Privilege and Hierarchy in Community Care by Chris Ash

This is part one of a multi-part series on privilege, dehumanization, and hierarchy in organizing, activist, and ministry circles.

Early in my training at my current job, my boss explained our agency’s position on social justice and intersectionality to me: “When we center the margins in our work, everybody gets served.” Framed differently: When we expand the circle of who can access service, be treated with dignity, and have their humanity affirmed by others, those already within the circle get served, respected, and affirmed as well. Nobody gets excluded. Everyone gets support. In our work, we recognize that all oppressions are interlinked, and that you cannot effectively advocate for the abolition of one form of oppression without working to end them all.

I think there is a fear within circles of people who experience one or more forms of oppression that in order to allow care for those who are more marginalized, or marginalized in different ways, we must turn our focus outward to the margins, away from the center. And sometimes we do. Sometimes we need to stop talking about the needs of cis men long enough to really focus on harm experienced by women and femmes. Sometimes we need to stop talking about the experiences of white women long enough to recognize the unique oppressions experienced by Black, Latinx, and Native women. Sometimes we need to stop talking about the experiences of straight cis people to recognize the daily microaggressions, direct aggression, and harm experienced by trans and nonbinary people. Continue reading “Privilege and Hierarchy in Community Care by Chris Ash”

The Four Phases of the Feminine Way by Elisabeth S.

For so long I’ve been wandering in the maiden stage, but now I am a mother, to myself, since I’ve made hard decisions to loosen or cut ties with people who have not always acted in my best interest in their attached and, at least to me, manipulative ways; I have long felt a mother to whatever group of students I have the honor of guiding; and I moonlight as a card reader/astrological guide where I feel I can nurture and provide compassionate advice to those who desire a connection from the universe. The way I practice is that I allow my empathy and research about ourselves to encounter the client’s own internal wisdom. There is not anything that qualifies me to be a teacher or reader any more than anyone else. We are all guru to each other when we listen closely.

I am not sure why I have never wanted to be a mother of a child. Not-wanting has felt very natural to me. Now that I have put some distance between myself and my own mother, her voice and so her desires are not so much hovering over me. I feel free and good about my decisions, about following the path that is normal for me.

But what I really love about the four phases of the feminine way – maiden, mother, maga, and crone — is that we do not necessarily need to always identify with the stage that aligns with our age or any rites of passage. I remember going to a goddess ceremony in California where we could speak from any of the perspectives we felt aligned with that at the time and explain why.

Continue reading “The Four Phases of the Feminine Way by Elisabeth S.”

Academics and Activism by Ivy Helman

unnamedTwo weeks ago, I spoke at a conference entitled “The Role of Academia and Religious Leaders in Relation to Refugees and the ‘Refugee Crisis,’” in Bratislava, Slovakia.  One of the main questions of the conference was: what role do academics play in the refugee crisis?  Are academics activists?  Many conference presenters and attendees directly linked the two ideas.  However, there were some who voiced their concern as to how in-touch academics actually are with reality and surmised that because of this academics probably weren’t activists. Wait!  What?  How can we not be activists?

On the way to the first night’s dinner, I had a conversation with someone who did not see academics as activists.  Why?  The response I got was that academic research functioned in a way that was largely inaccessible to the public and therefore academic work, academic participation in conferences as well as publishing was, for lack of a better word, unrealistic and impractical.  It would seem that some people are quite convinced that most academics are quite content being situated in that proverbial ivory tower. Continue reading “Academics and Activism by Ivy Helman”

Gaining Perspective by Natalie Weaver

I don’t know if I could be a deep-sea welder.  I don’t know what the risks of lethal electrocution, broken limbs, or the bends would be.  I suspect it can be a dangerous occupation, like operating heavy equipment on good old dry land or fishing for crab or even collecting garbage from the neighbors’ driveways.  So too is this the case with window washing, paving, disposing of medical waste, brick making, driving a giant tanker truck, and more.  There are aspects of the world I know I take for granted, but the moment I stop to consider what those aspects might be, I am humbled and reminded of the privilege it is to philosophize and ponder the functions of religion in the shaping and making of society.

