Sunday, April 24, 2016

Don't Let Fear Keep You from Love

This is the Fifth Sunday of Easter in Western Christianity, over halfway towards Ascension and Pentecost.  Thinking about an Easter Season is out of synch with the culture. After all, the bunny rabbit candy shelves in stores have long been emptied. Even the on-sale left-overs are gone. But the Easter Season goes on.  These many weeks are needed.

“Do not be afraid,” (Matt. 28:5) the women at the tomb were told.  But they were. They were terrified. “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5) the women were asked. But where else would they have looked?

At the Ascension of Christ, while his followers were watching, they were asked, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” (Acts 1:11) The followers of Christ did not just stand there. On Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit, people coming from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem and visitors from as far away as Rome heard in their own languages these first Christians speaking about God’s deeds of power. (Acts 2: l-11)

In between that first Easter and Pentecost Sunday many of us will hear these words: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)

We need these words because we today live in a season of fear: images of terrorists. “They are coming to get us,” I heard someone say recently. Fear has a power of its own. It can literally petrify. Fear can cause us to retaliate, or blame anyone and everyone, or shoot in circles. To do so is to fall prey to seeking more death among the dead.

Things could have gone that way after the crucifixion of Christ. What if the angel at the tomb had said, “You better be afraid. Jesus is gone. You are left on your own,” instead of “He has been raised . . . he is going ahead of you to Galilee.” (Mark 16:6-7)

What if as Christ ascended he had said, “I’m leaving you to your fears. I’m not going to protect you or guide you anymore. Too bad.” But rather he opened the disciples’ minds to understand about his suffering and ours and about repentance and forgiveness of sins and said, “You are my witnesses.” (Luke 24:47-51)

And on Pentecost, what if those first believers in Christ, bold enough to speak about Christ’s life in the face of death had been misunderstood? Well, by some they were. Some sneered. (Acts 2:13)  But, amazingly, many heard that this man Jesus who was killed, God raised up, having freed from death because he couldn’t be held in death’s power. (Acts 2:22-24) About three thousand people believed and came together in community. (Acts 2:41-42)

Particularly when insidious fear erupts from terrorizing situations and others use that fear to gain advantage, notoriety, and power, building communities—inter-religious communities—where we can trust one another is urgently needed. We need the courage to form communities of love toward one another.


Hearing, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another,” is challenging in the midst of not knowing what comes next. It calls for the difficult work of reconciliation. Christ could not be held in death’s power. Neither can we. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

I Saw My President

I saw my president and his family land at the Cuban airport Sunday night and step off onto Cuban soil. Even the need for umbrellas, because of the driving rain, did not blur my television view.

I saw my president, Barack Obama, last week Wednesday step before the cameras in the Rose Garden at the White House and officially name Merrick Garland as a Supreme Court nominee.

I saw my president and the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, hold a joint news conference at the White House the Thursday before, March 10the.

Three times in eleven days. Almost amazing because most every television broadcast for months and months has begun with words and pictures of potential presidents, not the president we have now. I watched the Obama-Trudeau joint news conference with my granddaughter, Jennaya, age 11, who was at home recovering from surgery. She watched the entire broadcast with great interest. 
Disappointed to see that the evening news covered only 30 seconds (what Obama had to say about a presidential candidate), Jennaya decided to write a story about the entire news conference on what her president and the prime minister had said. She included a sentence: “The whole news conference was a treat considering usually the media is all about Trump!”

Some might say that President Obama may be able to do more during these final months of his presidency without being under the constant eye of the people of the United States. But I, for one, would like to see him. And hear him and learn from him.

Some commentators have been calling Obama a lame duck president since the day after he won the election for his second term in office. (Only now do reporters use that term in the more accurate narrow sense to refer to the days after November 2016 before the inauguration of the next president in January 2017—raising the possibility of the Republicans in the Senate confirming Judge Garland’s nomination at the last minute.)  As for Obama? No lame duck is he!

Of course he has not been able to accomplish all he or we would have hoped. However, Barack Obama has been leading consistently in a way that has made it a joy for me to not only watch but also to be engaged in this participatory democracy. The words he used to describe Judge Garland might well be words to describe President Obama himself: a man of “decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness and excellence.”

