Thursday, February 23, 2012

Conversations on God as Woman

This past Sunday Melissa Harris-Perry had a very interesting segment on her new show with Selene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, on women as religious leaders and as images of the divine. This is not the type of discussion I have commonly seen outside of liberal religious circles. This is an important conversation and I hope it continues.

Since I don’t believe in a god, you might wonder why I care how we envision him/her/it/them. But I do care. Non-theists are a small minority in America, and we are affected by the policies enacted by and attitudes prevalent among the majority of Americans who are theists. So it is important to me that, culturally, we do not limit our vision of the divine to white maleness. Our perception of what is good and worthy should not automatically make half of the population “other”. When we picture the divine we shape what we think is of value, and we all need to be able to participate in being valuable and seeing others as so.

Even personally, I care about how we picture the divine. I have found a lot of value in some pagan practices. Sometimes I wonder if it is even fair to participate in rituals since my beliefs are out of line with most Pagans, but picturing divine females helps me to deal with aspects of myself. As a Christian, I never felt like I was related to God, but working with goddesses is connecting to parts of myself. They are not other; they are me. Even as I feel my connection to Paganism slipping, I remember learning that reverence for goddess could be a real and deeply experienced religion, and how both welcoming and shocking that was.

It only requires a quick look at recent headlines to see that allowing patriarchy to dominate all discussions of religious faith is a bad idea and does not serve any of us well. Being an atheist does not shield me from its effects. I hope that going forward we have more public discussions of a more rounded view of divinity and religion.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I Can't Take Any More Misogyny

I am trying to raise two girls here and it hasn’t been getting any easier lately. I am trying to raise young women who make their own choices and take responsibility for them, young women who can accomplish anything they set their minds to, happy, healthy, well-adjusted young women. So all of the ugly misogyny in the news lately is freaking me out.

While I am trying to tell my daughters that they can do anything they can dream, a presidential candidate is arguing publicly that they should not be allowed access to birth control. Birth control. We are not talking about late term abortion, or teenage sex, or anything that used to be controversial. They are being told that their future should be limited by their fertility and what kills me about this is that he just won primaries in three states. 20-ish years ago, when I was in high school, we never thought of contraception as anything that was in danger. It was just understood that a woman had the right to decide whether or not to conceive and that it was good for families not have more children than they could afford. These were evangelical Christians who understood that contraception was a net social benefit. I never imagined we would be having this argument.

On top of the normal fat-shaming and slut-shaming that happens every day in our society, what else has been going in misogyny lately? Well, I’ve read about people being unhappy that women breast feed in church, as if choosing to feed your child means you should be shut out of society. On the other hand, if women bottle feed, they are attacked from the other side for being selfish and not putting their baby’s health first.

A commentator on Fox News recently said that women should expect to be raped if they join the military. She criticized feminists who complain about “too much rape”. I would like to ask her what exactly would the right amount of rape be? Ladies, if you bravely decide to service your country and risk your life, expect that rape is just part of the package. What happened to support the troops?

We have all read about the Susan G. Komen foundation being pressured into dropping, and then restoring, funding to Planned Parenthood. I don’t need to cover it here. But Planned Parenthood continued to be a target because they make it possible for women to have sex, and that is bad.

Abortion rights are being systematically attacked all over the country. In these attacks women are continually portrayed as slutty, selfish, and stupid creatures who couldn’t possibly make a good decision without an authority figure helping her.

The Grammys decided that beating your girlfriend into the hospital doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a featured performer. At my house, we turned off the volume while Chris Brown performed and discussed domestic violence. Yes, it was a teachable moment, but what we saw was that one person’s safety is less important than another person’s fame.

Today women were excluded from congressional testimony on the new federally-mandated contraception coverage. Apparently the subject at hand was religious rights, not reproductive ones.

I can’t take much more of this. My daughters’ bodies are not political footballs; they are their lives. I am more sick than I can express of the politicization of the health care of half of the population.

