Being White


The gym bleachers never become more comfortable to sit on. For five years of college I sat on them twice a week and now, as a staff member, I shifted to find a comfortable position as the Gospel Choir exited the stage on the gym floor. I turned my attention to the speaker being welcomed to the position of authority: behind the podium. A White male with multiple graduate degrees and a terminal degree, he represented the most common type of speaker to be seen in chapel. The epitome of knowledge and power, the hope of the future for championing conservative family values, this man was here to challenge university students to become godlier.

As they often do, the speaker opened his talk with a joke. …Except this was a joke about abusive husbands. Laughter immediately filled the gym but trailed off as the words sunk in and students paused – “Wait, was that…okay to say?”

I sat on that wooden bleacher – knees twisted, back aching – seething. Students I knew looked at me with shocked expressions; shaking their heads they whispered to each other. I think I croaked out “Not. Appropriate.” loud enough for several rows of people around me to hear. Hardly an adequate or appropriate response. But I was mad.

How often do we idolize those with Ph.D’s and decades of work experience as having all the answers? Of being the most valuable in our communities? Of being the most like Jesus?

My mind was with the students in the room that had experienced or were currently experiencing abuse. Their stories, their lives, their pain had been trivialized and reduced to a sound bite for entertainment value.

As chapel progressed I fought back my anger and resentment towards well-educated White men that seem to be championed as the future of the Church. I can’t say that I was very successful in doing so. But I was very aware that all that simmering ugly-junk was very much boiling in me, and that it was keeping me from listening to everything else the speaker was saying.

I had a choice. To write this man off as not having anything worthwhile to say, or to acknowledge that God may still speak through him despite his massive ignorance and lack of compassion. I wrestled with myself the remainder of the chapel.

Until I could see myself in him, I didn’t want to listen. Until I could acknowledge that I’m just as broken, I tuned him out. Until I could believe that God chooses to still speak through humans the moment after we wrong him and others around us, my ears were closed and my heart was cold.

Every day we choose who to listen to, and how to listen to them. We can write others off as not being experts, as not being eloquent, and as not having common ground with us. We can give into mockery and disregard of those who aren’t adept socially. We can choose to listen more readily and give more weight to the words of those who are wealthy, White, male, extroverted, and able-bodied.

Or we can believe that God can speak truth through anyone. Even those who are offensive to us, those who have no alphabet soup behind their name, and those who we disagree with. Those who stutter, those who don’t speak up, and those who are so different than us we don’t even know how to begin to get to know them. Those who smell, those whose physical disability makes us uncomfortable, and those who can’t quite seem to read the cues that we have somewhere else to be.

The image of God is in everyone – but we can choose to treat others with dignity or not. We can choose to take uncomfortable or angering situations and humanize all who are involved. We can choose to listen for God’s voice in the voice of others.

When I saw myself as that man, my ears cracked. When I remembered all the times I’ve offended and angered others, my heart thawed. When I owned the grace God gave and gives me, I began to hear him.

When we listen, we can know. When we know, we can understand. And when we understand, we can begin to love.

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:43-48)

Jesus teaches that loving our enemies brings life. Perhaps a step in this direction is to begin to listen to those we struggle with wanting to hear.

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It speaks for itself. Thankful for my friend Kevin and his gift for writing.

Speakfaithfully

Recently the first WeekFOUR event took place.  WeekFOUR is the student group I started with Matt Schuler as a platform for student voices at Fuller Theological Seminary to be heard and as a space for the incredibly diverse and experience-rich Fuller student body to impact, shape and challenge each other more intentionally.

My motivation for starting this group came after I watched a panel discussion hosted at Fuller and some elements of this discussion were actually found in the WeekFOUR talk that I gave (it will be uploaded and available soon).

As a prelude to a much larger post on race that should be coming out in a couple of weeks I wanted to write on something that I have been thinking about for some time: the White Western hegemony of the Gospel.

