Tuesday, March 28, 2006

You Go Girls!

Tonight after grad school, I hunkered down for a long chat with one of my fellow (male) students. He had pushed, ahem, several of my feminist buttons during the break - the old, "Have you ever noticed the way feminists start out being logical and then they just get passionate and stop being logical?"

Steam pours from ears as involuntary, passionate, terribly logical karate chop springs from my right hand.

Then, I regrouped and we decided to chat in the library instead of the hallway (hard to commit acts of retributive terror in the library).

Great conversation ensued (only wished for beer).

We talked about feminist theology, translation of Scriptures (and how every act of translation is a betrayal), the burden of being white and male and looking a heck of a lot like a big red bull's eye for all the marginalized groups of history who are finally getting a chance to shout their anger and more.

God, it was so illuminating, for me too. I love my program. I love my fellow students.

Bill asked me what in the heck anyone can do when he or she is in the privileged group? It seems so frustrating to always be in a position where we are told what we did wrong but no one gives us any meaningful way to right that wrong. I've learned, slowly, that the first step is "shut up and listen." Listening is not a sound bite process, but a sustained commitment to hearing what is uncomfortable to hear, for a long, not-politcally-correct time. The words that fly our way will not be measured and attentive to our feelings. They will be attentive to pain.... which means they usually smart to receive.

The conversation is not over when I get irritated or bored or consider the speaker to be illogical, emotional or deluded. It's not over because I say we've discussed the topics "enough." It's not finished once we agree or when we can't agree. It's over when the victim is talked out and says so.

If we look at the discourse around women in church or blacks in the inner cities and so on, one way to tell if dialog is really ocurring is to see who is controlling the conversation and defining when it starts and stops...

An example sprang to mind. My mother told me years ago (over twenty now) after my parents' divorce that she knew she'd caused me emotional harm. She apologized for that pain and did a lot to repair the damage. Then she gave me the most precious gift of all. She told me that any time more pain came up - memories that hurt or renewed anger or a deeper awareness of how robbed I was, I could come to her, for the rest of her life. Ten years later, twenty years, even forty years. Didn't matter. She would listen and hold my pain. She'd hear it. Until I was done.

So like Jesus.

So completely able to shoulder the burden - not put it off or control it or define it or tell it to go away. No telling me what the right way to grow past it is or how to get over it, or what would be excessive expression of pain.

Just full responsibility and a willingness to embrace me as long as it took. Amazingly, I have not felt much need to really unburden myself because the resentment just had no reason to grow. But in those moments when there is a new flash of pain or sadness, I do know I can call her. And it helps!

We can be like that for others... for blacks, for women if you're a man, for gays, for illegal aliens, for homeless people, for whoever offends, upsets, intimidates or worries us. For whoever we (our people) have harmed.

In keeping with seeing "privilege" and getting a glimpse of how language marginalizes, I want to post a link to Rick's blog. He has a list of why men should not be ordained. If you are blessed with the gift of irony, I think you'll find it zings you right in the bull's eye of your heart. :)

Thanks Rick!


OldMom said...

Good thoughts. . .many, maybe most, people feel a need to be HEARD, not counseled or corrected. The trick is to be able to listen with love not guilt. To nourish yourself at the same time that you are helping someone else. We all have to give ourselves permission to listen without bearing another's burdens. Otherwise, we are headed straight for compassion burnout.

I think all of us need to develop the ability to listen to those who may have been injured by our 'group' whether that group is Americans, white males, whites, whatever. But we are not called upon to be super people or God. We can listen and support without going on to beat OURSELVES up with guilt.

Whoa--that just poured out. . .clearly a sensitive point with me, but, as you know, I have my own background of social justice guilt and, really, in the end it doesn't matter if you tell a kid they are guilty because of Calvinistc depravity or because they had the bad taste to be born an overprivileged American. . .

Oh dear, that ended up sounding much more critical of your post than I mean it to. I really agreed with you! I just think we have to keep in mind that white male Americans are humans too ;-)


julieunplugged said...

You are dead on. No one wants to be the person who is left holding the bag, particularly those who are born into privilege and didn't ask to be and who sincerely want to be a part of solutions!

I loved talking with Bill last night because I could see how hard it would be to feel that all this negative energy (coming from history) gets aimed at you! - just for being white and male.

So I'm not into guilting people as much as thinking about how we can hear each other. Those with the larger dose of ease do end up bearing the burden of listening, though. That's just how it works. But perhaps those of us with a little grace can also hear the weary "overprivileged" in their frustrations. I feel grateful for all the ways I've "been heard" at Xavier as I've wrestled with these very issues.

After all, I started out as a Rush Limbaugh fan! (She admits sheepishly)