My struggle with Wonder Woman (the movie)

img_0458So.  A friend and I went to see Wonder Woman on Saturday.  I had high hopes – so many folks I knew who saw it loved it.  Women felt empowered and seen.  Finally, we have our superhero!  I was there with them, ready to buy my faux golden bracelets and appropriate t-shirt.

I thought the movie was good.  The production was great, the scenes, the acting, the casting.  I love her badass musical theme. I was not crazy about the high-heeled wedges she wears in her big fight scene, but whatever.  If I hadn’t gone with such high expectations, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog. But I walked away wondering about women’s empowerment, and if women’s empowerment means only getting to act like n, and more specifically, if the message of the movie is that women’s empowerment means that women get to be as violent as men.

Bear with me, fans of Diana Prince, and allow me to offer some vignettes in my defense.

– A few years ago I was at an event at my daughter’s school, and (long story short) a “what would you do if” situation came up.  It had to do with non-violence, which I’m usually for.  Except the scenario was my daughter got pinned down or pinched or otherwise harassed by a boy.  I told my conversation partner that I would teach my daughter to hit back.  She was a bit aghast.  “You’re teaching her to love war,” she said.  No, I countered, I’m teaching her to defend herself and to let that boy know he can’t do that to her.  I was thinking down the line, when she got older, and the hypothetical boy (or man) got older and the situation was worse.  I want her to be ready.  I hate that there’s something she has to be ready for.

-This past weekend same daughter was riding her bike with a friend.  A man in a truck took their picture.  My daughter remembered most of his license plate number, and she and her friend told us parents what happened.  The friend’s mom let the police know.  My daughter and her friend did the right thing, but I HATE that this happened.  I hate that there are creepy men who take pictures of kids riding their bikes.

-I’m a little sensitive to violence.  When I was 16, my family was held up at gunpoint in our home.  At one point the intruder was standing behind me and cocked his gun.  I thought I might die.  I’ve never like real or pretend guns pointed at me since.

-I’m a little sensitive to violence.  A few weeks ago, in Portland where I live, a crazy white supremacist stabbed three men in their throats, killing two, when they tried to stop his harassing two young women on a light rail train.  It was sudden and vicious.

-If my daughter were threatened, I would do whatever I had to – including act with violence – to protect her.  But I have learned that rarely do things work out the way they do in the movies.  If someone has a gun on me, I’m going to do what they say.  I’m not Jason Bourne, Ethan Hunt, or Wonder Woman.

I wish that women’s empowerment looked like women leading the way in non-violent resistance.  Yes, I know that Wonder Woman decides she will save the world through love and not war.  But that’s not what happened in the movie.  Maybe there’s some character development waiting for us.

Most of the time I’m a pragmatist and not an idealist.  But when my hopes for Wonder Woman were dashed, I awoke to the deep realization that I am so tired of testosterone-fueled violence.  Weary to the ends of my toes.  Weary to the core of my being.

Of course, I could be overacting.  It was just a movie, after all.  And as my wise daughter reminded me, no one would go see a movie where an empowered woman wins the day with reason and a commitment to non-violent resistance.

No one would see that movie.

What does that say about us?

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Adulting

My child, who is a pretty terrific kid, has no interest in growing up, getting a job, living on her own, learning to drive, or any of things I associate with maturing and becoming an adult.  She is reluctant to learn how to cook, and when I ask her what she’ll do when she lives on her own, she says she’ll have a really nice roommate who will do all the cooking.

Which has got me to thinking: have my husband and I made adulting look so awful and tedious that she wants nothing of it?

We, like many, have jobs that get pretty serious pretty fast, especially in the Death and Dying Department.  We get the occasional call in middle of the night or too early in the morning.  We talk about memorial services over dinner (until she reminds us of the “no work talk at dinner” rule.)

We pay the bills together so she hears us talking about whether we’re ahead or behind for the month.  She knows how much vacation costs, and hears us admit with some guilt and resignation that maybe we spent a little too much on getting away this year.

