Back To the Drawing Board
February 15th, 2008 by Sonja

This week in the Osgiliath Classical School we’ve begun a new project. We are studying the weather. As a spine for this study we’re using a book called The Kids Book of Weather Forecasting with meteorologist Mark Breen. The LightChildren were each assigned the task of reading the first chapter and then they had to work “together” to design a weather log and come up with a list of tools that one might need to keep a weather log current.

First there was a two day argument over when they would work together. Once they began to work together, there was a loud and protracted argument over who’s list should “win.” LightGirl had a list that was created mostly around her senses. LightBoy had a list that was mostly more objective measuring tools. He, in fact, scoffed at her senses. She attempted to win him over to her more organic manner of observation. However, they were both clubbing each other over the head with their respective lists, in a metaphorical sense. When the clubbing left metaphor and became physical, I intervened.

“Alright, you two,” said I, “did you actually read your assignment?” Vigorous head nods followed by open mouths ready to assert their righteousness. I quickly went on before words could leave the open mouths, “I believe the assignment was that you were to work together,” and I emphasized the word “together.” “This means, LightGirl, that you do not come up with a list and LightBoy goes along with it. And LightBoy, you do not get to come up with a list and expect that LightGirl will go along with it. Do you both understand me?” More head nods, but the mouths are still open ready to defend their honor and tell me how horrible the other sibling is.

“No, I don’t think you do. You are both trying to win. There is nothing to win here. You will only win when you work together. It is very likely that there is something of value in both of your lists and that there is something that needs to be dropped in both of your lists. I do not know what those things are … that is for you to figure out” The mouths are closed now and they are beginning to look at each other as realization dawns. “Now. Get thee hence into the school room and work together on one list between the two of you.”

Off they went. They sat down in the school room and worked out a plan to figure out a list and then worked out a list. Then they presented it to me. The plan involved looking through their book together! Stunning. And thinking and talking together. Their final list was impressive. Lo and behold, it contained elements of both of their original lists.

I often allow arguments to carry on (until it gets physical). I allow them to work out their own relationship within certain boundaries. It can get painful and loud for the parents. But it is training ground for them to understand how to live with others. How to work out difficulties. How to work together even when each is certain they know the “right” way. I try to emphasize that they are always in this together. There is never a time when one is right and the other wrong. If When there is a fight, they have both contributed to it and both must contribute to reconciliation. As my mother used to say to my brothers and I, “It takes two to tango.”

So when I wrote yesterday about reconciliation, apology, power, dominant culture and oppressed culture, I was coming to it from that perspective. But most of you don’t know that. I forget that I’m kind of a blank slate when I write. Not an entirely blank slate, but I’m not as three dimensional to you as I am to myself. Most of us bloggers are. If anything, when we read a blog, we bring to it our own perspectives, prejudices, backgrounds, etc and read it through our own particular lens. Sometimes that lens has been broadened, sometimes not, sometimes it has been more healed, sometimes less. Sometimes the issue being written about is the driving force behind how we read the blog that day. There are so many different permutations and combinations of those possibilities, it kind of makes my head explode to think about it.

I am humbled by the grace extended to me by Patrick, Peggy, Grace and Christy in the conversation that followed. My experience of such has been rare indeed. So, if I may, I would like to give some context and flesh to my post from yesterday.

When I read posts such as Josh’s critique and participate in conversations about women in church, I often hear a sense of bewilderment and frustration from men of my generation and younger generations. The frustration that I hear sounds something like this, “I don’t know what to say/do. It never seems like enough. There are women in leadership now. We are moving forward. Why won’t women stop complaining.” Please, please read Josh’s critique … it is very good and he does make some very valid points. But … maybe it’s just me, but I can also hear a sense of bewilderment and frustration underlying his piece. A certain sense of why is this happening here? Why is this continuing to continue?

So, I very baldly and badly wrote that we “need” an apology. Which is not entirely true, as Peggy and Patrick were both very kind to remind me. We women do not “need” an apology. We “need” God/Papa to remind us that we are loved despite any of our earthly hurts. However, what I was trying to communicate was that it would be helpful to the process between the genders if an apology were offered at some point. I was trying to communicate that on the basis of what has happened in South Africa in the 1990s and what is poised to happen in Australia now, an apology might be a way of helping to drain those wounds.

As Peggy wrote, and I deeply agree with, I’ve got issues with a sense of entitlement. So I’m not certain that I think women are entitled to an apology. But I need to say that in my outloud voice now, because it’s obvious from the comments that at least some of you heard me say that. An apology extended as the result of a demand, is almost worthless as we all know. It is usually extended because of some form of extortion in that case, whether physical or emotional. The apology rendered is then meaningless, and we’ve all endured our share of those.

So what is the purpose of an apology? I’ve spent a lot of time over the past several years studying that question. I’ve read a couple of books. In short the purpose of an apology is to let a person who has been wronged know that you understand the hurt that has been done, you regret the harm was done in the first place and you will attempt to make it stop. It is an attempt, however feeble, to take some form of responsibility for a wrong done and to understand the harm that has been caused to the person who was wronged. Those are the two main prongs of an apology. Take responsibility and understand harm.

You’ll notice that my definition of an apology did not include anything about feeling guilty or bad about oneself. I did not write anything about eternal shame. I did write about remorse which is something different. Guilt is entirely different from remorse … guilt is a state of being, while remorse has to do with an action. One ought not to feel guilty about the state into which one was born. However, one might feel remorse about the status of those who are not in that state. Does that make sense?

None of that, however, makes an apology necessary. In fact, an apology is simply irrelevant in the economy of God’s forgiveness. S/He loves us and will heal our wounds, if we will allow that. What then, do we do about trusting the other? The one or ones who harmed us? Our wounds may be healed, but the trust has been broken and the relationship has not been reconciled. An apology offered (not demanded, but offered) is an incredible first step in that process of rebuilding trust between the two parties wherein the trust has been lost, to whatever degree.

That is where I think that an apology offered by male leaders of institutions (churches, both local bodies and denominational) could go a long way toward helping to re-establish some of the trust that is currently lacking in some of the female Jesus followers. Are we entitled to it? No. Do we also have junk to apologize for? Yes. Yes, we do. But as Christy wrote in her comment, “It’s not about asking people to feel bad and guilty – it’s about recognizing that all of us are responsible to do our part to work for justice.” It’s about all of us … all of us in this together, recognizing our responsibilities, the harm we’ve done, and the good we’ve done. That the inequities are harmful to the dominant culture just as much as they are to the under dogs. That justice, grace and mercy are for all of us, not just some.

So, let’s go back to the schoolroom and make our list together. Okay?

9 Responses  
  • Peggy writes:
    February 15th, 20085:40 pmat


    Nice “do-over”, sister! And while I did get some of that context from the original post, this is what struck me in this one (and in the context of what I’ve been blogging about 8) ):

    With the Stolen Generation in Oz and with Apartheid in South Africa, and even Native Americans, there is somewhat of a narrow focus on race. And within the terrible crimes committed against these people groups, it fell on all — young and old, men and women. And they were also perpetrated in official policies by members of the ruling government (and in some cases, buoyed by poor theology).

    In the case of women, there has never been that broad a stroke of the brush. There have always been pockets of women who served along side the men and were acknowledged.

    Now, hear me…I came from a church that restricted what women could do. I also was the 5th daughter of a church planter! All five of us grew up serving the church in every imaginable capacity. Imagine my shock when I moved beyond my father’s church and got slapped in the face by those who denied me the opportunity to serve as I had always done!

    All this is to say that identifying who will be going back to the schoolroom and make this list is a bit fuzzy to me. I have some ideas about how to begin, but I think we might have to do this closer to the grassroots and bask in the glow of the cooperation some and allow that light to spread and fragrance to waft….

    I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I think top-down will be much more difficult in this scenario.

    Love your style and heart. :)

  • Cathy writes:
    February 15th, 20086:05 pmat

    I’ve learned about apologies from being the recipient of good and bad apologies. The good apology says “I did something wrong. You were hurt and I understand how you were hurt. I am sorry.” It’s not rocket science.

