Sunday, April 09, 2006

Is It Sexism, Or Is It People Who Just Don’t Get It?

I had already graduated high school and moved out of Alabama before I recognized that there were commonly held beliefs by people that the church and/or organized religion discriminated against women. I guess I became aware of the sexism theme through general media (more often than not those stories carried an undercurrent of slamming Catholicism or Mormonism), and it had never occurred to me. I was born and raised in a Presbyterian church, where there were plenty of women elders and teachers (my mom being one of them.) I attended plenty of Presbyterian churches where women would preach, teach, and otherwise lead. I chalked it up to being lucky enough to have being raised Presbyterian, the religion that doesn’t discriminate! Yay!

But my current walk with Christ (or as I like to call it, “stumbling down the road with my Savior laughing at me.”) has led me to attend two non-denominational churches, for reasons too long and boring to go into here. And whether it’s because these churches hang the “non-denominational” banner out front, or whether I’m finally cluing in on things that may have always taken place and I never noticed before, there’s been a few events lately that give me significant pause on how male leaders in the church view women in the church.

Remember the Jumpers? The 11:00am service jumper is a guy named Melvin. Melvin and I have attended 11:00 church long enough to where we know that our names go to our faces, but we’ve never had an in depth conversation (to be fair, it’s hard to get me to have an in depth conversation with anyone in church, unless you hogtie me to the chair and bribe me with hot chocolate. I know it’s wrong. I’m working on it.)

So I was surprised when I greeted Melvin at church a few months back, and he asked me to sign a clipboard with my address, because he’s having a birthday party in a few months, and wanted to send me an invite. I smile and say sure, and thought to myself that Melvin must be inviting the entire church to his birthday.

A few weeks later, I get the invite in the mail, from Melvin’s pastor/mentor in Sacramento. Let’s call him Pastor Open Mind.

The invite explained that a year ago, Pastor Open Mind had given Melvin three tasks to fulfill before his next birthday. It’s a quest! Cool, I love quests. If a guy ever wanted my hand in marriage, I wanted to send him on a quest to bring me back a vintage pull string talking Cookie Monster who says “I love coooookies”, Godiva Snowball Truffles that seem to only be in season every three years, and episodes of The Electric Company, which has since come out on DVD. The longer time goes on, the easier it’s gonna be to fulfill this quest, I tell you. I’ll be going for CHEAP, ha ha ha.

But Melvin’s tasks were to memorize the entire book of James, save $7,500 above his monthly needs, then use the money to go to a third world country for a month. Melvin chose India, which is where he was from the middle of February to the middle of March.

In the invite, Pastor Open Mind says “On March 31st, we will be celebrating Melvin and this new phase in his life. We will be blessing him and sending him back into the world knowing that he has a solid team supporting him in life. Will you join me for this ceremony? Will you come to speak treasures into him? I would be honored due to the significance you have in his life.”

Okay, well, I didn’t think I had any significance in Melvin’s life, but it’s possible that Melvin really LOVES 11:00am church and everyone in it, so that includes me by proxy. I don’t really have any treasures to speak unto him, but he asked me to be there, so I’ll be there. A little befuddled, but I’ll be there.

So I go to Melvin’s birthday party, and Pastor Open Mind, who has come down from Sacramento for the occasion, starts off the night by saying that this blessing ceremony is about a rite of passage for Melvin.As he mentioned in the invite, “It is my general belief that our American culture falls short in equipping boys with adequate tools for manhood. Around the world, various cultures have “right of passage” or “coming of age” moments transitioning to manhood.” But he also says, “Men learn about being men from men. Women learn about being women from women.” I notice note cards have been passed out, but they’re only being given to guys. Uh…okay. That’s…interesting. I wonder if Pastor Open Mind has seen Tootsie.

Melvin comes up and talks about what he learned. He shows us a video he made of his time in India, and the school he helped out at. It’s very fascinating, and Melvin wraps it up by saying that that he wants to make a difference where he is right now, in Hollywood. He doesn’t want to have to go to India to make a difference. He wants to make a difference right here, right now. Then he does the book of James as a performance piece, acting the thing out as an extended soliloquy. It was a compelling way to do it: you could sub in chapters for Shakespearian soliloquies in acting class and still command authority and technique.

Then Pastor Open Mind comes back to the microphone and invites the men to come up and give their words of wisdom to Melvin, which they are supposed to have written down on the notecards they’ve been given. I blink once or twice as I watch guy after guy go up and talk/babble/ramble because they’re overwhelmed about how great Melvin is.

I’m not saying Melvin’s not great. Completing those three tasks is an incredible accomplishment, and much more worthy than fetching shallow me Godiva truffles. Melvin is a much better person than me. He’s a Jumper, he’s intense, he’s COMMITTED to Christ. He most likely doesn’t have to fight the Inner Cynic when he steps into church. I’m willing to bet the farm that Melvin feels the Presence Of God on a daily basis. Melvin is cool beans nifty-rific, My problem is not Melvin.