Young Jennaya’s news story on watching President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau address reporters’ questions together said: “Reporters from both countries asked questions. They spoke in both French and English. Children in Canada learn both languages. The men spoke of friendly relationships between the two countries and the importance of a strong partnership. There is a long border between the United States and Canada. They talked about the importance of working together on Climate Change issues and being leaders in the world on this use. They stressed being good neighbors with each other and helping countries in the world all be good neighbors.”

My husband and I watched President Obama land in Cuba. (Burton and I had been married less than two months when the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962 made us extraordinarily fearful for two weeks if we would wake up the next morning.) We are not unaware of the work it takes to have good neighborly relationships, particularly with huge power differentials. There are risks. There always are risks. Human rights. Embargos. My responsibility as a columnist and as a professor is to dig deep, to critique, and to help people understand issues. But for now, I give thanks that President Obama is my—our—president. He has been ignored, ridiculed, derided, vilified, and threatened. However, every time I have heard him speak, in news conferences, speeches, or when giving words of comfort to families of victims of gun violence, I have been appreciative and inspired.

In spite of what he has and will endure, he is a man of diligence, collaboration, and reconciliation. I have seen that.  I want to see him more.



Thursday, January 28, 2016

Four, Three, Two Days to Iowa

To Iowa? That sounds like travel not time. We know what the media means. Or do we? I live in Iowa. So, a few things I would like to say “on the way to Iowa” from one who is already here: Misconceptions about Iowa; Curiosity about a Caucus; Disbelief about Participatory Democracy; and Even the children, Especially the children.

First, people in Iowa do not use hay bales for chairs. Iowa is not totally flat. (We live in hilly Dubuque, on the bluffs of the Mississippi.) You don’t drive through miles of corn at this time of year. We are covered with snow.  Iowa is an urban as well as a rural state.  Most important, Iowans are diverse in religion (no, not all Evangelicals), ethnicity, race, age, occupations, sexual orientation, and more. Iowans are well educated and informed.  Iowans, both rural and urban, have a global perspective. And Iowans take their responsibility of being the first-in-the nation caucus state very seriously. 

Second, my friends from Michigan to North Carolina to Australia are curious about the Iowa Caucus. They ask, “What really goes on there?” So I try to explain, “Where do you vote?” One responds, “At the high school about 2 miles from my home.” I go on, “Imagine that everyone who votes there all day long comes together at, 7:00 p.m.  Imagine that instead of going into a private voting booth, you all sit together in the auditorium and talk to each other in a civil way.  You have a conversation about important issues. You listen to one another.” (No, people do not wave banners and shout at each other, and senselessly follow the loudest leader.) It’s well organized and orderly. My friend is incredulous. Anyone can attend.  The caucus is open to the public and the press.  You can register as a Republican or Democrat that night, but that does not obligate you to vote that party ticket in November. Observers who are not eligible to vote because of age or residency in another state or country, watch and learn.  It’s fascinating.

Third, Caucus night is about participatory democracy. When international students from the seminary where I teach observed 4 and 8 years ago, they were amazed that people could express their political views in public without fear of losing their jobs, or worse.  That is still true here, and I trust it will continue, even with the proliferation of gun violence in our society. The first amendment is as important as the second. We need people of all faith traditions to participate: institutional separation and functional interaction. Faith leaders should not tell people how to vote but encourage people to vote and be engaged in working for good government for the welfare of all.

Participatory democracy is about much more than casting a vote for a candidate, although that is what will be reported in the news, even before caucus-goers enter the building from the parking lot. It is about being a participant rather than a spectator. Republicans begin with a straw poll and then in precincts build a party platform and choose delegates.  Democrats begin with preference groups, test for numeric viability, realign, count, and then discuss issues. They choose delegates to the county and state conventions, “regardless of race, sex, age, color, creed, national origin, religion, ethnic identity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or economic status.”
Fourth, even children in Iowa are informed participants. Eight years ago when our granddaughter, Jennaya, was 3 ½, and reporters were swarming all over Iowa, a Washington correspondent in an ice cream shop, possibly running out of adults to interview, asked Jennaya, whom she was for.  Jennaya spoke right up, “I like Hillary, but I think I’m going for Barack Obanga.” She has followed the political process ever since.  Iowa schools provide opportunity to discuss government and the political process and take straw polls.

