The Pastoral Is Political: What Color Is that Dress, REALLY?

Last Thursday, social media was filled with pictures of a striped dress. Posts asked people what colors they saw, and debates began about whether the dress was white and gold, or blue and black, or some other combination of colors. People on my bowling league brought their phones to me to ask “what colors do you see?”

dress-7I tried my best to avoid the discussion.

At first, I was a little annoyed that so much energy was being put into a discussion of the perception of the color of a dress in a poorly color balanced photo. I thought of the serious issues in our world, and how difficult it can be to rally people around issues that really affect people’s lives. And yet, this seemed to be the most important issue.

As time wore on, some took actual samples of the pixels in the photo. A more professional photo of the dress was found. Multiple explanations were given for the different ways people perceived the color of the dress, including a comic illustrating the problem. Humorous reviews of the actual dress were posted on amazon.com.

After the photo and its associated debate stopped trending, I began to think of the dress as a metaphor for how people on different sides of a conflict are able to see the same situation in very different ways. Having just returned from a workshop on transforming conflict in the church, perhaps I was primed to see this. But here was a case where people could see two very different sets of colors, depending on how their brains interpreted the colors surrounding the dress.

We often have very different understandings of issues in our churches and governments. And sometimes it is because we are looking at two different sets of information: as if there were two different photos of the striped dress.

But often, we begin with the same information and come to different conclusions. In the case of the dress, it’s because our brains have been wired to correct the colors we see based on the lighting, but our brains may have been wired differently.

I have to wonder how our differently-wired brains affect how we see our differences.

The interesting part of this particular visual puzzle is that it is only this photo of the dress that causes confusion. A good photo – or better still – the actual dress would easily settle the debate. Even the photo of the dress on amazon.com shows a blue and black dress. And as I sit in my little three bedroom ranch in my little middle class subdivision, I’m thinking about how being removed from the actual subject can cause me to have a limited view of what is real and true.

How often does our distance from the actual issue distort our understanding? And how can we overcome that distortion?

We can try to get a better information, but only first hand experience will tell us the truth. Short of having the actual dress, we can never know what that dress is like. A better picture may help us see it more clearly, but we will never really know the dress unless we see it with our own eyes, and touch it with our own hands, and wear it on our own bodies.

Some have tried experiments, such as white journalist John Howard Griffin’s six weeks traveling as a black man in the South, detailed in his book Black Like Me; or that of Timothy Kurek, who spent a year living as a gay man. Some politicians have lived in public housing or tried to live on food stamps for a period of time.

And like trying on the dress, these efforts give us greater insight into the lives of those with whom we want to be allied. But what we experience with a dress in a fitting room can be very different from what we experience actually wearing the dress, walking in it, sitting in it, cleaning it, and living with it for years.

We can’t just step into the lives of those affected, knowing we can safely return to what we’ve known before, and expect to know what it’s like to have truly lived that experience.

So what is an ally to do?

Too often, those having the debate about an issue are not the ones being affected. Where are the voices of low income workers in the minimum wage debate? Do #BlackVoicesMatter when talking about how #BlackLivesMatter?

What we can do, as allies, is to point to those voices who have lived the experience. We can give pulpit time to those who truly know poverty. We can offer space on a popular blog to a writer whose life story needs to be heard. We can listen to those who are closest to the issue at hand.

So maybe we need to stop looking at this photo of the dress, and find someone who actually owns it, wears it, and can tell us what it’s really like.

And we need to find ways to make heard the voices of those most affected by political decisions.

Categories: The Pastoral is Political | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Monday Prayer

A new week, and a new month

the seasons are turning and the year progresses
yet, somethings do not change
God is an ever constant presence
in compliments and brick bats
in planning and visions of a new future
God – our master builder
gives us all we need to create
gives the elements
the tools
the resources
practical and pragmatic
esoteric and aesthetic
all comes from the designer the baker the maker
the mother  the father the source
all we need
all we seek…
And yet…
There are times we still do not know where to go, what to do
times when life seems to throw so much our way
Holy God
Mother and source of our being
when we are alone
when we feel fearful
when we face death
when we lose hope
when we do not know which way to turn
Remind us
Send us friends who will keep us grounded
Give us resources
Lead us into quieter places
Until we once more
feel the calming Spirit’s breath
and KNOW
Thank you for friends
For the power of praying friends
For the power of prayers heard
For the power of YOU in our lives
seen and unseen
this day
and always
Amen
Categories: Monday Prayer, RevGalBlogPals | Tags: | 2 Comments

Sunday Prayer

“I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.”
Genesis 17:1

How can we walk before God?

