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Reclaiming YHWH Take 2

12 Dec

The day after I posted my last blog entry about reclaiming YHWH and letting go of Zeus, a student of mine offered the following prayer that he wrote:

Translated “I AM”, YAHWEH is our most sacred name for God.  Considered so sacred, people refrain from its use, though they proclaim it with each breath.  Taking a breath, notice the sound of the inhale “YAH” and exhale “WEH”.  It is incredible, the whole world is praying God’s name constantly.  Our life is our prayer and glory to God.  Furthermore, we proclaim, “I AM”, and thus stating we are all a part of God.  God breathed his life into us (Genesis 2:7).  Our breath claims our own divinity as human beings.  Consequently, one person can make a difference in this world.  God can do and as we are divine an individual can do anything.  I want people to appreciate this and see the beauty and potential in themselves and others.  Most importantly, realize we all say the same prayer.

I found this to be beautifully insightful coming from a 17 year old young man.  I use breath as a sign of the divine with my students often.  I will tell them, “God is breath.  We have been breathing since the moment we were born.  Our breath sustains our lives.  It is always with us, we just don’t always choose to acknowledge it.”  And breath is usually associated with the the Spirit, the only part of the Trinity that can be seen by most as female.  But I like this breath connection with YHWH, too.  At some point during my day since he prayed this with us, when I am not feeling so divine, I close my eyes and listen to the sound and rhythm of my breath.  Just being is enough.  I AM, and I can feel the rest of creation breathing with me.  The abundant, self-emptying, relational love is in us and around us and moving through all of us all of the time.  There is great comfort in that for me.  The boundaries break down.  I am breath and life.  It is hard to tell where YHWH stops and my neighbor starts.  There is beauty and power in the simplicity of I AM, and there is a chance to remember that with each breath we take.

Continuum of Violence

12 Sep

Disclaimer: This may not be very coherent or well written.  I attribute it to simultaneous shock, outrage and deep gender fatigue.  Some things just need to be said, even if they are not said well, until things change.

Thursday was the first Vikings game of the season.  I like watching football, and I like the people I watch football with even more.  But no matter how much football I watch, I never get used to the blatant connection between sports, sex and violence.  On one hand, there is the violent, testosterone- driven, physical, at times warlike game of football.  Then there are women standing in leather boots and sequenced bras sharking their hair and pom poms on the sidelines.  NFL cheerleaders do not even attempt to be athletes by doing gymnastics or leading the fans in cheers, as their title would try to convey.  They are simply there to be looked at, sexually objectified, in between cheering on hard hits, facemasks and sacks.

For my friend’s birthday, she unfortunately picked a bar called Sneaky Pete’s to celebrate.  The walls were covered with TVs showing Ultimate Fighting Challenge.  Men were lining the bar, sipping beer, cheering on brutally violent and bloody matches.  In between matches, they could spin their bar stools and look at the bachelorette parties of drunk women, sliding down the stripper poles provided on the dance floor.

I just recently learned that Minneapolis has passed the zoning to have a topless sport bar outside the newly built Target Field where the Minnesota Twins play baseball.   Baseball fans can enjoy a game and then enjoy looking at women’s bodies.

Can’t we all see the connection between sports, violence, objectification of women’s bodies and violence against women?  How can it be so pervasive that we do not even get outraged?  Where do I place my pain?  To whom do I direct my anger?  We have so far to go.  How do we get there?  Where do we go first?

More than Eleanor, Por Favor

2 Sep

Oh, Eleanor

This fall I am team teaching a course on social justice to high school seniors with three men.  I noticed that they had very few women up on their walls, the room saturated with amazing men like Malcolm X, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Caesar Chavez and Nelson Mandela.  I think it would have been great if the three men had noticed this and joined me in the search, but be it as it were, I took it upon myself to find some posters of powerful women to join the ranks on our walls.  I had no idea how difficult this Cool Women Poster Project would prove to be.

