The Little Mermaid and Historical Trauma, a post for my ethics class

ariel_forkIn the Disney movie “The Little Mermaid,” Ariel aches to be “where the people are.” The song “Part of Your World” has been a defining reference for me and how I do ministry. I’ll often reply to questions about how to equip people to follow Jesus with saying that we need to be where the people are. Pastors are often in the black hole of their offices. I can’t understand what life is like without being with the people. If I don’t watch out, once I get to the surface, I’ll end up calling a fork a dinglehopper and using it to comb my hair.

That being said, the act of knowing and defining is tricky business. What I’ve noticed is that often people know something intimately (unlike Ariel and all the people stuff) but need a name to call it. Naming is powerful. In fact, God speaks things into existence and then Adam’s first job is to name the animals. Scripture, ahem, speaks to the power of speaking.

There’s an experience of memories that aren’t ours but that shape us and become ours that needs a name. That is even more so in communities that have been oppressed. At the Women and Worship conference, Judy Aaron introduced the term “historical trauma.” Oddly enough, I’d heard someone use it just the week before and thought about the concept but never explored the term until Judy’s workshop. Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, PhD defined Historical Trauma as “cumulative emotional and psychological wounding across generations, including the lifespan, which emanates from massive group trauma.”

Judy Aaron speaks from the Native American tradition and led the workshop through an exploration of what it was like for her to navigate the “Indian world and the white world” growing up and as an adult. Her own discovery of the definitions and framework to talk about it seemed to me to be liberating as she presented what it means to be in both worlds, constantly, as a United Methodist pastor and a person in Oklahoma.

As I reflected on the power of naming and defining for generations of wounding, it deepens my commitment to be where the people are, not only in the physical space of their lives but to meet people where they are with the woundedness we cannot see. All of us have wounds, but when individuals and families come from marginalized communities, we often want them to give up their fins and take on legs without even a bandage to acknowledge the gaping wound. We demand that they adapt to us, to act as if hurt doesn’t exist because “we didn’t do it.” Our role as followers of Jesus should be to meet people where they are without requirement of adaptation or expectations of a fresh dressing to hide wounds.

As much as I love The Little Mermaid, the movie has deep problems about what it means to be human. Her transformation cost her everything that had made her. And exploration about what that says about women is another conversation. For now, I focus on what that says about the other, those who are different in some way. (We are all different in some way.) We cannot ask anyone to be a blank slate for us white folks. People come with their dinglehoppers and I don’t get to ask them to make it a fork.

Seeing Ourselves, the Biggest Lesson from My Advent Video Series, post for ethics class

During Advent this year, I created a video reflection to accompany the devotional book by our denominational publishing house. I was desperate to find a way to engage folks in this holy season. Or, even more honest, I was desperate to reclaim the holy season from the consumerist frenzy. You don’t get to steal my Advent, capitalism. **Said with furiously shaking fist!** I learned a few things. I made this video to talk about some of the things I learned.

Of the lessons learned, one of the most startling was becoming aware of how uncomfortable I am with viewing myself. As noted in the video, there is scientific reason behind it. You can listen to a Radio Lab show about it, here. There are also the sociological and psychological reasons for it. Namely, that as women we aren’t encouraged to be ok with who we are without a sense of refining, e.g. make-up.  Culturally, we are encouraged to present our selves as perfectly as possible, refined by instagram filters and 50 shots to post one selfie.  In an effort to do that, we lose the very self we are trying to express.

As Colleen Kwong proclaimed the value of art in worship at the Women and Worship conference, she highlighted that it “holds a mirror up to see ourselves.” She was speaking about the art we use in worship. The art we choose even for the front of a bulletin reveals our values and commitments. The art we create becomes reflections of who we are.

I would not lift the video series I did as art, anymore than text on a page could be considered art. Using a different medium than normal, though, allowed me to see myself in a new way. See myself without refinement and opened the door to discover which “me” has more value.

In church life, there is pressure to do everything perfectly well like the megachurch. (Those are the pastors writing the best-selling books, right!) So much so that the things we do well get brushed aside because they are as polished as the latest YouTube sensation repackaged for the evening news. Art is not art because it reveals perfection. Art is art because it reveals life. What could we be if our goal was to reflect ourselves rather than what we think people want? I don’t want a flat mass produced poster of Monet’s water lilies. I want to see the layers and layers and layers of paint piled up on the canvas, even it is just for one afternoon.

Soul II Soul and the Magnificat or The Inescapable Boombox: Post for My Ethics Class

6318851744_d53aff8dbaWhen I was in third or fourth grade, I got a small red boom box for Christmas. It was the late 80’s and having your own boom box made me the quintessential preteen of the time. My parents knew I was growing up, I thought. I got a boom box!!! I’d spend hours listening to the pop radio station in Shreveport. I’d hear teenagers call in during the evening hours and be reminded not to curse because they were on the radio. It was scandalous! And fun! Maybe Shreveport was a little behind the street performance culture that made the boom box so exciting to me, but it made the “real world” accessible and both more mysterious and less mystifying at the same time.

