Monday, July 13, 2009

by KSS, part 2

7. Last question: What would you like to say? What do we need to hear?

JTB wrote recently that she went to China and became a feminist. I feel like I went to ACU and became a bitch. I don’t say that out loud (okay, maybe twice), but it’s what I think. I hope you’ll stay with me to see what I mean. Everyone who knew me as a kid and as a teenager will tell you that I am a sweet, quiet girl. People who know me now will tell you that I’m opinionated and some will even say I have a “strong personality.”

Have you heard of the six word memoirs? I wrote one. Here it is:

Didn’t know I had a voice.

The very first turning point for me didn’t happen in church. I was driving (so I was about 17) down 34th listening to FM90 and “Silent All These Years” by Tori Amos came on. I was overcome, it was an epiphany for me.

I’m a word girl. I’ve always loved stories. I love listening to them, I love reading them, I love telling them. If you look at my flair board on my facebook page, you’ll see things like, “Because pointless stories are my thing” and “People who don’t know me think I’m quiet, people who do wish I was.” You’ll also see comments from my friends laughing about how true those statements are.

I had always been full of words, but they were getting blocked up in my throat. I didn’t have a voice to speak my words.

It would be almost 10 years between “Silent All These Years” and my last pissed Sunday, with ACU being pretty much right in the middle. It was a LONG road.

Two things happened while I was at ACU, and these two stories are the part where I’m not reluctant. These are the stories that I love and that have carried me through from a time of questions to a time of answers.

I was taking an outrageous load to finish up my requirements since I couldn’t afford to stay in school any longer. Because it was the end of the degree, the classes were upper-level, small and intense.

I had to do a guided study for one class, because that was the only way I could fit everything in. I would meet one-on-one with the professor and discuss the reading material. One book was about learning styles. He asked me what I thought, and I said, “I think the author is this type, and I think her husband is this other type, and I don’t think she values his type very much.” It seemed like an obvious observation to me. The professor’s jaw dropped. He said, “I can’t believe you picked up on that. I know this couple personally, and they’ve had conflict in their marriage over that.” I didn’t think it was a big deal at the time. I felt a sort of pleased satisfaction about it, like guessing the outcome of a movie before the end. I didn’t think too much about it then, but I’ve thought a lot about it since. It has turned out to be a major turning point for me. I see young people who don’t know what they’re good at. They take “spiritual gifts quizzes” to find out. This experience was one thing that helped me see what I’m good at. Once I had this experience, I wasn’t able to be still and quiet, hiding behind the “not knowing.” Still and quiet seems humble, and confident seems bitchy.

I had the same professor for another small, upper-level ministry majors class, about 10-12 students. I was the only girl. We were talking about a hypothetical case-study. It was some situation about a congregation having a church-splitting conflict over something to do with building a kitchen and a fellowship room and something about a parking lot. There was one woman in the example who was especially problematic. I wish I could remember the whole thing better, but anyway. Everyone in the class discussed possibilities for why the people in the story felt the way they did and what might be done to resolve the conflict. I sat there and listened to what all was being said and racked my brain for what might be this woman’s problem. I thought, “What have we learned from all these classes we’ve been taking? They keep talking to us in counseling classes and family systems classes about how the presenting issue usually isn’t the true underlying issue. After awhile, I spoke up and said, “I don’t think the parking lot is really this woman’s problem, I think what she’s really having a problem with is…” I don’t remember now what I said, but I just threw my ideas out there. The professor spoke after me. He said, “Guys, I just want to stop here for a minute and tell you that this is what you’re missing when you exclude women from your elders’ meetings and your staff meetings. Women offer insights that you won’t get without them.” They kind of nodded, and we continued. But for me, in that moment between the professor’s words and the class continuing, I felt like the sky opened up and a light flooded over me that allowed me to see my value for the first time. The hand that had been covering my mouth my whole life let go at ACU. Ever since that moment, I’ve always had the feeling that once I experienced that kind of validation, I cannot go back to trying to tell myself that for some, unknown reason I am supposed to not speak.

How does one revisit ACU, knowing that women aren’t allowed to speak publically during chapel unless a statement is made, prior to her speaking, that chapel is technically over? How does one revisit ACU knowing they’re sending ministry majors to churches where they know women aren’t allowed to teach boys who’ve been baptized? This place where the goal is to train students for Christian leadership throughout the world (except for women in ministry). This place where women are expected to become corporate CEOs but not church leaders. I’ll tell you. One revisits it feeling like a bitch. Like an ungrateful, traitor who received a world-class education only to turn around and leave it. One does it with fear and grief. Fear of being rebuked, fear of being found out. With grief that this place, these people, these halls and rooms, helped give me something valuable that I’m doing nothing to reciprocate.

If you’ve stayed with me this far, then you know from my response to questions 3 & 4, that I have found a home with peace and relief. It is a house of inclusion. If I’m going to say anything, I want it to be that. But this is a conversation about where we’ve come from. And in that conversation I have to tell a story about living in a house of silence.


TKP said...

Wowwowowow. I like what you said about how confidence seems bitchy.

I'm grateful you've found a church home where your gifts can be freely used and appreciated.

Carolyn said...

I love this. Also love Tori Amos (and, coincidentally, I think her father may be a CofC preacher, though don't quote me on that).

I'm glad you have found a peaceful place to worship, but sad that the CofC drove you away. I'm not sure how much longer I can hold out in the CofC if things do not change. I have similar thoughts about ACU. Thank you again for your powerful words.

Carolyn said...

I should have googled before I posted. Amos's father is a Methodist preacher, not CofC. That was going to bring a lot more meaning to "Silent All these Years" for me!

Keith Brenton said...

About ten years ago, my wife Angi addressed the chapel audience at ACU ... she was then the Dean of the Graduate School. I don't remember anyone announcing that chapel was over before she spoke. I don't remember anyone gasping when she confessed that her brother was gay and died from AIDS. I do remember how very proud of her I was, because I still am. I do remember how sad I was that such presentations were so rare, and perhaps they still are.

I love to listen to Randy Harris, but I still cringe when he relates the story about one of his biblical studies grad students who really, really, really wants to preach and then caps it off with the punch line, "...and I think that's going to be a challenge for her."

One of my fondest memories of Abilene is of attending a Church of Christ where an ACU prof and her husband baptized their teenager together.

I don't live there anymore. I work at my church, and you just don't do things like that there. You don't hear women speak there if you're a man, unless you're lucky like me and get to run the powerpoint when Rhonda Lowry is a guest speaker for a women's session.

So, from time to time after church on a Sunday morning, I will sneak home to my radio (or tune it while driving in my car) to hear the new pastor for the Methodist church, who replaced the previous pastor about a year ago after having a difficult delivery of twins in her forties.

I like the new pastor, too.

She's getting really good.

Unknown said...

I can really relate to your experience. I too left the CoC, women's inequality only one of many reasons. It was a difficult decision considering so much of my identity was associated was associated with "the church." I'm looking forward to reading more about your journey.

Kester Smith... said...

Your six word memoir made me sit in my living room and weep. As the older brother of three amazing sisters, this is as much a part of why I left the Church of Christ as anything. I watch my wife (and co-pastor of Immanuel) and try to imagine her as simply "the preacher's wife." Didn't know I had a voice? Shame on us. God have mercy.