Our son, Joel Everist, sent a picture this morning, of Jennaya, now 11 and her brother, Jackson, 9, with Bill Clinton, who spoke in Mason City, Iowa, last night. Joel told how Jennaya and Jackson suffer from diseases with no cure. “We thank the Clintons and President Obama for their work to ensure access to healthcare throughout their lifelong battles. We stand with Hillary Clinton who stands to protect, continue, and improve healthcare coverage for all. The future must be inclusive, not exclusive.”  Jennaya texted to me, “Bill Clinton talked about how Hillary says ‘What can I do to help?’” What that must mean to Jennaya who faces surgery next month!



So, come to the real Iowa!  Especially the children, but all of us need not to passively be led by the most outrageous angry rhetoric, but to think carefully and participate actively in building an inclusive democracy.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Child’s Silent Call for Trustworthy Action


Recently while approaching a store escalator, I noticed a woman with a girl, about 4, in front of me. The woman with her stepped on, but then the child quickly slipped her hand out from the woman’s grasp and stood still. I saw a look of dread on the child’s face and observed she was not going to get on, even as the woman’s body began to go up the escalator.

In that instant I could have stayed with the child while her mother rode up and then came back down the other side. But the child would have lost sight of the one in whose care she was.  Would the child start to cry? Scream? Should I pick her up?  I saw the woman look as though she would try to walk back down the moving stairs—a dangerous decision because she was already going rapidly upward.

Usually a child should not go with a stranger, nor should a stranger approach a child, but this time it seemed different. This minute called for trust and action. So I reached out my hand to the girl and she reached back and took my hand. I held it and said, “Let’s get on. It will be fine.”  She and I took a step together. And up we went.  I talked, quietly, calmly. “We’re safe. See your—your—mother?” (The woman nodded back—she was the girl’s mother—I would not have wanted to be wrong about that and frighten the child even more.) “She is right there in front of us.  She is going up.  We are going up right behind her. She is safe. We are safe.”

I just kept talking.  I did not overly promise, saying such things as “Aren’t we having fun?”  Simply, “We’re going up.” The girl did not look at me.  Her eyes were fixed on her mother and her mother’s eyes were fixed on her. A trusting bond. The mother did not say anything. It was as if she knew the girl’s hand was safe in mine, and the very best thing was to simply remain quiet and calm, although she was an unreachable distance beyond.  I then said, “Your mother is almost at the top. Very soon we will be at the top. Here we are. All is well.”  I put the girl’s hand back into her mother’s hand and she said, “Thank you,” and away they went.

But I saw them around the corner of the counter and they both waved back with smiles.

How do we place not only our children but each other at any age in each other’s care responsibly?  What is a call to ministry in the midst of a fearful culture?

Knowing God is our Good Shepherd, how do we become shepherds? Knowing we have a trustworthy God, how do we take a hand, take steps together, and build trust? 
Everist's latest book is “Seventy Images of Grace in the Epistles That Make All the Difference in Daily Life.”

Friday, December 4, 2015

When Mass Shootings Become Typical, What Do We Believe?


“This was not a typical mass shooting day,” he said. The words struck my heart as the newscaster described the variation in what had become a ritual in his reporting. It was early Thursday morning, the day after the deadly attack in San Bernardino. “Only a couple of other times among the 160 mass murders in the past few years has it been more than a solitary shooter.” The newscaster was describing his Wednesday and what his Thursday would no doubt be.  These days had come to be typical--normal. The only thing new was the number.

 
I, too, had a typical day ahead, of teaching. As a professor at Wartburg Theological Seminary, I lead class conversation on the beliefs of Lutheran Christians, one denomination in our pluralistic culture.  I could advise students to turn the TV off so they have time to study. However, they need to read not only Scripture but also the daily news.

 
By evening, we learned through the news, whether by television, computer or other electronic device, that there were two shooters, not three, and they were Muslim. They had a whole arsenal of guns. How and where had this U.S.-born man been radicalized? Was this a work-place grievance or an act of terrorism or a blend?

 
After each mass shooting, neighbors’ responses to reporters’ questions routinely are, “I can’t believe it could happen in a neighborhood (town) (country) like ours.” This time, a San Bernardino woman interviewed said she didn’t feel safe at all, adding, “I don’t know, I just don’ know . . .” Her certainty had been shaken. But lest ours be as well, the program switched quickly to an ad showing a family on a pleasant beach around a bonfire. The father said, “My parents worked hard so we could enjoy the simple pleasures of life, and now I’m doing the same thing for my family.” An insurance company would “help you protect what you love and grow your future.”