I have a newfound, barely there insight, both on my privilege and my need to be wiser, derived from the use of (hold your breath) a yardstick.  In what is either a desperate gambit for meaning or the fulfillment of a dream long deferred, I returned to school to take some art classes this fall.  I have my own homework, assignments, a syllabus, and, gasp, grades to worry about for the first time since 2003.  As I drove in the dark and rain for almost an hour this morning at 6:00 am, to a parking lot that sits a solid half hour away from the bus I need to take, which deposits me a fifteen minute walk from the building where I study, in order to make a 7:45 am start time, I wondered briefly what I was doing and why.  But, as soon as I took out my yardstick to measure and represent objects in perspective, I remembered why I undertook such an errand. Continue reading “Gaining Perspective by Natalie Weaver”

On Minimalism by Ivy Helman

untitledOne of the concerns of ecofeminism is the modern materialistic mindset of capitalism. Materialism in capitalism instills not just owning many possessions, but it also inculcates the “need” to own the newest innovation. In addition, materialism advocates a throw-it-away mentality. In other words, it is often cheaper to buy a new shirt or computer than to have them repaired. Similarly, it is not enough to have a cell phone. Rather, one must have the newest and best one! The environment pays the price.

One attempt to deny the hold of materialism is minimalism. The minimalist movement seems to run the spectrum. From the ideals of less is more, there seems to be some competition between mindful consumerism and extreme self-denial. Mindful consumerism suggests that minimalism is a journey of recycling, reusing and repairing combined with well-researched, well-considered, as-ethically-produced-as-possible purchases when necessary. Extreme self-denial advocates owning almost no material possessions. While I strive toward mindful consumerism, I have serious concerns about extreme minimalism. Continue reading “On Minimalism by Ivy Helman”

Intellectual Circles, Authenticity, Legibility, and Working Class Roots by Chris Ash

IMG_0754In my other writing for Feminism and Religion, I’ve discussed how a key focus of my spiritual path involves dancing within the tension of opposites, finding ways to move mindfully and freely inside the orbit of sacred circularities in which every curve leads into and out of its inverse, with infinite shades in between. Two areas of my life in which this tension has informed my lived experience are socioeconomic class and education. I’m only two generations away from factory workers and electricians, and three generations removed from a long line of poor farmers. Both of my grandparents on my mom’s side – with whom I lived as a child and whose influence on my life is felt every day – dropped out of school to work on their families’ farms.

And yet I was the little nerd in the gifted program, in two grades at once, through most of my childhood, even as my parents worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. By the time I left for college, I’d worked hard to rid myself of my Southern accent, not wanting to be flagged as uneducated or backwoods.

Whatever the markers for “poor” or working class in any given region – accent or dress or dialect – they frequently are coded as less intelligent. The impacts of these assumptions are felt early, as children from low-income or minority families are often overlooked for and underrepresented in gifted education programs, and the impacts are later reflected in graduation rates and college attendance statistics by demographic. Even as colleges work to provide opportunities for lower-income kids to attend, the dialogue typically focuses on how access to a specific, Western model of education can raise up underprivileged kids, and not on how getting smart kids from a diversity of backgrounds into the university system can expand the very boundaries of how a field understands itself and the framework within which it conducts its research. Continue reading “Intellectual Circles, Authenticity, Legibility, and Working Class Roots by Chris Ash”

Safety and Vulnerability in a Dangerous and Fertile World: A Meditation on Incarnation

Marcia headshotFeeling safe again is often the healing and elusive aspiration of a person like me.

I have been living with the deep and cellular residuum of sexual trauma for most of my life—over thirty of my going-on forty-six years.

For many years, the grief and shame of losing my innocence cultivated an intense orientation to life’s doing. Safety for me back then was activity, noise, frenetic schedules, and a constant soundtrack to my life that meant I never had to be quiet with myself. Safety was in the predictable metrics of success that I could use to measure my self worth. I never had to stop and admit that I didn’t feel safe, ever.

I got a lot done all those frenetic years and my diligent efforts were affirmed with everything from scholarships to awards to pay raises.

