Friday, February 17, 2012


My last blog, quoting from Dostoyevsky’s “The Brother’s Karamazov”, evoked a passionate response from a friend. She’s not only a friend but someone I respect as an Elder (and not simply a Senior).

“After reading this excellent blog, I am left with the ancient Question echoing yours, is there room for Woman, not "Man & God", not "Mankind", but the rest of us, the other 50%, who yearn for words that support our inclusion in the church's new "flow"? Like for instance, "Humanity", or "Humankind"?"

"And yes, there are many women who "don't mind", who are so used to the mental gymnastics necessary to turn "Man" into "both of us, of course", that they overlook the sheer arrogance, the rudeness that one would never use to respected equals. But I have to wonder what is it costing them in self-respect, in their deep-down knowing, in their assumption that they too belong."

"Why don't ministers emulate Jesus and His treatment of women, which in my limited study of the matter seems different from the rest of the Bible in inclusiveness.”

My first reaction was to blame it on Dostoyevsky. The sexist language was his – and I was simply quoting. Good deflection – except that I regularly translate Biblical quotes into inclusive language as a matter of habit now.

If I don’t open myself to my friend’s pain and frustration at the language and try to make excuses, or just expect women to do those extra mental gymnastics, aren’t I just part of the problem?

I like to consider myself a liberated male (as I sit writing, my partner Lynn is hauling firewood into the cabin). I’ve even claimed a “feminist” analysis as my own. And of course, to get defensive here would be to miss the socio-political arguments in a confusion of personal confession. But here I go anyway.

As a green student-minister I talked my way into a self-designed Internship at Trinity St. Paul’s UC on Bloor St. in Toronto. I lined up the funding and had to convince their community outreach minister, Patricia Lisson, a diaconal minister, to take me on and supervise me.  

She was about to launch a drop-in for single mom’s called Common Ground and I could tell she wasn’t enthused about having this large middle class white boy tagging along and cramping her style.

Maybe the opportunity to teach an eager green young man about feminist power and politics in the church was too great a temptation. She agreed – on the basis that the Revered Malcolm Sinclair would share the load and supervise me for the other half of my time with them.

While Malcolm shared his muse and passion for preaching; giving me tips on stance and vocal projection that I use still, Pat put me to work doing childcare.

Sheila, who ran the drop-in, instructed me to make myself useful and keep my mouth shut. I’d thought digging ditches and hefting endless bags of cement was tough work, ‘til I was given four toddlers to entertain for a few hours. A new respect (awe even) for single mothers grew from those physically and emotionally exhausting hours.

I remember a chat with Patricia in her car driving to get supplies. She asked me why I wanted to be a reverend. I’d probably thrown her some lingo about being in solidarity with the poor and how I wasn’t interested in the status of being clergy. Her response took me by surprise.

“You’ll be a white, male, ordained clergy. Don’t try to pretend like you don’t have status and power. If you want to be of use, make sure you use that status and power to make a difference. Not using that power is an abuse. Mis-using that power is an abuse. Using it well is worth pursuing.”

Trying to pretend that the words that come from my mouth, or typing fingertips, don’t make a difference is worth a reminder from friends loving and brave enough to give me a jab in the ribs.

The great divide between men and women is a fascinating one with many routes across. My dreams and inner journeys took me for years in search of my intuitive, feminine self. It was quietly waiting beneath the mostly fear and adrenaline-based male macho shell I’d crafted in adolescence.

I’ve had to find all kinds of techniques to actually “feel” my emotions. It’s not that those emotions aren’t there – it’s just that they’ve been desensitized by years of cultural programming (and probably some genetic differences (deficiencies?).

While men claim to be more rational and less emotional, I find that women are generally better at balancing the two. Men’s dominant reliance on reason is dangerous.

Subverted emotions seek out expression. Men’s (and my own) range of emotional expression is too often channeled into one wide river called anger. Anger training taught me that anger is not an emotion but a reaction to emotion. The root of anger being fear.

Do men so often express anger in women’s direction because they fundamentally fear the power of women?

I think so. In my experience women are the stronger of the two sexes. Not just because of their higher birth survival rates and higher pain tolerances. And not just because the human race relies on their reproductive capacities for survival. And not because of the female pheromone’s that can make men’s so-rational minds muddy, and muscled stances weak-kneed, oh so quick.

But mostly because I see that the world I want my children to live in is a world of peace. Because women generally have a wider range of emotional options at their disposal. Which, along with equal doses of reason and intelligence, can make them more balanced, and so – wiser human beings. This makes women, in my opinion, not only better clergy, but better politicians, community, legal and business leaders too.

Men (generally) have to go a further distance to get to this place of wisdom. And so men do their best now, and through the ages, to maintain an upper hand. It’s either that, or end up doing childcare, which is way too tough for most of us to handle.

Is this reverse discrimination? Am I putting women on a pedestal? I do find all women beautiful. I confess that I’m much more likely to have a soft spot for a female opponent while I have more trouble finding redeeming qualities in the men who challenge me.   

Is this patronizing? For me, I have come to know that to be a better man, I must embrace the qualities within me that are feminine. And to participate in the peacemaking, I need to meet all others first as members of humankind. Next, I must drop my assumptions and generalizations about what qualities lie behind the male/female façade. Finally, to always open my heart as well as my mind to the incredible diversities of humanity god loves.

It ain’t easy for a large, verbally-dominant, middle-class white boy to get that kind of soul. I’ve got a lot of wandering to do yet. Thankfully I have elders to help me out.

1 comment:

Peter Wilmz said...

“Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. ”
― Paulo Freire

I like where you ended up as I think that is a fantastic jumping off point. If we tear down the social construct of gender what possibilities would that open? Where do the transgender (look at that spell check doesn't even accept transgender as a word!), 2-Spirit, and intersex people fit in this musing?
Thanks for this and so many other shared reflections!