Christians: Quit being the boycotting beast

I was intrigued recently as I scrolled through my Facebook news-feed. Christians were calling for a boycott of the new Beauty and the Beast film, featuring Disney’s first openly gay character. When I investigated further, it was more than a mere individual boycott. Entire theatres, such as this one in Alabama, were refusing to show the film at all. Of course, I believe everyone has the right to decide what they want to watch or not watch, but I couldn’t help but wonder: why this movie?

From what I can tell, the boycott argument is that individuals, theatres, or others, do not want to support the gay lifestyle. Okay. So, going to see a film that happens to include a gay character means supporting homosexuality? If we follow that logic through, then wouldn’t watching a violent movie support violence? Wouldn’t watching a movie with premarital or extramarital sex support promiscuity and infidelity? Wouldn’t watching a movie with abuse promote abuse? If the primary concern is what watching a movie will support, then perhaps the choice should be made to abstain from watching movies altogether.

Alternately, perhaps the outrage is not just that a movie contains a gay character, but that a Disney movie has a gay character. Disney is supposed to support wholesome family values. They’re supposed to make movies that are ‘safe’ for our children to watch. Really? If you take a critical look at the movies Disney has produced over time, you’ll see among the cute kids and fluffy animals: witchcraft, violence, war, sexual abuse (or, at the very least, unwelcome sexual advances), theft, and manipulation. Again, it does not seem that Disney is behaving inconsistently. They are creating films that people will relate to, because it makes money. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: society is not Christian and it is not society’s responsibility to create media or other paraphernalia that corresponds with Christian values.

The point is not to cocoon ourselves in a blanket of do’s and don’ts in an attempt to shut out the advancing bogeyman representing our worst fears about society going to hell in a hand-basket. Watching a movie with a gay character isn’t going to corrupt us. A more realistic approach is to realize that there are myriad of influences pushing and pulling us each day, not just one film. We need to engage and think critically about all that we are consuming.

In my mind, the inconsistency in logic of reactions to the film point to the deeper issue of a fear-based and judgmental response towards those who identify as homosexuals (never mind those who identify as transgender, queer, or something else). Christians seem to feel threatened by what they do not understand, and by what seems to challenge their deeply held value system.

The reactions also reflect the fear Christians in the West seem to have over loss of influence. They are no longer at the center of society and decision-making. Their power is marginalized and sidelined. As some have said, we live in a post-Christian world.

Fear leads us into action, yes, but it is subjective, illogical, tight-fisted, and often hurtful. Boycotts confirm what many outside the church already think of us: we are narrow-minded, irrational, prejudiced and arrogant. Boycotts make us look like the real beast. This repels people and goes against what most of us want more deeply than we feel fear: for people to know Jesus for themselves.

Instead of responding with boycotts, why not take a fresh look at how the early church operated? They, too, were a minority group in a society that did not share their values. Instead of lashing out, they sought God in prayer and relied on the power of the Holy Spirit. They proclaimed the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection in word and action, were persecuted, and saw incredible growth. Maybe today that means we go see the film. Maybe it means we bake cookies for our gay friends who experience harassment and discrimination because of who they believe themselves to be. We hear their stories. We love them. Because love isn’t predicated on agreement with someone’s lifestyle or choices. After all, God loved and loves us like that. Let’s stop acting like the beast, and show the world the true beauty of the gospel.

My Top 5 Books in 2016

 

For as long as I can remember, and even before that, I’ve loved to read. The librarian’s blank look when she told me she had run out of books to recommend is still vivid in my mind. I don’t read as much as I used to, but I did manage to leaf through a few gems in 2016. Here are my top 5 reads.top5in2016

Rising Strong – Brene Brown

Out of the corner of my eye, in the middle of a coffee shop at an all-inclusive Mexican resort, I spotted Rising Strong amidst the unappealing fiction novels. I opened it to find it was a signed copy! I couldn’t believe it! This book came at just the right time for me. I’ve thought for some time that Brene Brown makes emotions accessible for INTJ’s like me, and this was no exception. Following on from her previous bestsellers, The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, this one focuses on what you do once you’ve been vulnerable and it’s gotten messy. Developing emotional awareness, getting curious about the findings, being honest about the stories we tell ourselves, and moving into action, these seem like simple things, but they’re actually quite revolutionary. This woman is pure gold. Check out her stuff! (If you’re skeptical, let her TED talks convince you first.)