 
A feel-good, “God’s-loves-us-best” “American Dream Christianity” is not and dare not be the national religion of the United States. However, we do have a history of a civil religion, being a “chosen people” in a “promised land” and “American Exceptionalism.” It has its own Holy Days, Shrines, Holy Writ, Hymns, Symbols, Saints and Martyrs, Priests, Pastors and Prophets, its Rituals, Gods, Creeds and Mission. The USA has not so much felt it needed a Redeemer as to be a Redeemer—a leader—nation to the world.  Repentance is missing from the myth of origin; also missing are the true stories of all, particularly African slaves and the more than 550 distinct Native American tribes already here when America was “discovered.”

 
With a belief system of exceptionalism and being God’s special chosen people, it is not strange that people deny that “we” could be capable of violence, and that “our kind” would intentionally kill. We are not “monsters” or “savages.” “Those people” are. And so we fear, while we add to our typical week the ritual of watching another shooting, seeing the chase scene, creating a shrine of candles and flowers, holding a public memorial service with holy writ and hymns.  Pastors of all types, including community leaders care for the grieving.  And we add to the number of martyrs, hundreds (thousands more killed by guns in all kinds of incidents).  Mass shootings do not fit the belief system about ourselves. Will we continue to blame the stranger and the “other”?  

 
Watch how we talk about the victims. After the Planned Parenthood clinic shooting in Colorado, we heard “body parts,” “anti-Obama,” and “abortion industry,” even though the two victims were not at the clinic having an abortion. We rightly heard the story of the heroism and family of the policeman killed. Absent were human-interest stories of the two other victims, for days referred to merely as “civilians.”  Understandably there are privacy concerns and privacy laws for medical patients.  But one received the impression those who go to Planned Parenthood for any reason, and are killed, are not only victims but villains, particularly because following the Colorado shootings, Congress voted to defund Planned Parenthood.  Of course there was no parallel vote to defund county health departments.  If people who serve at or need the medical services of Planned Parenthood are constantly under threat of violence and nearly ½ the county health services people attending a holiday party were killed or injured, as Harry Reid said on the floor of the Senate, “If we do not act we will be complicit in our inaction.”

 
When violence becomes typical, what do we believe? We need to add to our ritual of grief and communal care a mission of being change-agents in a country in great need of change.

Friday, September 4, 2015

What if We Turned Things Around?

Repentance means to turn around. The reluctance of refusal to face divisive racial issues needs to be turned around. The domination of one political candidate who at first was amusing but now shapes the national conversation needs to be turned around.  What if we did turn things around?
What if we decided to probe into Donald Trump’s emails and see what kind of ethical and moral breaches he had made over the years in his business dealings?

What if we heard every speech live of the candidate who truly has consistently had the largest turn-outs? Bernie Sanders. What if the news media interviewed the people of Wisconsin to see why they worked so hard to gain a recall election of their governor, Scott Walker?

What if for one month we neither heard nor saw Donald Trump on TV (unless he paid for ads) nor any candidate or political reporter was asked questions about him? What if, instead, each candidate in turn, was asked about policy, covered in speeches given and events attended?  I know, I know, viewer ratings would go down. But how about encouraging each to say the most radical thing they could about care for poor people, care for the earth, and care for the refugees of the world?  

What if we the people were not so comfortably satisfied being spectators laughing and cheering and venting our rage while neglecting being co-operative workers in a participatory democracy? This government of the people, by the people, for the people takes hard work.  Government is not “them” but “us.”  What if town-hall meetings were covered by the press, town-hall meetings where locally selected leaders were chosen to set a trustworthy environment where all the people were encouraged and empowered to speak and work on real issues together.  I guess they would all be called, “activists.”  Maybe that would look and sound like an Iowa Caucus.

What if religious leaders were not relegated to the private sphere and people did not separate their “Sunday faith” from their faith at work in daily life all week long.  What if the voices of the full range of religious leaders, not just the religious right, were sought out and heard.  Oh, that’s what has been happening for the past year. When people gathered to remember and commemorate the 10th anniversary of Katrina in New Orleans, in the midst of speakers and music, was 10-15 minutes devoted to prayers led by Roman Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Vietnamese leaders and more. In Charleston and Baltimore and Ferguson and many other places religious leaders have spoken and worked in public to create communities not just of peace, but of justice. And they were interviewed by the press!

