Archive for the ‘Proverbs 31’ Category

Oh Sew Revolutionary

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

When was the last time you met a young girl who was interested in learning to sew or in learning a craft of any sort?

While living in Ghana a few years back, E. Aminata Brown, founder of BaBa Blankets™ met scores of young girls on the streets of Accra who shared the common experience of fleeing their rural villages to become load-carriers or “kaya yo” in the big city markets. When Aminata asked the girls she met if given one wish what would that be, their answer was  the same: learn how to sew. Why sewing? Because sewing allowed them to create and express themselves, yes. But also sewing provided them with a skill that would allow them to make a living for themselves and their families.

In many parts of the world women (and men) sew the clothes they and their families wear. They also manage to make a  decent living for themselves as seamstresses who sew for others. Our fast-paced Western society with its high technology is leaving behind some skills now referred to as lost arts. One such lost art is making/sewing your own clothes.  As a child of the era when girls took high school home economics classes, I learned sewing in school and from my stepmother and great aunt. I was well into my 20s when I stopped sewing my own clothes. What made me stop? Lack of time. The convenience of buying off the rack. Pressure from friends to put away my Butterick and Simplicity patterns and wear outfits befitting my Ivy League station . It wasn’t until I started quilting this past February that I remembered that I used to sew. That I once stayed up all night sewing something to wear to church or to work the next day. I’d completely l suppressed the memory of those days.

E. Aminata Brown founded in 2006  BaBa Blankets™, a social enterprise that supports African women’s cooperatives through grassroots development efforts and artistic craft sale, in an effort to empower economically disadvantaged women in Ghana. Since its founding the social enterprise group has provided technical and artistic training as well as sustainable income to the women involved. A former English Literature & African-American Studies major at Brown University, Aminata has devoted her life work to empowering disadvantaged African women.

Go ahead and admit it Renita. One of the other reasons I stopped sewing when I was in my 20s is because sewing didn’t fit it with what I imagined a revolutionary should be doing. I was an intellectual and wanted nothing to do with the woman of Proverbs 31:

 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.

She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.

She gets up while it is still dark;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her servant girls.

She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.

She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.

In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.

When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
for all of them are clothed in scarlet.

She makes coverings for her bed;
she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

Twenty five years later, quilting has me thinking again about making a few of my outfits. I love Eileen Fisher designs. Her simple lines and her elegant textiles are popular among women my age and those who prefer a simple, elegant, timeless style. But for as expensive as Eileen Fisher’s clothes are, I could buy the fabric and make a few of the outfits myself. I haven’t done it yet, but I’m thinking about it. After all, a revolution isn’t a revolution until the people acquire the skills they need to be self-sustaining and not completely at the mercy of of the dominant economy. It’s a lesson worth passing down to our daughters. Learn how to make something, do something, create something, fix something for yourself so you can survive in the days of scarcity. Learn to do something in this information driven economy that lets you use your hands and make a living from doing it, if it comes to that.

I wonder how many of you sew or once sewed. How many of you grew up sewing or grew up around mothers, grandmothers, or aunts who were seamstresses?

Who Can Find A Virtuous Husband?

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

If only King Solomon had had the courage and good sense to marry the Queen of Sheba. If only he’d convinced the fascinating queen from the south to remain in Jerusalem as his wife.

If only the Queen of Sheba had let herself be convinced that King Solomon could change and be faithful to one woman. If only the queen could trust Solomon to not try to change her into becoming a conventional wife when she had come to him as a queen.

What a marriage between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba might have been! A marriage in the Bible of a man and a woman who were equals. He was one of the wealthiest, wisest, most well known kings in the land. She was one of the wealthiest, well-traveled, intelligent queens from the south. What a model King Solomon and Queen of Sheba might have left us.

Alas, it was not to be.

With the marriages of two well known ministry couples unraveling in recent days, everyone in blogosphere and the media seems to think that it must be impossible for a husband and wife in ministry to live together without competition. But this is not, in my opinion, about marriage between two ministers. This is about marriage between equals. Two lawyers. Two doctors. Two thinking people, period. Two people who want both to combine marriage and family with meaningful careers and vocations. Everyone seems to think it’s impossible for strong, intelligent women to marry and be happy? Why must one partner (always the woman) take a back seat in the marriage for the marriage to work?