Illuminate our ever-changing paths, O God,
by the faithfulness of your covenant.

Show us the blessing of each step
and whisper to us
over and again
the joy of walking in your ways.

When our feet stumble,
when our eyes grow weary
from straining ahead,
have mercy and remind us
that your promises do not fail
though we may not see
their fulfillment.

Yes, have mercy, O God, according to your love,
for we walk these paths
not by our own strength of vision
not for our own sake
not for our own benefit.

We walk before you, O God,
to be shown your paths,
mindful that you may
set us behind you
should we require curtailing and instruction
(as we so often do).

In those seasons reprimand us, O God, saying:
“You have mapped out your own ways
and superseded mine;
now get behind me
and practice following my footsteps
until you understand
how to walk before me
again.”

How trusting (foolish?) of you, O God,
to set us before you
to charge us with discerning
your ways.

We walk before you
not out of confidence
but out of calling.

May joy find us and hope sustain us
along your ways.

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11th Hour Preachers Party: Live Long and Prosper Edition

out there
One of Leonard Nimoy’s final Tweets read: “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.” As Star Trek’s Mr Spock signs off with ‘Live Long and Prosper’, the question is, will his passing make it into your sermon this week?
Is there scope in this week’s readings to reflect on all things Trekkie?
The Parable of the Vineyard Owner in the NL or Covenant and Jesus’ identity in the RCL are just a few of the options we have this week. Can we link these ancient stories with Science Fiction and whatever else is ‘out there’?
There are helpful discussions from earlier in the week: NL or RCL
Whether you are a regular at the Preacher’s Party or a new visitor, please introduce yourself and pitch in. Let us know how your sermon is shaping up, what you’re doing for children’s time or any other elements you are using in worship this week. Tell us what you’d like help with. Together, we’ll get the Good News out there, beyond the horizons.

Categories: 11th Hour Preacher Party | Tags: , | 82 Comments

The Pastor is Political – Patricia, Sarah, and the Women with (Some) Privilege

Photo Credit: ABC News

This week, I have read many articles pertaining to Patricia Arquette’s Acadamy Awards acceptance speech, and many feelings have bubbled within me. I must admit- I’ve been very conflicted over this story. I cheered when Arquette called for women’s equality as I’ve often been frustrated with the way our system forgets or devalues us. But I see how people felt hurt when Arquette issued a mandate for help from those who are also dealing with horrific struggles in their lives.

For those of us who are white women, we do have challenges and frustrations. It’s wearisome to hear catcalling, to know that pundits and politicians don’t respect our experiences of abuse, rape, birth control and reproductive choice, and to realize that our representatives still refuse to give us various equal rights and protections on equal pay. I believe we have some validity in our feelings of irritation in response to their indifference, and naming them is a part of our empowerment process.

But what we must remember is that our challenging experiences are usually a fraction of what women of color endure. And much more often, their experiences of abuse, wealth discrimination, sexual assault, and reproductive health leave them with fewer options for healing and justice.

Many of our discussions remind me of Sarah and Hagar in Genesis. Sarah lived in a system which valued her less than her husband and had certain expectations that required her to have a family. Her infertility placed her at a disadvantage as a wife in their community.

Granted, it wasn’t easy for Sarah to live in that system. She was pressured to have a child. Even so, Hagar was their concubine and was required to serve them. This servitude included forced sexual relations with Abraham and the obligatory birth of Ishmael.

While Sarah had valid frustrations in her context, Hagar’s challenges far outweighed the struggles of Sarah. Because of Sarah’s place and expectations in her society pressured her into jealousy, Hagar was rejected from her community and left to die with no resources.

