It was an innocent, and even thoughtful, well-meaning comment. I was chatting with a pastor in a window seat at Panera Bread when the conversation meandered to the growing Presbyterian church near his home. It was not a PC(USA) congregation, but a recent church plant of one of our more conservative sister denominations. This particular denomination doesn’t ordain women. We were chatting about some of the things the congregation did well: indigenous music and culture, small groups, meaningful mission. Then, my colleague, added, “of course, we have some theological differences.” “Yes,” I agreed, “I have some problems with their theology.” Then came the comment: “Oh, sure, if I were a woman …” I don’t remember the exact words at the end of that thought … I could already feel my stomach burning and my inner child yelling out …
It used to be enough for me to know that the men in my life understood my anger when I was denied respect, leadership, etc. because I was born female. Now, I need something more. Now I need to know that others are just as outraged as I am. And from those closest to me … my husband, my brothers, my father, and, yes, my male colleagues … I need them to not merely acknowledge my pain, frustration, humiliation, and anger with a comment, or a nod of the head, or a wink … I want them to be angry with me. I want to be so valued by those who know me and love me … that when I am undervalued by others, they feel it too … not just for me, but for them.
Of course, when we are part of a discriminated group of people we are more apt to feel the pain. Women are more likely to notice when they are disregarded in a board meeting or overlooked for a promotion or referred to as “emotional” or “bossy.” Less than 50% of men believe that women even face discrimination. (68% of women believe it.) Yet the gender divide is apparent in research of equal pay, opportunity, promotion, and media.
Research also shows that corporations are more successful when they employ more women in leadership. There is evidence to support that society is better served when women are in decision making roles as well as supporting roles. Those stats need to be looked at when we set laws and make policy. They are merely stats, though, and don’t explain why I want my colleagues and friends and family to be angry when women are excluded from leadership. I want them to be angry because they value me, because they see me, because they love me.
If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26 NRSV)
This love and care for a person is most likely the biggest reason that the popular opinion supporting same sex marriage has shifted so dramatically in a relatively short time. The LGBT+ community came out of the closet. And we realized that “they” were our brothers and sisters, our aunts and uncles, our daughters and sons. We love them, and we know how much they’ve been denied. We feel their pain.
This year must have been a banner year for hashtags of solidarity. Our tweets and Facebook statuses have been filled with: #blacklivesmatter #yesallwomen #muslimlivesmatter #bluelivesmatter #jesuischarlie #alllivesmatter. Depending on who you know … or who you love … profile pics change and the shares and retweets fill the social media-sphere. I was personally affected by the Charlie Hebdo and NYPD assassinations; I have a brother who’s retired from the NYPD, I hosted an exchange daughter from France (near Paris) for a year … I hurt when they hurt.
As Christians I believe that Christ calls us share that kind of bond with all of creation … this is the Good News … that God so LOVED the world that he gave his only son. It’s the love of God that not only heard the cries of God’s people, but urged God to respond in the most personal and sacrificial act of love. And this is the love we’re called to be a part of. This is the love that is so outraged by race inequalities that we can no longer keep silence … but we take to the streets and protest with our sisters and brothers in Ferguson. AND we cry with the madness of killing officers while in a squad car in Brooklyn. We mourn the violence in Paris AND we stand up for the Muslims being mistreated in our own neighborhoods. We stand against the terrorism of the Palestinians AND the malevolence towards them by the Israeli’s. We work for girls to be educated in Pakistan and for women to be considered equally for positions on corporate boards in the U.S. We work, we speak, we act … why? because we love.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13)
It occurs to me, as I prepare to post on Ash Wednesday, that this is the reason for the ashes, no? The soot on our foreheads is an attempt to suffer with those who suffer, to admit to our own guilt and culpability in the brokenness of the world, to feel the grittiness and the dirtiness life … not to dismiss it, but so that we can work together for good in the power of the resurrection.