Thursday, June 27, 2013

We've Moved!!

The site has a new home!! 
Head on over to  to check it out.  And while you're there, click on the "follow" button to have posts from the new site sent directly to your inbox.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"If I Wasn't a Christian, I'd be a Feminist"

"If I wasn't a Christian, I'd be a feminist."  A friend of mine emailed me to tell me of a conversation he had had where someone made that statement.  "If I wasn't a Christian, I'd be a feminist."  My gut reaction was hasty typing that matched my quickened pulse, "send them to me, I can straighten 'em out."  Let me explain to them exactly what is wrong with their logic.  Let me give them a philosophy lesson, a gender studies lesson, and a theology lesson, all rolled into one.  Let me unleash my stereotypical angry feminist, and argue them into a corner about exactly why Christianity and feminism are not mutually exclusive.  

And then I was heartbroken, and filled with sympathy, because this person actually thinks that Christianity and feminism are mutually exclusive.  And I want to look them in the eye and say, "No, you got it wrong.  Whoever told you that you had to choose, was wrong. Whatever led you to believe that your faith, or your feminism, could only exist within a narrow set of parameters, was a lie.  You can have both. You can be both.  And it's not just you, or me, embracing the two.  There's lots of us here.  Come and join the tribe."

Really, if I could talk to this person, I'd ask them to tell me their story.  Tell me of every knot tied that stitched you closer to feminism.  Tell me of the slow unravel.  Is that longing I hear in your voice? Regret?  Disconnect?  Did we hurt you?  Do our methods and means cause to seek distance?  Did you disagree with our stance on the issues closest to your heart?  Were you told your faith required the rejection feminism? Tell me your journey to faith, the fractures and settings of spirituals bones that led you to embrace the label of "Christian" and set aside that of "feminist".  Tell me of the whisper in the dark that said you had to choose.

And I'd tell them my story, of the tug-a-war of equality and submission.  Because I didn't find feminist values of equality in the scripture, (although I see them now), because I struggled to integrate the two, and at times still do.  

There are many individuals who came to feminism because of their faith. Who found it woven in the Word.  I wish that I was one of them.  Honestly, I'm jealous that they didn't have this struggle to incorporate the two.  I wish I could tell you that there was never a doubt in a mind that God cherished women as much as men, that He called them all equally to build His Kingdom.  That's not my story or my experience.  And while I now see feminism through out the scriptures, I didn't for most of life.  So here is my story of faith and feminism, and the things in between.

At nine years old I was really in to biographies, I mean really in to biographies.  For an oral book report in the third grade I compared the characteristics of Mother Theresa and Lady Diana based on biographies I had checked out the library.  My father brought me home a book from that same library about Nellie McClung.  For those of you who weren't Canadian History buffs, Nellie McClung was a member of the Famous Five, a group of suffragists.  She is one of many individuals who fought for woman to have the right to vote, who full torso wrestled with the Canadian government to have our law include women in their definition of a person.  And then they became the Canadian government: Nellie McClung was elected to the Alberta Legislature in 1921. And this nine-year-old little girl who had been told her whole life that she could do anything she set her mind to, who could become anything she wanted, was shocked.  I couldn't fathom a world where I wasn't allowed to vote, or open a bank account, or pursue a career.  I couldn't imagine a world where I wasn't consider a person.  A world where I was less than human.  The fact that that world existed just a handful of decades before my birth, was astonishing to nine-year-old me.  And, the bookworm that I was, read everything I could get my hands on about Ms. McClung, transcripts of every speech she had written, every biography my local library had, every newspaper mentioning her name.  My parents were more than happy to oblige their daughter's new obsession.  Because hey, women's lib and Canadian history beats unicorns and Barbie dolls, right?   When our teacher asked our class what we wanted to be when we grew up, most kids answered "doctor", "teacher", "police officer", I quoted Ms. McClung and stated that I wanted to be "a voice for the voiceless." Yup, I was an annoying child.  (I also now recognize how harmful that phrase is. We'll talk about it here sometime. Short version: people are only voiceless if we are silencing them.)  In the fifth grade, my parents even helped me prepare a school project that involved a ridiculous costume and oral presentation that was more or less a mash-up of my favourite Nellie McClung speeches (so grateful that there's no video).