First, I Google searched “women’s posters,” “posters of women,” “powerful female images” and general phrases such as these.  I found almost exclusively sex posters.  Not quite what I was going for.  When I expressed my frustration with this part of the Cool Women Poster Project, people just dismissed me by saying, “You have to be more specific in your search.”  Yes, true, but isn’t that the problem?  MLK posters are all over the Internet, and the fact that I had to really dig creatively points to a systemic problem of gender.  But I did persevere, and upon digging more specifically, I came upon angry, man-hating feminist posters, which is not quite what I was going for either.  In the depths of virtual reality there are some pretty cool posters of obscure women with powerful quotes, but they are tucked away pretty deep.

Part of my Cool Women Poster Project included asking both men and women what females they look up to.  I was shocked and dismayed at the lack of variety in answer.  Most people could site a woman in their personal lives who they look up to, which is great, but that was not what I wanted.  There were very few famous, powerful women that people could name off the top of their heads.  Another red flag.  It bothers me, going back to my last post, how women remain unnamed in history.  Think about the Bible (I have to since I am a religion teacher).  We have the Greek women who refers to herself as a dog, the woman who anoints Jesus with oil, and the woman who is healed by touching Jesus’ cloak.  What are their names?  And even the women we can name: Ruth, Rebecca, Mary—how much do we really know about them?  What is wrong with our systems that we look up to our moms but have few public figures to aspire to?  Looking over my own list, the women I like to channel for power are mostly musicians, writers, justice workers and survivors who are by no means known widely in the world.  Finding posters of them was close to impossible.

The last observation I will share from my Cool Women Poster Project process is that when women were named, they were usually wives of famous men: Coretta Scott King, Michelle Obama and Hilary Clinton. Don’t even get me started on Eleanor Roosevelt.  Now, Eleanor was wicked cool, but by the end of this process, I was a little done with posters of frumpy Eleanor busts with her one, over-used quote about feeling inferior.  Men would name her as the one woman they could come up with, but then could not tell me anything specific about her.  And what does it say that our namable women are wives who greatly stay in the shadow of the men they are connected to?  It is not just about having women on posters to look up to.  It is about having women writing policy, getting published, inventing things, working successfully on justice, singing songs, and building buildings in our society so that the feminine soul is reflected in our world.

During the Poster Finding Project, I did some reflecting on how our culture values the individual.  It was not Rosa Parks who ran the bus boycott alone, but we are wired to look to one person to personify a movement.  Instead of valuing community work and consensus, we put one person on the top, and so often the person is a man.  I reflected on the waves of the unnamed, unpostered people who have been a part of the foundation on which we stand.

Last week I stepped back from a bulletin board I had claimed in my classroom that I covered with striking 4 X 6 photos of gorgeous, empowered women that I had printed off myself on my home printer.  It was the result of a summer-long struggle to name and raise up powerful women so my female students could see their souls reflected in the world, too.  I smiled at the beauty of the board while noting how exhausting it was to create.  It felt like swimming up stream the entire way, and that fatigue is systemic gender oppression in the US.  Sometimes it is as subtle as noticing what comes up on a google image search.

Oh, Hollywood

10 Aug

Have you heard of the Bechdel Test for movies?  When watching a movie, ask 3 simple questions:

1) Are there 2 or more women in the film who are named?

2) Do the women talk to each other?

3) Do the women talk to each other about something other than a man?

I became aware of this test last spring, and I really like it because not only do shockingly few movies pass the test, pointing to the systemic gender problem in Hollywood, it is also quick and straightforward.  Somehow when I try to talk about gender roles or the lack of scripts presented to women in film, it can turn into a debate.  This test is three simple, yes or no questions.  The last two movies I watched failed the test: Inception and Where the Wild Things Are.  Both are amazing movies in their own right, and I enjoyed both exceedingly.  But they did fail the test.  Noted.  Now, I will grant you that in the latter most of the characters are not actually human.  But it still didn’t pass.  There is a mother and a daughter in the film.  The mother is not named, and she never talks to the daughter in the movie.  Inception has a plethora of gender issues, but I will avoid a deep analysis by saying it also failed.  There are two female characters, but I only caught one name, and they only talk to each other about Leo’s character.

