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Thursday, August 13, 2009

What an embarrassment!


In her book, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine, Sue Monk Kidd talks about the dynamic of 'trivialization'.

When our culture or the various institutions in them employ this dynamic, it's a form of control. When women use it on themselves, it's a form of resistance.

She writes:
"Trivializing our experience is a very old and shrewd way of controlling ourselves. We do it by censoring our expressions of truth or viewing them as inconsequential. We learned the technique from a culture that has practiced it like an art form."

"The trick works like this. An image is created of a 'screaming feminist' with an ax to grind. The image takes on enormous negative energy in the church and culture. Branding a woman with this image effectively belittles her opinion and discredits it. So rather than risk the image being attached to her, a woman will often back quickly away. . . ."

". . . .Once, when I suggested to a woman that she stand up for women in a church situation, she said, "I really want to, but I'd hate to look like one of those fanatical feminists our minister preaches about."
I've been thinking about 'the trivial pursuit' of women like Hillary Clinton and Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Indeed, I've been thinking about the way I participate in my own trivialization. I felt myself wince recently, when someone reported recently that one of the women in one of several episcopal races was not a "team player".

The implication, of course, is that she may be a 'loose canon', someone who may be 'difficult' and can't be trusted not to 'go along with the party line.'

We are less likely to think that this is a woman who is an 'independent thinker' - much less a person who employs her God-given intellect. God forbid she may be someone who has taken a few risks for the sake of the Gospel in service of the people of God.

God forbid, she may even become 'an embarrassment to the church'.

God forbid!

That was the little trick pulled on me in my ordination process. My ordaining bishop retired shortly after my ordination to the diaconate. The new bishop diocesan declined to ordain me, even after the Commission on Ministry and Standing Committee had given their approval and consent. However, he did allow my retired bishop to ordain me in his stead.

"The church has only just begun to speak about the ordination of women," he said (a decade after the fact), "but it has not spoken clearly about the ordination of homosexual persons. Besides," he added, "I fear you will become an embarrassment to the church."

Several years later, that self-same man was removed from the office of bishop in a settlement reached with five women who had come forward to say that, unbeknownst to the the others until much, much later, they each had had an affair with him.

It would be funny if it weren't so tragic, if lives and family handn't been ruined and an entire diocese betrayed and traumatized by its spiritual leader.

I must say, however, that at the time, at least, I was taken up short by his remark. Lord knows, I didn't want to ever be an 'embarrassment to the church'.

But, what could I possibly DO to be such an embarrassment? The more I thought about it, the more it looked as if I didn't have to 'do' anything, except be the person God had created me to be.

I slowly came to realize that his remark touched the ancient shame that is in the cultural DNA of being a woman - emotionally labile, intellectually inferior, not always in control.

I mean, we could BLEED once a month - even while presiding at Eucharist - and you know what "The Bible" says about women who bleed! We're not even supposed to touch men much less preside over something as Holy as Eucharist.

He had effectively trivialized and then dismissed my entire vocation and the journey I had made in obedience to that call. It made me feel very bad for, oh, 10 or 15 minutes and then, I got a grip - meaning, I got back in control of myself.

While I didn't exactly understand the dynamic of 'trivialization' at the time, I certainly knew that I had been in the presence of one who would stoop so low to control his own anxieties as to compromise his own spiritual integrity and diminish the discerned and tested-in-community vocation of a child of God - who just happened to be a woman, and who just happened to share her life with another woman and their children.

It's not like 'team work' isn't important in the church or in any organization, for that matter. It is. Very. Important.

So is the preservation of the Anglican Communion, but not at the sake of the imperatives of the Gospel. Indeed, the latest 'two track' scheme proposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury is a good example of how "keeping up appearances" becomes more important than the core of the Good News of Christ Jesus.

Let's keep all those are are an "embarrassment to the church" on another track, while those who are "meet, right and proper" can stay huddled together 'round the dying embers of propriety and good taste.

The latest deployment of the dynamic of trivialization can be found in the recent statement of the Bishop of South Carolina, Mark Lawrence, who speaks of the “new gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity."