When I was a little older than she is now, I could not wait to be on my own, to get my driver’s license, to imagine my first apartment and my own dishes and my very own vacuum cleaner.  My first year after college I shared a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan with two of my college roommates.  We’d put on our suits and tennis shoes in the morning and walk to work, and walk back home, and we’d have pasta carbonara for dinner and watch “Flame Trees of Thika” on PBS.  It was as glorious as I imagined growing up would be.

Since then life has intervened.  There have been lean years, and job disappointments and failures, and debt.  There have been illnesses and deaths that still shake me.  There have been more moves than I would like, and goodbyes to dear friends.  But I still love being an adult, with all the responsibility and burden; with all the freedom and agency, too.

This morning on my short drive to work I heard on NPR the last bit of an interview with Senator Ben Sass of Nebraska, who has written the book “The Vanishing American Adult.”  I can’t comment on its content, but the two minutes of the interview intrigued me.  He spoke about making kids work, making them do hard work that isn’t much fun so they will build up “scar tissue on the soul.”

Adulting is hard.  Moving from adolescence to adulthood can be pretty painful.  It’s not all fun and entertainment; I’ll admit that.  But I wonder, almost every day, as a parent, if I’m doing enough to help my child build some of those muscles, acquire some of that scar tissue on her soul, so that by the time she’s 22 and looking for her first apartment with friends and buying dishes at the resale shop – so that by then, she’ll walk nervously and hopefully into the next part of her life.

We’ll see.

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Feeling their oats

On a regular basis I get to be a part of the world of fifth grade girls, which is pretty terrific and always interesting.  Many of these girls I’ve known since kindergarten and it’s a joy to watch them grow up and grow into themselves, even as they reflect pieces of their parents.

I’ve noticed lately that many are beginning to feel their oats, to sashay about as they realize their powers and gifts.  Some are smart, some are athletic, some are quiet, some are thoughtful, some are goofy, some are kind.  Some are artists and some are writers and some are coders. Some see others as cute, and others see them as cute, in the I-want-to-go-out-with-you (but-I-don’t-know-what-that-means) sort of way.

Most of them still have one foot in childhood and one foot in adolescence  Some are further along that road than others, and feel that mortal peril of being the first one with unwanted pimples, hair that just shouldn’t be where it is, body odor, and the mother of all embarrassements, the dreaded period.

They’re figuring out what is injustice and what is simply carelessness. They’re learning about politics too – when I was in fifth grade, Nixon resigned. Now they watch and learn during the Trump administration.  They experience disappointment and happiness as they lose and they win.  They also face boredom, and the consequence of saying to a parent, “I’m bored.  There’s nothing to do.”

Like a Virginia Reel, they weave in and out of old and new friendships.  I’m never quite sure who is whose best friend at any given moment, and that does seem to change on a weekly basis.  They text now, and Skype, and email.  They never talk on the phone with each other, which was a hallmark of my early adolescence.  Nor do they carry tv show themed lunchboxes.  They’d rather die than do that.

I’m the mother of one of those girls, and most of the time I feel like my job is to encourage the good that is there and not to mess it up.  And as much as my daughter and her friends are learning what it is to grow up and to become tweens, I as a parent learn everyday too. When do I react to the drama and when do I let it be?  When do I console, and when do I offer another view?  The last thing I want to be is a helicopter parent, but oh, the temptation is there!

I think J. K. Rowling knew what she was doing when she had kids start Hogwarts at age 11.  Those kids were beginning to realize their magical powers, and needed guidance and education.  I feel that way about these girls because, yes, they are powerful.  They can’t even imagine yet what gifts they have.  They’re beginning to learn about the choice to use their power for good or for harm, not with wands, but with words and deeds.

I imagine sometimes what they’ll be like in high school or even in college, and I don’t get too far because nothing is set in stone yet.  Or ever, really.  Who they are becoming today may not be who they end up as.  But what a dance.  What a journey.  What precious, precocious, powerful human beings they are.