First, you may want to watch their talk here:

To begin I must explain my belief that…

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The following are a compilation of photos I’ve snapped in the day-to-day. Some looked innocent at first glance but upon further thought I found they served to perpetuate stereotypes that ‘capture’ and render us limited in our identities. Others are a glimpse into a life that can so easily be seen as ‘normal’, that is in fact, just one of many ways of seeing the world. We must acknowledge that our paradigms shape how we see the world, and the world shapes our paradigms. My intention is not to call out any person, company or organization but to call all of us to a greater level of examination of our paradigms and what shapes them.

Difficult times indeed. First world problem?

Missing: Donkey. Lost during the Modernist/Fundamentalist Split.

White men this way!

I’ve seen another (probably more recent) version of this sign that says “crew working”, utilizing gender inclusive language.

I saw this ad in an airport and literally stopped in my tracks, mouth gaping open. If we assume the astronaut is male (especially based off of the proximity and intimacy with the main child) then there is only one woman portrayed in the image as a role model, hero, or someone to look up to. And she’s a princess. Note how the color differences in their outfits point to their gender.

Those who hold privilege in society are granted the ability to assume that their experience is ‘normal’. We assume that others’ experiences are like ours. While R.A. Torrey may have intended this book to be about evangelizing both men and women, he most likely overlooked the ways the genders experience the world differently. Non-inclusive language assumes that the experience of women is the same as men.

It’s impossible not to draw conclusions between the feminine brand name of the wine and the reference to promiscuity. What does this suggest about women who drink?

I thought I may have been looking too hard for objectification in this billboard (“she” + “thing” + “beauty”) but a friend told me about another ad (below) that confirmed my suspicions.

While searching for a picture of this billboard, this one popped up. Originally the billboard has the same caption: “She is a thing of beauty.” Is it referencing the beer, the woman… or both? I think we know. What does this say to men about permission to gaze at women in this way? The Billboard Liberation Front “improved” this sign to clarify the impact that it has on its viewers. It’s also important to note that the upper or upper-middle class individuals in this photo are both White.

Perpetuating the lie that women who hold positions of power hate and are a threat to men. Of the six professionals portrayed in this billboard, five are men and all are White.

A White female jockey, wearing pink and white. Is she whipping the horse or… ?

Spotted at my local lavanderia. Congrats, women! We can now choose a laundry soap that fits with our personality! Calm, passionate, or sexy. No overlapping allowed – you must choose one.

I could sense something stirring in November. I wasn’t sure what I was anticipating, but I knew it would bring change. A major life event? Maybe an epiphany? A meaningful relationship? I waited, patiently, trying to sort out my surroundings, my environment, to see if I could deduce what was rumbling around inside my soul.

The moment of realization was smooth. Immense enough to be a climax but prolonged enough to settle into. It was one of those moments, when, upon peering over your shoulder to the past you can see the steps that lead you there, though at the time you felt like you were walking blindly.

The realization happened in timing that could be no more cliché. Arriving home on New Year’s Eve from my church’s youth retreat, I knew. I just knew. My conviction was too deep. I can’t go back now.

Damn those moments that bring your life to a new level of conscientiousness and responsibility.

The new knowingness that invaded my life was this: I have to play the game.

I have to play the game, not for myself but for my self that is all other humanity. I have to play the game, and I have to become damn good at it or else I might as well not try at all. I have to play the game, but I cannot lose myself in it.

I’ve been fighting against this for a long time.

To play the game means doing things I don’t want to do, being someone I don’t want to be, working for something I don’t always desire. To play the game means a sort of benign manipulation. Inauthentic flattery. Generous greed.

I’m mostly concerned about losing myself in the process. As an expert in numbing out and shutting down, the idea of creating a character to functionally play the game is almost appealing. But I’ve worked too hard to let myself dissolve in this process now.

Playing the game means strategy. Intentionality. Purpose. It means building myself to be exactly what is needed in order to affect change. It means living for something bigger than my life, my plans, myself. It means knowing that others will come behind me to pound on doors that were slammed to me. It means passing my momentum on to others who will carry change farther than was possible for me.

