Given the tenuous, occasionally contentious nature of conversation, the massive number of people willing to continually engage in issues is inspiring. We might not all agree with each other and occasionally even passionately take offense, but as with all bold, truthful, courageous words that have never been uttered before, first there is a thawing out that hits the air from the old way of thinking, then there is the slow burning fire that arrives to clear out the brush for what must be built for going forward. Conversation slowly burns back the sticks, the dead grass, the old brush, all the acceptable thorns of our slave-holding society so that people might begin to see the next level of their necessity.
A writer within Spokane Faith and Values wrote that art comes from the border of what has come before and what is coming next. As an English major I understand an art of language that is not just about learning to recognize and pronounce words, but also about how to hear and understand them. The unending question then becomes, how can we read, hear and inwardly digest language without preconceived understandings getting in the way.
In regards to gender and spirituality this is arguably complicated. In his book "Speaking Christian," Marcus Borg contends that idealists ignore the grim reality of an ex-Eden world while cynics ignore the eschatological reality that a new Eden is around the corner. On any given day my own perspective vacillates between idealist and cynic. On my idealist days I understand the argument that women are predominant in specific activities, keeping everything from falling into chaos and pointlessness by humanizing vision, breathing warmth into plans and priorities and providing the stabilizing joy of deeper togetherness that often lacks in male-centric circles. If women stepped down and out from leading in churches then the whole structure would collapse. My cynical days however, rebut this perspective by seeing no way out from church communities that expect me to have an interest in knitting clubs, singles-only small groups, finding a husband or helping out nursery child care.
Emotional forms of ministry have their place, but as a woman in the church I am eager to move beyond the emotional woman stereotype and thus the surface-level understanding of my God-given talents and attributes. Therefore I constantly strive for a hopeful realism that exercises the complicated discipline of holding both cynical and idealist realities together in tension. This stance stops underestimating a media culture that manipulates our perceptions of what it means to be masculine, what it means to be feminine, and in particular, what the interactions and relational purpose between those two should be and/or look like. It alternately holds in conjunction a space that exudes innumerable possibilities for glorifying God regardless of gender.
My dreams for the church in understanding this tension have been half-met through certain facets of the church. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's recent statement on sexuality reassured me that we must, "recogniz[e] the many ways in which people misuse power and love. We need to be honest about...the finite limitations of human beings...recogniz[ing] the complexity of the human and societal forces that drive the desire for companionship, for intimate relation with another, for belonging, and for worth." Essentially, in what ways are our perceptions and expectations of each other being influenced by media advertisements, movies, television shows, and tradition.
The other half of my dreams concern a desire to engage more faith-based people in discussing the idea of gender as performative and a social construct. These discussions are far from easy; requiring a desire to relearn everything we've ever been taught about skills, talents, disposition and temperament as they pertain to gender. How are we performing our gender each day in regards to attire, sitting stance, walk, speech etc.? How are we gender policing others to act "right"? What presumptions are we making about sexuality, relationships and the definition of family?
Until we start these conversations that attempt a deconstruction of the the layers of gendered language, consumerism and entertainment we have spent our history constructing, the church will continue to exist as a Jekyll and Hyde distortion of cynicism and idealism regarding gender roles. One that is no different from, and walks solidly alongside a secular world that still discusses human rights issues from the standpoint that there is such a thing as "undeserved populations".