More needs to be turned around. We live in a deeply divided and dangerous time. Which direction will we turn things? The question is posed now at least once a week if not every day. When a person of color is shot will Caucasians simply retreat further into white enclaves? When a police officer is killed, will the “Black Lives Matter” movement be blamed?  When people are shot in their houses of worship, will we be advised to all bring guns with us when we gather to pray?

There is a time to turn, turn, turn.  There is a time to gather and listen to each other, a time for respect, a time for truth, a time to repent, a time to finally put down our guns. Surely that seems impossible.  We’ve gone too far to turn back now. Guns are everywhere. But so was drunk driving, and smoking and . . . 

I am tempted to believe we can’t—won’t—turn around. But we can because we have to. Only one person on her block used to recycle her plastics and bottles. Two people in a community after 9/11 started a group to have inter-faith dialog. One person in my neighborhood after the “riots” (revolutions) of the 60’s said “I ought to shoot you,” but he didn’t and we talked.  Twenty people in your school . . .  A hundred people in your city . . . What if we dared to turn things around? God has in Jesus Christ and God can through us today.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Burning of Black Churches


The burning of black church, a long smoldering phenomenon, sparked news stories in the summer of 1996 and then, flames quickly doused by a fire-retardant mixture of guilt and self-interest, the public once again falsely assumed that the fire of racism was controlled if not out.  This nation’s inability to include and maintain a healthy diversity threatens to intensify as we arm ourselves against one another though gun, bomb and torch. The real significance of burnings should be determined by those whose churches have recently burned. The members of each faith community in this country need to take note of an attack on any faith community.
“The church stands as a symbol of black pride and self-sufficiency,” said Rose Sanders, a black lawyer in Selma, Alabama. “Burning one is as close as you can come to a lynching without killing somebody.” Meanwhile investigators often dismiss the idea of deliberate arson due to a climate of white supremacy. Others hold to the belief that the fires are a mere coincidence. From January 1995 through June 1996 more than 60 African-American and multi-racial churches, most in the southeast, were burned.
Whites often fail to recognize the significance of the black church, tending to believe there is nothing racial about the fires today. The attack on black churches is an attack on the heart of the black community, its political, social, educational and spiritual center. Whites, motivated by genuine care sometimes raise money to help rebuild burned black churches. If they are able to find a conspiracy by a few on the radical fringe they can exonerate themselves from the racism that still smolders. But racism is a problem much greater than arson. Rebuilding structures does not dismantle racism. Simply sending money does not include African-Americans in the ecclesiology of a nation which believes it has the soul of a church.
Once again the black church is the target of violence.  Dominant whites still exclude African-Americans from full participation in the community of the nation and exclude themselves from the black church. A conspiracy theory is not new either. Vincent Harding, African-American historian, noted that near the end of the Detroit rebellion of 1967 Lyndon Johnson made a special address to the nation. He was frightened and so was all of America. Johnson suspected that a black revolutionary conspiracy was at work. Harding wrote, “The nation was frightened, confused . . . . In spite of what Lyndon Johnson suspected, there was no organized, national black revolutionary movement.” The conspiracy theory is a way to isolate the issue and relegate the problem to a few. Racism is more insidious than that and the African American struggle for freedom is more powerful.
Although 1996 investigations found no organized conspiracies, it was no coincidence that the fire at New Liberty Baptist church in Tyler, Alabama, was set just two days before thousands gathered to commemorate the Selma demonstrations that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Studs Terkel wrote in his 1992 book, Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel about the American Obsessions, that race obsesses everybody, even those who think they are not obsessed. An obsession rules us, as a god might; the original sin of racism remains a powerful obsession. Racism is real. It goes beyond prejudice and discrimination and even transcends bigotry, largely because it arises from outlooks and assumptions of which we are largely unaware.
Many Anglo-Americans believe that for at least the last generation blacks have been given more than a fair chance and at least equal opportunity if not outright advantages. Moreover, few feel obliged to ponder how membership in the majority race gives them powers and privileges. Albert ("Pete") Pero said that we must go beyond the fact that some people don’t want to be bothered by multiculturality. We must move beyond the attitude that somebody “played the race card. This isn’t a game of cards." He went on to say that, "God created all these people and that the Spirit sparks a fire of love . . . so you don’t have to burn the guy who seems to be creeping up on you."
The Black Church is a sign of hope and at least an implicit challenge to the belief system of white privilege in the United States. Will black churches be hope or threat to a nation which has come to doubt its own role in being a redeemer nation to the world?
Most important, we must come together locally in houses of faith and in the network of faith communities and talk, and listen, and dialog, no matter how difficult.  People of color know a great deal about white Americans—they must in order to function in this country. Whites remain remarkably unaware of the lives, feelings and hardships of people of color. The latter are weary of educating white people. On the way toward trust, we need to listen, not judge, debate or defend, but simply listen and see what the flames signify.
[The above are direct words from an article I published in 1997 in Currents in Theology and Mission after the rash of burnings of black churches. I write them again today—no update necessary.]


