Gender

Could your church help your community find hope in the wake of the election?

Last weekend, people started reaching out to me because they were afraid, and they didn’t want to stay that way. They didn’t want to rage or burn things down; they wanted to find a way to contribute to their community, to help others overcome fear.

So with the help of a PHENOMENALLY gifted intern, the Oakland Peace Center created a resource fair. The goal was simple: to help people feeling a sense of urgency discover that they have a power to make a POSITIVE contribution in their community, that they need not dwell in anxiety and fear but can overcome it by coming together.

The reason I’m writing this is that within four days, we had thirty organizations agree to table and four hundred people attend (in the rain!!!). Check it out!

crowdcrowd2

What this tells me is that people are hungry for positivity, and that people are hungry right now for a sense that they are not alone.

Now, the Oakland Peace Center is made up of forty organizations who are working to create equity as the means of creating peace, so we had a good baseline. But our partners are mostly small, scrappy organizations working to help people at a local level. We wanted folks to connect with them, but we also wanted to provide resources for people looking to get engaged in work we didn’t have covered: advocacy with Muslims, health care access, learning how to intervene when someone is being assaulted (verbally or otherwise), women’s rights, environmental justice. So we needed to reach new organizations as well as new people.

Here’s how we did it:

We listened and we checked in: On the Friday and Saturday after the election I got several messages from people saying “what do I do to engage in protecting people’s healthcare?” or “a lot of people are asking me what they can do to protect immigrants’ (or refugees’ or LGBTQ people’s or Muslims’) rights. Where do I point them?” Then a facebook friend shared an event happening in LA that weekend and asked if anything like that was happening in Oakland. I said no, but it might help me field the questions I was getting. I was at an OPC partners’ retreat so asked them what they thought, then spent another day or so asking organizations what they thought. We began to sense that people were hungry for the opportunity to do something pro-active. Youth were walking out of school; people who had never marched were marching; whole congregations were wearing safety pins so they could express their solidarity with people for whom they feared. We had a sense that this could be meaningful and helpful to the community. In our community, we felt a need to capture the energy of the present moment, so we moved quickly (four days!!!! whew!), but we might do another one in January or February. Another listening we did was during the event: we thought our next event would be more about training people, but what we heard was people wanted another of these resource fairs so that their friends could come and so other organizations could be in the room. So we’re shifting focus from what we thought was best to what the community has told us would be best.

Our message was positive: In both our email blast, our flyers and our facebook messaging, we didn’t focus on hostility or negativity or anxiety. Truthfully, many of us feel those things, and they are valid feelings. But we believe at the Oakland Peace Center that what we are building is even more important than what we are tearing down, even though there are things that need to be torn down in order to build. Our facebook message read “If you feel a drive to do something about the environment, immigrants’ rights, healthcare, Black Lives Matter, indigenous rights, reducing bullying, increasing a culture of peace and inclusion, or any other issues to make this community better, please come to this gathering and learn about the ways you can participate! Whether you are a long time activist or have never attended a rally in your life, your contributions matter!” My sense is that right now, people are feeling negative, powerless and isolated. So our message was positive, reminded people of their power, and reminded them that they were not alone. And the event reinforced those themes.

We Honored Multiple Ways of Creating Positive Change: The other beautiful thing that emerged out of who the Oakland Peace Center is (and which I believe churches and faith communities can create for the same reasons) was that we had multiple dimensions to how people could be engaged. “Get In Where You Fit In” was a slogan our intern Virginia used, and it was true: we had organizations working on policy issues national and local, we had organizations engaged in community service work (who were not afraid of the organizations doing policy work), and we had organizations connecting people to inner peace so that they can take care of themselves in order to take care of others. The OPC is committed to creating peace-filled communities, and we need different policies, and we need people engaged in service and solidarity with each other, and we need people who are able to heal from trauma and find peace within themselves. All of those resources were available, and some of them even got taught right there during the event, like intervention during assault and the basic skills of HeartMath and anti-bullying techniques.

