Thursday, December 26, 2013

I Am Malala

I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

What an inspiring young woman! With assistance from writer Christina Lamb, Malala Yousafzai tells her story...beginning from when she was born. In her village in the Swat valley, people rejoice when a son is born, but not a daughter. However, her father was immediately delighted to have a daughter. Reading Malala's story, it's clear how tremendously lucky she was to be blessed with such a father. Fathers have incredible power in traditional, religiously conservative countries such as Pakistan. “Our men think earning money and ordering around others is where power lies," wrote Malala. "They don't think power is in the hands of the woman who takes care of everyone all day long, and gives birth to their children.” Because of her wise, brave father's belief in women's and girls' potential, Malala was able to pursue her dreams of education. He dedicated his life to educating girls by starting his own school:

“His sisters--my aunts--did not go to school at all, just like millions of girls in my country. Education had been a great gift for him. He believed that lack of education was the root of all of Pakistan's problems. Ignorance allowed politicians to fool people and bad administrators to be re-elected. He believed schooling should be available for all, rich and poor, boys and girls. The school that my father dreamed of would have desks and a library, computers, bright posters on the walls and, most important, washrooms.” 

Throughout her life, Malala has been an ambitious, competitive, and passionate young woman. She emulated former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, another strong Pakistani woman who bravely faced her opponents to fight for what she believed in. She has been supported along the way by both her father and mother.

Sadly, it's hard to say whether Malala will ever be able to return to Pakistan. It's not safe for her there, and many condemn her speaking out against the Taliban.

As I was reading this book, I was explaining it to my younger sons, aged 7 and 10. I wanted them to understand how lucky they are to have a good education. My 7-year-old, in particular, is highly interested in the plight of Malala and wants to know why she can't return to Pakistan and why the Taliban fights violently against women's rights to be educated.

I highly recommend this story of a phenomenal young woman, and I admire her passion and commitment to stand up for girls' education in her homeland.

Monday, December 16, 2013

In the Woods

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad, #1)In the Woods, by Tana French

I've seen this book around for awhile, and I had a copy of it on my bookshelves that I finally decided to read. It's the story of Rob Ryan, victim of a crime 20 years before and now a murder detective himself. He's on a case in which a young girl is murdered in the same area where his two best friends vanished when he was a child.

My favorite character is Ryan's partner, Cassie Maddow, a tough, tender detective with secrets of her own.

I would describe this book as a literary thriller/detective novel. It took me a bit of time to finish it, but I enjoyed it. After I closed the last page, I looked up the rest of the series. French chooses a different main character to profile in each book, all based in Ireland (the "Dublin Murder Squad"). The next book will focus mostly on Cassie herself. I'm not sure whether Rob ever returns to the plot...but I will be reading more of the series!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith

Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, edited by Erin Lane and Enuma Okoro 

I discovered this book when Nadia Bolz-Weber (author of Pastrix) recommended it on her Facebook page. It's a collection of essays by female Christian leaders under the age of 40 (it's part of a series by young female spiritual leaders). The title immediately caught my attention. These women, many pastors and teachers, share their thoughts on a variety of topics that have been off limits in Christianity. 

Some of the essays by more conservative women wrestle with the teachings of men as the head of the household, women speaking in church or preaching, women as professionals, the decision to live with a partner before marriage, leaving an abusive marriage and being cast out by her church, choosing not to follow in parents' footsteps as a Christian missionary caring for the poor, choosing celibacy, being called to work with refugees, tattoos, freedom without makeup, recovery, dealing with dissatisfaction in one’s marriage, etc. Many of these are even greater taboo topics in conservative Christian circles. We all have our own taboos.

The following essays struck particular notes with me:

"The Gatherer-God: On Motherhood and Prayer," by Micha Boyett…who struggled to find time to pray with young children. She has found that her most contemplative time is when her mind is fuzzy and she has no book before her…when she was breastfeeding, for example. She takes her cue from Christ’s own mother, who twice is described as “pondering” at the work of God in her son. “Why else would such a prayer be mentioned in the Gospels unless to call us to such deep work?”

"Naughty by Nature, Hopeful by Grace," by Enuma Okoro, who confesses that she develops a crush on a close male friend, but through talking to her friends and wrestling with the issue, she comes to peace with it and finds a way to move on without disrupting their friendship (or his marriage). “I am beginning to realize how little the churches of which I have been a part have taught me about the beauty of boundaries and the reality of fine lines.” I admired Okoro's honesty on such a difficult topic.

"Married by Children," by Erin Lane. The author grapples with the decision not to have children, and how unusual that is in the church. We tend to be heavily focused on family and children in our churches.

"High Stakes Whack-a-Mole: Noticing and Naming Sexism in the Church," by Lara Blackwood Pickrel. Pickrel writes about being treated as “less than” as a woman, having comments directed about her appearance because she’s a woman, and being told she’s too sensitive when she notices sexism. That last one is a particularly strong pet peeve of mine!

