Monday, June 21, 2010

Castor Oil: A Reflection on Being a Radical Feminist and a Progressive Christian

This is a reflection documenting where I'm coming from, trying to bridge some gaps. It was written in preparation for my summer work as a Beatitudes Fellow at Faith in Public Life. The Beatitudes Society is a progressive Christian resource center for and network of faith leaders that offers seminarians like me internships at key national social change organizations. Faith in Public Life is one of those organizations, focusing on "advancing faith in the public square as a positive and unifying force for justice, compassion and the common good," a lot of which is in making the progressive faith voice audible in the media. I believe God has called me to parish ministry, yet I felt strongly that I needed non-profit experience if I want to be an effective pastor working for a just world. I have not been disappointed with this decision. I will write a few reflections on this experience throughout the summer.

"At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality."
-Che Guevara

I have been a feminist and a Christian from the time I was able to make conscious decisions for myself. The two go hand in hand for me really: the vision of a just society that feminists are fighting for is for me the kindom about which Jesus preached. Yet in USAmerican society, these two have been separated, particularly with the coming to power of the religious right that culminated in the 2004 election in which George W. Bush was re-elected. So as I was finding a place for myself, I initially grounded my work in secular feminist organizations, avoiding the Christian label that was so often tangled in the rhetoric of the right. While I hold the work of secular feminists, particularly radical feminists, to be of absolute importance to transforming society, I found the radical-ness of progressive Christian organizations to speak better to my understanding of the transformed society I was working towards as a feminist and a Christian.

I consider myself to be a radical feminist (though I know many radical feminists would disagree with my assessment because we're kinda judgmental like that) because I am committed to radical transformation that is not rooted solely within gender equality, but rather rooted in standing up against all forms of oppression as they intersect. As a senior in college I and several friends threw ourselves totally into a feminist project of addressing sexual violence on campus and violence by Christians against women at a local clinic that provided abortions. We stood as witnesses, refusing to allow such violence go on in silence assent. Yet I felt like Jonah--- not in the sense that I ran from the work, but I felt like Jonah at the end of Jonah 4 when he's sitting under the castor oil plant sulking.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Jonah preaches to the sinful people of Ninevah, telling them that God knows their crimes and will destroy their city. The people of Ninevah repented, so God decided not to destroy them after all. God's act of forgiveness makes Jonah angry because Jonah does not like those in Ninevah and wants to see them destroyed. He goes off out of the city in a rage. He sits down, sulking, and God causes a castor oil plant to grow over him, to protect his head from the sun. Because castor oil is used as a laxative, this is God's way of telling Jonah he's full of shit and has no business sulking. Jonah doesn't get it. Then God kills the castor oil bush and Jonah gets mad again. The God says to him:
"You feel sorrow because of a castor oil plant tht cost you no labor, that you did not make grow, that sprouted in a night and perished in a night. Is it not right, then, for me to feel sorrow for the great city of Ninevah, in which there are more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals?"*

Now do not get me wrong: no one repented at Dickinson. None of the protesters outside of the women's clinic who harassed women as they entered the clinic repented. Yet, my activism in this context was one in which I preached about how wrong THEY were. When people in Greek life wanted to meet with us and discuss how to change, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with these people. I loved to tell them how wrong they were and then wanted to go off and sulk outside off campus, waiting for it to implode, I guess. I was angry all the time and I hated most people. Now, I want to note here that anger is necessary, but for me it was unhealthy to be in that constant state of anger that was driven as much by hate and disgust as by desire for transformation. So I was not happy.

It was in seminary, in my faith community, that I felt restored to be able work towards transformation in a way that to me was less like the way Jonah worked for transformation and was more like...well like Jesus, someone who preached, certainly, but someone whose message of transformation was lived out in community. Someone who worked with the "sinful" people rather than just preaching at them and then leaving. This is not to say that such transformative work does not happen in radical feminist and queer communities (see a great blog post from Enough, an awesome anti-capitalist blog, on transforming community that is not connected to faith work and is beautiful), but it is within the faith community that I have best experienced what radical societal revolution can look like.

The revolution that is transforming our society to look like that kindom is not someone preaching repentance and then leaving to sulk under a castor oil bush. That person (me) is full of shit. The revolution involves a love of people that nurtures a hope that we can all work together for transformation. Sure, as Che said, the love aspect of revolution sounds hokey, but if we really want to begin to live in something like that vision of a transformed society, we ourselves have to transform, have to make an effort to reach out instead of retreat within ourselves. To be guided by a great feeling of love.


*Jonah 4:10-11, The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, Priests for Equality (Sheed and Ward 2007).

No comments:

Post a Comment