We made sure that as many of the communities potentially impacted by upcoming policy changes were in the room as possible: we reached out to Muslim organizations, disability rights organizations, environmental groups, women’s groups, LGBTQ+ organizations, organizations supporting the Movement for Black Lives, immigration organizations, and so on. There are usually organizations doing both advocacy and social service around these communities in every state in the nation as well as in most major cities.

We created an air of celebration: People who came wanted to experience hope. And part of how hope gets crushed is by replacing joy with fear. So we created a festival atmosphere: popcorn and fun, high energy music, and a kids’ table with children’s books representing both themes of inclusion and justice (which we promoted in advance so people knew it was a family-friendly event). Joy is an underutilized tool of creating justice! We even had a woman who creates justice-oriented children’s coloring resources volunteered at the kids’ table! (Here are some of the pages we provided the children.)img_6597childrens-books

We didn’t create anything new: With any issue we are concerned about, there are folks doing really good work who are underresourced. This is a moment to connect, not necessarily re-invent the wheel.

We created spaces for people to cast vision, share their commitments and offer words of hope. We had poster board where people wrote what they were committing themselves to and what their hopes were. We didn’t create a physical space for grief, although one restorative justice partner gathered people who wanted to really let their feelings out and feel heard, and that was beautiful. One of the organizations, Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy, invited people to cast a vision for a moral economy when people visited their table: fame

We learned some really inspiring things:

  • People were so excited about this that even without asking for them, we ended up with phenomenal volunteers!
  • There were a lot of young people who came because they want to become activists. But there were also senior citizens who felt that they could no longer stay uninformed or unengaged. I believe that is true of church folks as well: as OPC intern Virginia White reflected to me after the event, “people have care about these issues but haven’t known how to engage, or didn’t think they should. This is not about convincing people to do something new.” That’s who our event was for, and they came in the rain by the hundreds.
  • Some people were puzzled by why we would do something like this until we explained that part of the mission of the OPC is to connect people to each other’s work. And they were also puzzled by the fact that the church (in our case, First Christian Church of Oakland) played a role in this gathering as the folks who created the OPC. What a beautiful moment of puzzlement to help the community realize that the church can and should be engaged in this work of standing with indigenous and Black and LGBTQ+ and environmental and civil liberties organizations. What a teachable moment.
  • This event created hope. Let me say it again: at a time people are experiencing fear, we created a space of hope. Participants thanked us, and so did the organizations, some of whom have been in this work for decades and feeling a little out of hope themselves. At our best, isn’t that what the church is supposed to be about? Hope conquering despair, not just in the abstract, but in concrete ways.
  • Over and over, people said they felt a sense that there really is a community dedicated to supporting each other. During my introductory announcement, I reminded people that “we need us. We need to have each other’s backs. In the coming days we will need to be able to trust each other, and that happens when we really show up for each other.” So I told them to talk to all of the tablers but also to talk to each other, because we have each other’s backs best when we know each other, and that can start here. And people did. And it was transcendent.

I was asked to share our methodology so others can borrow from it. I decided to write it in a way that I hope churches in particular can borrow from it. It took a lot of time and effort, but it was not difficult logistically to manage. Once our facebook numbers started looking good, some of the organizations that had never heard of us before suddenly thought this would be a great opportunity.

 

¡Ya basta! Fasting to end Rape on the Night Shift

I’m in my second day of a five day fast with night janitors for a cause most people don’t even realize is a cause: many immigrant women cleaning buildings across our country live in fear of sexual assault by predatory managers who know they are working alone and need to keep their jobs. It’s stuff so sinister you can picture one of those cartoon villains twisting his moustache as he plans the act. But it is real. It is happening to people who clean buildings we or our family members work in. And finally, despite all the risks, some women stepped forward to speak the truth about their experiences and change things for their sisters.

img_5662I first learned about this hidden crisis during a screening of the Frontline film Rape on the Night Shift a couple of weeks ago at the state building in Oakland. You can watch the whole thing online and I dare you not to cry. What moved me even more than the film, though, was listening to the stories of women who had to find the courage to risk their jobs and means of supporting their families to do what was right for themselves and for other women at risk. What struck me in particular that day was a young woman whose mother is part of the campaign. She said something along the lines of “there are certain things you never expect to talk about with your mother: sex, rape, violence at work.” She then expressed how proud she was of her mother and how proud she was to stand with her. I was deeply moved.

