Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Women, word and sacrament

I just got back from an amazing conference in Glasgow called 'Women, word and sacrament' commemorating 40 years of female ordination in the Church of Scotland. It really was truly amazing. It was inspiring to get too see and even talk to (!) the first woman to be ordained in the Church, and hear some of her wonderful story, as well as seeing one of those womenwho first signed the appeal that resulted in the 1968 desision to ordain women, to see those who pioneered feminist theology in Scotland, and hear from experts in the the history of women in church of Scotland. ANd this is all not to mention the amazing women I got to meet and remeet who work in pastoral ministry, living out every day the believe that women who are called to the ministry of word and sacrament (what most of us would called being a minister) have a responsibility to follow the call, and should not be disuaded by false, sexist ideas. It was both inspiring and refreshing to be surrounded by women for whom 'christian feminism' has been key to their lives, and I am reminded again, that I am not alone.

Even though my head is full of all the amazing things women in the church have achieved, and all that we still have to do, this isn't the issue first in my mind at the moment. A talk we heard about the debates that went on for so long about the ordination of women was full of very familiar language. There was talk of it being 'un-natural', of it 'going against the natural order', 'going against the divine inspiration of scripture', 'masculising women' and 'resulting in effeminite men and a feminised church'. The language was all exactly the same as that which we hear now in the church in the context of sexual orientation. So why, when I pay so little heed to those who argue that women teaching is wrong (going against their 'natural' role as mothers and homemakers!), do I pay any heed to those who say that same sex relations are 'un-natural' and 'unbiblical'.

I wish I could find the answers that I'm looking for, but it may take a lot of time and a lot of wrestling before I can truly figure what side of this whole, horrible battle I am on. For the minute all I can say is, that for my part I am unable to believe that same sex relationships are wrong, but I am unable to avoid the possibility that I am wrong, too influenced by the world. I pray for answers, for clarity, and ultimatly for peace of mind, for all those of us who are searching for answers, fearful of what we might find.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Modesty and other dangerous ideas

Most of the life I have had in the church I am extremely grateful for. I'm grateful for the relationship I have with God that I probably wouldn't have without all the people who were willing to invest in me while I was a teenager. And I'm grateful for all the things I learned and experienced in various christian camp/youth group/youth work settings between the ages of 12 and 18.

However, as I think back, there is one key thing that I not grateful about, and actually that I'm signficantly angry about. I have been to more christian relationships talks than I can remember, every Valentine's day period I would usually go to at least three, and a lot of my views about relationships I got there, because I trusted what the people who led those groups were telling me, and I hadn't yet learned to ask enough questions. And actually, a lot of what I learned there i still believe, but there are one or two things that I would like to make clear that I now think are lies, and dangerous lies at that.

Firstly, there was, 'boys are just more visually stimulated than girls are.' Actually, I'm not sure this is a total lie, but its certainly a dangerous thing to be telling teenagers, when they're all confused, I know it occasionaly made me feel that I was wierd because I'm female and also 'visually stimulated' (becuase we're all visually stimulated, no need to lie about it, its just more acceptable for men). The general assumptions of what boys are like as opposed to what girls are like was also unhelpful e.g. boys often masturbate, girls don't usually (you can almost feel the shame of the girls to do masturbate in the audience, not only are they sure if they're allowed to do this, they're also being told that they're not proper women because they do it). Can we not just accept that people are all different, rather than assuming its a gendered thing?

The most dangerous lie of all was the modesty lie. I have heard so many times that I should keep myself covered up (this especially applies to big breasted people like me!) so that I don't 'tempt the boys too much'. This statement, and others like it, directly implied that I was somehow in control of the boys in my life, and that when (if) I tempted them by showing too much skin, I was also responsible for their actions. I know the people who say this are well intentioned (usually) but they need to know that they are directly feeding into the idea that women are 'asking for it' when they are raped and had a short skirt/low cut top on, because they arroused the guys so much that they couldn't control themselves. Men and boys are all capable of self control, and even in low cut tops, I do not have any control over their minds and what they CHOOSE to do. If I can learn to practise self control and a 'pure mind' (whatever that means) then so can they, its not easy for anyone. Never mind the affect that these ideas of modesty have on young womens feelings about their bodies, as being something to be hidden, something wrong and disgusting, which directly feeds into low self esteem/eating disorders etc.

