Tuesday, February 15, 2011

No Girls Allowed

Many women can point back to situations in their lives when they weren't allowed to participate in something or when they were made to feel like their presence was a nuisance or comical. Many can point to gym class and remember being picked last or to that obnoxious guy who would tell everyone to move in closer when she was up at bat. Some can think to times when there were exclusive guy cliques in the neighborhood and they weren't welcome to play capture the flag or manhunt at night.  Some can remember being subtly told their place was not in a math or theology class.  I do have a lot of those memories myself.  For the most part, though, as an adult I have been largely thankful to be in situations where I am treated in a way that embraces my gender and appreciates it, where I am approached simply as me and am rarely made to feel like my gender is some kind of liability.

Today, my sweet son and I had a wonderful day planned. We woke up, ate breakfast, watched Dinosaur Train (the brilliance of a show geared towards 4-year-old's that combines dinosaurs and locomotives astounds me daily) and then made the trek to Raleigh to check out the children's museum. It was about time.  About an hour into our time, we ended up at the life-sized pirate ship.  (Let's not even get started here on why we have glorified a trade that employed murderous brigands and why we then encourage our children to pretend to be them- that's a whole other blog post.)  So, there he was, running around this ship, mostly just enjoying the fact that he was on a big boat when I heard it: "No Girls Allowed." Some little kid, I'd guess around 6 or 7, was fully dressed as a pirate and running up and down the deck screaming this phrase. And he wasn't laughing or even sort of sing-songing it. He was finding little girls on the ship and screaming it in their faces.  He was actively trying to get other little boys to jump on board with his crusade. He was mean. I, and several other parents at this point, were obviously craning our necks to find a parent who might admit to siring this child and intervene, but to no avail. No parent stepped in, no teachable moment was grabbed. 

Now, other parents will know that you take your life in your hands if you tell someone else's child to do anything, especially if you don't even know the kid. Seriously, it's amazing how parents will react if you even, God forbid, ask another kid to stop hitting your own child. So, most of us stood there helplessly, hoping that our own children wouldn't either be screamed at or pulled into this crazy's kid's pirating antics. Josh, who doesn't really care for kids who scream for no apparent reason, self-selected himself out of this situation and (after walking the plank) rejoined me on dry land.  He didn't say anything and I'm not even sure he even knew what this kid was yelling. For me though, the phrase has rung in my head for the rest of the day.

"No girls allowed." Do I believe that there are perfectly appropriate situations in which men-only or women-only groups are relevant and helpful? Sure. But this brought back all those times when I was younger that I was either excluded or was the victim of an assumption based solely on my gender and, I have to tell you, I didn't like being reminded of the feeling. I largely feel like I've grown a lot in this area, that God has done a lot of healing. But the anger that this little kid brought up in me surprised me.  Anger at whichever parent was not intervening  (and most likely hiding) during this situation. Anger that this kid, at such a young age, could have such a clearly defined hostility and exclusive mentality based on gender. Frustrated that I was reminded, on a beautifully intimate day out with my son, that I have to always be on my guard (even at a childrens' museum) to help him understand that a lot of what he hears from people around him will NOT be reflective of the God who loves him and has created men and women beautifully in his image to live in non-competitive partnership with each other.    

I sometimes forget how young it is that kids influence other kids.  I have no idea what happened after that child went home today, whether or not his parents spoke to him about his behavior or how he responded if they did.  I did crack up when, just before we walked away, a kid who was probably about a year older than the yeller walked up to him, looked down his nose and asked him, rather incredulously, how old he was.  Clearly, the kids on the boat who were aware of what was going on were also less than impressed with the situation.  Even though I was frustrated at this surprising interruption in my day, it was probably a good reminder about intentionality.  My son is going to hear a lot - that's inevitable- but what is he going to hear first at home?  What kinds of things are we saying about gender and race and class that are going to prepare him to be a young man with a voice for justice when he grows up? Five years from now, will he be the kind of child that will intervene and speak truth into a situation like this?  I hope so, but I can't know.

What I do know is this- he certainly won't be posting any "No Girls Allowed" signs on his clubhouse. Not on our watch, anyway. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Signs of Life

As winter lingers on here in North Carolina, I've really started to miss my old office at the University of Richmond. Not because it was warm and cozy- in fact, my officemate can testify to how closely she hovered to our extra space heater on the coldest of days. No, the thing I miss is the walk from my car to the door right around this time of year. It was the first place in all of Richmond where I'd  get a reminder that no matter how tired you are of the winter dreariness and icy rain, that spring is indeed coming. You see, right around the beginning and middle of February, those first little crocuses would pop out of the ground, sometimes even blooming through a snowfall. Purple, yellow, white- little buds of life that provided just the boost I needed to get through that last month of cloudy days and frigid nights.

This year, in the midst of a winter that has felt a little more blustery than usual, I'm longing for those crocuses. I'm longing for what follows them, for months of digging deep in the mud, coaxing forth life from the earth, enjoying the aesthetic bounty of blooms from bulbs planted last fall and waiting eagerly to be able to plant the vegetables that will feed my family and friends this summer.

