All Things Crash Together For Good
May 5th, 2008 by Sonja

Sometimes things crash together in my life. They make a big messy pile and I stand to one side looking at the pile and wonder about it. The smoke and debris rise, then settle. I may cough a time or two. I often get fairly emotional and wave my arms in the air a lot. Then I get to dig through the rubble to find out what is there. What I can recycle out of the mess.

It’s happening right now. In seemingly unrelated sphere’s of my life similar events are crashing, raising dust and debris.

We had a meeting last Wednesday evening to wrap up last season and look forward to next for my daughter’s hockey team. It was a two hour meeting. For the first hour and a half the TravelTeamDirector told us parents about how the club is in trouble. Nationally youth hockey is growing at about 3% per year and girls hockey is growing at about 10-12% per year, but our club is not seeing those growth rates. We are stagnant or declining. Hmmmm. He asked for our help over and over and over again. Talked about how much the Executive Board valued including parents. Talked about how necessary we are to the health and well-being of the club. Then he brought up the last item on his list (not on the published agenda, btw). Next year’s HeadCoach. The Board would like to install a man who’s daughter is supposed to move up to the next level because of her age. But they would like to apply for a waiver for her to continue to “play down” on our team. There is only one problem with this. It makes our team ineligible for league playoffs and tournaments because we are playing with an athlete who is too old. So, in essence, we are playing “for the fun of it.” It takes all the competitiveness out of it.

Several of us expressed our lack of support for this plan in no uncertain terms. We were ignored. Our very real concerns for the long term effects this would have on our girls team and program were ignored. The fact that a proposal of this nature would never, ever in a million years be presented to a boys team (else the presenters be laughed out of the room) was dismissed out of hand.

I’ve known for some time that to play girls hockey in this club is a backwater team. Parents of female athletes are not known by other parents in the same fashion that parents of male athletes are. As in any organization, it’s “who ya know.”

I’ve continued to process this information and at the same time out in the corners of the blogosphere that I frequent there has been a renewed discussion about how male-centric the church in general is and whether or not it should change. If the emerging stream is changing that and how is it doing that. Jenell Paris wrote Cacklings From an Emerging Crone and Grace wrote When “Sorry” Isn’t Enough. You can also find some excellent words on power sharing by Makeesha here and here and Change, Power, Access by Rose Madrid-Swetman. I think Kathy Escobar may have started it all with Auntie Kathy, Are You Sure It’s Not Wrong For You To Be A Pastor? in which she shares e-mail exchanges with her 14 year old niece about her call to be a pastor and her passion for equality:

you see, the “we don’t really value your voice” message goes far beyond just whether or not women preach or teach. it’s the subtle ways women don’t have equal power, leadership, value, or voice, where entire generations of misogyny are built upon a few passages of scripture and the liberating message of Jesus gets lost. i am well aware many women have no desire to be a loudmouth like me. but i know they are strong and powerful in different ways and won’t get the chance to step into it ”unless it directly benefits the system somehow and it will only be to a point that the men in power feel comfortable with.” women will stay in churches year after year after year after year that subtly or even directly keeps them stuck, limited. …..

Jesus is a restorer, a rebuilder, a redeemer. but i believe sometimes we need to actively participate in his redemption. to me, i think it requires speaking out with more than just words against the subtle and direct ways we are silencing and devaluing 1/2 of the population. please, God, redeem this mess we’ve made.

You see among many things, I’m an observer of patterns. I watch the way people behave and see patterns. Sometimes it’s in individual relationships, sometimes it’s in larger group dynamics. Among the patterns I’ve observed is that power acts like drug on the mind. Exercise it and it will grab more of your mind, like endorphins. Power over others makes us feel … um … powerful in the moment. How it was used and whether or not we are mentally healthy will later determine our sense of dis-ease with a misuse of power.

One of my favorite scenes in a movie ever, is the scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Roberts has come back to the hotel without any new clothes because none of the Rodeo Drive boutiques will serve her. So Richard Gere took her back to one, flashed his cash or credit cards (I forget which) and said, “We require a lot of sucking up.” When the manager of store started to fawn all over him, Richard re-directed the guy to Julia very dismissively. It’s hilarious and so overdone. And yet. That is the economics of all relationships … overdone, overexposed, gross in it’s ineptitude. We all require sucking up and we all suck up to each other on some level or another. In our marriages we love each other, so we suck up to each other as a natural consequence of that love. The payback is not financial, it’s emotional. In our friendships (depending on the level of friendship) a similar thing occurs. Once the circle moves out to acquaintances, sports/team relationships, business relationships and church relationships the transaction is more ritualized and the sucking up is more apparent. The hierarchy is more transparent as well.