The potential for these relationships talks to harm young people, particularily young women is massive, I'm still working at reforming my opinions now that no-one is telling me what to think anymore. We need to be aware that when we do these talks, we are talking to vulnerable people, who trust us, and learn not to abuse this trust. We need to stop assuming that everyone in the audience is straight, or a virgin, and we need to start encouraging young people to ask questions and reach their own answers. Not because there isn't such a thing as sexual immorality (I believe there is) but because if we really want people to make good choices, they have to make them for themselves, not just because they feel they have to for legalist reasons. Thats why, 'Truth love waits' doesn't work, its so rarely a real, thought through choice.

And we really, really have to stop making young women feel ashamed of their bodies, or feel to blame for what the men in their life do because they were 'too tempted by our nasty sinful bodies'. We're hurting people, and unless we radically change how we educate our teenagers (and this applies both within and outwith the church) its only going to get worse.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Love and Marriage...

Love and marriage are certainly very much in the air in my life at the moment, with three of my friends getting married this year, one in less than two weeks. (Scary biscuits for me, shes MY AGE!) But marriage is certainly one of those issues where feminists and christians tend to fight it out.

For me it goes without saying that the Christian ritual of marriage as we know it today is full of some unspeakable sexism. It all starts when the man asks the woman's father (or a male family member certainly) for 'permission' to marry his daughter. While this (and I thank God for it) is going out of fashion now, asking permission clearly shows that the women is considered to the property of her father, under his control, with no personal freedom or autonomy. It has nothing to do with 'tradition' or 'family value' and everything to do with sexism and controlling women. Women wear a nice sparky ring to show that they are 'taken' whereas this is not essential for men. On the wedding day itself it all gets worse. The women is taken down the aisle by her father and passed on to her husband, passed on to her new owner (this isn't hyperbole, this is really what the symbolism behind this is). The bride wears white, symbolising her virginity, her purity is an essential part of the marriage, not so for her future husband, its almost expected that he will have got in some practise already - the double standard is clear.

And all this is to say nothing of the fact that behind this tradition is the assumption that the couple will be a man and a women not of the same sex. Not to mention the stereotypes perpetuated in the runup to the big day, with women who are obsessed with dresses and flowers and men who are terrified of commitment. Add to this the hen and the stag night, where men objectify women as they always do and women do their level best to follow on, all the while wearing pink t-shirts saying 'up for it'. I don't feel the need to justify to why I object.

And these pieces of sexism and prejudice are not something that should be dismissed as traditional, or not a big deal, because traditions like this affect how we see the world. This sets the scene for how men and women relate to each other in relationships, sets norms which damage both women and men and I firmly believe helps to establish a pattern of power in relationships which plays a part in the high levels of male domestic violence against women. So yes, it is a big deal.

But damaging as these traditons are, I do still hold out some hope for marriage. The way we do marriage in our culture is of course, not some kind of God-ordained ritual, as all cultures throughtout time have done this differently. The bible makes no mention of white dresses and veils, or cake, or even a presiding minister, the understanding of marriage in Jewish culture was different to ours (not to say that it was better, it was as bad, but I don't profess to have good historical understanding so I'll stop here).

If we consider Adam and Eve to be the first married couple (and yes the story might be allegorical and it might be true, I can't really pretend I care that much, the point remains the same), then there was nothing to their marriage but a commitment to lifelong monogomy, which is all that marriage really is. And yes, many argue that Eve was to submit to Adam as our biblical translations render her his 'helper'. Given that the word used in the Hebrew is also the one used to describe how God relates to the people of Israel as their 'helper' its hard to see how this made her his inferior, no matter how much centuries of patriarchial culture have used it to mean this.