Last week, one of the organizers of the film told me that the workers would be fasting Monday through Friday of this week, demanding that Governor Brown follow his moral compass and sign AB 1978 into law. According to the United Service Workers West,

Female janitors face unique risk of sexual harassment and assault as their jobs often require working alone at night in empty buildings, an epidemic PBS Frontline profiled in “Rape on the Night Shift,” and in a report from UC Berkeley earlier this year: “Perfect Storm: How Supervisors Get Away with Sexually Harassing Workers Who Work Alone at Night.”

AB 1978, the Property Services Worker Protection Act would enhance the Department of Industrial Relations’ authority to prevent assault by requiring employer training and prevention plans, establishing a hotline for victims, and toughening enforcement for employers who leave workers at risk.

As janitor and activist Maria Gonzalez said,

“I was sexually assaulted at work, twice. The employer transferred the supervisor and me to the same building. With nowhere to go, I felt trapped. As survivors, we have stepped out of the shadows to fight back against rape and exploitation, because we know the bosses count on our silence to keep us vulnerable. Ya Basta! We built a movement that can’t be stopped because more and more women are coming forward to support each other and create a safe workplace. Now Governor Brown must do his part and sign AB 1978, because no woman should ever be afraid to go to work.”

I heard stories like this from the women who were fasting when I met them yesterday. One woman was assaulted, took self-defense lessons, fought off her boss with a letter opener when he attacked her again, and was fired for her efforts. Other women were assaulted, forced to do things against their will, and raped. And they said they were glad to be doing this, that they had released their fear, that they were proud to be doing this for the women who follow them into these workplaces. They were excited to be fasting.

There is something about workers fasting that hits me at my core as a person of faith as well as an activist. At a rally yesterday, a labor organizer announced that the workers would be staging a hunger strike.

img_2127But I met the workers. They were fasting. It’s a different thing, which is why I was moved to join them in their fast as soon as I heard they were planning it.

Fasting has strong, ancient roots. Fasting is a critical part of the Christian faith (and Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish among others) for spiritual as well as sometimes justice reasons. But even when justice is part of it, fasting involves connecting to something bigger than oneself (and in this case praying for divine intervention to evoke right action by our state’s elected leader).

Fasting can be about community, even when it is a solitary practice. Several of the women fasting this week are Catholic, like Governor Brown. I saw some of them holding rosaries as they received a blessing from Rabbi Rothbaum yesterday. I saw some of them reading Catholic devotionals in Spanish. And I heard one of them say “Having religious leaders visit us and pray with us reminds me that we are not just activists. We are tools being used by God to make the world better.” The ten women fasting will be community for each other, and I hope that img_2144knowing I am fasting with them will remind them that there is a larger community supporting them. But most importantly, I hope that their spiritual act will remind their and my governor that our shared ties of faith call us to treat God’s children with deep compassion and dignity, and that our shared faith does not allow evil to continue undisrupted.

When the workers shout “¡Ya basta!” it is a prayer. It is the prayer of our God who will not tolerate sexual violence. And it is God’s own prayer put into action by faithful women, as has happened for millenia: faithful women have put hands and feet to God’s prayers.

I believe the saint Teresa of Avila is saying to the women fasting at the Capitol today, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

And the workers I met, who have survived sexual violence in the workplace, are serving as Christ’s hands and feet, answering God’s “¡Ya basta!” prayer as loudly as God would wish.

If you live in California, please contact Governor Brown and ask him to sign AB 1978 today to end rape on the night shift: (916) 445-2841.

“I enjoy being a girl”

or “How Patriarchy unintentionally saved me”

(feel free to listen to this song in the background for inspiration.)

There are a few guys in my circles of radical clergy with a certain public following. I love their tweets and facebook posts because they’re sometimes funny and sometimes biting, and they’re almost always so certain.

Which, for those of you who have known me for a long time know, is exactly how I used to sound.