The overarching system created gives them reason to vie against one another for resources. It gave Sarah permission to resent and oppress a woman with less privilege. What is a shame is that Sarah could not see that both of them were part of an unfair system that disrespected one and outright oppressed the other, and that she could not stand up against the “powers that be” to dismantle the system.

As Caucasian/white women, we are the Sarahs. We are the women with more privilege in our communities. Sure, we have frustrations. Many of us have been hurt by the system – even though we are white. But in the spectrum of privilege, we hold both a handful of privilege and a handful of oppression. And remembering that we hold both is key to exposing societal injustices.

What can we do?

We must not forget the stories of our sisters of color. We must allow them to have their voices and challenges heard. We must step aside and stop talking for them but make sure they have the space to speak. We will stand next to them in support.  And there will be times for us to speak together – especially when an issue does apply to each of us.

We must educate ourselves as much as possible. This includes how the intersection of color, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, and other identifying factors continue to influence one’s place in society.

We will make mistakes. And what I ask is grace from my sisters of color. Unfortunately, I’m a human full of privilege and pain simultaneously. Please know that I truly hope to grow. I personally know that I learn best from others who correct and teach me in a spirit of love and grace, and I want to thank those who have been patient with me. As Paul says in Ephesians 4:

“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

That may have been the one thing missing from the situation with Arquette. Instead of speaking truth to her in love, she was shamed by some people. Unfortunately, in our system where women are often pitted against women, she received more criticism than Sean Penn for his insensitive remarks on immigration. Maybe we should ask instead, how can all of us women come together in a spirit of unity, humility, and love?

I believe that in order for us to have a just world, we all need to work together and recognize where justice lacks. Those of us who are more privileged should become aware of where oppression ends and privilege starts. Let us do what we can to educate ourselves and one another to ensure that all people are treated equally.

- – Rev. Michelle L. Torigian

Categories: The Pastoral is Political | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

It’s a FROZEN Friday Five

IMG_4242

When it gets to the end of February, even people who LOVE winter are ready for a new season. Like this mom, sick of snow days and hearing the soundtrack of a specific movie, you might be going a little stir-crazy. With the lyrics of that  movie to inspire, tell us:

1. For The First Time in Forever: Tell us about a magical first snow day – for a child, a transplanted southerner, or maybe you have a great story from the first snowfall in your area this season

2. In Summer: Tell us what you look forward to when it’s warmer again.

3. Reindeers are Better than people: We are in the business of loving people. But sometimes… Well, it’s a bit of a stretch to love. Do you have a tip, a mantra, or a perspective that helps?

4. Fixer Upper: Since we are in the season of Lent, what are you doing in the area of self-improvement?

5. Let. It. Go. What would Elsa do? Are you de-cluttering? Moving on? Accepting a hard reality? Finding freedom?

Bonus: Frozen, thawing out or thawed, share a picture from your winter this year!

Categories: Friday Five | Tags: , | 21 Comments

Thursday Prayer

All beings

are words of God,

His music, His art.

Sacred books we are, for the infinite

camps

in our souls.

Every act reveals God and expands His Being.

I know that may be hard

to comprehend.

All creatures are doing their best

to help God in His birth
of Himself.

Enough talk for the night.
God is laboring in me.

I need to be silent

for a while:

worlds are forming

in my heart.

~~Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)

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Ask the Matriarch: None-too-Lovable

Rev. Kathryn Johnston with some parishioners who are easy to love.

Rev. Kathryn Johnston with some parishioners who are easy to love.

One of the early blogs in our web ring had the title “You’ve Really Got to Love Your People.” It’s an idea we strive for, to love our church members even when we don’t like them. What happens when it’s just too hard?

To the Matriarchs~

What do I do if I’m not sure I actually love my people?

I had a supervisor once who said that it was our job to love people with God’s love, and that’s often easier if we don’t like them much, because if we do, we are in danger of believing our love is enough. But I’m not even sure I love them enough to be a good conduit for God’s love. In my defense, they don’t make it easy, but I still feel a fairly paralyzing guilt about it.

I pray all the time to grow to love them, but is that enough?