If I had to pinpoint the moment I became a feminist, it was then, at nine years old.  Although I didn't have the vocabulary for it at that time.  In fact the first time I did hear the "f-word", it was accompanied by descriptions and images of women who burned their bras and reduced men to domicile house pets, and ultimately just wanted everyone to be able to have sex with everyone else, without any consequences. And I was a Christian (of the purity culture variety), so that was really, really bad, and why would I ever want to associate myself with that?  (I could talk for hours about the misrepresentation of feminism, particularly second wave feminism, by the media, not to mention by Christian culture.) But I was a feminist. I believed in the political, social, and economic equality between the sexes, regardless of what I called myself.

While I would say the age of nine is when I became a feminist, it really could have been earlier. Because patriarchy is learned, folks.  It is why, before I was old enough to read, I asked my parents why we said "mankind" when there are women too.  Why don't we say "peoplekind"? It's why it never made me sense to me why the default was always male.  It's why I asked my fourth grade french teacher why we say "ils" when referring to men, "elles" when referring to women, but then "ils" when referring to men and women. "That's not fair, Miss.  It doesn't make sense."

I have patience and understanding for those who are hesitant to brand themselves as feminist. I was one of them.  My journey to embracing feminism and faith didn't happen overnight. It was a slow evolution. It is an ongoing process, and I get it wrong sometimes.  (Confession: As I was easing into my identity as a card-carrying feminist, there may have been a brief period of time when I referred to myself as a "conservative feminist"-yes I completely made that term up.  I'm pretty sure that's offensive to both conservatives and feminists.  Sorry guys, wish I could take that one back.) It was when I moved from an egalitarian church and started attending a complementarian church in my late teens, and had to work through the fact that some wonderful, dedicated Christians didn't believe women should be teaching or leading, that I discovered Junia and the hope and implications she brings.  It’s coming back to an egalitarian church and realizing how prevalent patriarchal approaches are to ministry and life , even within the realm of egalitarianism. Because subtle sexism is still sexism. It was only the past few years that I've proudly claimed the title of feminist.   I'm still reeling in the ramifications of Christ first revealing himself to a woman after the resurrection, of him sending a woman to tell the good news to the disciples.

Before the loud proclamations, before declaring it on the internet, there were quiet whispers.  I thought I was the only one.  I had never met a Christian who was also a feminist.  I didn't want to out myself as a Christian to my feminist friends, or as a feminist to my Christian friends.  But I did. Slowly at first, and now I'll shout it from any roof top (albeit absolutely terrified, but so help me God, I'll do it).  I’ll even write letters to the church, listing what I want them to know about feminism.  And the most amazing thing has happened, since I've stopped compartmentalizing my self, people have emailed me, tweeted me, texted me, stopped me on a Sunday morning, to say "Hey, never quite thought about that way." Or my favourite responses, the quiet whispers of "me too."  And I feel a little less like I'm standing in the middle of a field waving my arms screaming “over here, listen, I'm over here!”  I have found my people.  Some of them live on the internet, others sit at the end of my pew. 

I get it.  Feminism is a word with a lot of baggage.  I know that.  So is the word Christian.  I'm not throwing either title away.  I'm working through of what each of them mean, for me, and their impact on how I live my life. It’s one of the reasons why I identify as a Christian and a Feminist, not as a Christian Feminist.   I don't need to qualify or apologize for either of those identities.  Neither should you.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

What I'm into (May 2013)

This month has been brutal and beautiful.  It has been a painful exercise in allowing celebration and mourning to occupy the same space.  It has been filled with jubilant celebration and the aching sting of longing for those who are not here to join in the festivities.  

But in this month that heralds the arrival of Summer, here's what I'm into:

I'm into dressing up in gowns and hoods to accept ridiculously expensive pieces of paper! (YAY!!)

This month my music choices can be summarized into one word : Gatsby.  The Great Gatsby soundtrack is phenomenal.  Seriously.  I cannot over sell it. 

