“If there is to be any redemption, this earth and no other, this body and no other, must have the capacity to take God’s grace into itself.” Hans Urs Von Balthazar in Against the Gnostic Heresies
So I have a friend who owns a company that sells blankets. These blankets are handmade by women who have left sexual trafficking in Bangladesh. They get sold to first-worlders and the money helps these Bangladeshi women and their children live differently. The blankets these women make are beautiful. We have a whole bunch.
And my 9 year old girl knows some of the story of these blankets. That some women were once slaves but they were given a way to work to provide for their families in a way that doesn’t hurt them and that’s good. More broadly, my 9 year old knows that women were once not allowed to vote, were not considered persons under the law, were considered property of husbands, fathers, brothers for much of the time on earth. She knows bits of the stories. She knows she is lucky to not have to deal with that.
And at the same time, she is also starting to notice that her life is different than her friends who are boys. She came home crying exactly twice last year. The first time was when a group of boys told her she couldn’t play with soccer with them. This is always difficult but in this case, it wasn’t because she wasn’t good at soccer. These boys told her it was solely because she was a girl. In her tearful words “Why don’t they want me to play with them? I can play fine. If my hair wasn’t long, and I could pee standing up, they would have to let me play, right?”
The only other time she came home crying was the time when her good friend who was a boy played one day with the other boys—these same boys who didn’t want her to play with them. She wasn’t crying when she came out the doors this time. But she was quiet. And her face was dark and her eyes distant. She let it out in the car and cried loudly. And the cause of her deep, nine year old heart-ache was this–“He doesn’t know what those boys are like. Because he is a boy, he will never know how they really are. He won’t see it. He won’t see how they are with me.”
Last week she came home and said that she wished for a day when she didn’t have to think about how to not be annoying to boys. How to not be “a girl” so that she won’t get made fun of or be left out.
So her suggestion was a day when we celebrated just being girls and just liking whatever we wanted to like. So we did that last Tuesday. We went to ikea for breakfast and ate sausages. Because we like them. We went Christmas craft shopping. Because we like that stuff. We watched Teen Titans and Anne of Green Gables while eating ice cream because we liked it.
This struck me as quite beautiful. That she wanted to celebrate her girl-ness, her biology, her view of the world. She wanted to celebrate who she was made to be as the antidote to fact of women’s history in this world. And I love that her and her sisters’ choices were not even especially “girly.” They were just theirs.
I have been especially moved in the last year by this notion of “they don’t know what its like to be me, they’ll never know.” It’s true of almost every interaction we have. It is nearly impossible to convey to someone else who doesn’t inhabit your kind of body, with the experiences you’ve had, how it is to live in this world. It’s not her friends fault that he doesn’t know what it’s like to be her – but it is up to him to listen to her when she says that the boys he’s hanging around with are hurtful to her.
Its up to us to listen to those saying their experience. We have to in our close relationships. We have to be honest and then we have to listen.
I know what its like to be a woman doing what until 30 years ago was almost exclusively a man’s job. Here are some fun things I have heard lately: Him: “But who REALLY is a pastor here?” Me: “I am.” Him: “But….who is really in charge….” Me: “Well, theres a few of us who share the pastor position…” Him: “oh ok, well then, who is the real pastor, the man in charge.” Dead serious.
But my favourite was this: Him: “I just wanted you to know that as a man I got nothing out of that sermon.” Me: “ok…..cool….well, have a good Sunday….”
(Just a note – both these comments were not from my congregation – but from visitors and strangers. While I’m sure my congregation wishes I would not do the announcements due to the fact that I never seem to get details right and then overcompensate in embarrassment with a higher than normal laugh….I do know that I am valued and listened to when I preach and pray and use my voice. They are an incredible bunch of lovely weirdos. IF you like church with lovely weirdos you should check us out.)
All this is to say, in small but real ways, over my life, I’ve tasted feeling overlooked, dismissed, disdained, and then worse, for something absolutely not in my control. I think that almost every human can say this. And in my country and city, I can apply that experience to how much more is this the case for women and men of color, women and men who don’t speak English as a first language, immigrant women and men, refugee women and men, lgbtq+ women and men, differently-abled women and men. It frustrates me that we still have to argue about whether or not the systems of government, church authority, resource delivering, were built for all of us, or just some. The answer is – they were built for just some of God’s creations. And its ok to admit that. We live in a system that wasn’t designed to include the whole variety of God’s creation. This is a systemic thing that has everything to do with power. It’s ok to drop all that we are trying to hold onto, trying to have power over, so we can make it a bigger, better system for ALL of God’s loves to live flourishing, healing lives. (One more side note – if you want an easy-to-get-into book on the theology of human flourishing, and the creation of systems that benefit ALL of God’s creation, check out The Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper).