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women – Naomi Wolf

Written in 1991, I still found this book prophetic in 2016. “The beauty myth tells a story: The quality called ‘beauty’ objectively and universally exists. Women must want to embody it and men must want to possess women who embody it. This embodiment is an imperative for women and not for men…it is biological, sexual, and evolutionary…this system is based on sexual selection…it is inevitable and changeless” (p.12). Exploring the myth caused me to question the status quo and gave me a new lens through which to see the world. If you’re interested in the politics of beauty, or you just like to be challenged, this is a great read.

Writing to Change the World: An Inspiring Guide for Transforming the World with Words – Mary Pipher

Every time I picked up this book, I got excited about writing. Every. Time. Pipher is encouraging and instructive, sharing pieces of her own story as she enables you to share yours more effectively. She helped me along the path to discovering my voice and passion to say what only I can say. I’d never read a book on writing before, and I’m glad this was my first one.

The Stream Runs Fast: My Own Story – Nellie McClungimg_8267

I’d been on a bit of a suffragette binge since watching the British film of the same name, and getting photos with the ‘famous five’ statues in Ottawa earlier this year. So, getting to read some of Nellie McClung’s story, a suffragette from my home province of Manitoba? Yes, please! I had no idea this woman was so incredibly accomplished. Not only did she write numerous books and speak around the country, she was a politician, and raised a family. All in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Amazing. The thing that impressed me most about McClung was her grace and poise in dealing with those who disagreed with her and tried to destroy her efforts for equality. An example to me, and all of us advocating for one thing or another. Definitely worth the read.

Infidel – Ayaan Hirsi Ali

At first I was just highly intrigued to read about a life utterly different from my own. Ali was born in Somalia, and also spent time in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. Her stories shed light on a worldview and perspective foreign to me, and helped me see my ‘glasses’ – my way of seeing things – more clearly. I was captivated by her story of escaping an arranged marriage by fleeing to Europe. I was shocked with the civil war in Somalia. But I think what struck me most was her critique of Islam and how the Western world too easily embraces it with an eye on tolerance. I’ve heard many arguments against Islam from other religions, but a Muslim? That was new to me. If you want to know more, read her book.

 

So there you have it. My top 5 books of 2016. Are you rushing to Amazon to order them yet? 🙂

Do you have any book recommendations? I’m always adding to my list!

Taking Off Our Glasses: A Leadership Lesson

I’ve worn glasses for a long time. I think I got my first pair when I was three, or at the latest, five. I’ve worn them for so long that I often forget I’m wearing them.

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I suffered from depression for six years. Everything felt so dark and hopeless, like wearing a pair of sunglasses that could never come off. I couldn’t imagine that life could look any differently.

I think how we see and engage in leadership is not so different from these experiences. We become saturated in a single perspective and we cannot imagine it could look another way. We do not even realize we are wearing glasses. So, we continue thinking and operating with a narrow, anemic perspective, believing that’s all there is. Maybe we find mentors, read books, go to conferences, or take courses. Seemingly we are engaging in good things and becoming better leaders. But all of these things are the same colour as our glasses so that we are never challenged. If something different does manage to break in, the threat of the anomaly is quickly quenched. To reference Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a popular Nigerian author and speaker, there is great danger to a single story.

Most of what I have seen, read, and experienced regarding leadership is from a white, Western, male perspective. This is not a bad nor a wrong perspective, but if it becomes my only set of glasses, then it is incomplete. Some time ago I came across Next Leadership. It’s a UK-based organization founded by Kate Coleman. Not only is she a woman, but she was also born in Ghana, and has been a pioneer for women in leadership in a number of areas. Her book ‘the 7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership’ was the first book I ever read on leadership by a woman. For the first time in my life, I saw a different perspective on leadership, and discovered well articulated, unique challenges for women in leadership.