So, if all marriage really is at core is this committment to lifelong monogamy (which I do believe is a good thing, even though divorce will inevitably happen in some cases, and for good reasons), then a ceremony can certainly be a good way to celebrate and affirm this. So rather than throwing marriage out of the window, I believe we need to reform marriage, so we can still celebrate our committment to another person before God and other people, but without all the sexist institutions that currently surround marriage.

Certainly there could be vows involved in this ceremony, vows of love and commitment, but nothing suggesting that one partner must submit more than the other (its all about the mutual submission!). There can even be pretty clothes, but no necessity about what these are. And before the day, the two members of the couple can go out with their friends to celebrate this new, important stage in their life, without feeling the need to confirm to outdated stereotypes of how they should be because of their sex.

And of course, this marriage has no need of being sanctioned by the state which has no business in such affairs. What else do you think we can do to redeem marriage?

Monday, 18 February 2008

Why I am Still a Christian

There was an article in the Life and Work (Church of Scotland magazine, I know, I'm a big loser) this week, which asked some relatively well known people why they are still christians. Their answers were totally appalling for the most part (with the honorable exceptions of the current moderator and slightly disturbingly, conservative MSP Annabel Goldie) and included mentions of 'moral values' and 'going to church as children' and no mention at all of 'Jesus' or 'Grace' or 'The kingdom of God'. And in the funny week I've been having, this feels like a very relevant question for me.

I'm increasingly feeling like a number of the people around me are beginning to feel that while I'm a christian, I'm not really all that serious about it, and its not really that big a part of life, and this is heart breaking for me. I don't know why it is people think this (and I may just be being paranoid), maybe its partly because most people don't think its possible to be a christian and feminist or a christian and left wing or whatever. Most worringly of all is that perhaps people think this because I don't give off the impression that Jesus is important to me. I certainly talk about feminism more than Jesus, which I would like to change, much as I will become even more socially unacceptable if I start talking about Jesus as well as sexual violence at dinner parties!

So, to the questions, 'Why am I still a christian?'. Ultimatly I guess I'm a christian because I love Jesus more than anything else in the world (even feminism!). My life is based around the fact that I have been redeemed (what a good word!) by Jesus' amazing sacrifice for me and that I am called to live my life for God's Kingdom (thats where the feminism comes in). To quote Galations, "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, then Christ died for nothing!"

I'm not a christian because I 'believe in christian morals' or because 'I think christians tradition is important' these are terrible, soul destroying reasons to believe in Christianity. I'm a christian because of grace, nothing more or less. I have been given what I don't deserve (which is part of what grace means), and I am eternally grateful to God for this.

I know this post is a little bit rambly, and maybe doesn't have a whole lot to do with Christian Feminism, but I just want to make my base point clear. Christ is my priority, my aim is to be a Little Christ (or 'christian'), and feminism is a part of that, but feminism is not the starting point - Jesus is.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day was born in New York in 1897 and grew up in Chicago. She went to university in Illinois and there began looking into radical social politics, eventually dropping out and moving to New York to work for a socialist paper called ‘The Call’. In 1917 she was arrested for protesting outside the Whitehouse about women’s exclusion from the right to vote.

Her religious conviction began to grow and she felt a fascination for the Catholic Church. In 1927 she became pregnant with her partner Forster Batterham, which was a great source of joy to her as she had felt that an abortion she had had some years earlier had left her unable to conceive. On the 3rd of March 1927 she gave birth to Tamar Theresa Day, and the child was baptised into the Catholic Church, at which point her relationship with Batterham ended and Day began a journey of bringing together her radical politics and her faith. This conflict came to a head when she felt unable to attend a march protesting high unemployement as it was organised by The Communist Party, who hated religion.

The following day, she met Peter Maurin who lived a Fransiscan lifestyle, and encouraged her to start up a paper looking at social justice issues and Catholicism, resulting in ‘The Catholic Worker’ which took the side of labour unions in the struggles of the time (during the depression) and combined radical politics with religious faith.

