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The Women of Haiti

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A woman passed me on the sidewalk with an entire table on her head. It looked like she had put everything she wanted for her journey onto a table, crawled underneath it, and then stood up. She moved down the street with her neck straight, her eyes forward, because carrying the burden takes focus. Nobody seemed to think she was remarkable.

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Little girls balance bags of rice, women twice my age carry full washtubs, men carry bananas in baskets. The movement of goods happens on the streets, resting just a head above us.

Everywhere we go, I have found the women of Haiti to have incredibly straight posture. They move with dignity and steadiness. Perhaps it’s because they have spent their lives achieving the balance required to transport their lives on their brow, and this is no metaphor. Blessed is the woman who carries the burden.

The women of Haiti are straightening my spine.

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A young woman stood at the pulpit at church. Beautiful in her white suit, she lead us in worship, singing strong like Exodus’ Miriam. No whispering, no false shyness, her back was straight, her face was forward, the microphone was on, and she sang the roof off that church. We followed behind her, straight into the throne room of God.

The front two rows were taken up with the women’s choir, all in black business suits. When they got up to sing, they moved easily through their steps, singing Hosanna for Palm Sunday. I sat in the wooden pew and tears filled my eyes. Erika leaned over to me and said, “I bet the angels wish they were here for this.” But I’m not convinced they weren’t there. Blessed are the women who sing.

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The rows of the school are filled with boys and girls. Together. Same classroom, same opportunity. The blue satin hair ribbons, one after another, crowded onto benches, just about laid me out on the dirt with their beauty and determination.

These girls are getting an education. These girls will be able to read a deed to make sure they aren’t getting swindled. Their backs are straight on those tiny benches. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we ask. Nurses. Teachers, Singers. One dream after another. These girls will lift Haiti, I think.

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These two women cook for 150 children every single day. Think about that for a hot second. For many of the kids in Drouin, it’s their only meal of the day. The conditions are primitive to my eyes – water must be fetched and carried and then boiled before use. The tin cooking pots are four times the size of my kitchen sink. There is no light and no fan, just a cook stove and the women.

But those fresh beans and rice, straight off the stove and ladled into a tin plate were the best meal of the week. She grinned at me, her sinewy arms stirring, her headscarf a gleaming white. I thought of Proverbs 31 – she rises while it’s still dark to provide for her children, this virtuous woman. Blessed is the woman who provides for another woman’s child.

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Rosna grew up in a girls’ orphanage herself and then she went on to become a nurse. She got married and her husband planted a church in the same town where she grew up. And now she is the director of Ferrier Village. The first “family style” orphanage in the area, there are five homes filled with 26 children, all of them rescued from trafficking, under her care. Each home has a mother and four or five children. Their mother makes sure they are clean, they are fed, they sleep well, they are seen, known, loved here. Rosna is three years younger than me. Her back was straight, her floors were swept, her work is done well, and her children are healthy.

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When the children first arrive from their rescue, they are often malnourished, their black hair the colour of dried orange straw. But give Rosna a bit of time, because look – this rescued baby’s roots are coming in dark. She’s going to be well because Rosna is a high-capacity leader with hustle and peace for days. Blessed is the woman who leads.

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Wherever I go, children burrow into my mama-belly. It’s a bit soft, never recovered after those three babies in four years, but when I’m around children, I’m thankful for my softness. We mamas from the north, we stood around with their children in our arms, toddlers balanced on our hips. The sway of a mother’s axis crosses cultures, it seems. We met eyes over whiny toddlers who won’t cooperate and shrugged with a grin – we’ve all been there, we’re mothers.

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When we gathered around the women to express our thanks for the meal. “Thank you for cooking for us,” Amber said with a smile. “We have a lot of children and we’re mothers and nobody ever cooks for us!” They laughed and said they understood that.

One woman after another, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes in the pulpit, sometimes in a home, sometimes singing a song, sometimes on the street with her stand of mangoes to sell, sometimes at the blackboard wearing a blue uniform, sometimes sitting in the classroom.

What a privilege to witness these women work.

What a privilege to talk in their kitchens, hold their babies, hear their stories.

What an honour to learn from their leadership.

