Dear Church, Wash Your Face
On March 8th, the world celebrated International Women’s Day. It’s a day in Women’s History Month that recognizes the incredible contributions achieved and accomplished by women, overcoming the systemic prejudices of patriarchal societies around the globe. But it also highlights the constant battles women around the world must face for actual equality and equity with men that affect all of us in drastic occurrences.
Over half of the world’s population, women account for only 2% of peace negotiators, 8% of mediators, and 5% of witnesses of major peace accords. That’s awfully low. However, we see positive correlation with the presence and true involvement of women in the peace process. In a published August 2018 study, researchers demonstrated why when women directly participate in peace negotiations, that is women signatories, they positively impact both the durability and the quality of the peace sought. And according to the International Peace Institute, it means these peace negotiations last 35% longer as a result.
In a social survey conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, people said the world would be a better place for women if we had “more and better quality jobs.” But when women consistently earn 25-40% less than men worldwide, meaning women have to work 47 more days than men to earn the same. We’re not getting where we need to go under the current framework. This affects us all.
Women also see the marked effects of violence in our lives. According to the CDC, 55% of all deaths were homicides committed by intimate partners, mostly with those with men partners. In 99% of domestic violence situations, economic and financial abuse happened concurrently, however 78% of Americans don’t recognize the connection or existence of the financial abuse. From menstruation, poverty, maternity and childbirth mortality rates, healthcare access, and education, sex discrimination, intimidation, and physical violence as a result, leave women vulnerable.
Yet we are unbowed. We are not broken. March 8th is one day. One day out of 365 that we get to celebrate all that women are and can be. We recognize that women are more than mothers, though some may be. We recognize that women are more than property, though some do not just yet. We recognize that the women in our lives, our mothers and grandmothers, tías and abuelitas, our sisters, our cugini–and most importantly–our friends, neighbors, and colleagues, who fight every day just by continuing to show up. We recognize the women we see, but do not know; but we also recognize the unseen women, the women we do not see, but certainly know exists. For all of the children of God, hand-fashioned by the Creator, I salute you for showing up and fighting to be heard, not just seen, as forces to be reckoned with behind the wheel of a car, in Congress, the C-Suite, corporate boards, a camera, or just fighting back when the world grabs us by the collar.
All of this got me to thinking about women. How we do what we do sometimes. We show up in a hostile world that wants to contain and control us. And we still keep. Showing. Up. Women are a treasure. However, with all of the things we are conditioned to do and be or not do and not be, that constant stream of “How did I do? Did I mess up? My boss/parents/friends are they going to forgive me or hurt me or just even understand me?” can get exhausting. So much so, we inadvertently hide ourselves, our true, authentic selves, for the sake of ease and conformity. We never want to upset anyone by sharing, so we hide, and–to be honest–I hide. In these dark and unsettling moments, when the darkness seems to be the loudest, I turn to one of my favorite poems by Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Williamson taps into an underlying fear rooted in vulnerability exhibited by many women. In a comment by celebrity assistant Bonnie Low-Kramen, she said, “Most of us are trained to be ‘good girls,’ to make things ‘nice,’ and to not be too assertive or outspoken. We’re taught to seek the approval of others, not to rock the boat.” Williamson’s poem addresses the vulnerability that women desperately try to hide in public, and especially in and out of church. However, recently, I’ve been learning why living behind a wall of fear and anxiety, a wall that’s impenetrable, a wall that keeps me from getting hurt is not healthy. I’ve started taking risks, both personally and professionally, that embraces the state of vulnerability that is vital for strong, genuine relationships with others.
This is true–and even more so in the Church. Followers of the Way. Jesus lovers. We’re supposed to imitate Christ. We’re supposed to bring light, power, grace, and truth into the world. Not of ourselves, but through the Holy Spirit in each of us and the gift given to us by the Spirit. However, in the last 400 years in America, the Church hasn’t lived up to her calling to break the chains of oppression. When examining our shared American history, the role the church has played the role of an antagonist at times to Jesus’ mission to “bring Good News to the poor…proclaim the captives will be released, that the blind will see, and the oppressed will be set free.” (Luke 4:18-19)
While in a sense I’m talking about the founding and settling of America, the genocide of First Nations and other indigenous peoples and the slavery of Africans and their descendants, I’m also talking about the harassment, criminalization, discrimination, and terrorizing of people of color in this country. From slavery to the Tulsa Riots to lynching, so-called “God-fearing white people” dressed in white sheets and marched across this country. They burned crosses and burned homes. They murdered those seeking a change and imprisoned those too helpless to fight back. They created a system from banking to education to land grants to housing to healthcare to government that allowed white supremacy to continue to elevate the voices and needs of white people over the rights of people of color. A system of white supremacy that we see all around us today.