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Dear Love’s Labour’s Lost,

Sometimes it helps to try to see your people with the eyes of Christ. The nasty 80 year old becomes the fragile person with no self-confidence. The bullying 40-something melts into the sad, underemployed guy. Nobody says you have to like your people, but love – yes. Unless this has been an issue in all your circles of employment, it could simply be that God is calling you away from them.

Peace,

Jan at A Church for Starving Artists

Dear Love’s Labour’s Lost,

What a painfully honest question. My prayers are with you. You are not alone in not always “liking” your own church people.
The role of pastor is often one of adhering to a different sort of calling especially when we long for our parishioners to be more faithful disciples. I do think it is important to love our people as part of God’s family. Maybe your sense of “loving” your people will grow over time. 
Sincerely,

Dear Love’s Labour’s Lost –

What an honest question! I see that you desire to live with emotional integrity. I suggest you remember what you have doubtless told the couples you have married: Love is not emotion, it’s action. The same is true in the relationship of pastor/parishioner. Love seeks the welfare of the other. You do that every day as you do the deeds of ministry. In a way, it really doesn’t matter how you feel inside. So cut yourself some slack. Just do your job and don’t worry about your irritations and disaffections. Emotions are real but they are also transitory. It is your loving acts that will carry you through.
 
Of course, if your disaffection threatens to paralyze your ministry, or corrupts your own emotional health, then it may be time to look for another position (which will have other people to annoy you, but it will still be different). Blessings on your ministry!
 
There are two quotes that comes to mind from two different leaders in our Christian faith. I think both of these speak to your question.  A shorter version is found in AA: “Fake it till you make it!”  Sometimes we must simply act as if we love one another, even when our sensibilities would move us in a different direction. 

C.S.Lewis – a great Christian, wrote about love as an act of the will.  He wrote, “Do not waste time wondering whether you ‘love’ another, he suggests, act as if you do.  As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets.  When you are behaving as if you love someone, you will presently come to love him.

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess he builds. We must proclaim, he builds. We must pray to him, and he will build. We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point are great times for the church are times when it’s pulled down. It is a great comfort which Jesus gives to his church. You confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is not your providence. Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough…. Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.”   Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I think all of us struggle with individuals in our congregations.  Sometimes they are reconcilable and sometimes not. The church can be a toxic place. While we are called to love, we are not called to be abused.  That is where the wisdom of someone not in the midst of the situation can be a blessing.

God’s peace.

Anne

*******

Readers, what do you think? Share your experiences in the comments. And if you have a question for our panel of experienced clergywomen, please send it to askthematriarch@gmail.com.

Categories: Ask The Matriarch | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Wednesday Prayer: Free Me

God of Love,
through this Lenten journey,
purify my desires to serve you.
Free me from any temptations to judge others,
to place myself above others.
Please let me surrender even my impatience
with others,
that with your love and your grace,
I might be less and less absorbed with myself,
and more and more full of the desire
to follow you, in laying down my life
according to your example

Daily Lenten Prayer from Creighton University

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Wednesday Festival: Marking Lent with Poetry

We have many poetic voices around the RevGalBlogPals network, and poetry seems a fitting form by which to mark the Lenten season — catching a phrase here and there, finding meaning in a clump of ashes, holding onto one parable or one word or one crumb, cobbling stones together in search of a path that might deliver us to Jerusalem. From your fellow gals and pals, savor these snippets of words and images for your Lenten journeys:

“…take me, lead me, show me
How I can make the best
of the wilderness time of Lent”
from A Country Girl
.
“Greatness involves recapturing that spirit
of imagination
and exploration…
And to throw love
and compliments around
like confetti
– why?
Just because.”
.

“Why is our love so imperfect,
music only echo of itself,
the light wrong?”
from a pilgrim’s process
.

“It’s not about us,
all on our own,
lonesome selves.
It’s about partnership,
it’s about grace…”
from Just Wondering

.

And this bit of poetry at the end of a story, which is too priceless and courageous not to share:

“Not everyone listens.
But change won’t come from silence.
Sometimes you have to put on your brass bra and speak up.”
from The Vicar of Hogsmeade
.

Have a bit of your own poetry and/or blogging to add? Please share a link in the comments!

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