One of the big ironies of my life is that my biggest bump in with patriarchy is what started me down a path that I wish was available to my incredibly certain brothers: the path into humility in the midst of the righteous cause. (more…)

Tentative everyday feminism: Chinese food edition

Scenario: I was sick. I ordered Chinese food. The next morning, half of it was missing.

What I was brave enough to say:

I know this should go without saying, but please do not eat my food. Thank you.

Once he responded, “Sorry for the inconvenience,” and I said, “It wasn’t an inconvenience so much as I thought it was kinda rude,” and he said it was not his intent to be rude, my feminist response that may not seem like a feminist response:

So what was your intent?

What I was not brave enough to say because I have still not found a way to say this where it can be heard:

This has happened before. Because when you want something you want it. You never offer to replace it, because it was yours to take.

I don’t think you do intend anything by it. What’s interesting about male privilege is that intent is often supposed to matter more than impact. In its most extreme cases, lack of intent is supposed to matter more than impact – if men didn’t intend to harm women, that is supposed to count for more than the fact that they did hurt women, for example.

I’m complicit in this. When you borrowed one of my umbrellas without asking and it broke, I told you to go ahead and borrow my other one instead of pointing out that you should have replaced the umbrella that belonged to me that broke. When you didn’t return the second one and I had to go to church and preach looking like a drowned rat, I stewed and sulked but I never told you to replace it. Because I knew I would sound as peevish as I felt. And I don’t want to be that kind of woman.

There are a million reasons I don’t think this is your fault. You were raised in a male-preferencing society, because all societies in their own way preference males, and you work in technology, a male-preferencing environment. So there are a lot of reasons you might not even be aware that it’s not cool to take stuff and not replace it if you knew it wasn’t yours. And on a totally different note, the ugly thing about patriarchy is that it isolates men and can easily make men turn in on themselves and experience isolation so that a lot of men’s actions of indifference towards others have a lot to do with low-grade depression that makes it hard to focus on anything but one’s own needs.

But as tiny as this is, it’s part of the toxic air that misshapes relationships between men and women. This and mansplaining and manspreading and all the tiny little things I feel like an ass for mentioning, all the tiny things that I get judged for mentioning because they ARE so tiny, they all connect to a culture that allows the bigger stuff, like the entitlement that results in men verbally abusing women who won’t go out with them and in the men’s movement that invites men to fight against an equality that doesn’t even exist yet and all of the other bigger forms of entitlement that threaten women’s jobs and stability and family lives and safety.

In short, pay as much attention to impact on others as to intent (or really, lack of intent), and you’ll be a necessary part of the solution.

Christmas values – Day 9: Gloria in Excelsis Deo!

“Why do you think churches led by people of color are thriving while a lot of White liberal churches are dying?” asked a student at a class where I was on a panel of people of color representing the racial/ethnic ministries of our denomination. The person who asked is a friend of mine whom I value, who is going into the ministry, and whose church full of kind people was preparing to close.

The other panelists talked about the depth of faith of those leaders and their courage in talking about faith as opposed to White people. I was intentional not to contradict them, so I paused before adding my own comment:

“There is a sense of urgency in our communities,” I said heavily. “When we experience oppression daily, the hope that can be found in church is necessary. The challenge of the liberal White church is that it has forgotten the urgency of what it has to offer. The values of inclusiveness, of fighting for justice, of worshipping a God of the oppressed, those things are literally life-saving, but because of White privilege, the church has been lulled into a false complacency that is literally costing lives as well as souls.”

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The Single Rev by Choice – For a Season

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON FIDELIA’S SISTERS ON DECEMBER 9, 2014: http://youngclergywomen.org/single-rev-choice/

You know the poem about how people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime?

Singleness sometimes feels like it has come into my life (unbidden) for a lifetime, but I’m choosing it for this season.

God and I have had words about this singleness business on more than one occasion. The arguments were particularly intense when I was in seminary in my late twenties and still remembered the comforts of a stable, long-term relationship. The conversation generally went like this:

Me: You know, you didn’t have to wrestle me to get me to follow my calling. I came to this faithfully. I gave up a high powered political path with no complaint. I was glad to accept a life of poverty since you called me to urban ministry and congregational transformation. But I never thought you would make me do it ALONE. It never crossed my mind that you wouldn’t supply me with a partner.

