Friday, October 10, 2014

Sex Without Love

Last winter, I had sex with a man a few times.  We weren't dating, really, though we went out to dinner occasionally.  For reasons that are unimportant here, we both knew that the relationship had no future.  

But there was heat.  I didn't want him to be my boyfriend, but he smelled great, I liked the way he tasted, and when he touched me, I melted.

We had conversations about what it all meant, and agreed that we weren't committed to each other or even exclusive.  But sometimes, when we were out in public, he would put his arm around me.  I would awkwardly shrug my way out of it.  

I knew he felt hurt, but I still didn't want to make what we were doing public.  I said that it was because I was new here, and thought that it was because I knew it wasn't going to last.

I've been thinking about this again recently, and realized why I didn't want him to be affectionate in public.  We were doing exactly the same thing, but it made him a stud and it made me a slut.  

Fuck purity culture.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Don't Tell Me to Smile

I got into an extended conversation yesterday on Facebook about street harassment. I mentioned that I have had some recent experiences with men (yes, grown men) yelling at me from cars. I added, "And don't even get me started on men telling me to smile."

A man who I know to be kind and thoughtful asked what was wrong with telling a woman to smile. The following is a slightly edited version of my response:
Thanks for the question! When I said don't get me started, it's because I have so much to say about this. I am happy to respond and point you toward some other sources.

Men telling women to smile is a problem for a lot of reasons. One is that if I am not smiling in a public place, I might have a good reason. Maybe my sister is in the hospital, or I just got fired, or I was just thinking about something.

But when a man I don't know tells me to smile, I have to stop thinking about whatever it was I was thinking about and engage him. I have to either smile for him, even if I don't want to, or I have to refuse. I have to decide how badly he might respond. Will he get mad? Is it possible he could attack me?

In the end, it is a form of body control. It reinforces the idea that I am not out in public for myself, but to be pretty for men. It may seem like a small thing, but when it happens often, it is pretty demoralizing.

In sum, strangers are not entitled to my body, my time, or my attention.
My friend, Monika T, added:
The thing is, telling someone to smile is telling them what to do and how to feel. And you would be astounded how many men regard women that way. Its insidious and pervasive. Every time I go into the city, I have to devote some of my mental energy and focus to assessing who might harass me, and how they might react if I push back. This happens often if not always on my way to class, when I have better things to be thinking about.
 There are some wonderful videos illustrating how ridiculous and awful telling women to smile is, such as this one called Smile, and this one from Stop Telling Women to Smile:



This morning, I saw that I was not the only one thinking or writing about this issue yesterday!  Here is a wonderful article about street harassment: You're a Good-Looking Girl . . . I Want to Attack You.  Cameron Esposito sums it up well:
I do not care if you think I am beautiful. Your feedback or evaluation isn’t needed. I also do not care if you think I am not beautiful. Your feedback or evaluation isn’t needed there either.
I am grateful for the men who engaged in this conversation.  If men are concerned about this issue and looking for ways to help, here are 35 Practical Steps Men Can Take to Support Feminism.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pastoral Authority in Unprogrammed Friends

[As part of my second year in a Master of Divinity program at Candler School of Theology, I am required to spend eight hours a week in an ecclesial setting.  My site is Atlanta Friends Meeting, where I am a sojourning member.  This week, in the class connected with that site work, we were asked to interview our site mentor about his or her views on pastoral authority and leadership.  These are my reflections on our conversation.]

When I interviewed my site mentor, Paul B, about his understanding of pastoral authority and leadership, we agreed that it is a tricky question for unprogrammed Friends.  In my site, Atlanta Friends Meeting (AFM), there is no pastoral staff.  Paul stated that the pastoral nature of Quakerism is that the community cares for itself instead of having a designated pastor or minister to provide care.  Thus, every Friend has an obligation to support the community.