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day Card: Jennaya and Her Grandfather

Colorful Father’s Day cards convey all sorts of messages this weekend to dads, grandfathers, godfathers, mentors and more, men in our lives who have guided us and given their love. One special hand-made card touched my heart this year. No baseball glove or fishing rod. No Teddy bear or generic sentiment. This one had a special purpose that greeting card companies could not provide.

Our ten-year-old granddaughter, Jennaya, sat down and quickly took her colored pencils. She drew a picture of herself and her grandfather, my husband, Burton, side-by-side but with a line in between. On one side was her grandfather lying on his bed in a local cancer center receiving his daily 8-week treatment.  Above him was the word, “Radiation.” On her side she drew herself lying in her bed at the University Children’s Hospital in Iowa City, attached to a machine. Above her was the word “Remicade,” the medicine infused into her body for 4 ½ hours at a time every few weeks for her Crohn’s disease.  (Jennaya remembered to put a series of dots under each word representing the Braille she had noticed in hospital corridors beneath words.) Both grandfather and granddaughter had big smiles on their faces. Jennaya composed this message, written in red letters: “If you can do it, I can do it, and if I can do it, you can do it!  Happy Father’s Day. Jennaya.”

Mutual support. Unconditional love. Trust.

Dorothee Soelle wrote in her book, The Strength of the Weak, that Christ did not want to be strong except through the solidarity of the weak. Who is weak?  Who is strong?  Father’s can share their weaknesses, too. Christ understands, “For he was crucified in weakness so that we might be strong by the power of God (2 Cor 13:4). Whatever age, we can care for and support one another. We need each other in the body of Christ to give one another courage. Jennaya and her grandfather know that and do that for one another.
 
One more thing: Relationships themselves can be transformed. Many of the New Testament Epistles are addressed to, “My brothers and sisters in Christ” with the greeting, “Grace and Peace to you.” No matter what the nature of our human relationships, we are transformed into brothers and sisters, across generations, across the miles, around the world, connected in order to love and support one another this weekend and every week in times of health or sickness.   What a gift!







Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Many Men Still Fear Women with Public Power


If we learned that racism was not over with the election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States, we will learn that sexism is surely not over with the possible election of the first woman as president of the United States.

Political commentators have noted that Republican candidate Carly Fiorina can go after Hillary in a way that the male candidates cannot. There are still vestiges of an ethic of men not beating up on a woman, even though they do it all the time; it’s simply called “domestic” not public abuse. There’s something about watching a woman going after a woman. “Let’s watch a cat fight,” people say.

Quite frankly, there has always been something to be gained in a male-dominated world by keeping women divided against women.  Old/young; married/single; lesbian/straight; fat/thin; pretty/ugly; working/non-working—whatever that means; all women work. Women candidates, such as Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina, for example, will present a sharp contrast in policy, principles and personal leadership style, but we need to be watchful that they are not pitted against one another “to see women fight.”

Women taking their full place in public life is an unfinished revolution. We have celebrated women’s accomplishments. And yet, as with any great social change, remnants of longing for the past linger. Fear of loss of male power and domination remain in some quarters. One sees and hears it, in blatant statements or small, off-hand remarks.  Recently while traveling, my husband and I stopped at a convenience store. At the counter a stranger remarked to us about his wife standing beside him, “She always gets what she wants.”  Why did he feel he needed to say that to us? There’s something there, unfinished, for him, and for thousands of other men, who cannot rejoice, even years after the modern feminist movement began.  It’s reminiscent of a question we early feminists often heard, “What else do they want?”

The issue is still about power—and elusive partnership. Another man said to me last week in speaking about Hillary Clinton, “How old is she? She probably won’t have the energy to serve a full term.”  Not enough power!  While others have long said Hillary has too much power.  There’s always something wrong with a “public woman.” Too weak.  Too strong.  Too quiet.  Too loud.  Too . . .  I even heard a committee interviewing a candidate for a leadership position say that she was “Too happy.”  To find something wrong with every woman indicates a continuing deep reluctance to trust women in leadership for fear they will change everything and usurp power from men. 