Rock on, girls.  You’ve got this.IMG_0487

 

Mary & Me

img_9952Mary is making the rounds again this Advent, and as per usual, I’m not entirely sure what to do with her.

Is she the model of female submission?  The victim of unwanted impregnation?  Is she too young to marry and bear a child, or just the right age for her time and place?  Is she quiet and shy, head bent down, eyes gazing at the floor?

Or is she a warrior, a Rosie-the-Riveter, the woman who not only said yes but also said let’s topple the patriarchy?  Is she the one who turned surprising news into a power play?

Is she the faithful servant?  Is she a good-enough mother?

Oy, Mary.  Oy.

True confession: in the first few weeks after I gave birth, I found myself praying to Mary.  I was pretty sure that God the Father and God the Son and that merry, floating, fire-y Holy Spirit could not begin to understand hemorrhoids, c-section scars, engorged breasts, and the complete feeling of inadequacy and terror, even with all the Godhead had learned during the Incarnation.  So I sent a few up to the BVM.  Because she knew.  She had been there, and on a donkey, no less, in some small, non-private smelly place with animals, away from family, donut cushions, and Tylenol.

This week in worship our choir is presenting five songs about Mary and while I’m off the hook for a sermon, I do find myself wondering about Mary again.  The Magnificat could be posted on Pantsuit Nation and get 10,000 likes.  The role of women in Christianity could be looked at anew – are we simply to say yes to the church, yes that’s our role in the kitchen and the nursery, yes we’ll let the men do all the heavy lifting of teaching and preaching?  Or do we look to Mary and say, hey, we’re called to topple thrones and send the rich away hungry?  We’ll be in the kitchen and the pulpit, thank you very much.

Mary fades from the story as it goes on; it is Jesus’ story, after all.  Maybe the tune of the Magnificat faded too, and people forgot the melody.  Maybe we lost sight of what a revolutionary Mary was.  Maybe we need to reclaim that, for the church, for Pantsuit Nation, for our daughters, for our sons.  For our world.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

May it be so.  Amen.

 

Bleak Midwinter

rainIt rains so much in the Pacific Northwest. Although our little family usually doesn’t put up any Christmas decorations until the first or second week in December, this year has been so rainy and so dark we decided to hang the outdoor lights on the day after Thanksgiving.

There are those years when “In the Bleak Midwinter” is my favorite Christmas carol, that or “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”  This year the bleakness wins, and it’s not just the weather.

We’ve lost some dear saints in the congregation this year. I look out in the pews on Sunday morning and I see their spouses and their children and their friends sitting there without them, and melancholy descends.  It’s their first season without this person who brought light or warmth or laughter or kindness to their life.

Then there is the bruising left over from the election season, and the uptick in hate crimes since November 8.  There’s Syria, and refugees, and poverty that never, ever abates for some people.  There is the reality of aging parents.  On some days if feels as though Yeats was terribly prescient: the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy has been loosed upon the world.  I too am slouching towards Bethlehem.

If my sweet little family’s Christmastide celebrations began on December 24 and ended on the 26th, I would be happy.  But my daughter loves Christmas.  It’s her favorite holiday, and it has nothing to do with Santa or presents.  There’s nothing she really wants for Christmas – except to be with family, which is hard with two clergy parents.

When I ask her why she loves Christmas, this is what she says.  “Everyone is so joyful, and everything is so pretty and decorated.  There are so many lights, and people sing.”

I’m not sure where she picked this up as I’m usually a bit crabby during Christmas, failing miserably at being mom, spouse, and pastor all at once.  She sees through that, or around it or beyond it.  She sees the big picture: we celebrate Light coming into the world.