Give it a try next time you watch a movie.   I have found that it is an easy way to be media savvy, to be able to simultaneously love a film and want more for women from Hollywood.

How Yoga Broke An Anti-fad Athlete

2 Aug

Fad or Fabulous?

I am normally actively anti-fad. I have not read Harry Potter or Twilight or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I don’t own Uggs or leggings, I never bought a banana clip in the 80s, or fell for a boy band in the late 90s or got a Chinese symbol tattooed on my lower back in the last decade. If everyone’s doing it, I am out, just out of principle. So, you may ask, why do I do yoga?

1) The exercise is so hard, I am forced to stop thinking about everything in the past and everything in the future and be totally present in the moment. The practice is so hard, I must focus on just me. I cannot tend to other people’s needs, I must tend to myself. I will not get through it if I don’t. Watching other people, comparing, thinking of my to-do list is not even possible. The practice is so hard, I can never do it perfectly, I am always arriving, always right where I need to be. The practice is so hard that when the hour is over and the yogi sends the first wave of cool air in, it feels like I have earned the relief. Every practice brings struggle and peace, every practice I die and choose to be re-born.

2) The mat lets me declare holy ground. I find the boundaries of the mat helpful. I know how much space I am allowed to take up, and I am pushed to joyfully take up every inch of it. There is my mat, my plot of earth. I share the room and the air and the energy with everyone else. I take up space and share space simultaneously, and everyone is granted the same amount of space to take up. We are free to fill it with our own flare.

3) It is helpful to connect with my body, to notice my toes and thighs, to re-learn the curves and freckles that we are taught to ignore and dismiss.

4) I am reminded every time of my limits and my capabilities. The body is stronger than my minds thinks it is. My body is capable of amazing things. I am, actually, quite strong. This is helpful to remember now and again. Yet I have a permanently bent left elbow and a chronically tight neck. And that is good to remember, too. There is room in my being to hold all the talent and blemishes.

5) When I gaze into my own eyes in the mirror, cheeks red and dripping with sweat, I find calmness in my own face. I see myself as strong and beautiful, and I try to carry that with me in my day. Everything I need is inside of me. My own breath and gaze calms me.

6) I love to sweat. Sweating makes me feel alive. It reminds me that everything is working, that my body is fascinating. Sweat takes away all that is unimportant. It is a leveler. I have started to believe there is much healing in sweat. I can sweat out of me all the actual and metaphorical ickiness that was stuck in me. I replace it with water, and try again. Yoga feels like holistic thawing. My body, mind, heart and soul find warmth.

7) When I breathe through a difficult, painful pose with a calm face and a calm body and spirit, that begins to carry over to my everyday life. In painful situations, I find myself calm and breathing, not running away, but living through to the other side. Mindful breathing is a skill that has enhanced my life, so is setting joyful intentions and dedications to focus on daily. Discomfort is not be avoided at all cost. It is not the worst of things. Crisis is opportunity, discomfort can be creative.

8) Today I actually had old skin coming off of me with the heat and sweat in sheets. It sounds gross, but I was shedding dead skin. This is just one small way that yoga is refreshing to me. It feels like intense renewal. I walked out literally a new me.

9) My yogi says things to me like, “Your flexed jaw muscles are not serving you right now, so let go.” Or, “The teacher in my recognizes the teacher in you and all things.” I love that.

10) There is balance to be found. Balance between effort and rest, between body, mind and spirit, between intentionality and spontaneity, between grounding and reaching. Between inhale and exhale. Between taking in and letting go. And so with life.

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