Blessed are the women who remain unbowed.

 from the archives

***

It’s been a year since I was last in Haiti. I had plans of returning again this year but then along came little Maggie Love and so travel is at a stop right now. But in the meantime, the work continues – my presence certainly isn’t required by anyone – in Haiti.

Want to help?

You can be a child sponsor in Drouin whose kids are vulnerable to trafficking and or host for a Garage Sale for Orphans to build a preschool for children who have been rescued from trafficking.

And as always, pray for our sisters worldwide who are quietly doing the work.

 

All these photos were taken by Scott Wade and are used with permission.

Continue Reading · Haiti, social justice, women, work · 1

Dangerous Women

Two of my dearest friends, Kelley Nikondeha and Idelette McVicker, are leading the SheLoves Magazine community into a new season: Dangerous Women.

I know, right?

I love it.

When they first shared their vision for Dangerous Women with me, I nearly leaped out of my skin. They have been talking about it for weeks and weeks, studying and praying and gathering voices, so I’m thrilled that it has finally launched and that so many women from all over the world are jumping on board, defining and redefining dangerous and talking candidly about why God needs dangerous women. My mind and spirit are humming with possibilities here and I can’t wait to see where the Spirit leads us all as a community of women.

It will be the theme of the month at SheLoves, but I’d start here with Idelette’s manifesto and just start reading straight through. This will be life-changing for you, for the women in your life, for the women in your church or community.

Here’s an excerpt from my contribution:

I believe that our citizenship in the Kingdom of God is a bit upside down to the world’s ways. After all, our imperfections, our mess, our reality only makes us more beautiful, more valuable, more precious. The very things that the world disdains about us can become our greatest ministry to one another, make us precious to the ones who love us, or become our altar for meeting God.

The same thing holds true for our whole selves: the world only tells us the places where we are broken, the places where we’ve failed, the places where we are weak and imperfect and inefficient. But the Gospel tells us that those places, the places of our dry desert and lonely wilderness, will bloom with beauty and richness. The mended places are places of strength for us. What the enemy meant for evil, God will use for good. (Read the full essay here.)

Second, our friends at The Junia Project are starting a new series called Feminism Fridays and another one on the women of church history. I love the mother-daughter team of Gail Wallace and Kate Wallace – they are creating and curating amazing content and community for egalitarian resources on the daily. Their entire site is a gift to the Church.

It’s a rainy morning here in B.C. and Maggie Love is napping while the big kids watch Wild Kratts. It’s briefly peaceful and quiet so I’m going to go curl up with a book for a whole ten minutes. I’ve been reading Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward” slowly and have found it so beautiful for this season of my life. It’s just what I needed right now.

Well, that and another episode of Call the Midwife.

And a nap.

Have a lovely weekend, my friends.

Continue Reading · SheLoves, women · 9

I needed to see her

We’re never alone in our stories, we’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. I always feel like I love Jesus better when I hear from other women how and why they love Him, too. I feel braver when I see other women be brave. One seed of freedom, one woman who walks in freedom, sets others free, too.

Our stories are never just our own.

I needed Idelette. I needed to see her out ahead of me. I needed to see a woman who was passionate and alive, a woman who had awakened to her purpose. I needed to see a woman who didn’t see women as competition or as threats, not as insecure or jealous or weak, but instead as a sisterhood, a powerful force for good. I needed to see her create SheLoves with my own eyes to know how sacred it is for women to tell their stories, to own their anointing, to come alongside of each other with power and laughter and vulnerability. I needed to see her do this before I knew that I could the same thing in my own way.

I needed Pastor Helen. I needed to see her preaching on Sunday mornings, her husband in the very front row, taking notes seriously as he learned from his wife. I needed to be comfortable with the title of “Pastor” in front of a feminine name. I needed to see her be lead by the Spirit, I needed to see her put her hand up and say “yes.” And then I needed to see her lead an entire community into creating Mercy Ministries of Canada, tirelessly, against the odds. I needed to be part of that dream.

I needed my Granny. I needed to witness her opinions strong and unedited on everything from hockey to politics. I needed to see her devour novels instead of lady-magazines, to prefer the outdoors to the safe living rooms, to see her get angry and then mourn when her anger cost her dearly. I needed to hear how she longed to learn and how much she still missed school, I needed to know her stories, her roots, her regrets and her victories, in order to understand the fire in my own bones.