So perhaps this month, as the rains pour down and it’s hard to tell if the sun has risen yet; this month, as the news tells more terrible stories, and people tell stories of grief and fear; this month, as I once more fail at being a cheerful pastor/mom:

I will look to my daughter, so happy for this season.  I will look at her with hope for the joy she will carry into this month and the years that lie ahead.  I will look to her with a gratitude that goes beyond words, gratitude for her presence and her life.  I will look to her so that she can show me the way, even through the bleak midwinter.

For a little child shall lead them.

For my girl

june-032You were who you were from the beginning
Tickling me in the womb,
Reluctant about change when it was time to be born.

But there you were.  Pink and whole and glorious and terrifying.

Now I think of you in blues and browns
And gray, your favorite color
(which I hope does not mean you’re depressed, merely independent)

Ten is turning out to be a delightful age, and I thank you for
those conversations we have as you learn to hold your own with your rather verbal parents;
for those questions you ask, like do I remember the places I was when really sad things happened like 9/11 and Sandy Hook

Watching you navigate the undulating landscape of approaching tweendom
(God help us all, literally)
And seriously, your vocabulary.  When did you learn all those words?

Your kindness to younger children
Your age-appropriate demand for fairness
Your unselfconscious beauty

Your sweetness and your sass
Your bad moods and the eye rolls you seem to have perfected
Your yearning that all your family lived nearby

Your wish that we could go away for Christmas
And that your parents had weekends off like normal parents

We’re doing all we can to help you dig those roots and sprout those wings
And as it turns out, all we really need to do is stand out of the way.

Go! Stay! Fly! Dig deep!

Words are so inadequate for love.

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My sainted grandmother

(Note: I think these next seven days are going to be a bit brutal, and the news and social media will not present our better angels.  So for these next seven days, I’ll write posts about something I find beautiful or happy or warm.  Just in case you need a brief respite from the election.)

family-pix-002In some ways, anyone who knew my grandmother would not immediately say she was a saint, not in the traditional “sweetness, goodness, and light” sort of way.  She caught my grandfather’s eye while dancing on a table at the local tavern, or so the story goes.  They married in 1925 and were married until, sixty-three years later, my grandfather died in his sleep in the bed they shared.

This is one of my favorite memories about Mary Hansler.

Every summer we would visit my grandparents in Washington State, and coming from New Jersey, and then Texas, that was a big deal.  It was a big deal for them, too.  We might spend a night at their home in Tacoma, but the real goal was to get to the Ranch, the property they bought in the early 1940’s outside Mt. Rainier National Park.

We’d get up to that mountain air and know we weren’t home.  It smelled of fir trees and mint and we needed jackets to go outside; without television, the most constant sound was the creek babbling near by.  Other family members might come up while we were there, and the siblings and cousins would take turn washing all those dishes by hand.

But the real winner of the whole deal was breakfast.  My grandmother loved to fish, more than anything else in the whole world.  She would get up before dawn, grab her pole and reel, and head to the creek.  While she was gone, Grandpa would light the wood stove and start the percolator.  Grandma would come home, clean the trout, make biscuit batter.  If one of the kids was up, they’d be sent out to the raspberry patch to pick berries.

Then she’d dredge those rainbow trout in flour and lemon pepper and set the big cast iron pan on the stove, and put a slab of butter in it.  Down went the trout, so fresh they’d curl up as they cooked.  Biscuits went in the oven. Juice and milk and cream and sugar and homemade blackberry jelly went on the table.

img_9609And then we ate. We stuffed ourselves silly, to get ready for a day of moving rocks in the creek and hiking up Mt. Osborn and washing dishes by hand.  Grandma sat at the head of the table, her little brown tea pot next to her, her eyes twinkling, her cheeks perpetually rosy.  She could be sharp sometimes, but I think nothing gave her more joy than seeing her family, some of whom lived too far away, gathered at that table devouring the feast she made possible.

So on this All Saints day, I say a prayer of thanks for all  my grandparents, whose love formed my parents and in turn me. And I say a prayer of thanks for rainbow trout, and raspberries and blackberries, and butter, and biscuits, and family.

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