I will never ever know what it is exactly like to be a woman of color in our country, and my skin color does not “count against me.” This is the privilege I live in. Just like my daughter’s friend will never know what it’s like to be a girl trying to play with that group of boys and being derided for nothing other than the fact that she is a girl. We were born in the bodies we were and we just won’t have the same experiences.
BUT. We do have ears. And eyes. And imaginations.
And the choice to acknowledge and lay down the privilege’s that our broken system has given some of us down so everyone can come to the table.
I can’t know exactly what its like to live someone else’s life. But I can ask, “Who am I listening to?” This has been the question gallumping around in my brain lately. Whose voices am I listening to? In the conversations happening about race, justice, colonialism, gender, abilities, reconciliation, and how all of this relates to our faith, whose voice is the loudest? And whose is the most honest? Whose makes me hopeful? Who sounds like Jesus?
If our brothers and sisters are saying there’s a problem, why don’t we believe them? Whose voices are we listening to in the discussions on justice, reconciliation, gender, and race?
I’ve often heard this question so often about people being vocal about justice in public spheres and churches. So Often. It usually goes something like this– “Why do they focus on it? I mean, I don’t lead with my _________ ; I’m not obsessed with my _________.” Fill in the blank. – gender, sexual orientation, race, economic status – what have you. What I hear often is how people are mystified, or upset or somehow offended that others lead with what makes them different. “I mean, why do they have to focus on it so much?”
And I’m starting wonder if that’s because when a part of you that God made is the cause of your exclusion, the only remedy, the thing God CALLS YOU TO DO is to celebrate THAT EXACT PART, hold onto it, nurture it, explore it, make it a beautiful expression of praise, in its uniqueness. Because if he made it, it’s a reflection of him. So lead with it. Its what’s missing. It’s what the body needs to be whole.
Maybe when the now-not-yet-kingdom is fully realized, we won’t have to “lead” with these parts of ourselves. Maybe we won’t have to shout that we are worth a place at the table. Not one of us will have to shout that we, in these bodies, are all valuable to the community. We will know ourselves and everyone else to be of value. Immense value. The value of a lost sheep, the value of a lost coin, the value of a beloved son or daughter celebrated. We will know where we are in the story We will all see this truth. And it will bring us the joy we’ve been looking for, it will be the home we’ve always known was there. It will be the home we were built to need, built to long for. It will not cause us fear! Including everyone at the table will not mean less for us! We won’t have to hold on to power, because we will all finally get that we aren’t the source of ultimate power. This will be our wildest dreams come true. It will be such a relief. Because we will be looking at something, someone other than our own security. It will be such a joy. There will be a fullness, a fulfillment of everything we longed for and knew was true.
When the kingdom Jesus brings is fully here, we will all have a place at the table and we will celebrate all of who we are, each part, each perspective, each experience, hearing ourselves in stories we tell and in stories that others tell. Stories about what each of us knows of God, what each of us knows of beauty and goodness and life and redemption. We will hear and see the true I AM in the words of each other. There won’t be a check on our createdness, our new createdness. There won’t be a gatekeeper saying, “no you can’t play with us. The way God has made you is not welcome here.” There just won’t be.
Come, Holy Spirit, Come.
For now, I am celebrating the fact that I have female body parts and long hair and a highly developed emotional intelligence with my girls. We will keep on eating food we like, singing songs we love, painting our nails without fear of being made fun of by the boys/men we are fully capable of running with. We will do what we love to do, what we have been gifted to do. We will be together, me and my girls, and we will be in a family with my husband, brother, father, and everyone else we love.
Last Tuesday, on our “Being a Girl Celebration Day,” I read and then crafted a sermon. My oldest daughter wrote a story about surviving a hurricane. My youngest daughter drew pictures of rabbits turning into mermaids, and her and her friends at school. She drew her heart out, pouring her being out on the page.
We will keep on celebrating our made-ness, our goodness, our belovedness, our uniqueness and abilities and talents and the things we love, even while we work to change the systems, the “ways its always been done.” We will support the women who make blankets. We will listen to our sisters of color and our sisters who are immigrants, all of our sisters who are the incredible reflection of the incredible creator in their exact bodies in our city as they share their experiences of life in this country and ask for something different. We will listen to what they say. We will acknowledge that we have had a privilege in this life that was not afforded to everyone. We will listen.
We will point to the one who calls it all good. We will celebrate the good grace that enters THIS exact body because of THAT exact body.
We will work the soil of this world to create something flourishing with God for ourselves and for every body.