It means expanding the Kingdom. Expanding the Kingdom in the context of this world.

And in the end, it will be sweet.

I love stories. They allow me to see a more full picture of humanity – a unique glimpse of God and the faultiness of our beings. I see the glory of all humans were intended to be and the awful brokenness of who we are. Women’s Letters: America from the Revolutionary War to the Present offers glimpses into the lives and the stories of women in the United States since 1775. The words in this letter were written by one of the bravest women I know… and yet she invalidates and diminishes herself by revealing her belief that to be emotional is to be weak and feeble, and that emotions are something to be conquered. Commonality arises, as to this day, this belief is still entrenched in our values and in how boys and girls are socialized. In understanding what her words reveal through omission, I am also forced to confront the greater reality that the fight for women’s suffrage was fought primarily for White women. This is still a tension today, as women of color often feel they must chose between fighting against racism or sexism. As a White woman who is a follower of Jesus, I must stand side-by-side with all my sisters, and ask to be given the honor to hear their stories.

With American men overseas, the war offered American women new possibilities – not only for hard and important work, but also for political leverage. In 1917, Alice Paul and a group of suffragists started picketing the White House on a nearly daily basis, demanding the vote. The presence of these self-named “Silent Sentinels,” as well as their placards (“Mr. President How Long Must Women Wait for Liberty”) was a constant affront to Woodrow Wilson and an embarrassment before visiting dignitaries. In June of 1917, the first six women were arrested, and eleven more on July 4, on charges of obstructing traffic. Rose Winslow was among one group sentences to seven months in prison. After staging a huger strike – in which the women asked to be treated as political, not criminal, prisoners – they were brutally force-fed. The letter below is comprised of a series of notes smuggled out from the prison hospital to Winslow’s husband and her friends.

1917: December
Rose Winslow to her husband and to members of the National Woman Party.

If this thing is necessary we will naturally go through with it. Force is so stupid a weapon. I feel so happy doing my bit for decency – for our war, which is after all, real and fundamental…

The women are all so magnificent, so beautiful. Alice Paul is as thin as ever, pale and large-eyed. We have been in solitary for five weeks. There is nothing to tell but that the days go by somehow. I have felt quite feeble the last few days – faint, so that I could hardly get my hair brushed, my arms ached so. But to-day I am well again. Alice Paul and I talk back and forth though we are at opposite ends of the building and a hall door also shuts us apart. But occasionally – thrills – we escape from behind our iron-barred doors and visit. Great laughter and rejoicing!…

My fainting probably means nothing except that I am not strong after these week. I know you won’t be alarmed.

I told about a syphilitic colored woman with one leg. The other one was cut off, having rotted so that it was alive with maggots when she came in. The remaining one is now getting as bad. They are so short of nurses that a little colored girl of twelve, who is here waiting to have her tonsils removed, waits on her. This child and two others share a ward with a syphilitic child of three or four years, whose mother refused to have it at home. It makes you absolutely ill to see it. I am going to break all three windows as a protest against their confining Alice Paul with these!

Dr. Gannon is chief of a hospital. Yet Alice Paul and I found we have been taking baths in one of the tubs here, in which this syphilitic child, an incurable, who has his eyes bandaged all the time, is also bathed. he has been here a year. Into the room where he lives came yesterday two children to be operated on for tonsillitis. They also bathed in the same tub. The syphilitic woman has been in that room seven months. Cheerful mixing, isn’t it? The place is alive with roaches, crawling all over the walls, everywhere. I found one in my bed the other day…

There is great excitement about my two syphilitics. Each nurse is being asked whether she told me. So, as in all institutons where an unsantiary fact is made public, no effort is made to make the wrong itself right. All hands fall to, to find the culprit, who made it known, and he is punished…