While waiting for this elusive spring, each week on campus this semester I've been taking a prayer walk. Mostly, God has been leading me to pray for the racial situation on the campus I'm on. Hundreds of years of racial tension, much of which has never been dealt with, have culminated in what feels like a largely apathetic student body when it comes to this issue.  I wonder how many students are actively thinking about the issues of race and multiethnicity in the church or exploring their own racial identity?  I know that when I got to college, I certainly wasn't thinking about these things.  No one had ever asked me about it and I'd had almost no experiences in my life that caused me to question my own understanding of racial identity. I was "privileged" to grow up without even having to engage the questions. I'm glad that changed in college and beyond and that these issues have become such a big part of my journey with God.  As I've been walking this campus I've been wondering what it is that God is up to and hoping for encounters with students who want to engage it.

As I was walking the campus earlier today, I felt drawn over to the botanical gardens on campus.  It is no small thing to be working on a campus where I can detour to any meeting through a beautiful garden, possibly even dancing Sound-of-Music style through the arboretum tunnel, which I'm almost always tempted to do. But as I walked around and was praying for this campus that God has placed me on, I began to be aware of little signs of life in the flora around me.  A small forsythia bud here, a daffodil spear there and even a number of small pink blossoms on a cherry tree. God reminded me right then that no matter what I don't see happening on campus, that He is always at work under the soil and that there are always these little signs of life to behold.  Immediately my prayers turned to ones of thankfulness- for the conversations that I have had with students, for the privilege of being a staff on a racially diverse campus, for the multiethnicity life group that's having these conversations on a weekly basis, for the opportunities my students have to interact with these questions in their classes and for the myriad other prayers being prayed over this campus by people who are grateful for God's work and excited for what He has for the future here.

It's amazing how even the tiniest glimpse of color can change your whole perspective on the day. What was a frustrated cry to see change quickly became a humbling reminder of God's power.  If the scrawniest pink bloom can force it's way out in the dead of winter, I am reminded that, with God, anything can happen.  

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Killer Bunnies

Several years ago, my husband and I learned a game called Settlers of Catan. We were running with a group of friends who were, I'll say it, totally obsessed with this game and so we learned it quickly and played it often, even descending to new realms of nerdiness and taking part in a tournament.   I'm not gonna lie, it was a total blast. 

Now, my husband and I both really like to win games, not just play them. We're both competitive.  So, with the increase in game playing came the increase in potential for conflict. And, you guessed it, it happened. After several games that left us barely speaking to each other, we decided we needed to do one of two things. One, stop playing games altogether, which would've seriously changed how we spent our time with a lot of our friends or two, find some way to be competitive and still speak to each other by the end of the night. We went for option number two and settled on prayer as the way. Seriously. Before we'd go to a game night or have people over, we'd just spend a few minutes focusing on what was important and making sure our marriage was a bigger deal than who got to 10 points first.  For the most part, it worked.

A few weekends ago our good friends came over to play games. This is nothing new. Much of our social life, especially post four-year-old bedtime social life, involves these friends walking across the street to hang out with us.  Our repertoire is no longer limited to Settlers and these friends are always learning new games and teaching us. That night they brought with them a game called Killer Bunnies.  This is a card game that basically takes zero skill, lots of vindictiveness and random luck to win.

When I found myself stuck for a half hour without any ability to make a move, I got pretty frustrated. Bored. Annoyed at the game. When finally, after this frustrated, bored and annoyed waiting, I was able to make a move, my husband promptly killed my bunny and sent me back to the land of waiting. Though I'm not proud to admit it, I threw my cards at him. I did. I was so angry. So mad at his stupid killer bunny.  So unimpressed with a game that so totally pushed every kind of organized and controlled button in my personality. Needless to say, the night's tone changed. Maybe some men would enjoy their wives throwing their cards at them, but mine didn't. I know he loves me for my passion, but I'm pretty sure, at that moment, he wasn't thinking how dear that particular personality trait was to him.

After our friends left, we stayed up talking for awhile. I apologized, we hashed it out, I reflected on the fact that this was probably NOT a great game for us to attempt to play together given my personality and we realized that at some point we had stopped praying together before our game nights. Maybe we got too cocky- after all, it had been years since we had had a big blowout rooted in some game changing angst.  At any rate, we came to the conclusion that maybe it was time to bring back our pre-game.

It's funny how even silly things like a game where crazy bunnies kill each other can make you see how foul your heart can be.  I couldn't stand to be helpless, to watch each turn pass me by because I was just unlucky at drawing the right card. And I couldn't stand to lose the tiny little ground that I had gained to what I perceived as a heartless move by my spouse.  After I threw those cards, though, I realized (not without the help of those at the table) that you just have to let it go. To go into the game knowing that you have no control, that the game is all chance and just ride it out, hopefully killing other peoples bunnies in the process. Sounds a little like life: Not the chance part or killing other people's bunnies part, but the part about going into it knowing you really have no control and just riding it out.  I come back to this again and again. Waiting is hard, not knowing outcomes is difficult and risky and frustrating. Not having control over life can put me at my most fearful, but giving into those feelings of frustration and fear usually only brings out the worst of my heart, only makes me hurt the people around me more easily because I become so self-focused.

The riding it out part can only happen when I'm trusting.  Trusting not in a possible win but in a God much bigger than myself and thinking of the ride as something not just to be endured but to be experienced and embraced and, yes, often enjoyed, even when I don't know what will happen next.   

And I can comfort myself with the fact that in life I can, at the very least, be sure that I'm unlikely to be attacked by any killer bunnies anytime soon.