Now, that’s not to say it was all white people all the time doing all the bad things. If not for white people, as allies, as advocates, slavery would not have ended (a special shout out to the Quakers), and many of the advances of the Civil Rights’ movement without our white brothers and sisters, many who also gave their own lives in the fight towards freedom, such as Viola Liuzzo.
What do we do with this tension? Many churches in the country do not speak about it. Instead, they lean in to Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another…” without addressing the racial inequality that is rampant in structures of power across the land. Conversely, there are churches that fully lean into the racial inequality by rejecting whites from their churches. We can’t move forward together without reconciliation. But how do we do that? First John 4:18 says, “Perfect love casts out all fear.”
In Rachel Hollis’ book, Girl, Wash Your Face, the author discusses the lies that women in our society have been led to believe when it comes to being a woman in the 21st century as women and women of faith. From work to just doing life to self-realization, Hollis’ words resonated with me on multiple levels personally, but I also thought her words related well to the path of racial reconciliation in the Church.
Here are a few revised points that will help us embrace the tension, clean off the muck of our history, and incorporate reconciliation into our day-to-day lives.
- In Hollis’ chapter on believing that other people’s children are better or more put together, her advice was to embrace the chaos. Life is messy. Community is messy. People are messy. These are the facts of life. For the Church, Jesus walked into the dirt and grime of humanity to rescue all of us–those inside and outside of the Church. He accepted the outcasts and encouraged us to do the same. He, being no respecter of persons, showed no favoritism and told us to follow him as he did only what the Father told him to do (John 17).
In much the same way, we, as the Church, His Church, must embrace our history. We must include, look after, and advocate for the orphans, the immigrants, the convicts, the widows, the descendants of Africans, Native Americans, and all the others that have fallen victim to the predatory effects of sin, including racism, white supremacy, and white privilege. The Church needs to continue to accept the marginalized voices and cultures it once helped dominate and exploit.
2. I’m prone to looking into the best ways to improve my body. Working out, in a gym, outside, inside, (still trying to find a way to not leave my couch), is important to good health. Much in the same way, for Christians, the best way to improve our daily walk with Jesus in the area of reconciliation is to walk with the help of the Holy Spirit. The evidence of that walk is known as the fruits of the Spirit. Listed in Galatians 5:22-23, Paul tells us what attributes our life should strive to reflect and embody. Even so, verse 23, to me, is the most intriguing part. He says, “Against such, there is no law.” In an age where “law and order” has become a rallying cry/dog whistle/mantra of those encouraging advocating full allegiance to the empire, as Paul mentioned in Romans 13, the behavior of true followers of Jesus will embody “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” For some, that could be a tall order, but to quote Hollis, “Tomorrow is another day and chance to try again.”
3. Finally, I think the Church has to not accept the answer “No.” In the walk and ministry of reconciliation, a ministry granted to us by God (2 Corinthians 5:19), the barriers of this world do not stand a chance against the will and power of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, when we stop pursuing reconciliation because we are uncomfortable, or because it is hard, we allow doubt and fear to stand in the way of the work God has gifted us. Think about that. A gift. From God. And we allow a history and the risk of upsetting others to stop us from fully realizing the freedom that God has granted us? How dare we stop at a simple “no”?
My high school geometry teacher was a man full of “sayings” as we Southerners like to say. One of his most famous, at least to me, was “There’s more than one way to the Galleria. I don’t care how you get there; you just gotta show me.” When walking through the trials of bringing people together, we must not stop because the way we thought we wanted to do it isn’t viable. We must be persistent. We must be vigilant. But most importantly, we must continue to listen to the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. If he’s given us the ministry of reconciliation, who are we not to follow through? Hollis says of the word “no”:
No is not answer. The word “no” is not a reason to stop. Instead, think of it as a detour or a yield sign. No means merge with caution. No reminds [us] to slow down—to re-evaluate where are and to judge how the new position [we]’re in can better prepare [us] for [our] destination.
The Church, the Bride of Christ, has a lot of work to do. As peacemakers, reconcilers, we have been granted the work of reconciling others to God and to ourselves. Unfortunately, the Church hasn’t done a very good job of being the Christ’s ambassadors, at times. However, I believe in what the Church is. I believe in what the Church could be. I believe that if we wash our face, get up off our couches, turn off the television, we would be able to love a hurting, scared world. The Church isn’t about us hearing some songs, an ok sermon, and good children’s program. The Church is to love a broken world, through the muck, the mire, and the mud that engrosses us every day. Life is messy. Community is messy. People are messy. And as a result, being committed to the life we’ve been called to, to washing our face, and being the image bearers of Christ is the least we can do.
Always in love,
Danielle is a daughter, an aunt, a journalist, a lawyer, and a semi-insomniac that loves cooking for friends, nurturing plants, winning game night, and watching sports. But most importantly, she is a reconciler. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter: @scotusdani.