A number of months ago, I found another book on sale: ‘Dare Mighty Things: Mapping the Challenges of Leadership for Christian Women’ by Dr. Halee Gray Scott. This was my second book on leadership by a woman. Both Coleman and Scott recognize that from the outset, many women are disqualified for leadership based on their gender, especially as it relates to specific theologies among Christians. However, they write presuming (and presuming correctly) that women do have leadership gifts and are already leading in all kinds of arenas. Through these books, I began to see more of my glasses.

One particular aspect stuck out to me from Scott’s book. In her studies, she focused her thesis on perceptions of female leaders serving in para-church ministries. She discovered one of the unique challenges for women in para-church leadership (and likely in Christian leadership in general), was the discrepancy between how good women were perceived compared to how good leaders were perceived.

When women display the desirable leadership traits – confident, competent, assertive, and bold – they cease to be viewed as warm and caring and are instead perceived as tough, aggressive, and domineering. This creates a double bind, because if women act in ways consistent with gender stereotypes, they are not viewed as competent leaders, but if they act in ways consistent with good leaders, they are not liked. In political circles, these women are called ‘iron ladies’. (p.107)

Scott adds, “since perceptions of female leaders strongly correlate with perceptions of successful leaders, but greatly contrast with perceptions of women in general, it means that Christians view female leaders as exceptions to the rule” (p.115). From my own experience, her research results ring true. I’ve had to decide that I will use my gifts and pursue my calling regardless of how favourably people view me, as a woman or as a leader. More women than I can count have told me they could not do what I do. This could be true, since we are all given different gifts and abilities (1 Cor. 12). However, even those that could lead likely believe it is not possible. Scott concludes, “whether we like it or not, we do not think a woman can be both a good woman and a good leader” (p.107). We lose out on capable leaders because many women consider this price too high to pay, and choose instead to act in ways that will gain them social acceptability as a woman.

How can we move forward? The first step is to realize the danger of a single story about leadership, and have the courage to seek out other perspectives. Imagine you actually are wearing a pair of glasses, and that leadership can look differently than you may have believed until now. With your new and evolving viewpoint, challenge others to see beyond what’s right in front of them. Use whatever privilege you have to encourage people, especially women, to pursue leadership in ways that are unique to them. Whatever you do, refuse to let a single story dominate the leadership landscape.

When the Nameless Have Names

“It’s so hard to wait. All of us are waiting.” Razia* looked at me with her w14241621_10157380559890697_1156738265325242717_oeary brown eyes, not expecting me to do anything, but happy to speak English and share her story. She was one of many Afghans, Syrians, Iranians, and Iraqis I met this past week at refugee centres and camps in and around Athens. Most of them are waiting for their papers to move on and settle into another country.

Mustafa, his wife, and their two daughters, came to Athens some months ago from Afghanistan as well. He showed me photos and video of their journey on his phone. Afghanistan to Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and now Greece. I wondered how they were alive after seeing the cold, barren land they traveled through. “Our youngest daughter almost died from the cold on the way here, but we came so our children could have a better future.”

Ahmad and his family, from Iran, were volunteering at one of the care centres. “I have been to Canada to present at conferences. I have a PhD in meat science. Now, I’m a refugee.”

Pari*, holding nearly 2 year old Fatima, welcomed us into her small, white tent with a smiling face. She and her husband, Hassam*, had been staying there for the past seven months. I asked if they had family staying in the camp. She said they were all in Afghanistan. “Can they come visit you?” I asked. “No, it is impossible,” she replied, sadly. Then I heard why. Many marriages in Afghanistan are arranged by the parents, but they married for love. Pari comes from a rich family, and Hassam from a poor family. Hassam’s family didn’t agree with his choice, and were trying to kill him. They were still not completely safe, even in this camp thousands of miles away. When I asked if they would move on to another country, like most of the other families hope to do, Pari told me it was too expensive. What will their future be like, living in this tiny tent?

