Thursday, April 02, 2009

A rebel without a clue

Here's another excerpt from Un-American Activities: Countercultural Themes in Christianity. It's kind of a response to The Wounded Image of God at A Mending Shift.

"Rebellion permeates all aspects of human life. It originates from the subconscious will of mankind not to surrender to destructive forces. But rebelling is not the same as defining a cause that would improve the quality of human life, or formulating a constructive program of action. Marching in a parade is easier than blazing a trail through a forest or creating a new Jerusalem. Daumier’s hero looks like many rebels in our midst. He is fighting against evil rather than for a well-defined cause. Like most of us, he is a rebel without a program." - So Human an Animal by RenĂ© Dubos

I've always had a rebellious nature. I don't think it's riotous or boisterous; it's more driven and determined. My primary cause has been feminism. My earliest memory of this rebellion was at some extended family gathering, probably Thanksgiving or Christmas. At the end of the meal, I noticed the women go into the kitchen and the men go to the living room. That didn't seem right to me, so I announced that I was not going to the help in the kitchen, I'd hang out with the guys instead. And as I've heard my mother say to me on many occasions, "where do you get these ideas?"

Well, she's not completely blameless. Even though she did a majority of the domestic chores and actually claimed to enjoy cleaning – "it's therapeutic," she says - my mom also balanced being a stay-at-home mom with a part-time nursing career (working the late shift). She was on the cutting edge of childbirth education, bringing couples into our home for Lamaze training when other facilities were unavailable or more likely unwilling to support this radical new approach to childbirth.

My feminist rebellion energized me to excel academically. It drove me into the male-dominated field of computer science. It pushed me up the corporate ladder. It alienated me from religion. Sue Monk Kidd in The Dance of the Dissident Daughter gives a very good description of what this alienation feels like:
"A girl, forming her identity also experiences herself missing from pronouns in scripture, hymns, and prayers. And most of all, as long as God 'himself' is exclusively male, she will experience the otherness, the lessness, of herself; all the pious talk in the world about females being equal to males will fail to compute in the deeper places inside her."

For several years, I was humming along quite nicely in my feminist cause, but then I had a child, left corporate America, turned 40 and had a huge identity crisis. I had done well in a man's world, but now I found myself in the world of motherhood. How was I supposed to excel at something I had no training for? What was happening to my feminist agenda? I thought I was helping to pave the way for the women after me to be treated as equals, but instead I was just playing by the rules of corporate America and they no longer seemed adequate for my life. I felt like a rebel without a clue. I needed to redefine the rules for living my life.

First, I tried finding balance. I searched for the magical formula that would give me just the right balance between family-life, career-life, community-life, volunteer-life and church-life. It felt like a juggling act and when I would get too much of one and not enough of the others, I started feeling out of control and unbalanced. I would lose track of some of the balls. I would have to regroup and try to figure out the formula again. Usually the new formula worked for a time, it was fresh and it was fun and exhilarating! But I would end up in a cycle of trying to arrange the balls just so, putting them up in the air, and juggling them for a while until I started to lose some of them. This strategy for living wasn't working either.

Then I heard an interview on NPR with a soldier in Iraq. He said he had to compartmentalize his soldier-life and his home-life. He gave an example of a cell phone conversation with his wife: she's talking about her "bad" day with the kids and he's thinking about his "bad" day cleaning up dead bodies. Compartmentalization was necessary for him to focus on the task at hand or he might get shot. But the cost is high as it wreaks havoc on relationships because the whole person is never completely present.

It struck me that this is what I've been doing. I hadn't been thinking of it as compartmentalization, but as I was performing my juggling act, I was really assigning out pieces of myself to get the tasks done. When I was working on one task, another part of me was usually occupied with lists that need to be completed for other tasks. I was rarely wholly involved with the task or relationship or situation at hand.

My new cause is wholeness. "There is nothing more important than being fully where we are, in the plain ordinary events, day in and day out. I think women understand that we create change as we live out the experiences of our souls in the common acts of life." Where I used to be like Martha, worried and distracted, I am trying to be more like Mary, taking time to learn about Jesus.

I find my new cause still has room for the frustration I feel toward gender issues found in many religious institutions. Instead of fighting against the male/female stereotypes that have kept me from moving forward in my faith, I feel that God wants me to walk humbly through these human failures and acknowledge them. I believe that God can reorient the whole world from one of inequality to one of equality and I believe God wants you and me to help.

No comments: