Archive for September, 2016

Mujerista Theology Part II

3 comments Written on September 28th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Evelmyn Ivens graduated from North Park Theological Seminary in 2013 with a MA in Theological Studies. She enjoys traveling and learning about other cultures. She’s passionate about issues of immigration, hunger, poverty, and human trafficking.

I recently started my third read of Mujerista Theology: A Theology for the Twenty-First Century by the late Ada María Isasi-Díaz. The first time I encountered this awesome book I was doing research for my thesis, and just by reading the first pages I was so impacted. It was a theology book that actually spoke to my experience as a Latina and follower of Christ. Mujerista Theology is a liberative praxis that provides a platform for the voices of grassroots Latinas, the everyday Latina experiences, lo cotidiano.

This is one of those books that every time you read it you learn something new. This time around it feels more like a much needed affirmation of my calling and really for myself. Serving in justice ministries it’s not only rewarding, engaging, a blessing, and many amazing things, but it is also exhausting. Being a woman in ministry is hard, it is demanding, and many times your service and education go unappreciated, and because of your gender you are dismissed. Not to mention the layer of ethnicity and culture. In spaces where one believes it will be safe, encouraging, empowering, and supportive, at times it becomes a hostile, hurtful, and a toxic environment.

The way the late Isasi-Díaz writes makes me feel appreciated and that voice very much counts. She says that,

“When Latinas use the phrase permítame hablar – allow me to speak – we are not merely asking to be taken into consideration. When we use this phrase we are asking for a respectful silence from all those who have the power to set up definitions of what it is to be human, a respectful silence so others can indeed hear our cries denouncing oppression and injustice, so others can understand our vision of a just society. We know that if those with power, within as well outside the Hispanic [any]  communities, do not hear us, they will continue to give no credence to the full humanity of Latinas.”

For me this is the challenge, how can we make safe spaces not only for Latinas, but for women of color, a space where we are appreciated, respected, and valued for our work and ministry. A good example of this is the retreat for women of color that was organized by a group of wonderful women to give a space for those who needed healing, encouragement, and to have the freedom to be themselves. My hope is that the church and Christian organizations do a better job with the treatment of women. We are not going anywhere, we contribute, we lead, and all we want is to be treated with respect and that our gifts and abilities are valued, and used to the fullest.

 



The “Hillary Effect”

9 comments Written on September 20th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Jo Ann Deasy is an ordained Covenant pastor currently serving as the director of institutional initiatives and student research at the Association of Theological Schools in Pittsburgh, PA.

I have almost always been a pioneer. Despite being a fairly anxious person, I have found myself forging new paths in the wilderness since I was 7 years old when I was one of the first girls allowed to play pee wee baseball after Title IX passed. I was one of just a few women to graduate in civil engineering from UC Berkeley. I was the first woman to preach at several churches. I was the first woman named as “dean” at North Park Theological Seminary, even if it was only the dean of students. I have been the first woman people have witnessed lead communion or perform a wedding.

Being the first has a thrill to it. You are often recognized as being “exceptional,” praised for “not being like other women,” invited into leadership positions because there are “so few qualified women.”

But being the first also means being the one who has upset the system and, if you have read any systems theory, you know that upsetting the system is no small thing. When a family, congregation, community, or culture faces challenges to the system, the natural reaction is to try to return to “stasis,” the way things were, even when we know it might be unhealthy or wrong.

We’ve all witnessed it. A church is struggling to survive. There are a few unhealthy congregation members that seem to control everything. A pastor, lay leaders, denominational official tries to bring about change. The pastor gets fired. The lay leader steps down. The congregation starts threatening to leave the denomination. Or, perhaps change does happen, but it only lasts for a short while. The pastor burns out and leaves. Things immediately return to normal.

Perhaps this has happened in your family. Someone in the family has decided to try and break the cycle of abuse or addiction. They go to counseling. Seek help. Everyone praises them for their efforts, but even so, in subtle ways, people begin sabotaging their efforts. It would require too much change, would require everyone else to look at their own issues instead of focusing on the “identified patient.”

In the last decade, we have watched this happening on a national scale. The election of Barack Obama as the first African American president brought hope to many that years of racial prejudice and systemic injustice might be coming to an end. In those first years, such change seemed possible, even despite the racial hatred President Obama and his family faced as they stepped into the White House. Current reality, though, suggests that far from bringing about racial healing in our society, an African American president has simply brought to light many injustices that had been roiling beneath the surface for years. Not only have existing injustices been brought to light, racial violence seems to be on the rise and people seem more free to express racist ideologies.

hillary-2So, what happens when a woman is running for president? What happens when a woman challenges the system? In a very insightful article in the Atlantic, Peter Beinart highlights the ways sexism has been a factor in this year’s presidential election. To read the article “Fear of a Female President” click here.

Beinart suggests that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy “has provoked a wave of misogyny—one that may roil American life for years to come.” He presents compelling evidence that, despite being a fairly conventional candidate, Hillary has faced opposition that has far exceeded that of similar white male candidates in the past, and her opposition has often been filled with sexist rhetoric. Beinart writes, “Standard commentary about Clinton’s candidacy–… doesn’t explain the intensity of this opposition. But the academic literature about how men respond to women who assume traditionally male roles does. And it is highly disturbing.”

I would highly encourage everyone to read the article and begin looking into the literature being referenced there. Not because I think it will convince you to vote for Hillary… but because the “Hillary effect,” as I’ll call it, impacts all women, especially those who serve in leadership positions.

Women pastors and leaders often face opposition that is full of emotion and, at times, violence that far exceeds the reality of the situation. Stepping into a new leadership role, upsetting the system, can provoke a violent attempt to return to stasis. Even when a woman is stepping into an existing leadership role, her leadership can be met with a surprising amount of emotional and passionate opposition. Like the time I changed when confirmation would meet and ended up in a conflict that required denominational intervention. When such conflict erupts, people often blame it on the woman herself claiming that she is being too emotional, too sensitive, or has blown things out of proportion.

When a woman leader in your congregation is met with resistance or is in the middle of conflict, it is always important to think about how gender might be at play. If the emotion and passion seem out of proportion to the issue, chances are there is something else at play and often that something else is sexism.

One other lesson for us to take away: If Hillary Clinton does become president, we cannot assume it will make things better for women. In fact, if we have learned anything from the Obama presidency, it is the fact that things may actually become worse. And if that is the case, it will be up to us, as the church, to stand alongside the women in our midst, just as we must stand alongside our African American brothers and sisters, to fight the resurgence of prejudice, to resist the attempts to return to the way things were, and to courageously fight for deep and lasting change.



Why History is Important

1 Comment » Written on September 13th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Megan Herrold is a pastoral intern at Resurrection Covenant Church in Chicago. She is currently pursuing an MA in Christian Formation at North Park Theological Seminary, and is the seminary’s student representative on the ECC Commission on Biblical Gender Equality.

PuzzleI’ve been thinking a lot about history lately, and the importance of knowing, understanding, and remembering the people and events that have gone before us.

It started last spring when I took a class at North Park seminary on the Old Testament. The class was centered on Genesis-Deuteronomy, and I was struck by the theme of “remember” throughout those books. God tells the Israelites to remember that they were slaves in Egypt and what God did for them there. The phrase “God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” is constantly repeated, and I get the impression that God wants to be understood and known in the context of what God has done. And of course, there’s been a lot of talk about denominational history this year as we’ve been celebrating forty years of ordaining women in the Covenant.

Then I went on the Sankofa journey in July. For those who don’t know, Sankofa is an interactive, cross-racial prayer journey that seeks to help people move toward a righteous response to the social ills related to racism. We toured historic sites of racial violence in U.S. history, as well as places where people are working to undo the present-day effects of discrimination and prejudice.

At the end of the trip, all of us were asked to choose a word that described how we were feeling. For me, that word was “re-formed.” The way that I explain this feeling to people is that with this increased knowledge of my country’s history, I feel like I have a greater understanding of what formed the society that formed me—the society in which I grew up.
The vivid image that I still have in my head is of a Megan-shaped puzzle, where some of the pieces don’t quite fit. But with this increased understanding of my history, God has taken out some of the wrong pieces with the right ones. Or in some cases, the right piece was there, but it was upside down or backwards, so God straightened it out a bit. There are still some mixed-up pieces, and there’s still more work to be done, but overall understanding where I came from—even the negative aspects—has made me feel more complete, more whole.

And part of me is surprised that this sense of spiritual wholeness, these overall positive feelings, could come out of witnessing and remembering such negative events. As a white woman, so much of what I hear in discussions of racism (at least from other white people) revolves around the idea that it’s in the past, we’ve moved beyond it, it’s pointless to keep bringing it up.