  • cindy writes:
    February 16th, 20089:53 amat

    hey sonja- we’re using that book right now too. (I know that’s not your main point, but i thought i’d mention it, too.) did y’all make the barometer? ours really works. i’m amazed. :-)

  • Patrick writes:
    February 16th, 200811:47 amat

    We all come at topics like this with a philosophical ideal, a personality style (and that includes the favored apology style) and a whole package of our actual experiences.

    I realize in my response that this latter is maybe more influential. My experiences, working as a volunteer and later as an intern, in a church were with a team of people who constantly undermined and demoralized others. Yet, they were nice people and were seeking God, yet doing it in an ultimately immature and destructive way. With their approach was a lot of touchy/feely kind of meetings and interactions and whatever. They were very good at apologizing about the sins of the past. They apologized to all the women. They apologized to the hispanics. They apologized to the children. They loved their apologies. It expressed a brokenness and an awareness of past faults. Then, continually, they proceeded to undermine and demoralize others. Only without a racist or sexist expression. Everyone was vulnerable. The apologies were sincere, but they weren’t backed up with any kind of deep wisdom or systematic change or approach. Just apologies for mistakes made in the past, even as new mistakes were boldly being made.

    Which means, for me, an apology is mere rhetoric. I don’t believe them. I don’t trust them. And I think they are often just a rhetorical tool meant to provide just enough cushion to dismiss the complaints.

    And I think again of Scripture. The pattern we are called to is real and thorough change, by our actions we are known. And by our associations and choices of influences and advisors. It’s not the person who just says yes to the master’s commands who is the good servant. It’s the person who does the master’s command, even if initially they said no.

    And I think of Jesus and Peter. Peter denied Jesus three times. Betrayed him. Jesus didn’t ask for an apology. He asked if Peter loved him, and then said, “feed my sheep.” He told Peter to live the response, not just speak it.

    I want to see change, and I’ve learned that words are just words, and I don’t trust them at all. And honestly I don’t expect anyone to trust me either, except by looking at my actions.

  • Sonja writes:
    February 16th, 20081:59 pmat

    Patrick … wow. I have learned over time, to anticipate that your comments will be full of good thoughts. But then there are those which simply blow me away and take me multiple readings and days to digest. This is one of them. Amazing!

  • Peggy writes:
    February 16th, 20084:16 pmat

    Patrick, I am sad to tell you how much I resonate with your experience. And that I am approaching three years now of praying about what my response should be, if God actually desires me to be part of the solution.

    I have made a few steps in the past six months…and we now have a new senior pastor…but it is still a bewildering time as I seek to know what to do and when to do it — or not.

    Yup…words are empty unless actions support them. This is what James was getting to in his faith without works is dead discussions…

    What to do? It is a mystery that only the Holy Spirit can answer, at the right time and in the right circumstances.

  • Cynthia writes:
    February 17th, 20081:23 pmat

    I am glad to see you pull this thread of the conversation. I read Josh’s post and immediately felt so frustrated with what I perceived to be naive bewilderment. My history is not one of granted freedom for women … whether in the church or in my experience. Though I am breaking away from all of that now and though I am in a mainline church now, the wounds are not healed.

    Do we need apologies to heal? No but it apologies do apply a healing balm. My husband has apologized to me for the men in my life who took advantage of my vulnerability, for men in my life who abandoned me … though he has never done anything to hurt me, he recognizes the depth of my fear, my distrust, my imprisonment.
    He accepts that sometimes my reaction toward him has nothing to do with what he has done but with what has been done to me in the past or with what has been done to other women.

    I thihk his is a good example of how to walk in humility with those who are recovering and finding their life again in God.

  • Christy writes:
    February 17th, 200810:48 pmat

    One thing that, in my experience, has made these sorts of conversations hard is whether people are thinking individually or systemically. There is a kind of apology where you recognize that you as an individual have hurt another individual, and you recognize your responsibility for that and make efforts to change.

    We might not always do that very well, but I think we at least understand the concept. Where I have found that these conversations go awry in gellie and emergent situations is that many of us don’t have a very good understanding of systemic injustice, and admitting our participation in that is a very different sort of thing.