But, trauma does not allow itself to be ignored. It demands attention. Its cellular ghosts haunt their host. They must be acknowledged, sometimes cast out, sometimes befriended, other times adapted or transformed. My trauma is tethered to the violence of a dangerous world, a world that knows no boundaries when it comes to annihilating innocence.

How can I be safe in this kind of world? How can any of us? Continue reading “Safety and Vulnerability in a Dangerous and Fertile World: A Meditation on Incarnation”

The Hidden Curriculum in Evangelism: Patriarchy by Erin Lord Kunz

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A good evangelist, especially in college ministries, acts as if there is no agenda to his or her evangelism. It’s very, “Do you want a cup of coffee? How are your classes going?” with a lot of understanding head nodding. The goal is to stay cool and not seem threatening (even though eternal damnation is at stake). A good evangelist then finds the opportunity to advance on whatever personal problem the interlocutor divulges, and the solution from the evangelist remains constant: “You need to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.”

A ‘good evangelist’ does not believe this interaction is an agenda at all, as evidenced by new slogans popping up in evangelist circles. There is “Jesus without Religion,”“I am Second,”“H20,”“Freedom Churches,” etc. All of these evangelist slogans attempt to portray “real” Christianity as something other than doctrine, simply a relationship with God, a freeing experience, a nonthreatening choice.  Continue reading “The Hidden Curriculum in Evangelism: Patriarchy by Erin Lord Kunz”

“Stand Up Straight” by Kelly Brown Douglas

When I was little my mother use to always tell me to “stand up straight.” It is probably because of my mother’s plea that one particular bible story became one of my favorites. It is a story that comes from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 13.  In this story Jesus heals a woman who had been crippled and bent over for 18 years. As he does so he tells her “to stand up straight.” For me, these are some of the most powerful words that Jesus could have spoken to this woman. For not only did they signal that he had freed her from whatever the burden was that kept her hunched over, but they also restored her to a sense of dignity. These are simple, yet powerful words, for the many women in our midst who have for so long have not been able to stand up straight.

I think of the Sarah Baartmans of our world, like a Rachel Jeantel, who are made into a circus act because of their appearance. What happened to Sarah Baartman in 1810 as she was paraded across Europe so that people could examine her buttocks and genitalia—deeming her exotic and erotic, happened to Rachel in 2013 as she gave testimony in an American courtroom while people decried her appearance and mocked her speech—deeming her ignorant and illiterate. Continue reading ““Stand Up Straight” by Kelly Brown Douglas”

A Dream Too Far . . .? by Kelly Brown Douglas

Not too long ago I heard an interview with Eugene Allen’s son.  The recently released movie, The Butler is inspired by Eugene Allen’s life in the White House. Mr. Allen served in the White House through the terms of 8 presidents. His story first came to light after President Obama’s first election when a feature article appeared about him in the Washington Post. This feature told of how he never missed a day of work during his 36 years of service at the White House and it recalled what he witnessed from his position as butler when some of the most momentous decisions were being made, especially for black folks between1952-1988, his tenure of service. There are clearly many compelling things about his story, but there is one thing that stood out for me that actually did not come from him or the movie, but from an interview with his son. During this interview his son recalled the January morning in 2009 that he and his father, as invited guests, witnessed Barack Obama being sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.  He said that he leaned over to his father and asked him if he ever dreamed that he would live to see a black man become President. He said his father responded, “I didn’t dream that I could have that dream.”  To dream such a thing was a dream too far for Eugene Allen. He could not dream the dream.

Continue reading “A Dream Too Far . . .? by Kelly Brown Douglas”

Having the world “in a jug with the stopper in your hand” by Kelly Brown Douglas

When we were growing up, my dad would often exclaim to my sisters, brother and me, “You got the world in a jug with the stopper in your hand.” He most often said this when he noticed us indulging in some pleasurable event: be it watching our favorite television show or savoring every bite of our favorite food.  We would laugh every time my dad said this. We did not know he was quoting a blues lyric, we thought this line was another example of our dad’s creative wit—there was no one that could make us laugh more than dad.  But, as creative and witty as dad was, this jug line was not original to him. This was a line from the song, “Downhearted Blues” a song originally recorded by blues woman Alberta Hunter and later covered by Queen of Blues Bessie Smith in 1923.  Indeed, as suggested by my father’s use of the line, this line would come to have signfiyn’ meaning within black culture and for black people. It would be this jug line that indeed made Downhearted Blues a mega hit within the black community.