Here's what I've been reading:

Breaking Shame: Why Purity Culture Works -Jonalyn Grace Fincher 

"Purity is one of the only places Christians treat sin as un-degreed." 

If Women Ran Half the World -Brandy Walker 
(I freaking love this woman.  She is my kind of people.)
"Men could take the world off of their shoulders. No one would get made fun of for bringing home the bacon. Or going vegan. We’d all sleep more. And the benefits of true partnership. We’d finally find the cure for cancer. Science and math wouldn’t be “boys’ subjects”. Nor would humor. Being lady-like would mean becoming a doctor or a mom or a CEO or just plain awesome."

Too Girly to Lead? - Laura Ortberg Turner  

"Paul concludes his letter to the Romans by commending a number of people to the church at Rome, including Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Junia, and 'Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.' Paul wasn't thanking them for their delicious potato salad at the church potluck"

Feminism Needs Men, Too - Lauren Rankin 

"Ending the patriarchal oppression for women is good for men, too. Patriarchy doesn’t just privilege men over women, but privileges certain kinds of men and certain kinds of masculinity"

Facebook Says it Failed to Bar Posts with Hate Speech -Tanzina Vega, New York Times

Facebook has a bit of a rape problem.  This month, after some excellent activism from women's rights groups, and several business pulling their ads from the site, Facebook finally admitted that they had dropped the ball when it came to addressing misogynous content on their site.  

Don't Act Like Men - Nathan Colquhoun

In case you were unaware, Mark Driscoll and some other men are holding an "Act Like Men" conference. One of the host cities is the lovely town of Hamilton, Ontario.  The fine folks of Hamilton have responded fantastically.  They'll be hosting a "Don't Act Like Men" conference at the same time as Driscoll's.  (I'll give you one guess as to which event I suggest you register for.)

Change the Story - Shauna Niequist

"This old story isn’t helping me anymore, so I’m writing a new story...It says I might have more to contribute than I thought..."

Creative Theology -Sam Mahlstadt

I've actually made significant progress through my stack of unread books this month.  This one in particular stood out. Love, love, love this book.  It's beautiful.  And extraordinary.  And I can't stop talking about it.   All proceeds from book sales are currently going to tornado relief.

In other book news, I've finally gotten around to starting The Purity Myth by Jessica is proving to be just as amazing and thought provoking as I anticipated. 

And I leave you this, because we all need some poetry in our lives: 

 Thanks -W.S. Merwin

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

30 Things I Want The Church To Know About Christian Feminism.

Today I am over at Sarah McCarten's blog as part of her "30 Things" series to celebrate her 30th birthday.  I am thrilled to be sharing 30 things I want to the church to know about Christian feminism.   Here's a portion of that piece:  

 I am honoured that Sarah has invited me to pen my words on this page today.   To commemorate Sarah’s 30th birthday I’ll be sharing 30 things I want the church to know about Christian feminism.
 I will be using the word “we” as I talk about Christian feminists.  I want to be clear that “we” are a diverse group of people.  Just like not all Christians agree on every doctrinal matter, not all Christian feminists agree on every feminist issue, or every theological tenant.  I use the word “we”, but I do not speak for all Christians who are feminists, just as I do not speak for all Canadians who blog, or all brunettes who own dogs.

  1.   Feminism is the belief in the “political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”*  Seriously.  That’s it.  Do you believe that women should have political, economic, and social equality with men?  Then, congratulations!  You’re a feminist. 
2.   Christianity is “the religion derived from Jesus Christ, based on the bible as sacred scripture.”*  Do you believe that women should have political, economic, and social equality with men AND identify as a follower of Christ?  Well, golly gee!  You just might be a Christian feminist!  (Don’t worry, we’ll teach you the secret handshake later.)
 *Yes, I broke out my Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  Yes, I am nerd.  
3.   Okay, so I might be oversimplifying things a bit.  But that’s the point.  We often paint those with whom we disagree, or don’t understand, as evil villains out to destroy our carefully constructed castles of Christendom.  We create foils of those who may believe differently than we do, or have slightly different hermeneutical approaches.  This is about engaging, about turning on the lights and realizing that those who looked so menacing in the shadows are actually more similar to us than we originally thought.

You can read the rest of the 30 things on my list here at Sarah's blog.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

There is a Power in the Naming

Last month I was welcomed in to the most incredible community of women in Story101.  We live in different countries, on different continents.  Most of us have never met in person.  We come from different faith backgrounds and life experiences, but we all work in the medium of the written word and support one another through that journey.   We encourage each other in our writing.  We cry and laugh together.  We applaud one another’s successes.  We push each other through the rough stuff.  Sometimes we just get on the phone and pray together.  These women are amazing.  I love them.  And I am so grateful to have them in my life.   

This past week’s assignment was to write the hard thing.  I’ve struggled.  I sat down every day last week and attempted to write it.  All I ended up with were fragments of stories.  One day birthed a letter that will never be sent.  Another day dawned on the image of an elderly woman lost in a library, desperately searching through a card catalogue for a book whose title she couldn’t remember.  One day saw nothing but echoing sobs and a heart-aching longing for a friend who left too soon, laments for all that could have been, but never will be.  I borrowed the suggestion of my friend, Abby, one night and penned a permission note to myself:  To embrace anger and loss and grief.  To celebrate and lament with the same breath. To extend grace to those whose grief does not mirror my own.  But at the end of the week when I looked back at all my words, I realised I had written only portions of the hard thing.  I wrote circles around it without ever writing through it, without ever actually naming it. 

There is a power in the naming.  In the opening chapter of Hosea, God tells Hosea the names which should be given to the children bore by his wife, Gomer.  Their son will be called Jezreel – the place where God will destroy the power of Israel.  Their daughter will be named Lo-Ruhamah –“not loved”.  And their third child, a son, to be named Lo-Ammi- “not my people”.  There is a power in the naming.  Verse 9 cuts through the heart:  “for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”  Wow.  But Chapter 2 redeems:
“Say of your brothers, ‘My people’, and of your sisters, ‘My loved one’…. and the earth will respond to the grain, and the new wine and the olive oil, and they will respond to Jezreel.   I will plant here for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’ and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” 
There is much more to the book of Hosea, but I always seem to dwell here. The place where God destroyed, He will plant and bring new life, those unloved will now know love, those who were not His will now know His embrace.   The naming reveals the redemption.  If it wasn’t broken it wouldn’t need restoration. 

Our next assignment in Story101 is memoir.  We’ve been asked to identify a theme for our memoir and consider how we would illustrate it throughout our work.  I am not writing a memoir, but I’ve been applying the exercise to my writing and story in general.  And without a doubt, I want the theme of my story to be redemption. I want the plot of my life to reveal restoration.  I want the marvellous scandal of grace and renewal to be woven into my writing.   But my hard thing, it is back in chapter one.  It is in the destroyed, the broken, the unloved, the alone. 

I believe in a God who makes all things new.   I believe that there is nothing beyond His redemptive power.  I believe that He is at work in my life and your life, working all this to the good of those who believe in Him.  I believe it.  But I don’t always trust it.  There are chapters of story, segments of life, where this finite mind has not yet noticed the hand of a loving Saviour at work.  

I think that’s why I haven’t been able to write the hard thing.  I don’t want to leave fragments of story that don’t point toward redemption.  Because this is the “for you are not my people, and I am not your God” part of the story.  Because chapter two hasn’t been written yet.  And even if I promise to blog a review about it, God says I don’t get an advanced copy.   I don’t want to leave people with a narrative that doesn’t denote the redemptive, restorative grace of our Lord.  I don’t want to leave me with that narrative, staring into the abyss of a story with all these loose ends.  Because what if it ends there?  What if the second chapter never gets written?  I believe that God will make all things new, but do I trust Him to actually do it?