Alice Paul is in the psychopathic ward. She dreaded forcible feeding frightfully, and I had to think how she must be feeling. I had a nervous time of it, gasping a long time afterward, and my stomach rejecting during the process. I spent a bad, restless night, but otherwise I am all right. The poor soul who fed me got liberally besprinkled during the process. I hear myself making the most hideous sounds, like an animal in pain, and thought how dreadful it was of me to make such horrible sound… One feels so forsaken when one lies prone and people shove a pipe down one’s stomach…

This morning but for an astounding tiredness, I am all right. I am waiting to see what happens when the President realized that brutal bullying isn’t quite a statesmanlike method for settling a demand for justice at home. At least, if men are supine enough to endure, women – to their eternal glory – are not…

They took down the boarding from Alice Paul’s window yesterday, I heard. It is so delicious about Alice and me. Over in the jail a rumor began that I was considered insane and would be examined. Then came Doctor White, and said he had come to see “the thyroid case.” When they left we argued about the matter, neither of us knowing which was considered “suspicious.” She insitied it was she, and, as it happened, she was right. Imagine any one thinking Alice Paul needed to be “under observation!” The thick-headed idiots!…

Yesterday was a bad day for me in feeding. I was vomiting continually during the process. The tube has developed an irritation somewhere that is painful.

Never was there a sentence like ours for such an offense as ours, even in England. No woman ever got it over there even for tearing down buildings. And during all that agitation we were busy saying that never would such things happen in the United States. The men told us they would not endure such frightfulness…

Mary Beard and Helen Todd were allowed to stay only a minute, and I cried like a fool. I am getting over that habit, I think.

I fainted again last night. I just fell flop over in the bathroom where I was washing my hands and was led to bed when I recovered, by a nurse. I lost consciousness just as I got there again. I felt horribly faint until 12 o’clock, then fell asleep for awhile…

I was getting frantic because you seemed to think Alice was with me in the hospital. She was in the psychopathic ward. The same doctor feeds us both, and told me. Don’t let them tell you we take this well. Miss Paul vomits much. I do, too, except when I’m not nervous, as I have been every time against my will. I try to be less feeble-minded. It’s the nervous reaction, and I can’t control it much. I don’t imagine bathing one’s food in tears very good for one.

We think of the coming feeding all day. It is horrible. The doctor thinks I take it well. I hate the thought of Alice Paul as the others if I take it well…

We still get no mail; we are “insubordinate.” It’s strange, isn’t it; if you ask for food fit to eat, as we did, you are “insubordinate”; and if you refuse food you are “insubordinate.” Amusing. I am really all right. If this continues very long I perhaps won’t be. I am interested to see how long our so-called “splendid American men” will stand for this form of discipline.

All news cheers one marvelously because it is hard to feel anything but a bit desolate and forgetten here in the place.

All the officers here know we are making this hunger strike that women fighting for liberty may be considered political prisoners; we have told them. God knows we don’t want other women ever to have to do this over again.”

The Kingdom of God is:

– not feeling in competition with other women or as if I’m only a potential mate for men

– seeing women (younger and older) comfortable with their gifts of speaking and preaching

– hearing prayers in many languages and global perspectives

– being inspired and convicted by men and women who have traveled the journey of gender equality ahead of me

– being hugged by a professor who’s class was integral in building my foundation of gender equality

– listening to the pain of people of color who were deeply wounded by racism on a campus like Biola

– being affirmed as a White woman in the job I hold

– being asked by a much older, and much more well-educated man what books I would recommend

– much discussion and relating with a passionate, intelligent woman my age

– watching memorial slideshows of competent women who dedicated their lives to go where God called them, regardless of what society would allow

– elevators rides that aren’t awkward

– the grace for being late to a workshop on creating safe spaces

– the process of recognizing the extent to which I have been socialized

– combating the racism, sexism and myths of superiority, inferiority, and meritocracy in my own heart

– having someone I just met share a poem they wrote out with me

– conversations with people of all different races and ethnic backgrounds, in their 20’s and in their 70’s, first-time attendees and founders and board members, experts and beginners, those who paid their own way and those on scholarships…

…this is the Kingdom.