Make no mistake: this has nothing to do with "the Lordship of Jesus Christ," as the bishop asserts; rather, it has everything to do with the maintenance and preservation of the dominant (male) paradigm.

Nelle Morton, one of the grandmothers of feminist spirituality, once said that things are always different when you are looking "from the bottom up," which provides the catalyst for a reversal of consciousness, not only for ourselves but also for the most resistant among us.

When we stop perceiving, assuming, and theorizing from the top, the dominant view, and instead go to the bottom of the social pyramid and identify with those who are oppressed and disenfranchised, a whole new way of relating opens up.

Until we look from the bottom up, we participate in the illusion of controlling ourselves and the status quo, by trivializing what isn'tat the top.

Until we look from the bottom up we have seen nothing.

And THAT is the ultimate embarrassment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who considered the anawim, the outcast, his beloved.

God forbid!

11 comments:

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Well, if you're an embarrassment to the church, you've been one hell of a fine one! LOL

Seriously, ain't that just how it goes? Calls you out in the street and it was HIM who was the embarrassment all along.

I get tired of every single assertive thing women do, be tied to either feminism or lesbianism. No wonder I'm such good friends with the GLBT crowd. After all, I get tarred with the same tar stick all the time. Might as well go stand on that side of the street anyway, if they'll have me...being as how that's where some people would put me!

What I really love is when people try to be well meaning and give me tips about clothes, hair, mannerisms, etc. "So...you know...men will want to date you so they won't think you're a feminazi...or a lesbian."

"Well meaning people" can be such idiots at times.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Kirke - You are one of the best allies the "LBGT crowd" has. And, you're my good friend. I wouldn't have it any other way.

DeanB said...

Complaining about "indiscriminate inclusivity?" I thought I once heard about someone being criticized for being so inclusive that he talked to publicans and sinners.

susankay said...

I find that to be accused of "indiscriminate inclusivity" is the highest possible compliment. The first Person to be so accused invites me to Eucharist.

(magic word is "beads" -- how catholic)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

It's the modifier 'indiscriminate' that is so insulting. As if the person who is 'guilty as charged' of being indiscriminately inclusive has no "control" - no ability to "discriminate" and therefore, "less than", poor well-meaning dears, bless their hearts. Indeed, it's pretty amazing, n'est pas? As DeanB and SusanKay have already pointed out, Jesus was also criticized - and trivialized - for being 'indiscriminate'.

I'm just stunned. What makes me shake my head in wonder is that there will actually be people - good people, decent people, Christian people - who will buy this . . . position . . . because they will feel "less of a Christian" because of their "indiscriminate inclusivity."

Malinda said...

In my own diocese I am concerned about a tendency in the coming leadership I have picked up on to blame the victim, which is another form of trivialization - those in power demean those asking for what is their right by making it seem selfish or embarrassing or somehow outside the norm. Not the message of the Gospel I know, not the one I try every day to live into.

word thing is "rebel" sounds better and better to me!

Two Auntees said...

When someone worries about "you" embarrassing "them," and it is an overriding theme, they usually are hiding something. As in the case of the bishop who declined to ordain you.

Seems to me you have been a WONDERFUL embarrassment. The kind we need more of.

IT said...

Early in my faculty career I was setting up my lab,and a university employee came in. "oh, " he said. "Is this Prof T's lab? You work for him?"

All my excitement as the newest faculty appointment faded. I looked at the guy. I hope my lip didn't tremble.

"I AM Prof T," I said.

"Oh. S***" he said.

For the next 10 years I worked there, he was a great guy. he learned something.

So, sadly, did I.

Bill said...

“Make no mistake: this has nothing to do with "the Lordship of Jesus Christ," as the bishop asserts; rather, it has everything to do with the maintenance and preservation of the dominant (male) paradigm.”