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?  The world would split open.”
-Terry Tempest Williams “If Women Were Birds”

Maybe it’s time for another permission slip to myself.  To speak the truth and let the world split open.  To stop hanging paintings over the holes in the plaster.   To strip away fanciful writing.  To stop hiding behind metaphors.  To recognize the power in the naming. This doesn’t have to be beautiful.  It just has to be true.  It’s not my job to find the redemption.  I don’t have to wait for the renewal or create the restoration.  Just expose the brokenness and let God do the rest.

If you’d like to be apart of this extraordinary community of women who will push when you need pushing and hold you when you need holding, who will speak new life into your writing and your living, then you’re in luck!  Registration is now available for the next Story101 Session.  Check here for more information and to register.    

Friday, April 19, 2013

Stories over Dishes

My mother gave us fluoride drops as children "to promote oral health." She was a dental assistant and was determined that her children would not have cavities.  Two and half decades later and her children are all proudly cavity free.  She and our father saved to pay for our orthodontics, but I was a self-conscouis adolescent who didn't want the added burden of a tin grin.  Yet, I am a colossal jaw-clencher, tooth-grinder, who at 19 was told that if I didn't want to lose my teeth, would need braces.

I quickly mastered the skill of the closed mouth smile.

The following year, I came to the Dominican Republic for the first time.  To my surprise, the very thing that caused me embarrassment in Canada, was a source of different kind of attention in this country.  The children in the villages were fascinated.

In one village we worked in their feeding program.  This program feeds about 200 children, elderly, and pregnant women, three times a week.  While the program is operated by a Canadian couple, it runs successfully thanks to a group of dedicated community volunteers.  One of these volunteers is a young woman named Sarah.  Sarah could stare down a grizzly bear.   (I doubt she's ever seen one, but if you were to but Sarah and a bear in the same room, I'd  put my money on Sarah being the one walking away after the encounter.)

Sarah was there every day feeding the kids, serving food, washing dishes.  Whatever need to be done, she would do it.  She was committed to her community.  Along with that commitment and dedication, she had truck loads of attitude.  She seemed to be somewhat jaded by the stream of volunteers from the North that came through, feeding children and posing for photos, only to leave again a week later.

One morning while washing dishes, Sarah asked me about my braces.
"You will have straight teeth when they come off?"
"Are they expensive?"
"Umm, yeah. I guess."
"How did you get the money for them?"
"Well, I didn't.  My parents are paying for them."

Her eyes widened.  We washed the dishes in silence as she slowly ran her tongue over her teeth. Scrape. Wash. Dry. Scrape. Wash. Dry. Scrape. Wash. Dry.

Finally she spoke.

"Do you think your parents would pay for me to have straight teeth?"

How do you respond to that?

I mumbled something, but I don't remember what.  What I should have said was "Darling, it is not straight teeth we need. It is a straight heart.  It is learning to shoot straight, to speak straight, to work on the alignment of our heart and our soul and our will.  You can't buy that.  No one can give you that.  I barely know you, but you seem to be miles ahead of me in that regard.  You are a warrior, keep your spine straight, your feet one in the front of the other."

Sarah wanted to go to school.  She talked about being a nurse.  Before I left on my last day, she asked if I would remember her after I went back to Canada.  She wanted me to tell my people about her.  I didn't forget, but I didn't tell her story.   I would try when people asked about my trip, but I struggle over my words and my guilt.  I still do.  But I'm telling her story now, at least this part of it.

I'm going back to the feeding program today.  I hope to see Sarah, to wash dishes with her and hear more of her story, to borrow some of her boldness.

Monday, April 15, 2013

In Which I Take a Leap Out of the Technological Dark Ages, Apologize to my Dad, and Cry in a Bookstore

A few years ago, my dad bought an e-reader.  My father is a voracious reader and he was more than a little excited.  Like everything in his life, he researched it forward and backwards. You want to know the specs on every reader on the market in 2009? He's your guy.  My Dad would try to convince anyone he met about the benefits of this new fangled reader, including me.  And I swore up and down, that I didn't care how many bookshelves from Ikea I had to buy and then get someone else to assemble, I would never, ever have an e-reader. I don't care how many trees it saves.  A mighty pine would gladly give his life for the written word, it is the most noble deed a pine can perform.  I would hold out to the end, technology would not win.  Just because something is new and exciting, does not mean it is better.  Nothing can replace a physical book, or the intimacy that comes with its reading. I don't care how fancy they make it, it is not the same.

