine. God is a God who constantly is push the bounds of who's in and who's out. God is a God who is not just for us, but for all. And God is a God who uses the most unlikely people to teach us about that love. Even a widowed Moabitess.

I feel like Ruth.

Not in the “I’m an outsider profoundly used by God to teach love” kind of way.  That would be entirely too arrogant (even for me and my puffed-up seminary-educated self).

I feel like Ruth who has bound herself to Naomi (which in my case is the Presbyterian Church USA). I have promised to sojourn with Naomi. I have dedicated myself to her God and her people. And damn it, I am trying to be a good daughter-in-law.

But what does my Naomi do? She tells me to go and “uncover the feet” of Boaz (y’all that’s a sexual reference in case you didn’t know).

Let me assuage your fears – I’m not hooking for Jesus. But I do feel a bit like some kind of dog and pony show, constantly jumping through hoops and playing this made-up game of “are you good enough?” so that I can do what I know in my soul God has called me to do. My call came long before I was formally a part of the Presbyterian family. My call came as an arresting assault on my life plan (which involved getting a Masters in Teaching and marrying my college sweetheart). My call came like the devastating shock of losing an identity. For Ruth, she lost her identity as the wife of Mahlon. For me – it was the loss of my identity as the fiancĂ© of Matthew. It meant a reimaging of myself inside a family that I had never really belonged to (the Church). And while I have loved this man called Jesus for a long, long time, I have had some serious misgivings about the Church (that’s a great story – for another night).

But, like a good daughter-in-law, I abided. I pledged my love and loyalty. I went where my adopted religious family asked me to go (kicking and screaming and nail-biting the whole damn way). I have gleaned in the fields. I have even received praise from those within the covenant.

But I still am reminded that I am a Moabitess. I am a foreigner for whom this Presbyterian language is not native. I am an outsider who must constantly prove that my call is real and true. I stand in the doorway, looking into the room, but not quite comfortable enough to enter.
You can say that all Presbyterian Candidates go through this gauntlet-like rite of passage before they are admitted into the “pastors club” whereby a bunch of people who don’t really know you – or in my experience care about you – decided you have the “gifts” for ordained ministry. Lest my sarcasm isn’t clear enough: that is bullshit.  And I will one day write a more articulated Reformed Theology response to why our system is bullshit. But not tonight.

Tonight I feel like Ruth. A Moabitess.

Saturday marks my 4th year since I (first) sent in my paperwork to begin this process. I know there are people who’ve been at it for twice as long (or longer!). But all I see of my Naomi is the bitter, unfeeling commands to go and glean, to go and paint my face and lay at a stranger’s feet. To go and do, and do, and do – because you are not yet allowed in and these are the decent and orderly rules for getting in.

My hope on all of this is that I will have the strength and courage to abide long enough to be welcomed into the family. My hope is to feel genuinely apart of this adopted family – a family that I have literally and figuratively fought to be a part of. My hope is that I do not grow bitter and resentful, but rather come to see that all the while my Naomi was in the background, watching and scheming so that we both would be cared for and looked after in the end.

I hope, my Naomi, I hope.

But for right now, I cannot get past the overwhelming feeling that in the eyes of my Naomi I am first a Moabitess, and second a daughter.