At AFM, we do have a committee that focuses on pastoral care, the Care and Counsel committee.  That committee is made up of people who choose to be on it and serve for a designated term.  The committee draws people who are gifted in pastoral care, but they are not the only people who provide pastoral care in the meeting.  One of the tensions in an unprogrammed meeting is how to hold (mostly) volunteers accountable.  Having people rotate off the committee after their term is one way to do that.

As we spoke, the primary metaphor that Paul used for pastoral care was the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).  Christ is the head of our meeting and we are the body.  Within that body, people care for each other and provide care as needed.  Friends are resistant to the idea of authority, other than the authority that comes from the Holy Spirit, but we do recognize the need for leadership.

Three committees in AFM cover three of the roles that a pastor traditionally fills.  Care and Counsel provides pastoral care as described above.  The Ministry and Worship committee focuses on the worship within the meeting and attends to things like weddings, support for ministry, and applications for membership (I serve on the Ministry and Worship committee).  We also have a Social Concerns committee, which connects the meeting to the larger community context and does outreach.

Reflecting on this conversation, I agree that the body of Christ is a very good metaphor for pastoral care in a Friends meeting.  I also realized that my personal metaphor for ministry has been the story of Peter’s shadow falling on people and healing them (Acts 5:15).  In that story, if Peter’s shadow is behind him as he walks, he will never know whom he is healing.

I have been a public minister among Friends for over six years now, and in that time I have lived in four different cities.  Each time I moved, I felt like God was calling me to the next place, but it has been very hard for me.  I feel like I have been planting seeds in ministry, but I do not get to stay long enough to see how they grow or if they bear fruit.  I have to trust that God is working through me even as I move on.

Having a year to spend deeply involved in the life of the meeting at AFM feels like a gift.  My site mentors and I are still discerning what ministry will look like for me in this context, but I know that there are needs in the meeting and that I have gifts to bring.  I am also grateful that I will not be doing this work alone.  We have a well-developed committee structure with many people bringing their time, gifts, and skills to support this community of Friends.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Recording Resources

A few weeks ago, a Friend wrote me asking if I knew of any resources about the Quaker process for recording ministers.  He said he was new to this, and it had been hard to find resources online.  I compiled a list of resources for him, and thought it might be useful for others as well.

My home meeting, Freedom Friends Church, has a page of resources on recorded ministry.

Here is a YouTube video of me talking about my recording process with Friends Journal:


I also posted quite a bit about the process of being recorded on my blog under the Recording label, as well as sharing stories from other women who have been recorded as ministers.

Steven Davidson wrote about some of the objections to recording in an article called Recording Gifts of Ministry in New York Yearly Meeting's Spark.  (See also Resources on Ministry.)

I highly recommend Brian Drayton's book On Living with a Concern for Gospel Ministry.  The whole book is excellent, but he talks specifically about his experience of being a recorded minister and reporting back to his meeting in Appendix 1 and 2.

Are there other resources you would recommend, Friends?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Middle

"How is it with you in your call?"
The question came from a woman I had just met at the Pacific Northwest Quaker Women's Theology Conference.  It took me by surprise, but after I thought for a moment, I said that there had been a lot of energy at the conference around beginning the journey, and that is not where I am.  I feel like I am on the path, but just plodding along.

The call to ministry is exciting and sexy.  Trying to live a life of ongoing faithfulness is not.

I have been a public Friend for six years now.  Not long compared to some, but long enough to get past the initial excitement of the call.  Sometimes ministry is exciting, sometimes it is horrible, and sometimes it is just a slog.

I have found that, once Friends are on board with the idea of ministry, there is a lot more focus on getting started than on the tools we need for a sustained life of ministry.  I hope that those of us who are doing this work can find ways to encourage each other in the middle and along the way.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Quaker Fame

"You might say they are going through fame puberty—the awkward stage." Nick Paumgarten
For the past year, I have been going to Quaker events and hiding.  I wrote about this a little after the FGC Gathering last year (where I actually started carrying around a disguise).  I said then that I was having a hard time with my rising level of "Quaker celebrity." It is something that is still a struggle for me.

