Saturday, August 24, 2013

Equal Equality

You know, one of the hardest pills for me to swallow when I was in fundamentalism was the whole women's equality-submission trope.  I'm by nature a fairly independent woman, and it stung every time I was denigrated or dismissed when I lived in FundyVille. 

Unfortunately, I did end up swallowing some of that bad medicine, and the damage it did is still with me (though it is healing more and more the longer I am out of it).  For a while, I even believed that women were unable to be as spiritually discerning as men - though it was really more that I believed that good Christian girls were supposed to believe it.  My soul raged and raged against the notion, but I bit back the tears and meekly said, "ok".  Surprisingly, one of my Bible Doctrines teachers in Fundy University clearly repudiated the notion my junior year, and made it okay for a good Christian girl to not believe that steaming pile.  But the daily practical theology applications still constantly whispered to me that I was less than what I was.

Then, along came "complementarianism".  It's the "kinder and gentler" conservative christian view. It supposedly acknowleges the abuses of men perpetuated on women in the world and in the name of Christianity, and walks a middle ground between that and a "unisex" culture.  Whatever that means.  Seriously, go read John Piper's treatise on it.  It's very weird.

In my experience, one of the interesting things about conservative Christian teachings on men vs. women is that it's nearly always accompanied by protestations that these statements don't mean that that men and women are unequal or that men are better than women.  Again, the longer I'm out of FundyLand, the more hollow this feels to me.  In fact, I see them as signaling direct lies anymore.  If your beliefs don't really indicate sexism, then why do they feel as though they do?  And why do you insist on telling me so often that they don't?

Anyway.  I set all this up because I recently spent a weekend at various functions associated with my 20th high school class reunion. I went to public high school, and graduated with in a class of 370 or so students.  After high school, I was in Fundy University, and then I went through a medical education - and the medical field is still pretty sexist.   So really, it's been 20 years since I've been treated like a human in an educational setting.

At the reunion, however, I was utterly flabbergasted at how I was treated by the men from my high school graduating class.  No one, male or female, made assumptions about my role in the medical field (no, I'm not a nurse).  I was treated with respect and dignity by every man I talked to.  I helped cook breakfast at one of the events, and I was the *only* woman in the kitchen.  Men everywhere were shouldering at least an equal share of caring for the children who came along with them and were respectful and kind to their wives.

Let me tell you, I was bust-my-buttons proud of my generation and my graduating class.  My eebil godless public school produced a kind, responsible, and fair group of men (and women).  It was very validating, because not only does time and distance from FundyLand ease the pain, it also makes me wonder if things actually happened differently from the way they felt. Experiences like this confirm the awfulness of what I had accepted for years. 

But no more.  Complementarians can talk out of both sides of their mouths all they like, but I don't buy it.  I've tasted real equality outside their circles, and I will never settle for their cheap imitation again.

Oh, and go Tigers. I'm proud to be one of you.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Contemplating Meditation

So I've talked about my prayer beads before, and how they have helped me develop a prayer and meditation routine at a level that I have never been able to approach or maintain while in Fundamentalism. As I have continued to examine the concept of Christian contemplation, I have been surprised by the rich tradition of contemplation/meditation throughout Church history.

Part of exploring this concept occurred this past Lenten season when I began to participate in a church service called "Taizé" (pronounced Ta-ZAY).

I had no idea what to expect the first time I went to a Taizé service.  In fact, I brought my then 7-month-old son with me - partially because I thought there would be child care available, and secondly because it was right at his bedtime and I assumed he would sleep through it.  (Neither of which happened, of course.) 

Anyway.  The program I picked up on entering the sanctuary said, "Please enter the worship space in reverent silence. You are invited to use the icons, candles, cross and altar as 'windows' to the Presence of God."  In the altar area of the church there were 4 apparently Orthodox-style icons, each surrounded by many small candles. It was very quiet and still.