My problem is Pastor Open Mind. Why is it the GUYS are the only ones allowed to talk/babble/ramble because they’re overwhelmed? Why can’t I go up? I lean over to the chick next to me, and whisper, “Did I mishear him, or did he say only guys can go up.” “Only guys can go up.” She whispers back. Oh brother.

And I sit, I stew, I fret. Go up anyway. What are they gonna do, not give the microphone to you? They’ll have to explain why, won’t they?

It’s not like I wanna go up JUST to go up. I actually do have something to say, connected to the mention of Melvin in the Jumper blog entry I did. And I’m sitting and stewing, and going back and forth. Don’t be a spoiler. Tonight is not about you making a statement. It’s Melvin’s birthday. For all you know, the Men Only rule might be something Melvin wanted. Don’t be a spoiler. It’s not about you, it’s not about you. Don’t bust in there like Malificent at Sleeping Beauty’s christening and spoil everything.

I sit, I stew, and I fret but I don’t go up. Later on, I wish Melvin Happy Birthday and say I did have words of wisdom to give him, but I apparently wasn’t allowed. Melvin chuckles ruefully and admits that when Pastor Open Mind told him that part, Melvin’s reaction was one of, “Whoa” but Melvin says that Pastor Open Mind said that’s the way it had to be. A-HA! SO IT’S ALL PASTOR OPEN MIND’S FAULT! GO RIGHT THAT MAN! GO STRAIGHTEN HIM OUT RIGHT NOW!

I sit, I stew and I fret, and I have this swirling feeling of I must right this injustice! This man does not get it and I must make sure he does! He’s sexist! He’s sexist and he doesn’t get it! Hi, Pastor Open Mind, perhaps you shouldn’t have said in the invite “Will you come to speak treasures into him?” you should’ve said “Will you come to speak treasures into him IF YOU’RE A GUY BECAUSE IF YOU’RE A GIRL, FORGET IT, BECAUSE ONLY MEN CAN LEARN FROM MEN, AND IF YOU’RE A CHICK, WELL, UH, BE SUPPORTIVE! ‘CAUSE THAT’S WHAT CHICKS DO!”

Is it my place to point out to Pastor Open Mind where he went wrong? He’ll just tra la la life away thinking it was okay when it wasn’t. It was only not okay to you. And tonight is not about you.

Be honest, Amy. Is it that you wanna pick a fight so you can tell off a Pastor? You know he’ll most likely say, “Well, you misunderstood me.” Or “You could have come up and said something after the men.” You will never win a fight with a Pastor. A Pastor hardly ever admits he’s wrong. It’s never “I was wrong.” It’s always, “I meant this instead of what you thought I meant.”

Ultimately, I choose not to say anything, and instead send Melvin an email, saying that if I had been given the chance to go up there and talk, I would’ve talked about the Jumper blog entry about him. In the email, I said:

“I would have attempted to condense that blog entry in a couple of pithy sentences that would've gone something like, "Melvin sometimes jumps a lot when we sing in church. I used to stare at him because I thought he was cracked. Now I think it's cool."

"I think it's cool, because in those moments, Melvin is the embodiment of pure joy at worshipping God. He is a modern day Tigger, bounce, bounce, bounce. Nothing stops him from expressing his joy and his absolute delight at connecting with God our father. But Melvin's joy isn't limited to bouncing in church. We just saw it, in his India video, in his performance of the book of James, in his reactions to seeing us here tonight. Melvin is wonderfully and vitally connected to the experience of joy, and is able to express it to us in an undiluted way. And that is something very special indeed. So my words of wisdom, which is actually more of a reminder, because you already know it, is to hold tight to the joy of the Lord, because it touches more people than you know."

Although if I really had to say it without writing it down, it would've come out like, "um, uh, duh, yeah, um...Melvin is, um, yeah, happy birthday." Ah the joys of being a writer, ha ha ha.

Melvin sends a very sweet email in response, thanking me for the kind words, and reports that he read the entire blog, which means I can no longer talk to him in church, since he knows the inner struggle, ha ha ha.

And I was toying with the idea of emailing Pastor Open Mind, and showing him how wrong he was, but I have thankfully let that one go. Because sometimes, you have to realize who the right person is to make your point to. I think I got it right this time. Which probably means I will be horrifically wrong tomorrow, ha ha ha.


Richard T said...

Oh, for a dollar for every time I didn't process these moments the way you did here. I'd be able to go to India.

Maybe study Hinduism. ;)

Great story, Amy!

ted said...

I probably would not have been able to stop myself from writing Pastor Open Mind a letter giving him a piece of my mind. But that would have led to a probably irritating exchange. Anyway, your email to Melvin was really great.
I'm a deeply cranky agnostic, but I find your blog pretty inspiring.