Today, I bought an e-reader.  Sorry, Dad.

Here's the thing, I kind of love my new e-reader.  It makes accessing and reading books a breeze.  It also feels like I'm cheating.  It's not just the stories and the words that I love.  It's the actual physical book.  The promise of an unopened cover.  The comfort of a well worn spine.  I love seeing the scribbles in the margins, the underlining and circling of passages that stirred the soul. The musty sweet smell of a well read book. I love the creasing of the spine, dog eared pages, The crayon scrawls of a child across the pages. The beautiful inscription of the gift giver to the reader. The physical object of the book itself is a story. And it makes my heart ache that we are losing that. 

As a child, we visited the library almost as regularly as we did our church.  We would trek in every week, check out the maximum 12 books, and head home.  We were read to every day.  We'd curl up every evening in my brother's bed and my father would read us story, after story, after story.  We'd beg for "just one more, Daddy, please! Then we promise to go to sleep!"  And my father usually obliged.  When he was at work the next day, my brother and I would sort through our borrowed books, selecting the stories for that night's reading.  The next week, we'd drive back into town, return the last 12 books, and find another dozen to bring home with us.  Of course we had our favourites, that we checked out over and over again.  I'm sure we are responsible for the wearing out of a few good books at our public library.  

When I was 10 or 11 years old, my father and I found a copy of "The Last of the Mohicans" on a bookshelf in my grandparents house.  It had been given to my great grandmother as a gift from her teacher after completing the seventh grade.  (I know this, because it is inscribed in elegant cursive on the inside cover).   I never met my great grandmother.  She left this world decades before I entered it.  But somehow I felt connect to her when I held that book.  I imagined her holding it, carrying it home with her down the gravel road to her parent's homestead.  I imagined her curled up on a winters night in front of the wood stove, devouring it, page after page.  Picking it up ever couple of years to relive the adventures along the Huron.  Maybe she didn't.  Maybe she put it on a shelf when she got home from school that day and never touched it again.   Or maybe she read it, and hated it.  I don't know.  But what I do know, is that Laurena Hatfield held the red, canvas bound novel in 1906, when she was just a girl.  And nearly a century later her great granddaughter, at almost the exact same age, would be in the house where she gave birth to her children, holding that same book, her hands touching the exact same object.  Although separated by three generations, and 100 years, we shared a moment together.  And I want that for my grandchildren, my great grandchildren.  I want my children and grandchildren to look at my bookshelf and feel my presence despite my absence, when they hold a book that I once held, to read the words that I once read.

Poet Taylor Mali said "We need words to hold us and the world to behold us for us to truly know our own souls."  It is in between the covers of those childhood books that I found by soul, it is in between the pages of stories now, that I am continuing to find my voice.
When I'm anxious, or overwhelmed, I go to a bookstore and spend hours wandering about. You can find me on the floor, usually in the children's section, reading page after page, until I am grounded again.  I have a relationship with books.  Confession: I have cried, while sitting on the floor of a local bookstore, reading The Velveteen Rabbit, as an adult. This is what books do to me.

And I get it.  The e-reader thing.  I get the appeal. It's light weight.  It simplifies things. It's convenient. I spent hours trying to track down books that evidently do not exist in this town of mine, and would cost a great deal in shipping to get them to my door. Even then, they would not arrive by the time I needed them.  But thanks to technology, one click, and I  own a copy.  An electronic copy.  That I can see, but never touch.  Thanks to this digital device, books are more accessible, and that's a good thing, right? I had 10 books I wanted to take on vacation with me, that would have been a full carry-on worth of books, but now, they are all contained on a device "no thicker than a pencil" that can fit in my purse (or my pocket as the advert said, but whoever wrote that obviously hasn't had lady pockets-useless things that they are).  I'm saving money on books (and the shipping of them) And I don't hate it as much as I thought I would.  But it's not the same. It is practical. And it breaks my heart.
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