I’m reminded of something you’ve touched on in previous posts, that “misogyny” and all the ills associated with it, find their beginnings at the beginning. The beginning of course being Genesis and as we all know, Genesis was the first thing ever written in the Bible – wrong, wrong, wrong. So, it all starts there or more precisely as many conservative scholars assert, with Moses who they believe wrote it. But if we don’t think that the conservatives have it right, then there are other opinions on when it was written. In an article titled “The Academy of Jereusalem – New Genesis Exegesis by Dr. Yitzhak Hayut-Man and Tirtsah Arzi, we find this: “. Precisely such a point of view, that of the First Temple scribes who wrote the Torah as a prophetic holy work, is valid for our own times. In writing about the creation of Adam and his expulsion from Eden the scribes of the First Temple likely intended to hint at the impending Babylonian exile and the gathering of the exiles that followed it;”

So what we really have is a situation where every time mankind thinks they have totally screwed things up and God is about to punish them, we blame women and that allows the “dominant (male) paradigm” to continue. Well, we have to blame somebody, don’t we. Even the first century Gnostics believed that we evolve through several layers of reincarnation with “Male” being the nearest thing to perfection and God and “Female” being one wrung down on the ladder and therefore, imperfect.

The other thing I believe that you have associated with the “misogyny” issue is that many of the negative feelings toward Gay men can be traced to the same root cause. Many people hear the term Gay Man and have visions of a “limp wristed” figure prancing about in the flowers. It is of course a stereotype. Many gay men go to extremes not to be thought of in those terms. They would be thought to be “feminine” and as we have seen, “feminine” doesn’t bode well with the “male paradigm”. So these same gay men who are trying to fight for their right to be accepted in society, distance themselves from anything and any behavior that would associate them with women, with the feminine, with the “weaker sex”, and with the Biblical cause of all the problems faced by mankind.

I believe that things have gotten better over the years. The relationships between men and women and between gays and society have improved greatly in the last few years. But I also believe that we are several life times away from equality. We are trying to correct a mind set that goes back over six thousand years. It has become part of our culture, part of our basic societal views. It is intrinsic to what we have become and these will be some of the hardest views to change.

David |Dah • veed| said...

If you will bear with me. There is something that I feel so strongly about his phrase indiscriminate inclusivity that I can "feel it in my bones", but I am having trouble expressing it in English. And his use of this phrase too is a form of trivialization.

+Lawrence is lying. He has consciously chosen to propagate a lie to further his cause. When he speaks of indiscriminate inclusivity, the first thing included in that is our relationships, the relationships of GLBT people. What we have asked is that the church recognize that our long-term, faithful, monogamous, same-sex relationships be recognized and celebrated with God's blessing just as long-term, monogamous, faithful, opposite-sex relationships are recognized and celebrated with God's blessing. We have asked for nothing more. We are asking for nothing less.

But +Lawrence, in his dishonesty has to trivialize our relationships by casually throwing in the word indiscriminate. By doing so he makes the assertion that we are lying about our relationships, because everyone knows that gay men are incapable of long term, faithful, monogamous relationships!

Because the popular, kitchen table psychology espoused by fundamentalists says that we are only capable of shallow, unfaithful relationships. We are only capable of multiple relationships. We are only capable of multi-partner or polyamorous relationships.

And then everyone else in the laundry list of sexual minorities represented in GLBT gets painted with the same broad strokes because you are our brothers and sisters.

Calling it indiscriminate inclusivity is a new and innocuous way of slipping in the old red herring; if we let in the fags & dykes, folks having sex with animals, the Man/Boy Love Association where adults have sex with children, and multi-partner marriages are right behind! The dishonesty of the phrase indiscriminate inclusivity is a mental trigger point that activates our "agenda" in the minds of those who consume his every word.

So with a two word phrase his dismisses us, he devalues our lives and families and trivializes our relationships as being less than his own.

And in the same manner it trivializes our vocations in the church. With the concept of indiscriminate inclusivity he is saying that we support allowing just anyone admission to holy orders.

Thank you for the use of your soapbox Madre. I have tried not to be caustic or strident. I believe that it is time that as progressives we shake off one of our greatest faults, our own indiscriminate inclusivity. Marilyn McCord Adams has pointed out that we so often sacrifice our own beliefs to maintain unity. I believe that we do so today at our own peril. When someone is lying, they are a liar. When someone is acting with all the attributes of fundamentalism, they are a fundamentalist. We need to call a spade a spade. We need not be abusive or disrespectful, but honest.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Dahveed. What an insightful piece. You can write here any time.