I needed my mother. I needed her to teach me about breastfeeding and bonding with my babies, I needed her as the wind at my back moving me further into my wholeness. I needed her to confirm the metaphors I was discovering about the way that God parents us, I needed her to tell me I was enough. I needed to witness the way she moved in my father’s life with winsome freedom, how they moved together effortlessly in unity without the hint of hierarchy. I needed to see how she respected and honoured him, I needed to see how she challenged him, how he trusted her.

I needed Kelley. I needed a friend who could preach by an old piano in the living room better than most big preachers in megachurches. I needed her to talk to me about justice and jubilee, about Isaiah and Exodus, about midwives and women on the edge. I needed her to give me the theological foundation for the awakening God was breathing into my own spirit, I needed her laughter and her anger, her prophetic imagination and her voracious yearning for shalom. I needed the theologians she gave to me, as one gives a gift. I needed a friend who understood this side of me, celebrated it, and pushed me even further out.

I needed Maya Angelou. I needed to read her stories and her poems when I was too young and too white and too Canadian to ever begin to understand, I needed her to crack open my narrow world and show me beauty in truth-telling. I needed to hear from her about the power of words, I needed her to warn me that “someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get iny our rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally in to you.” I needed her to write Phenomenal Woman in all its unapologetic sexy confidence.

I need to see women who are aging well ahead of me. Women who let their hair go grey, who grow lovelier with eye crinkles and laugh lines, women who are soft and women who are strong, who dress wild and wear red lipstick and pile their hair on their heads, women who wear bikinis.

I needed women who will never know my name and never know their impact on my life. I needed Eleanor Roosevelt and Joan Didion, I needed L.M. Montgomery and Mary Oliver. I needed Tina Fey and Brené Brown. I needed Carolyn Custis James and Nellie McClung, Charlotte Brontë and Mary Wollstonecraft, Malala and Aung San Suu Kyi, Anne Lamott and Gloria Steinem, Deborah and Junia.

I need Nish and Tara, Jen and Jamie, Kristen and Megan, Christine and Laura, Shauna and Ann, Tracy and Nicola, I need all the women in my life who are dangerous and hilarious, who don’t choose between their womanhood and their callings, women who push back the powers of darkness, women who lead uniquely and differently, women who love.

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Maybe someone needed to see me last night.

Seven months pregnant, I stood up with my Bible in my hands and I preached about the incarnation.

I am a mother and I am a wife, I am a writer and I love theology way more than I love crafts and cooking. I’m more passionate about peace-making and justice than I am about potty training. I laugh too loud and I am sometimes absent on Sundays as I travel or recover from travel. And I’m part of this house and this community, I love my local church and I love these women.

Never once have they made me feel weird or out-of-place because I don’t fit the Good Christian Lady box. Instead, they have loved me and supported me, cheered me on and challenged me. I have needed these women to heal some part of that still believed there wasn’t room for all of me at church. I want to do the same for them.

I wonder if perhaps someone needed to see how this, too, is what it looks like to proclaim the Gospel: quite pregnant, female, Bible open, voice filled with tears and laughter and passion, not from-away but rooted right here, imperfect.

Because the Spirit met us there and crashed through the barriers we’ve created between sacred and secular, God is with us and among us and in us.

We needed each other and we need each other and we will need each other.

I think, I believe, I know this – someone needs to see you.

thanks to my friend, Tracy, for the photo

 

 

 

Continue Reading · women · 68

Soapbox Warning: On Jian Ghomeshi and the acceptability of sexualized violence against women

Soapbox

Trigger warning: rape, abuse, sexualized violence. 

One of my blogger-jokes is that I like to think about and write about the stuff we don’t usually discuss in polite company – things like marriage and religion and politics, for instance. But I have to say I’ve never in my life considered or entertained the idea of writing about a topic like this. To those of you who need to avoid this topic or to click away because it will violate your peace of mind or heart, please do so with my complete understanding.

But my conscience won’t allow me to remain silent, I’ve got a fire in my bones today.