God: <crickets>

And because I was raised not to call God a dick, that was usually where it ended.

The last of those one-sided fights was probably ten years ago, but for about ten years I’ve tried to take matters into my own hands with hundreds of Internet dates and even a few dates with people I met in person. I’ve even dated a few guys for as long as six months (although usually just about two).

But the resentment has lingered. It’s flared up when I think about how many men I’ve let treat me badly in the hopes that they were who would be a companion, or just because I wanted the company or the intimacy. And it has smoldered when I chose casual flings because I had given up on finding someone who could actually meet me as an equal in relationship.

And then this summer I did what a good feminist or a woman who doesn’t want to appear pathetic should never do: I admitted, out loud, that I’m lonely. And I’ve been lonely on and off for thirteen years. And the friend I told said, “See, you’re my cautionary tale. I don’t want that to be me.”

Fortunately, I had other friends, one of whom encouraged me to engage in a season of singleness to mourn the fact that I may never have that type of partnership in my life, to actually confront it and ritualize it and pray on it.

So September 1 (two months after my last boyfriend disappeared when I suggested that maybe we both had baggage and that wasn’t a sign that a relationship couldn’t work), I started to do just that. I started a season of singleness that would go through Thanksgiving (although I recently extended it to the new year because it feels so good).

My Day 30 breakthrough was huge: trying to hide from lonely doesn’t make it go away. I need to find a way to co-exist with lonely. (A book I read later noted that part of what makes loneliness so terrifying isn’t just the loneliness but the fact that it’s layered with shame and judgment. Letting go of those other things and letting myself just feel lonely has made me realize it’s a feeling I can live with when it shows up.)

The next thirty days made me aware that part of what was hard about not having a partner was how little control I felt about my situation. And that led me to put up with treatment that I didn’t deserve from guys who probably didn’t deserve me. Part of what’s fun about my season of singleness has been that even if my situation is exactly the same as it would have been if I were unintentionally single, I feel less helpless. Plus, the single life is monumentally less bad than the awful stuff God put Jeremiah through with his wife. That guy gets to complain about his relationship status to the divine. (Note: Days 30-60 were aided monumentally by the podcast series Strangers by Lea Thau, who did a four-parter on her struggles with singleness and also the book It’s Not You about the 27 lousy things people say to singles about what we should fix in order to be partnered and how those things are all wrong.)

As I approach Day 90, I’m getting honest about the fact that there are things about living alone I really don’t like and recognizing there might be things I actually have some power over, like considering community living. Extroversion and living alone aren’t always a fun combination.

But what’s probably most important is that I’m taking a little more ownership and am finally at a place of considering other options instead of remaining in a resentful stalemate with the All Powerful.

I still wish I could find someone to be a source of support, someone to share my joy-filled moments as well as my struggles. But I’m less afraid of feeling lonely and more open to other ways of getting my companionship needs met.

And I haven’t wanted to call God a dick in a couple of months, so the most serious relationship in my life is showing definite signs of improvement.

(more…)

Homelessness, the woman on my patio and the Woman at the Well

Sermon preached at First Christian Church of Palo Alto, August 10, 2014.

Text: John 4:5-15 (with references to later verses), the story of the Woman at the Well

Preamble to the sermon:

I am known in some circles for preaching a really up-on-your-feet, clap and shout amen kind of sermon. I think that was why I was invited to preach. So I want to apologize in advance. Three things have happened to me this week that placed a more reflective message on my heart:

  1. A friend of mine from FCC Redding told me this week that when she went on vacation to Savannah, Georgia, she noticed there were no homeless people downtown. When she asked about this, she found out they weren’t allowed in the tourist district. Unsheltered people used to get locked up in jail, but too many of them tried to get arrested so they would have a roof over their head and regular meals. So now they get rounded up and put in an open air pen, to create a greater disincentive to be visible or get arrested. (more…)