Of all the women with whom I have worked in the past five decades, willing and able to serve as leaders in the public sphere, not a one of them has had as her goal to take away power from men.  Their goals have always been full partnership of women and men. And we have achieved amazing new models of women and men working together as true partners in so many fields.  The feminist revolution has been a revolution for men, too.  The transformation of society has meant a transformation of power itself.

And yet. . .   And yet, systemic sexism remains.  The barriers may be different today than in the 1950’s and 1960’s, sometimes more subtle, sometime just differently blatant.  How important for women and men to recognize them. 

In regard to the resurgence of racism, we say, “We need to start a conversation.”  Not only a conversation, but a listening to the deep fears that remain, and a determination to eradicate racial violence.  During this presidential election campaign we will see a re-emergence of systemic sexism, sexism that may have only gone partially underground. (I totally dislike the term, “being politically correct,” a sure sign that someone has not been transformed, but only feels they must pretend to be.) Rape continues.  Sexual discrimination continues. Fear of women fully using their gifts continues.  We have work to do.  Together.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

A State Trooper Washed His Feet


 Foot Washing is an every day gift. The following was written by my husband, Rev. Burton Everist, who is chaplain at Luther Manor, here in Dubuque, Iowa:

"Today is “Maundy Thursday,” named for Jesus’ commandment that we wash one another’s feet as he himself washed his disciples’ feet.  Every year many churches practice this within worship services.  This is a good reminder, but it is even more an invitation to our daily life of serving others.
 
"Yesterday morning I had my feet washed by an Iowa State Trooper.  No, he did not literally wash my feet.  He changed my front tire at the side of US 80 somewhere south of Des Moines.  As soon as I had pulled off the road he pulled off in front of me and asked what the trouble was.  I showed him my very flat front tire on the driver’s side.  He asked if I had a spare and immediately offered to change the tire.  With sturdy gloves and sure hands he efficiently did the job and lifted the heavy flat into my trunk.  After I thanked him he carefully watched me pull onto the highway.
 
"Today, Maundy Thursday, I read the story for our morning devotionsI shared the story of the ministering Iowa State Trooper.  It helped me realize how foot washing ministry is an everyday service here at Luther Manor. 
 
"Some actually do wash the feet of residents, and more.  Others administer the necessary medicines, keeping careful track.  They also help residents get to their meals where still others serve the food planned and prepared for them in the kitchen.  Therapists work intently with many residents. 
Program activities are planned, supervised and led to provide enjoyment, simulation and companionship for as many as possible. 
 
"Almost invisible, cleaning and maintenance  staff keep the rooms, floors, and outside facilities as immaculate and as fully functioning as they can.
 
"Our social workers consult with residents and their families about various challenges each resident faces.  Behind the scenes staff keep track of expenditures and income.
 
"They are, whether they are aware of it or not, living the foot washing ministry to which Christ calls all of us.
 
"While I have accented the ministry of the staff here at Luther Manor it is equally true that all of you and of me as we care in our various ways for others are foot washing.  Daily foot washing.  It is Christ’s gift to us."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

What Was the Motive for the Crucifixion of Christ?


 “What was the Motive?” the news media asked when three Muslim university youth were shot in the head “over a parking space.” Was it a hate crime?  In the intervening weeks, we’ve heard that question dozens of times. “What was the motive?” when someone “in a quiet neighborhood” (would a noisy one be different?) killed his wife and them himself? “What was the motive?” when a loyal employee of 35 years betrayed her firm by embezzling thousands of dollars.  How do we make sense of “senseless” crimes such as a mom picking up her armed son to chase a young man with road rage who in turn shot her?

As Christians enter Holy Week, what was the motive for the arrest and crucifixion of Christ? The events from Palm Sunday to Good Friday happened quickly. Was it about Jesus being a threat to the empire? (At Jesus’  birth King Herod killed all the children around Bethlehem.) Was it jealousy of the Jewish leadership? Was it because Jesus associated with the marginalized and healed the outcast?

Or perhaps a single, clear motive is not the question. Maybe it never is. Sin can be subtle as well as blatant. Even the disciples denied and betrayed their friend.

A specific motive may be the tip of the iceberg.  Beneath lay jealousy, threats, greed, fear, abuse, racism, classism, unjust systems which exclude and keep many people powerless.

