Ok, this isn't really about Dolly Parton. I just thought it might get your attention...
I watched “9 to 5” last night. I say watched but it was really just playing in the background as I was working around the house preparing for a trip.
You remember that movie? It’s from the 1980’s, a comedy staring Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Jane Fonda as three working women trying to make their way in a corporate world where they find themselves stymied by their “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot" boss played by Dabney Coleman. One evening the three experience a bonding moment as they commiserate over their shared suffering of the aforementioned boss’s sexism, egotism, lying, hypocrisy, and bigotry and fantasize what they would do to get back at him. When their various fantasies begin to come true, hilarity and high jinks proceed.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not that entranced by the movie. But it does bring back a rather vivid and comical childhood memory. I remember one wintery evening my family sitting around the fireside… In truth, we were sitting around the television, but there was a wood-burning stove also in the family room. At some point that evening, the pipe coming from the stove, or the lower chimney “caught fire.” That is, there was a build up of creosote and literally flames were coming out of various parts of the chimney. Fortunately, we were able to put it out without too much damage. However, seared into my young adolescent mind—I was eleven or twelve when this happened—is my father running around putting out this unexpected fire with Dolly Parton in the background singing 9 to 5. I suppose this has nothing to do with this post, however.
So, back to last night, while watching this movie (only in the background, of course) I thought how incredibly “dated” it was. The scenes, the actresses, the cars, the scenarios—all so dated. Now in actuality I don’t really think of 1980 as that long ago and yet it has been more than thirty years. The way these women are treated in the workplace seems laughable! How times have changed!
It is true that many things have changed and we should celebrate how far we’ve come. Still, as I read yesterday’s posting here on The Twelve I’m very much reminded of how far we still have to go. And I caught myself wondering: generally if Lily, Dolly, or Jane entered a corporate workplace they would indeed find a much improved environment, but what about the church? As my colleague and friend, Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta shared yesterday about the conscience clauses and the conversation that will take place at the upcoming RCA General Synod reminded us, misogyny is very much present. And let’s be honest, misogyny cloaked in religious language is still misogyny.
Some years ago I worked at a very large—some might say mega-church style—Christian summer camp in northern Michigan. It was technically non-denominational, but drew heavily from Evangelical Free Church roots. It was and is a beautiful place and had a significant influence on my spiritual development. The staff of mostly college students came from a variety of campuses around the country but especially the Midwest. I was fortunate to find there a very cherished group of friends who, when enjoying weekends “off” we would hang out, do our laundry, go to nearby “cities” for entertainment and what not. We also spent a lot of time talking about faith. I remember one particular conversation about the role of women in church leadership. As I recall, the group was made up of an assortment of denominational backgrounds—RCA, Evangelical Free Church, CRC, Presbyterian, Mennonite, etc. What I found particularly interesting though in this conversation was that the women of our group—mostly coming from traditions that did not “allow” women to share their spiritual gifts of leadership in the church frowned on women being clergy. The men of our gang however all saw no problem—biblically, theologically, or practically—with women in those pastoral leadership roles. Perhaps it was our backgrounds and influences that fostered our various mindsets. But what I though then most interesting, and what I still find interesting, is that this isn’t a male/female divide issue. That has left a lasting impression.
As a man and as a clergy person I realize I have significant privilege and power. A conversation on privilege and power notwithstanding, I have the opportunity to stand with my sisters in solidarity to the injustices they experience in the world and sadly, in the church.
One final thought…of that group of friends who hung out together at summer camp, one of them—we’ll call her Karin—came from a fundamentalist evangelical background where women weren’t even allowed to be ushers in the church. She eventually ended up at Calvin College for her undergrad. I’d like to think because of some important education from a Reformed perspective she started to discern a call that God had for her vocationally. At first it would lead her to teaching, but eventually she wrestled with the question, “Is God calling me to be a minister?” I remember her clearly denying that as a possibility for any woman when she was younger, but little by little she wrestled, she discerned, she listened. We had many conversations, too. After some years following her time at Calvin and teaching and doing mission work she found herself at Fuller Seminary.
I spoke with her last week. She’s now on the pastoral staff at a vibrant Evangelical Covenant Church in the Twin Cities. What a joy to hear her talk about ministry and the mission her congregation is involved in and the many ways she leads and shares her gifts. Thanks be to God. And thanks also to the many people in her life, women and men, who uplifted, confirmed, and encouraged her sharing those gifts.
Keep the RCA in your prayers next week as we engage this important topic among many others.