This is just a glimpse into the lives of many who have fled their homes because of political instability, terrorism, family threats, and a host of other reasons. Their lives are incredibly difficult, and their futures uncertain, but their past was enough for them to feel like they had no choice but to leave. I have no idea what that is like. I can’t wrap my mind around what they think, feel, and experience each day. I found myself wishing that I could escape. That I hadn’t even come. It was so much easier when they were ‘just’ nameless people on the news. I cried and I prayed. I asked God why. I still don’t have those answers, but I have experienced a small piece of God’s heart for the poor and oppressed.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – Psalm 46:1

Now, I’m on my way home, and although there’s a sense of relief, there’s also a twinge of guilt. I have a home. I realize the privilege I have that I can choose how much of the suffering in the world I want to see. I can turn off the news, but for Razia, Mustafa, Ahmad, Pari, and Hassam, it is their everyday life. I’m more connected now, but I fear I will easily forget them. Will you remember them with me?

 

*names changed

Be yourself, but exactly like this.

boxing-gloves-300x300Debra looked at me wistfully with a light in her eyes. I had just told her about my kickboxing hobby, so why the look of an unfulfilled longing? “I’ve wanted to box for a long time, but always thought it would make me less of a woman,” she said with a shrug of her hands.

Why would she say something like that? Sports are not inherently gendered. Somewhere along the way in her life, she must have internalized a message of what someone else thought it meant to be feminine. Maybe it was communicated by her family, friends, church, local community, broader society, or the media. Maybe it was all of these. Either way, a feminine box had been created where some things were clearly in, and others were clearly out.

Boxes in themselves are not necessarily threatening, but the consequences of non-compliance are enough to facilitate a community of cubic figures. Those who dare to transgress the sacred walls are shamed and shunned. The innate human desire to belong and to be loved easily overcomes the equally innate human desire for free self-expression. On one hand, society screams “Be Yourself!!” and on the other, it adds “but stay within these exact boundaries.” In Christian circles, it can be even worse, because compliance is connected to what is ‘biblical’, so salvation is on the line.

What are the results? People like Debra are robbed of their wholeness, and we are robbed of their beings and talents. Maybe she could have been a competitive boxer, but we’ll never know. It may not be sports, it could be anything – music, art, emotional expression, fashion – so much is defined by ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ boxes.

People like Debra need the freedom to be themselves. Boxes need to be challenged, and not just those related to gender. We need to value wholeness more than conformity, for the individual and the community. Our joy, and even our future, depends on it.

Reflecting on Leadership

Are you a reflective sort of person? Do you ever find yourself getting lost in thought? Or maybe not find yourself, just get lost? I know I do.

So, I thought, why not make something of all that reflection? I’ve had a lot of fun working together with the lovely folks at the Sophia Network in the UK to create a ‘Reflective Leadership Corner’. It’s a bi-monthly installment where I write short (400ish) word reflections on various aspects of leadership. Things that I’ve been thinking about and wrestling with recently. It’s real. It’s short. It’s practical. Why not check it out? http://blog.sophianetwork.org.uk/2016/06/re.html

Enjoy. Oh, grab some tea first, okay? 🙂

When you cannot see: The Power of Representation

“Well, when I was nine years old Star Trek came on. I looked at it, and I went screaming through the house, “Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!” I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.” – Whoopi Goldberg

The power of representation cannot be overstated. It is very difficult to be like or aspire to become someone that you have never heard about or even seen. What we see forms our reality. Although there will always be pioneers, it is a lot easier when you have an example to follow. Someone who has shown you what is possible. Here Ms. Goldberg talks about representation primarily in terms of race, but we can also think of it in terms of gender, religion, culture, personality, body type, and much more.

I am a Christian and have spent a lot of time in churches and other Christian circles. I have noticed that when we look to develop leaders, we take male examples of leadership in the Bible almost exclusively. I realize that female examples do not occur as often or in as much detail, but they are there. And what is there is powerful. Esther, Ruth, Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla and many more stand out as models of what it means to lead in difficult situations, and often in a male dominated, patriarchal world. I have been wondering: Do we miss them because we are trained and otherwise socialized to view leadership only through a male lense? One that traditionally prizes aggression, direct communication, and individuality? Have we worn male glasses for so long that we cannot recognize their gifts and actions as leadership? Or does our theology barricade them as anomalies that God had to use because the right man was not available?