"Crafting Bonds of Blood," by Patience Perry. The author writes about reclaiming the menstrual and labor rituals and our sensuality. Perry writes, "Imagine if ALL women were validated for their potential to create life as evident in their monthly cycle…I am seeking ways that we can strengthen and reinvigorate women through the common bonds of blood…I’d like to see our society embrace women’s rituals and reconcile our disconnection with creation.” Have you ever heard menstruation or women's reproductive organs mentioned in church?

"The God of Shit Times," by Rachel Marie Stone. This was definitely my favorite title. Stone reclaims the power of profanity after being raised in a family where Christian "ladies" don't swear. When Stone's friend was in cancer treatment, she acknowledged that profanity had a purpose: “In the midst of my frigid and tedious winter, I needed some good profanity to adequately describe how much it all sucked. Sometimes an f-bomb is the exact, right word.” After seeing several close friends through deep, dark times and experiencing them myself, I can relate. Our God is a God of shit times.

"Naming God for Ourselves Amidst Pain and Patriarchy," by Rahiel Tesfamarian. The author changed her imagery of God through her divinity studies. Tesfamarian writes, "The image of my Maker as a ‘soft, still voice’ or ‘gentle whisper’ found in 1 Kings 19 was comforting and reassuring…I have done the hard work of unpacking God for myself. But that responsibility should not fall solely on me as an individual. The church also has a lot of work to do. Will more churches rise to this occasion, commit to being cutting-edge on matters of gender equality, and go where women of faith dare to take them? IS the church ready for a generation of women who are determined to define God on their own terms?” I went through a similar journey myself when I studied feminist theology in college and discovered that God was so much bigger than one gender alone.

“The Silence Behind the Din: Domestic Violence and Homosexuality," by Rev. Sarah C. Jobe. As a chaplain who works with victims of sexual abuse, Jobe reflects that the church does not address sexual assault or domestic violence, even though 30 percent of women are victims. Instead the church condemns homosexuality while ignoring sexual assault and domestic violence. She raises the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the fact that instead of addressing the issue of rape in the story, this story is used as a weapon against homosexuality. “Will we continue to read the Scriptures according to our taboos around homosexuality and domestic violence, accepting interpretations that maximize violence?”

"No Women Need Apply," by Gina Messina-Dysert. This essay is about the war on women being waged by the Catholic church. Messina-Dysert finds a way to identify as Catholic by realizing she is her own agent and will not allow anyone to tell her what her religious status is based on her refusal to accept discrimination. She is also raising a daughter who will fight for women’s ordination in the Catholic church. This essay is important to me because I am married to a Catholic and belong to a Lutheran-Catholic community. 

"The Pastor Has Breasts," by Rebecca Clark. Clark writes about pregnancy, body awareness, sexuality, and breastfeeding in a highly public environment that is church. This essay made me think about what the unique journey female pastors must take and how the standards can be very different for them. When I was breastfeeding my children, I did so in church during worship. I'm grateful no one ever questioned this. As a pastor, I no doubt would have been under a microscope and judged for doing this.

"Created for Pleasure," by Kate Ott. Ott became aware of masturbation as a blessing from God. She notes her "aha moment" of learning in a seminary sexual ethics class that the clitoris is the only body part created solely through pleasure. She asks, ”What would the world look like if every girl and woman knew exactly how her body worked? If it was respected and her enjoyment of sexual behaviors was as important as that of her partner…that would be the world God intended…God created us to experience pleasure for the sake of knowing and loving ourselves better, so that we can know and love others better, including God.” What a wonderful way to look at our bodies and sexuality...and a wake-up call for the church.

"Flesh and Blood," by Ashley-Anne Masters. As a chaplain caring for women who have experienced pregnancy loss, Masters writes about pregnancy loss not being openly addressed in the church. She also writes about her own loss conducting a baptism right after experiencing her own miscarriage and how she shared her own grief with strangers. I received some support from church friends when I experienced several miscarriages, but it wasn't something I felt comfortable talking about. 

"What Do Cinderella, Lilies, and the Cross Have in Common," by Carol Howard Merritt. Merritt had to ask for a salary raise at her first church and experienced condescension from church members about her husband being the stay-at-home dad. Money, especially needing to ask for it, is a huge taboo topic for pastors...especially female ones.

"My Secret Buddhist Life," by Mary Allison Cates. After Cates was told she didn't look like a minister, she rediscovered her body through yoga and nose piercing. She also wrote about how she is feeling more comfortable with her female pastor body now that she is older and her body attracts less attention.

I liked the wide variety of perspectives in this collection, and this book made me long to sit around a dinner table with all these women and get to hear their stories personally.