    For women in the Christian church, the subordination of women is a systemic thing, with it being official church policy to bar women from many roles simply because we are women. And, in the majority of the Christian church, both in the U.S. and worldwide, that is still the case. (There have always been pockets of places where women were regarded as equally worthy as men, but until the last 30 years, it’s only been tiny pockets.)

    Yes, apologies can be cheap, but they are a necessary first step. As a white person, admitting to the systemic racism that our country was founded on and to the ways that is still in evidence today doesn’t change anything – BUT I certainly can’t work to change anything if I don’t first stipulate to my white privilege and make an effort to understand the experiences of people of color – even when they have things to say that are difficult to hear and make me uncomfortable.

    In the same way, because sexism is a SYSTEM of injustice in the church, men cannot work to change things unless they first recognize the system for what it is and make some sort of effort to understand what it is like to grow up hearing that God is a man and that you are supposed to submit and that Jesus only calls on the boys…

    this is all a very LONG way of saying that the emergent conversations needs more sociologists…

  • Patrick writes:
    February 18th, 20082:08 pmat

    Christy, there’s something in your comment that opened up my thinking a little. I’m not sure what it is, but all of a sudden I began to see from your perspective.

    I still disagree about the need to apologize. But that’s not the point is it. My experiences are my experiences and so I don’t want or expect anyone to apologize. I don’t care if someone says nice words about me or offers a compliment. I got a lot of that working in a church, often not long after followed by actions that suggested dismissal not respect.

    Actions to me are everything. Maybe also it’s my family history. We’re white, sure, and I’m a man, yes. But I have a family history that didn’t capitalize on those benefits. My family came to California after the Civil War when my great-great-great grandmother moved with her six surviving children to start a new life, after her husband and oldest son were killed in the South, fighting against slavery. One side of my family helped farm the land of Japanese farmers who were detained during WW2, making sure that racist policies didn’t mean loss of livelihoods for them. My grandfather on the other side was also a farmer during WW2 and in working with migrant workers developed a passion to minister to them. He ended up losing his farm and spent the rest of his life working in Mexico and Southern California, so much so that for much of my life I thought he was Mexican, and so was I. I grew up around such a diverse community that it was only the conversations about ending racism that caused me to start realizing there was racism. It never occurred to me to be biased for such shallow reasons until I was told I shouldn’t be.

    My mom is a very strong woman, and most of my life I have had very strong woman teachers and almost all of my jobs I have had strong women bosses. So it’s weird for me to think that women somehow can’t be in charge. Of course, I’ve also been treated poorly by some women leaders at times, so I can’t exactly see myself as the oppressor of their oppression when I’m the one left on the street.

    But this is my perspective and experience. Had I written this a week ago I would have ended my response with my last paragraph. But your response reminded me of something I wrote in my book. In the chapter on giving I made a big point that so often we think giving is just doing what we want to do. Like a servant-leader in a church. They do sometimes serve, but they tell people how they are going to be served by them. While real servants are told what they are going to do.

    Real giving isn’t about handing over stuff, or dong just what I want to do. Real giving is about letting go not only my things but also my perspectives. I don’t want to apologize for some supposed gender slight because I don’t feel responsible for that, and I don’t want that in return, and I don’t feel like that’s really helpful.

    But it’s not about me. And in reading your post I realize how my very stance while seeking truth, isn’t really all that giving. Because it’s only seeking to offer what I am willing to offer, rather than what you feel you need for your wholeness.

    It doesn’t matter if I feel too poured out to pour out more. I have to trust that it is the Spirit who will pour back in as I continue to pour out, pour out for others, with others, not just to others. I don’t know if any of this makes sense to anyone else besides me.

    And this is all to say… I’m sorry.

    I’m sorry for arrogant men and abusive evils and structures in which even the ability to struggle forward is denied. I’m sorry for the church that has made theology a way to secure its own power, and shut out those who would disturb the power structures.

    I’m sorry for all that you went through, for all that has crushed your spirit.

    And I can also add that not only am I sorry but that I’ve committed my life to making changes, even as this commitment has itself pushed me outside the circles of power that might otherwise be more open to me as a white male. I have let go that and joined, being pushed by the Spirit, those outside the walls, to march with them and occasionally blow the trumpets, waiting for the day all the walls fall down.

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