All of this, and more, is poison to the futures of young women. For every lesson their father and I teach them that they have as much value as any man, there are counter-lessons like these. They are being told that they need to be sexy, but not too sexy; independent, but not too independent; that they bring their problems on themselves; and that most of all, they are not to be trusted. These are not the family values I am trying to teach.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Walking in Two UU Worlds

Peter Morales’s recent article and all the responses to it remind me that I often feel like I walk in two separate, but over-lapping Unitarian-Universalist worlds: my church, and the UU blogosphere.

I enjoy Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship more than I ever thought I would. It is not a perfect organization, but there I have been accepted, encouraged, challenged, and affirmed. I have been welcomed there much more readily than I had expected. What I love most about that is that I have both been accepted with open arms just as I am, and challenged to be better and to do more. I love that.

The second UU world is really the first – I found Unitarian Universalism through the UU blogosphere. I have never met most of you, but you UUs who blog or frequently comment taught me about this religious movement until I knew I wanted to look for fellowship locally. I love all you UU bloggers and the community you created. Having said that, it doesn’t feel as welcoming as it used to. In spite of various disagreements and tensions, AUUF has never made me feel like maybe I don’t belong as a UU after all, but the blogging community sometimes has. When I have been hurt by comments I have read, I have been able to push back from the screen and remember that I have a community who accepts and welcomes me.

I believe strongly in the power of the internet and social media as connecting and community-building tools. If we want to use these tools for evangelism to unchurched UUs, we have to spend less time with self-flagellation. Endless material about what is wrong with UU churches and types of UU members isn’t going to attract anyone. People want to join a vibrant community that is going places, not a group who continuously agonizes over everything being done wrong. Give me a vision for making a better world, and a direction in which we are all going to pull to get there. Let’s build a movement based on that vision.

“What is it for us to do? It is for us to heal the world.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Imbolc Resolutions

Happy Imbolc!*

Imbolc is a strange holiday here in Alaska, because even though the light is starting to return (2 hours since the Winter Solstice!), there are no other signs of spring return, nor are there likely to be any anytime soon. Until last year, I never really acknowledged Imbolc as it didn’t seem to fit into my seasonal cycle.

Last year it occurred to me that Imbolc is the perfect time to make resolutions. By New Years I am still whirling from Christmas and usually planning two birthday parties. This puts me in no place for real reflection. By the beginning of February, I have had time, and darkness, and quiet enough to think about what I want to bring with me into the year. Imbolc is celebrated in honor of the Irish goddess Brigid, and her double emphasis on home & hearth, and creativity already make me think about what I want to be and do better.

Last year at Imbolc I decided I wanted to learn to do some things badly. I have a tendency to only want to things I am good at and avoid anything in which I might not excel. I did learn to both knit and run badly – badly enough to hurt myself even, but I found both learning experiences enjoyable, valuable, and freeing. Kicking off the expectation of excellence was uncomfortable at first, but it allowed me to explore interests in a new way, and opened up whole areas that I had always felt were off limits. I also learned to be a service lay leader this year, and I hope I am not doing it badly. It is really important to me that I do that one well, or move out of the way and let someone else do it better.

Here are three things I am focusing on this Imbolc.

1. Learning to do last year’s projects well. While I enjoyed the liberation I felt in learning those new skills, I want to get better at them rather than coasting. I also want to learn to do new things badly. I’m not sure what those things will be yet, but maybe when I am ready, a teacher will appear.

2. I want to write more without worrying about the readers’ reception. I spend way too much time second guessing what people think about what I write and not enough time writing. This might even fall under #1 as well.

3. 2012 will involve a lot of changes in my house. Tall Daughter E will be an adult this summer and she and I will need to find a new way of living together as two adult women. This might be a big learning curve. I am not sure how to do this, but she is important enough to me to figure it out. Tiny Daughter M will start middle school later this year and I will have no more small children. I need to learn how to parent through this transition.

Here is to more learning, writing, and adjusting in 2012. Check out the 7th annual online poetry festival for Brigid here. For those of you who celebrate, what does Imbolc bring to you?

*Patricia Kennealy Morrison referred to this holiday last night on Facebook as Brighnasa, as the counterpart to Lughnasa in August. I like it, and may use it in the future.