First, I don’t believe we’ve moved beyond racism. I don’t think it’s just something that was in the past.

Second, even if that were true, my experience on Sankofa is that when we try to forget our negative history, we do ourselves a disservice. We’re denying ourselves access to a part of who we are, in effect denying ourselves a sense of wholeness.

And third, again even if racism were no longer an issue today, that “past” that we talk about was really not that long ago. Maybe a few decades, at most? That means that there are still plenty of people in our midst who are living with painful memories of violence and loss. When we ignore the negative aspects of our history, we do others a disservice, too. We deny them access to the events that formed them.

That’s the tension I find myself in as I celebrate—remember—our denomination’s four decades of ordaining women. Forty years is not that long; really just a couple of generations. There are still people in our midst with painful memories of what it was like for them to pursue God’s call on their lives. And there are still places were women don’t have full access to all ministry opportunities.

I’m relatively new to the Covenant church; it’s three years this week, my own personal anniversary. I don’t know the history of this denomination, and I don’t know the history of this forty-year anniversary that we’re celebrating. All I know is the present. But I’m starting to feel that knowing a present that is not informed by the past isn’t really knowing the present at all.
My hope and goal this year is to learn more about what went into this decision to ordain women, and how women in our denomination found ways to pursue God’s call even in the midst of human-made barriers. I suppose this feels important for me as a woman, but more than that it feels important for me as a Covenanter. This isn’t women’s history; it’s a story of how women have contributed to our denomination’s history.



Hey Baby!

2 comments Written on September 6th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Pastor Liz JensenRev. Elizabeth (Liz) Jensen is an ordained Covenant Pastor serving as the solo pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Venice Isle in Venice, FL. She is the treasurer of Advocates for Covenant Clergy Women (ACCW), and the President of the SEC Ministerial Association. She also serves as treasurer and chaplain for the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) Venice Area Chapter; her husband is a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Minnesota Army National Guard.

I was on my way to Kansas City to attend Triennial. I had not been since the first one I attended in Portland back in 2004. I was excited. I was glad that my connecting flight from Atlanta to KC was on time; I wanted to be there for opening worship and then take in, or be refreshed by all that was offered.

I had my window seat, this time seated toward the rear of the plane. A young woman was seated next to me. She was tan and slender with long dark hair. She was on her way to visit friends in the KC area. There was a young man seated next to her. They chatted most of the trip and I pretty much read my Covenant Companion from cover to cover, taking a cat-nap every now and then. I devoured the issue celebrating 100 years of Women’s Ministry and the 40th anniversary of the decision to ordain women. It seems we landed shorty after I finished the last article.

As has happened on every flight I have recently taken, when we landed the flight attendant announced that we should remain seated with our seatbelts fastened until the captain turned off the seatbelt sign. When the sign went out, everyone stood up, except folks like me in window seats; not enough headroom for that.

The people in the row in front of me appeared to be grandparents with their 5-year old grandson. Grandpa and grandson stood together. Either Grandpa was holding the young boy or the child was standing on the seat. The child and the woman who had been seated next to me greeted each other. She asked him how old he was. And then Grandpa asked the child, “What do we say to pretty women?”

“Hey, baby!” the child said. Grandpa quickly echoed the child and laughed. The child then repeated the statement several times, much to the delight of Grandpa. I was not so delighted, but I also chose to remain silent. It struck me that this child, at this young age, was being taught to objectify women. In retrospect, perhaps Grandpa was objectifying this woman but doing so through his grandson.

So, this is my rant. Without intervention, this child will think it is perfectly OK to greet certain woman with “Hey Baby!” I will leave to your imagination what else they might be teaching him, be it about greeting women who are not tanned, trim, pretty and young, or seeing women in church leadership, or seeing others who are different, be it in size, shape, color, or ability.

It pains me to think that the normal in this Grandpa’s world will become the normal in his grandson’s world. And I simply ask us to tune up our awareness of what we are subtly and yet surely teaching our children and grandchildren.

We can teach them how to be conversational and cordial without being demeaning. Within our families and among our friends let us begin a campaign to wipe out “Hey baby!” and all such demeaning and objectifying language.

BTW, this incident did not have a negative impact on my experiences at Triennial. Triennial was a marvelous celebration and demonstration of what God has done and continues to accomplish through His daughters. I was blessed and refreshed!