I suppose there could be many reasons. But the consequence of this lack of representation means that we are indirectly, and in some cases directly, inhibiting many, both men and women, boys and girls, from having a real understanding of leadership as something that both genders share and have capacity for. How can women exclaim, as Ms. Goldberg did, that they realize they can be anything they want to be if they never see an example? Instead of drawing on the full realm of possibilities in terms of leadership examples in the Bible, we rely on an anaemic sample that paints a black and white picture of what is, in reality, a rainbow of colour.

Women, in many cases, make up more than half of the population in the church and in Christian organizations today. Let’s take advantage of gender diversity in leadership by challenging these traditions and evaluating our leadership examples and role models. Let’s enable the Whoopi Goldbergs in our circles to scream through all the house, “There’s women in leadership and they ain’t no token!” Let’s allow them to dream and become anything they want to be. Let’s paint a bright, new future.

Get Tired, Maybe Something Will Change

I’m tired of being told what I should and shouldn’t wear,

Because men abdicated responsibility for their impulse control.

I’m tired of men debating what I can or cannot do,

Because somehow deciding my life is their role.

I’m tired of asking to be included.

I’m tired of fighting to be heard.

I’m tired of job and pay inequity.

I’m tired of hearing about girls denied an education and forced into child marriage.

I’m tired of women being denied their fundamental rights and freedoms, simply because they are women.

I’m tired of rape victims being asked what they were wearing,

Because their assault is thought to be deserved or desired.

I’m tired of gender stereotypes dictating how we live our lives,

Because maintaining boxes is more important than allowing freedom to live according to passions, gifts, and callings.

I’m tired of feminism being considered a dirty word.

I’m tired of men trying to convince me my tiredness is irrational.

I’m tired of a lot of things.

Maybe if more of us were tired things would change.

 

Standing up, not standing by

You know those stories about someone being beaten in public, and no one bothering to help? It seems they have become common, with various ‘scientists’ even staging experiments to try to determine factors influencing the public’s involvement. I always believed if it were me in that situation, I would be the one to speak up. The one to step in and stand up for the victim. It turns out it is harder than I thought.

I was sitting in Starbucks with a friend last night. We were chatting and I happily enjoyed my chai latte (with soy, of course). It was only after a while that I noticed a couple sitting towards the front of the store. They had various books and a laptop on the table, so I assumed they must be students. It was amicable enough, until I saw him get up, slam his cup into the rubbish bin, and slap her laptop shut. A tear glistened in her eye as he left. Shortly afterward he came back, sat down and started to speak roughly in another language. I tried to be discreet but couldn’t help glancing often in their direction. When he noticed me, he pulled her closer and grabbed her arm aggressively. I didn’t know what to do. Was this the time to go over and say something? Or was it just a couple’s argument that was none of my business?

I saw that some other customers had also noticed the behaviour. After what seemed liked forever, but was probably only 5 or 10 minutes, he angrily packed up her things, and grabbed her arm, forcing her outside without her jacket. I looked at the other customers, asking them if they knew what it was all about. They didn’t, and we both wondered if we should say something as the couple continued arguing outside. After some deliberation, a group of us went and confronted them. We offered to take the girl home or to help her inside. Teary eyed, she refused and said, “it’s okay, thank you” over and over. The guy looked sheepish as I told him, “It’s not okay to treat someone like that. You have to treat her with respect.” Eventually, we went back inside, my hands shaking with adrenaline and anger.

Of course this was not a public beating or rape (though I did wonder how he treated her in private if he was willing to be this aggressive in public!), but I believe we did the right thing. Physical aggression of that kind is never necessary and should be called out as inappropriate and abusive. But I couldn’t believe how long I sat there debating at what point it became okay and even important for me to step in.

The bystander effect tells us that the more people there are around, the less likely an individual will step in and help. However, just because something has a name does not mean that the behaviour is acceptable or encouraged. If we want to, we have the power to redefine the bystander effect. We can help if we are alone, and we can be even more likely to help if there are others around. I truly believe each of us has a responsibility to stand up for our fellow human beings when they are in need, not stand by and watch as they are mistreated. Let’s stand up.