One song that stuck out was Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life.” I thought, yes, back to life, back to reality. I can’t wait to be a part of reality. The song is an exploration of figuring out what someone wants of us and what they need. Assumed is that the person of interest actually wants and needs us. Is wonders what is reality and what is fantasy. You can find the lyrics here. You can watch the video here. I was convinced that what I lived was not real life because I was not an adult. That is another post.

In the Women and Worship conference, we explored reality, what is real and where we are. By attending the conference, we acknowledged a reality that was caught in the eschatological tension of the what-is, the not-yet, and the in-breaking of God’s activity in the world. Chiefly we explored the desire for the fullness of humanity to reflected in the church, both male and female and something beyond gender limitations.

As Rebecca Ferguson explored the Magnificat in worship, I felt permission to explore what is real. She said “imaginative reality does not mean fiction.” If I were to imagine the reality to which I’d like to return, what would it be like? In terms of the conference, that would be a universal church where women’s voices are equal. If I were to return to life, meaning that which sparked at the simple speaking of God at the beginning of creation, it would reveal a church where women’s voices have never been squashed. What a mighty reality that would be!

Turning back to Soul II Soul’s lyrics, I excitedly ask “however do you want me?” to the church, to God, to my fellow humans, knowing that whatever we say may just create an imaginative reality that we do not have but is in no way fiction. Living into the mystery, I can demystify the ache to be church, to be pastor, to be women, now.

Overhearing: A Post for my Ethics Class

As I have reflected on the whole of the Women and Worship event and Remind and Renew conference, my chief question regarding ethical discernment shifted from “what is happening?” to “who is this for?” Mindy lifted up the necessary and complex idea of ‘overhearing’ from Lee Butler. It occurred to me that I was one part full participant of each event and one part over-hearer of the events, both vital roles to discover what I could learn in the overlapping contexts. The mixture of the questions and discerning my participant/over-hearer set the context for some of the ethical dilemmas experienced in the conferences. It also opened the door for me to see how people were experiencing the conferences themselves.

The Women and Worship conference was an event organized by women scholars and theological educators for women in leadership in congregations. There was an assumed common experience and common theological framework that rested chiefly on the other-ing of women in church, particularly in worship, and discerning the ways that we can reclaim wholeness of women’s identity as separate and fully integrated into the church.

The opening of the door to men to attend was in one way an opportunity to bring advocates to the table to hear voices. It was an act of gracious hospitality. Hospitality, however much we desire it to be simple, almost never is. In other way, the invitation to men changed the dynamic of the experience in such a significant way, away from what seemed to be the goal. Would something to planned like it again, I believe men should not be invited. While men made only a small number of the attendees, their voices were heard significantly. And that is not just a reflection of how men’s voices carry. With a position of charity, I heard their statements and questions as encouragement of women’s inclusion, of equality, an important voice for the church. Systemically and most likely unintended, it felt like the men in attendance needed to say something to validate and affirm what the women were saying. That need alone, when no one was being threatened as they might be in a congregational setting where equality is not lived out, undermines the basic premise of equality. I don’t need a man to validate my authority unless it is under attack or that person wants to affirm me out of relationship that exists. I don’t need a man to shout for equality at an event by women for women.

When I mentioned this phenomena in our class, Josh spoke up and said he understood his role to be over-hearer. This wasn’t his exact words, but his sentiment. It meant a great deal to me. His clear understanding of who he was in the moment encouraged me to consider that daily. Who is this for? What kind of participant am I, for me, according to the purposes of the situation and what does my voice do when offered? What will my voice do simply by being offered, regardless of what I say?


When do I just need to overhear what is being said?

The Ethics Cha Cha

“I forgot how fun ethics are!”

This exclamation has been nearly shouted several times in the past week. I’ve engaged ethics in a classroom experience through a Doctor of Ministry program at Phillips Theological Seminary. As our class explores Ethics in Christian life and work, we reflect on both real life and a novel to discover the ways in which we organize our lives.

While a neat calendar and labeled closets are certainly a fun way to organize life, the way we’ve considered organizing is much more nuanced and firm. The juxtaposition of those adjectives may seem counter to talking about the organizing principles of our lives but they feel perfect to describe the dance that is discovering ethics.

The dance is what is so fun to me. It’s a dance that uses the whole stage; a dance that requires both flexibility and incredible core strength. Among the skills that are required, or dance steps that make it work, are understanding the basic entry points that allow us to talk about ethics. Those three major entry points are goals, rules and virtues. Every person (and every group of people for that matter) is negotiating these three frameworks for ethics as they make everyday decisions.

Through the reading of the Saramago novel Blindness, we discovered that decisions even as simple as who we will help making their way to the restroom brings to the surface our core ethical commitments and how we are able to adapt (or not) to the world around us. As larger real-life questions arise, like who gets to live, die or eat, awareness of how we process our ethical commitments and the implementation of them becomes a more complicated dance. The choreography is clouded with multiple movements and balancing footwork. Any efforts to simplify limit an individual’s making-sense of behaviors and habits that allow survival, albeit without the living out of those multiple core ethical frameworks we each have.

As the class moves into our second week, I am eager to discover the dance we do with worship. How much of the stage will we use and how many steps do we need to know?