Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What happens

One of my friends was recently chastised for having all men serve communion at one of the worship services. They have women who have helped, most of the time there are somewhere around the same number of men and women. But this time the people who were on the list as not having helped in awhile were mostly men and they all said yes.

And the question, for me, is not whether all men (or all women) happens once or twice, but is it a consistent pattern. One of the similar instances is what happened recently with Isaiah Washington and using the 'f' word about another person or a few years back and Mark Fuhrman denying using the 'n' word. The problem wasn't that Washington used the 'f' word - that can and should be addressed by the producers and fellow workers, but when he denied using that word, then it became a problem. The same thing happend with Fuhrman when he testified under oath that he had never used the 'n' word.

Is there a denial that something offensive happened? Then it's a problem. My age and where I grew up means that it would be utterly ridiculous to deny having used some offensive language - calling others names - yetthe question isn't whether I've used those words, but whether or not I've tried to change so that I don't call people names.

Is it a consistent pattern of having no women helping (or not men)? Then it's a problem. I remember the debate in my denomination when we put in a rule that every congregation had to have at least one woman on the session (governing body) of the congregation.

What I work at is including people whether by making sure that the servers over the year include people from the whole of the congregation. Or watching my language to avoid calling someone by an inaccurate or offensive name.

And one of the rationales or useages that some have a hard time understanding is how people within a group can use a term that is offensive between themselves while being rightly offended by someone outside the group using that term. A term of derision can be used to provoke an attack when used by someone who is not a member of the group and yet still be used to affirm solidarity by those who have had that term applied unjustly.

One of the great examples of this is the term 'gay.' For all the rants about how homosexuals took a perfectly good word and made it offensive, the actual history is of women prostitutes being called 'gay' and by extension homosexuals were also called 'gay'. Taking that term of derision and bringing it into common useage and supportive of a community is one of the examples of changing the meaning. There are still mixed messages with the use of gay, but not the overwhelming message of putting people down that there used to be.

In many ways the counting of women is the same 'holier than thou' that those on the feminist side deride. Yet someone can compete on being 'more of a feminist than you' in the same self-righteous fashion as the 'holier than thou' people. And both attitudes mistake the substance of
the message. We are called to be righteous, but that doesn't mean that we are called to make ourselves out to be more righteous than everyone else. We are called to treat people equally, but that doesn't mean that we put ourselves up on a pedestal for recognizing that people should
have equality of opportunity.

The numbers game is a place to start, but looking at more than numbers is what we are called to do as Christians. The numbers game, like the language game, mistakes the substance of the message. Rules are a way of helping us to live with each other, but mistaking the rules we have
for the ideas equality and justice from which they are formed is the mistake that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees. Knowing the rules can be important, but loving God and neighbor is the essence of all those laws and rules.

Counting up how many women and men serve communion is a numbers game. Checking to see who's called someone names and who hasn't is childish tattle-tale. Yes if it is a consistent pattern, then do something. But most often we should just take it easy and forgive seventy times seven - or something like that.

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