I read it. Oh, yes, I read it. I read Jian Ghomeshi’s statement about his firing from the CBC. I have loved Q for years. My sister and I both listen to it and we swoon regularly over the opening essays, over the thoughtful and deep interviews, over the brilliance of the contributors and, of course, the host, Jian Ghomeshi.

So when Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC this weekend, we were stunned. And let’s be honest: it takes something incredibly horrific to be fired from the public broadcaster. Don Cherry has enjoyed immunity for 35 years even though he’s offended everyone at least twice on matters of race and politics and sexual identity. So for CBC Radio’s golden boy to be fired, well, this was a big deal. We all knew it.

I read Ghomeshi’s statement from the standpoint of a dedicated and long-time fan, someone who was inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. And the further I read, the more my heart sank: it reads entirely like abuser rhetoric and gas-lighting. It was raw and emotional, yes, but it was textbook justification. Of course an employer has no place in the private or sexual lives of its employees – this was clearly not that.

Then came the article in the Toronto Star this morning, detailing conversations with four separate women who allege that Ghomeshi did, in fact, abuse them without consent. So much for the “jilted ex-lover” defense. And they will likely never come forward to press charges or make public accusations because they fear Internet retaliation. A very real and very terrible reality, one I completely understand. I have experienced my own share of violent threats for being a woman online: one needn’t exercise much speculation to understand why these women would shy away from public court cases or lawsuits or accusations. It’s dangerous enough to be a woman these days, let alone a woman who dares to stand up publicly against abuse. Who among us doesn’t understand that fear? We can make the logical arguments about why we are obligated to report cases of abuse or rape and how victims names are shielded (tell that to the victims of Internet doxxing) but the truth is that most cases of abuse and rape go unreported for very real reasons, let alone the public interest component here. The lack of formal charges proves nothing, either way: it doesn’t prove it happened but it doesn’t prove that it didn’t either. And now come the women weighing in on the comment sections of the articles, claiming similar experiences.

So I’m left not knowing whether to cry or throw things. Instead, I’m sitting down to write this post – against my better judgement, if only for the spam comments I’ll receive alone, let alone the rest of the very real and rational reasons as both a Christian and a feminist to never write on this topic.

Because this isn’t really about Jian Ghomeshi right now. After all, we have no idea of the particulars or details or truth here, not yet anyway. He claims persecution for his sexual appetites, the victims are claiming abuse. It’s complex and I pray that the truth will come out and that justice will be done.

Really, this is about the acceptability of sexualized violence against women.

Feminists have long been split on these sex-related issues, from being anti-pornography to pro-pornography, pro-sex-work and anti-sex-work, anti-BDSM to pro-BDSM. There are scholarly arguments for all sides, I’ve read them and I understand how each side arrives at their conclusions on a purely academic basis. I also know why I land where I land on those issues for more reasons than simply my Christian convictions.

Consent always lies at the heart of the arguments: is there consent? If yes, then go for it. Mutual consent is the new moral arbitrator for our sexuality.

I understand that logic. It makes sense to me from an academic or secular standpoint, absolutely. I understand that if Ghomeshi is proven to have engaged in these acts with consent, that it falls within acceptable boundaries for most.

But that logic fails to take one thing into account for me: the whole “Jesus” part of being a Jesus feminist.

I’m a feminist because I follow Jesus, my feminism is shaped by my discipleship to Jesus. And so yes, I dare to have an opinion precisely because of that distinction.

I’ve grappled with writing about sexuality on several occasions – mainly because I think the Church has often gotten it so wrong. Over the years, I’ve taken issue with everything from purity culture to modesty rules to how we treat those of us who not only engaged in premarital sex but dared to enjoy it as “damaged goods.” I’m never one to argue for repression or shaming as healthy sexuality, let alone someone who places one individual in the relationship (typically the man) as the sun around which our mutual sexuality should orbit. I rarely fall neatly on any one “side” – I’m often too conservative for liberals and too liberal for conservatives.

Christians rarely hear a healthy and freeing message about their sexuality, about the importance of consent and mutuality, about being in charge of our own bodies, about the realities of sex right alongside of the delights and desires, let alone a sexual ethic that tenderly cares for victims of abuse. We tend to take an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to sexuality, painting with broad brushes across complex people, ignoring nuance and making up a new law, one that – let’s be honest – usually puts women at risk of abuse or shame-based rhetoric.