Continue reading “Having the world “in a jug with the stopper in your hand” by Kelly Brown Douglas”

Please Excuse Me for Having a Penis: Taking a Back Seat to Privilege and Power by John Erickson

Male feminists must be aware that we not only engage in an ongoing struggle against sexual and gender inequality, but more importantly an ongoing fight with ourselves.

I have often struggled with that little voice, call it my conscience if you will, that speaks to me during times of distress.  Although I consider myself a proud feminist, I still struggle with aspects of what I call, internalized misogyny, or more aptly defined as a male born characteristic trait that imparts the idea that men are not only dominant but also more powerful than the other 50% of the species.

For many reasons, I believe religion is one of the main culprits of this growing evil, one that we all witnessed throughout this last election cycle.  However, instead of placing blame solely on religion and images of the male Godhead we have to begin deconstructing the sociological consequences these subconscious social, sexual, religious, and gendered norms have on men but more importantly men who identify as feminists. Continue reading “Please Excuse Me for Having a Penis: Taking a Back Seat to Privilege and Power by John Erickson”

Freedom from Unjust Privilege by Kelly Brown Douglas

Freedom is about the elimination of systems and structures that privilege some and penalize others. 

Not too long ago, my son asked me how people who knew what it felt like to be denied justice, could deny others justice.  It did not make sense, he said, for various minority groups  to be at odds and not support  one another in the struggle for equal treatment.   I agreed with him.   But I also knew that solidarity amongst oppressed people was easier said than done.

Growing up, I always made friends with the kids who were teased, bullied and just did not seem to fit in because of who they were, or because of who they were not. I hung out with the kids who were bused into my middle-class black elementary school to achieve class diversity. I made friends with the boys who were called “sissies” because they did not like to play sports, and were not as “rough” as the other boys. I ate lunch with the girls who were teased because their hair was too short and their skin was too dark.  It seemed so easy then. But, really it wasn’t. I still wanted to fit in. So, while I did not tell the jokes, do the teasing, or call the names, I did stand silent when the jokes were told, the teasing was done and the names were called.  I hung out with the kids who were ridiculed and rejected, but I did not always stand up for them, especially when they were not there.  I did not know then that in my silence, I was claiming my privilege to be a part of the in crowd. Continue reading “Freedom from Unjust Privilege by Kelly Brown Douglas”

A Prayer From the Privileged by Grace Yia-Hei Kao

“As we approach Memorial Day Weekend (and the militaristic patriotism it promotes), as the 2012 election cycle heats up, and as I meditate more deeply upon my and my country’s many riches, one of [Walter] Brueggemann’s prayers in particular spoke to me.”

One of the three books I took with me on vacation is by the world’s leading interpreter of the Old Testament, Walter Brueggemann. It’s not actually on the Bible, but something he published in 2008 called Prayers for a Privileged People.

Continue reading “A Prayer From the Privileged by Grace Yia-Hei Kao”

Privileged Feminist By Xochitl Alvizo

 I have the privilege of having radical lesbian feminism ‘work’ for me. I can’t explain why it does – but it does – it just works for me. I am not of the same generation as most feminists who experienced and awakened to radical feminism during the women’s movement of the 70s and 80s in the United States. I am not white nor was I middle-class when I encountered it (though I probably am middle class now). But nonetheless, as I encountered radical lesbian feminist writing, and eventually some of the women who wrote them, it spoke to me in the depths of my being and rattled my very core. Radical lesbian feminism liberated me and birthed me into a whole new way of Be-ing…and that is a privilege I must not take for granted and must hold loosely. Continue reading “Privileged Feminist By Xochitl Alvizo”

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