The Catholic Worker soon became more than a newspaper, as homeless people began to ask them for help Day and Maurin began to live ou the ancient Christian virtue of hospitality, renting apartment for poor men and women and forming community. The Catholic Worker soon became a movement with houses of hospitality forming all over America, which were much needed in the Great Depression.

Day herself described the importance of their work saying that, “The class structure is our making and by our consent, not God's, and we must do what we can to change it. We are urging revolutionary change”. The Catholic Worker also formed farming communes in this period.

But Day was not just committed to providing for the poor, she was also a committed pacifist who opposed America’s involvement in WW2 and when the Catholic Worker refused to support the catholic troups in the Spanish Civil war they lost a lot of their readers. The movements pacifism was also key in the Cold War, protesting against the civil drills all citizens had to take part in, saying that, “In the name of Jesus, who is God, who is Love, we will not obey this order to pretend, to evacuate, to hide. We will not be drilled into fear. We do not have faith in God if we depend upon the Atom Bomb.” Day and others were arrested several times for these protests.

Many consider Day to have been a saint, but she herself said, “Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily.” Her legacy in the Catholic Worker Movement lives on, with communities formed all over the world committed to non-violence and hospitality, while campaigning for justice and against war.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Woman Priests

I would recommend this website: as being a really good resourse for people who are fighting for the inclusion of female priests in the catholic church (or is that just an impossible dream? Would the Catholic Church stop being catholic if it allowed female priests? I don't know...)

I especially love this article looking at the, I think slightly wierd, idea that woman can't be ordained because they don't look enough like Jesus and the disciples (we just don't have enough penis...). I love her end paragraph where she says:

"But if we define the church as living community in dialogue with Jesus, we keep growing together in a deeper understanding of theology, sexuality and the church’s mission and yes, we look like Jesus, and curiously women, on whose oppression depends all Patriarchal institutions including the church, may look more as Jesus than the pope himself and the whole male priesthood together. It is our actions and ministering in community, our commitment to justice and peace, which ultimately demonstrates who looks like Jesus and who doesn’t."

AMAZING! I think I love her. And she works at Edinburgh uni - even more amazing.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Elizabeth Fry

Elizabeth Fry lived from 1780 to 1845. She was brought up in a Quaker family and she became a ‘plain Quaker’ (i.e. only wore plain clothes)

After visiting Newgate Women’s Prison she was shocked at the appalling conditions the prisoners lived in, including very small babies with no blankets, and sick prisoners with no hospital facilities.

Along with the woman prisoners and some other Quaker women, she organised the ‘Association for the improvement of the female prisoners of Newgate’ and set up a school in the prison for the children, among other ventures including providing a matron and providing materials for the women to make things they could sell.

In 1818 she gave evidence to the House of Commons on London’s prisons, the first ever woman to do this and was able to stress the importance of employment for prisoners, and the Prison Act of 1823 contained many of her recommendations.

She also had a large effect on the treatment of prisoners going to the colonies, organising the provision of ‘useful bags’ of things, and protecting them from abuse through arranging for the provision of closed carriages to the ships.

Her work extended beyond Newgate as other committees of women were formed all over Britain to help prisoners, inspired by her example. She also wrote a book called, ‘Observations, on the visiting, superintendence and government of female prisoners’ which spread awareness of the plight of female prisoners and included strong condemnation of the death penalty.

June Rose in Prison Pioneer said about her, “Through her personal courage and involvement, Elizabeth Fry alerted the nations of Europe to the cruelty and filth in the prisons and revealed the individual human faces behind the prison bars. Her own passionate desire to lead a useful life disturbed the placid, vapid existence of women in Victorian England and changed forever the confines of respectable femininity. The name of Elizabeth Fry broadened the appeal of the Quaker faith . . . Over two hundred years after her birth, she seems a brave and modern woman, battling with the injustices of her time.'