I remain wary and yet here I am with a broad brush and a soapbox: this way of treating each other – violence, dominance, bondage, abuse, exploitation – is wrong. WRONG.

We who claim to follow Jesus know that there isn’t really any corner of our lives that is exempt from our discipleship. We are a people who are meant to be a glimpse of life the way that God intended it to be, we’re to be about the business of living prophetically into the Kingdom of God right now. We are people of shalom.

This means seeing the humanity in one another, justice, mercy, faithfulness, loving one another well, peace-making, even purity (a much misunderstood word) and mutual honour. And that commitment includes our sexuality and our most intimate partners.

These kinds of sexual acts are dehumanizing, period. Full stop.

Even if there is consent, it is dehumanizing to fantasize about and enact sexual violence against women. It’s a short walk from fantasizing about violence and rape to becoming someone who commits violence and rape – and even with consent, it is wrong to do so. These acts are dehumanizing and soul-sucking for all participants.

As we think in our heart, so we are, according to Proverbs. Or as Marshall McLuhan wrote, beholding is becoming.

So here, this theologically and socially progressive Christian feminist will say it:

These sexual acts have simply become a socially acceptable way of excusing dehumanizing each other, of abuse, abuse grooming, oppression, language of hate, rape, and violence. Even with consent, it’s exploitative, evil, and wrong. 

All of those acts of sexualized violence run completely counter to the way we are to treat one another, according to the Church and to the Spirit. We are called in Scripture to honour God with our bodies – these acts are not honour. And even apart from the specifics in Scripture about sex in particular, we have a whole ethic for how we treat one another now in the Kingdom of God – with love.

Christian relationships are meant to be characterized by mutuality, not dominance.

Our sexuality isn’t exempt from our identity in Christ.

Scripturally, sex is intrinsically connected to love. And the one who is Love is described in 1 Corinthians 13 among other beautiful qualities as patient and kind, not boastful or rude, it doesn’t demand its own way, our example is to be a people who are faithful and hopeful. We’re made in the image of Love. We are to treat each other in this way.

People are sacred. Women are sacred. Men are sacred. Our bodies are not separate from our spirituality – our bodies matter, our words matter, the way we treat each other sexually matters, the way we believe we should be treated sexually matters.

Then there is this….

In a world where women are repeatedly and consistently raped and abused, how dare we?

Oh, I’m angry. How dare we?

How dare we make light of the very real terror and horror that women have endured and are enduring? You talk to a woman who has been raped or sexually violated or beaten or abused and then try to tell me that it’s okay to be turned on by that. It is NOT okay. It is never okay, it never will be okay. Violence against women is epidemic and evil, it’s not to be mined for sexual pleasure. How dare we forget our sisters? How dare we make light of or sexualize for our own pleasures the unmitigated horror that is endured by women even at this moment? Whether in the context of a classroom power dynamic or a war torn refugee camp, women are preyed upon, groomed for abuse and abused in horrifying numbers in this way from the youngest to the oldest. There are women who believe they deserve to be treated in this way – think about that for a second.

From the account of creation in Scripture, we see that we are all made in the image of God. These acts are part of the Curse in the garden, right along with patriarchy: dominance and an absence of mutuality is not our identity in Christ.  Calling these acts by pithy acronyms or pontificating about consent don’t remove the inherent violence and evil of them.

What a tactic of the enemy – to take the very thing that is a curse upon us and twisting it to make it seem acceptable.

I don’t care if it’s soft patriarchy or BDSM, this is an example of the enemy twisting the very thing that enslaves us, the curse, a consequence of the Fall, and making us think it’s not only acceptable but sexy and desirable. We have been set free from walking in that oppression.

This post isn’t about Ghomeshi. Not really. We don’t know enough to make claims yet and it might very well be none of our business. We can only pray for true justice to be done now, however that shakes down.

But it is about the larger question – how do we view women? how do we treat women? how do we think about women? what is an acceptable way to treat another human being who is made in the image of God? and what do those things say about not only us but the God whom we claim to know? what does this say to the women among us who are abused and sexually violated?

We should be part of redemption, not part of promoting the acceptability of oppression.

 image source, used with permission

Continue Reading · Jesus Feminist, social justice, women · 234