Once the service started, we sang simple, repetitive songs a capella whose texts were usually Psalmic in nature and whose tunes evoked monastic chant.  The songs alternated with a leader reading a scripture passage, a brief one-paragraph lesson, and a brief prayer. The main portion of the service is a period of silence ended by a bell.  That's right - silence.  At least 20 minutes of the 30 minute service, to be exact.  After the silence: The Lord's Prayer, invitation to pray individually around the altar, another song-prayer-song, and the service is closed.

Honestly, it's an introvert's paradise.  No one has to talk to anybody else, yet we all feel a kinship with each other singing and praying together.  It's solitude and community at the same time.

I was intrigued after the first experience, despite having to deal with a squirmy, occasionally noisy child the whole time. Why the icons?  Why the long silence?  Where did that complex yet deceptively simple music come from?

Upon returning home that night, I turned to Wikipedia and read that Taizé is a village in France; a Swiss man began a monastery there in the 1940's whose focus was to "live in the spirit of kindness, simplicity and reconciliation".  It was also unusual in that there were both Catholic and Protestant brothers there. The monastery took care of WW II refugees until the Nazis kicked them out; after the war they returned and continued their work. In the 1960's their monastery, because of their simple message, became a place of pilgrimage for many Christians - especially youth.  The community draws on traditions of multiple groups of Christians, which explains the mix of icons, candles, and quasi-chant in a small-town American protestant church.  I was fascinated.

The contemplation and meditation time was so rejuvenating that I spent the next month or so trying to find an artist to commission a triptych of Christ's birth, crucifixion, and resurrection for me to use at home for contemplation and meditation with prayer beads.  (I finally realized that the kind of quality I wanted was way out of my price range, and bought reprints of famous artwork instead.)  And I bought a few candles. And then I bought some incense cones...  Before I knew it I had a whole ritual developed at home. 

The next project? A prayer garden - a secluded outdoor space surrounded by favorite plants.  While researching that little undertaking, I discovered that there are whole books written on the subject (not to mention the rich history of plants in cloisters and monasteries).  Between my interest in medicine and my love of plants, I think I might have made a good nun back in the day - except for the whole getting married thing.  But there's always the New Monasticism...

I am still astonished that this important portion of historical Christianity is so new to me.  And I'm even more astonished at how enriching the practice of contemplation is - this restorative time of reflection has been making an extraordinarily difficult time in my life much more bearable.  How very sad that Fundamentalism doesn't value any of it.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


I've wondered off and on if the Episcopal church I attend is an anomaly.  Though it isn't perfect, the reverence for God, the kindness to others and the care for the less fortunate make it such a comforting and Spirit-filled place to be.  But then I start doubting that it's the norm (or even common) for Episcopal churches.  I suspect I think that because I frequently get horrified diatribes from people who think I go to a spiritually dead, apostate church.  It's really exhausting to deal with the assumptions made by people who have never been to a liturgical worship service, don't know what the Book of Common Prayer is, and don't care to think beyond what they've been told about churches other than their own.

Well, a few weeks ago, I was out of town on a trip and decided to find an early service with a local Episcopal congregation before my responsibilities began elsewhere.  I wasn't that optimistic, honestly, because the early services are usually the more formal Rite I service.  I don't mind a Rite I service, but I feel I usually connect better with a Rite II.

The church was small.  I got there a little late, and felt a bit awkward at first.

But then.  Oh, then, the Spirit was there in that service.  The people were warm, and honest, and down-to-earth; not only is that a bit out of the ordinary for many churches, it was extremely out of the ordinary for this part of the country. God spoke directly to me in the readings and the homily.  I realized it was by Divine appointment that I was there that morning - and I don't use that phrase lightly like I used to.  I was filled to the brim with grace that morning.

The reverence for God, the love for other people, the kindness - it was all there.  Just like my current church. Now I'm not saying that other churches or denominations aren't/can't be characterized by the same sort of love, but in these two very different churches a thousand miles apart, the same Spirit was there, and it was a holy time. 

And I'm sad for people who refuse to see it.