So, the question is does power belong in a church in the first place? We talk about it belonging to the men, or being shared or being given up to women? But … does it even belong in a church in the first place? We talk about hierarchy, power and all the trappings as if they belong … creating assumptions that are not necessarily true. When I read the Gospels, I see a Jesus who questioned those assumptions and lived outside of them. He did not participate in the sucking up transactions. He did not participate in the hierarchy. He put aside all use of power, though all the power in the universe was at his disposal. What does the church do?

We look like a mirror image of my daughter’s hockey team. Somehow … I thought we were supposed to be different.

UPDATE: As I follow the ongoing conversation at Jenell Paris’ place this comment was made by Lara and it provides a beautiful picture of what equality in the church could look like and it is dramatically different from the dog-eat-dog equality we see in the rest of the world.

Biblical equality is not really about leadership, once we get down to the nitty-gritty. It requires a complete revisiting of the idea of leadership. We reject the worldly views of leadership and recognize that everything in the church is really about service. We are all servants, we are all to sacrifice for one another, none of us is to lift ourselves over the other. Instead of viewing Biblical equality as an efort for women to climb to the top, it is better to see it as all of us becoming more humble and willing to serve one another.

That leads me to the other point. Because Biblical equality is really about submission instead of leadership, nobody has to tell egalitarian women to submit. We already do, as do our beloved egalitarian brothers and our traditionalist sisters. The people who really have major issues with submitting to others are traditionalist men who believe that the sexual hierarchy exempts them from the clear Scriptural command to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

6 Responses  
  • grace writes:
    May 5th, 20088:42 amat

    I am sorry about the board’s proposal. Is it a done deal?

    Power is like money. Its goodness or badness is in our attitude and stewardship of power. As we discussed at Mak’s blog, we all have power in certain situations. When we find ourselves with power, it is our responsibility to determine whether we will use it in serving ourselves or others.

    In the church, our attitude of power should always be toward service rather than empire building. The church should be an alternative witness to the way power is used in the world.

    Hierarchy doesn’t belong in the church or our relationships.

    I think the call is for men to use their power to break the structures that continue to exclude women. The purpose of this is not to elevate women in hierarchy, but rather to be the redemptive society that exemplifies equality and inclusion of everyone, whether they are considered the greatest or least in the broader society.

  • Sonja writes:
    May 5th, 20088:46 amat

    Grace, as always you are on the money. I am late for a quilt gathering, but I will let this percolate and respond more later.

  • Maria writes:
    May 5th, 20088:56 amat

    I don’t think we can avoid power (or disparities of power) in relationships as long as we have people “with skin on,” as a friend of mine likes to say, in church. However, the culture of the gospel should be constantly reminded us that our power is to be used to serve, something that we give away and don’t hoard. My problem with the church is that it functions so much like your hockey club so much of the time — without reflecting on the assumptions we live by and letting the gospel cut across those assumptions.

  • kathyescobar writes:
    May 5th, 20089:33 amat

    hey sonja, thanks so much for always articulating things so well. i will say to you that this has been a little bit of a dilemma for me in the conversations over the past year because of the same reason you state–as christ-followers, are we supposed to be talking about power at all? the beatitudes, in my opinion, are some of the most critical scriptures about kingdom principles and what i see in the beatitudes is upside-downness when it comes to power. i have found myself speaking about this going “wow, this seems kind of awkward, i am not into power but i’m trying to get some…” but i agree with grace, it’s not about power for power’s sake. it’s about being “the redemptive society that exemplifies equality and inclusion of everyone, whether they are considered the greatest or least in the broader society.” it’s about leveling the playing field because in the kingdom of God, there should be no hierarchy. it’s about ensuring that little girls have as much voice and value as little boys. it’s making ways for the voiceless to be heard and that has nothing to do with gender. the church of Jesus Christ should always be the ones that the world is looking at, saying “whoa, what’s up with them? they are wild and free and equal and kind in all kinds of crazy ways…” but what they see is the same ol’ power/exclusion/locked-upness that they are used to in the world. i wonder if some other words for power are influence, value, voice? i don’t just want this for women, i want it for everyone who usually doesn’t get any…

  • Sonja writes:
    May 5th, 200812:39 pmat

    That’s it Kathy … and Grace and Maria …

    It’s not about having power, for the sake of power. We’re always restraining the power that we have when necessary. Think about when you hold a baby or a small child, that’s crying or screaming. You restrain your power and use your imagination to try to redirect the child’s energy or something else. Restraint and redirection of power is nothing new. Redemption of power is not new either.

    But keeping women, people of color, people who are “other” in any way out of the structures where they can have a voice reduces their value to those who are in power. Until we begin to recognize all humans as equal in value, regardless of what we think they might be able to do for us (either individually or as a group) we are falling short.

  • Pistol Pete writes:
    May 6th, 200812:31 pmat

    You raise some very profound questions. Very well written.

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