Few things will throw me off center at a Quaker event faster than when someone knows who I am and I have no idea who they are.  A Friend will introduce me in conversation and the other person's face will light up.  I feel dread because I know they have read something I have written, or heard me speak, or heard about me some other way.  I never know what to do, and any response on my part feels awkward and ungracious.

I read the quote above in the New Yorker a few days ago and it spoke to my condition.  I feel like I have been going through an extended fame puberty.  Fortunately, I have been able to speak about this with some trusted elders over the past few months, and they have given me some good advice:

1.  I need to find ways to acknowledge that God is working through me when I do ministry.  It is especially awkward for me when people compliment me on a message I have given, because I feel strongly that those messages come from God.  At heart, my ministry is to help people experience the presence of God.  When they experience God through me, it can be a powerful and attractive experience.  It is important for me to be clear that I am the conduit, not the source.

2.  If I keep doing this work, this will keep happening.  I think part of the reason that I respond so poorly is because I act like every time I am recognized, it is the first time or totally unexpected.  I need to stop acting that way and start putting together a toolkit for how to respond when this happens.

3.  I need to find a Quaker space that is restorative for me.  A couple people have encouraged me to find somewhere that I can go not as a minister, but to worship and rest.  This may involve sending a message to the organizers in advance about my needs and how I want to participate.

All of this is complicated by the fact that Friends pretend like we don't have celebrities.  It is very hard to claim a level of fame when Quakers want to believe that we are all equal in every way.  But I think it is important to do so for me to be able to grow out of this "fame puberty," and I am going to claim this:

I am a minor celebrity in a small denomination.

How did it make you feel to read that?  Was it funny?  Did it seem like not a big deal?  Or did it make you want to reassure me that, really, I'm not that famous?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Epistle

Epistle of the 2014
Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference
June 11-15, 2014
Menucha Retreat Center, Corbett, Oregon
Greeting to Friends Everywhere:
We are 77 women who have come together from North Pacific Yearly Meeting, Northwest Yearly Meeting, Freedom Friends Church, and meetings further afield. Our theme this year was “Wilt Thou Go on My Journey?” To prepare for the conference, each woman wrote a short reflection paper on the conference theme and quotes from Luke 9:2-4, Isaiah 6:9, and from two women who traveled in the Quaker ministry: Nancy Hawkins and Caroline Stephen. We read each other’s papers and discussed them within our home groups: small groups of women who met throughout the conference to share with each other their stories with confidentiality, great trust, and vulnerability.
We met to worship together in unprogrammed worship, plenary sessions, workshops, community activities, worship for business, and semi-programmed worship. Each day we explored a different aspect or topic related to spiritual journeys: Welcoming, Clearness of Calling, Doubt and Fear on the Journey, Deepening Faith, and Journeying Together.
Through workshops, including workshops on writing, songs, movement, and prayer, we explored ways to reflect on, express, and share our journeys with each other, moving past our fears about being judged based on our differences. We felt great trust in this group and were able to shed our reluctance to expose our fears and joys to each other. We celebrated what we found in common and explored what was new to us.
We used forms of worship that were new to most of us from both programmed and unprogrammed meetings, including chanting and worshipful movement. We found these forms to be powerful ways to move into worship together. Spirit-led, spontaneous acapella singing enriched our worship and community.
During a powerful gathered meeting, we supported those who were trembling, weeping, and quaking and encouraged them to speak. We talked with each other about our roots as Quakers and about how our traditions have splintered so that none of us has a complete experience. We heard from the Lord a call to help bring those pieces back together that can help us create a new mosaic that honors the many facets of our different traditions.
We committed to organize this conference again in two years’ time and to invite more women from the evangelical traditions.
We asked ourselves what we would bring with us from this conference. We were invited to take the things we had heard and experienced and allow them to change us and through us, change our communities and to bridge the divides between different yearly meetings.
Regards,
All of us gathered at the 2014 Pacific Northwest Quaker Women’s Theology Conference.