Christ died for the sins of the world. Christ dies not just for my own personal specific sins, but for the entire entwined sins of rage, hate, suspicion, oppression of individuals and groups that build up and lead to the cross.  This understanding of the nature of the human problem takes the focus away from “God’s plan to save me by killing his son.”  That making sense of things can lead to my getting a gun to take revenge on people I label as “bad.” We do not have a revengeful God.  We have a loving God who in the midst of the mess of humankind bore all the sin of the world.

Let’s not jump too quickly from Palm Sunday to Easter missing Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. See Jesus in the Garden. Do you know betrayal?  Do you feel the world’s suffering? Be with him on Good Friday. Then when Easter comes, the open tomb is really a surprise.  What’s the motive for that?  Only God’s.  The surprise that in Christ’s resurrection life conquers death.

Monday, March 16, 2015

My Mother Used to Say, "Don't Make People Wait."


My mother used to say to me when I was a little girl, “Don’t make people wait.” Now that was a long time ago, and perhaps not always the right advice, but it has stuck in my head.

Sometimes it’s strategically wise to wait for the right moment. Sometimes keeping people waiting for you not only inconveniences them, but causes them to miss opportunities of their own. You probably know where I’m going with this.

“It’s time for Hillary to declare herself a candidate,” we hear. “She would have had people in place to publicly handle this email problem.” Or, on the other hand, “Not having to go through being torn apart in a primary saves her political strength for the battle with the Republican candidate.”

So, what do you think about Hillary? As a man? As a woman? We know a lot about her. Too much? She won’t be ignored. But she brings all that baggage. Each week new baggage, such as complications with contributions to the Clinton Foundation from foreign entities.

But, you see, there is always something wrong with a woman. That’s what I tell the women I teach who are preparing for public ministry. “You will be too young or too old; too tall or too short; too married, or too not married; too out-spoken or too soft-spoken; too fat or too thin, too . . .” Well, you have the idea. One woman, when interviewing for a position a few years back was told she didn’t receive it because she was “too happy.”

Women have been ignored for centuries, a classic way to pretend they had nothing to contribute.  (The saying that a woman who puts forth a good idea in the board room will have it ignored until a man puts forth the same idea is true, of course, again, and again, and again.) Or women are ignored as a way to pretend they do not exist. So, we need a candidate for president who is known.

We also cannot seem to deal with too many women in positions of leadership. That frightens people. Any “minority” group rising to majority status threatens those in power whether by  gender, race, economic class, or anything else. Women not actually being a minority makes things even worse.  “How many more of you are there out there?” I was asked when I became the first women professor in a tenure tract position in a seminary of my church body. “Quite a few,” I answered. (Or did I say, “A lot”? Probably not—I wanted the position!)

But back to Hillary. She is known. She is smart. She has tens of thousands of followers. She is a global figure. She is experienced, and not just as “the wife” of. . .  She has earned the right to become a presidential candidate. She is an amazingly hard-worker.  She is committed to helping people and her country.
   
And she will be vilified. For all sorts of reasons, including contradictory ones.  “She should not have stayed with Bill.” “She should have stayed with Bill.” Speaking of Bill, he has made major global contributions since he left office. Speaking of Bill, he could trip Hillary up in a well-meaning effort to be helping her.

Back to waiting.  There’s a strange thing about being the “first woman to. . .” Just because there has never been a woman in a particular occupation or situation, people seem to assume no woman but one is prepared for that opportunity. It’s all in the timing. Hillary knows that. And she also knows that she stands among millions of women worldwide with gifts to serve in their countries and communities.  Hillary has and will open doors for many women, speaking out for women and children and all who are oppressed.

She is more than qualified.  The time is now in the minds of many women and men. And yet for many others the time will never be right. “Can’t you wait a few more years?” I was told (not asked) when seeking ordination to pastoral ministry after having waited 17 years for my church body to be ready.

Too young.  Too old. Have you noticed that when a woman is finally deemed experienced enough to be qualified for a public position, or is old enough to have accomplished things in life, her first name becomes “Grandmother”?  Grandmother leads corporation. Grandmother chases away bank robber. Grandmother speaks out against. . . The first name of a leading male politician or male anything is not “Grandfather.” This is simply another way to diminish a woman and to put her back in her “domestic arena.”


Hillary is here in the public arena. Hillary is authentic. The time is now. No more waiting!