Here we are centuries later, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, still scrambling to make marriages between equals work. Worst yet, here we are centuries later, and our men (most of them, anyway) are still insecure about marrying women whose wealth, fame, educational background outstrip their own. Ah, if only…

Is it me, or has anyone else noticed that no one questions whether men can have it all? No one looks horrified at the man who expects to have a family life and a successful and satisfying career. But a woman who expects to combine family life with a successful and satisfying career is, supposedly, unrealistic. Women are expected to give up their careers for family in ways men are not. Any woman who has ever loved a man knows that she and her children are second to his work, no matter what he says to the contrary. But few men have been willing to extend this reciprocity to the women they have loved.

Until the last half of the 20th century women serious about their vocation or serious about their ambitions typically did not marry and have children. For many centuries, in fact, the cloistered, contemplative life of the nunnery was the only option women had to honorably avoid marriage and follow their spiritual and intellectual yearnings.

Take women in the Bible, for example. Putting off marriage and motherhood freed women like Mary Magdalene, Susanna, Mary of Bethany, and others from the tyranny of being subject to husbands who resented their work and children who needed them to be available. Imagine how intoxicating it must have been to meet a rabbi like Jesus who did not regard you solely as a sexual object, a man committed to building a community of equals where everyone is on equal footing before God. It’s enough to make you leave everything familiar and devote yourself to working with this man in spreading the gospel.

In contrast, of course, there is the Proverbs 31 wife. God bless her soul. But is she our only role model of what it means to be a woman? Who wouldn’t want to be married to a woman who exhausts herself staying up all day and night to make your work and home life comfortable and smooth going? (I need a wife like that myself.)

Contrary to what folks think, there are, and always have been, married women who have managed to be able to devote themselves to pursuing their intellectual and artistic vocations. Their secret? They married unconventional men. Men who understand themselves to be parenting, not “babysitting,” when they take their kids out to the mall. Men who are not “helping out” but pulling their load when they pick up behind themselves and other family members. Men who laugh it off when they are refered to by their wives’ last name (e.g., “Mr. Bynum”).
These are men I like to think of as “men after Jesus’s own heart.” A marriage between equals, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, where both partners have talent and neither is made to stifle himself/herself in the name of gender roles, is a revolutionary marriage. And the one thing I’ve learned from experience about revolutionary marriages is that they have to be continually reinvented, renegotiated, and reaffirmed.

The second lesson this week is simple then: choosing an unconventional life for yourself, creating a life that runs counter to the norm, especially if you’re a woman, takes enormous courage. You gotta be willing to listen to your own soul, and prepared to invent the life you want for yourself (with or without a husband in tow). If you’re a man loving an unconventional woman is to be loved like you’ve never been loved before. Surrendering your ego and giving yourself over to the work of building a marriage, home, and vocation with a woman like the Queen of Sheba is like peeping into heaven.

Ah, if only King Solomon had had the courage and good sense to marry the Queen of Sheba.

Did You Hurt A Woman Today?

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

News of a colleague, a fellow woman in ministry, battered savagely by her husband in a hotel parking lot forces me to get back online here on Thursday, a day when I’d planned to rest from blogging and thinking and bleeding out loud. But every three minutes a woman is battered…and Thursday is no exception.

Well-known television minister, Juanita Bynum, became the victim of domestic abuse after her husband savagely beat her in a hotel parking lot this past Tuesday night. Our prayers go out to Evangelist Bynum as she heals and struggles to find her way back physically, psychologically and spiritually from the dark places such an attack can hurl you into as a woman. It is difficult to wrap your mind around the fact that you love a man who is capable of stomping you into the ground.

“How did I manage to fall in love with a batterer?” more than one woman has asked herself.

No woman is safe. Not even those of us who preach the gospel. Women in our congregations know this already. Some of us in pulpits, as well as in corporate and academic offices, know this as well. We just have not wanted, or known how, to talk about it. We have shied away from confronting the topic of domestic violence in our sermons – for fear of appearing too radical or of upsetting the men. In our worst moments, we have sided with the batterer. We read the story of Hosea’s wife Gomer and do not question Hosea’s presumption to use God as an excuse for tracking down his wife and beating her into reconciliation. Whores deserve to be beaten, we tell ourselves, not wives. But no woman is safe from becoming a victim of domestic violence, not even submissive women.

Remember Ntozake Shange’s “With No Immediate Cause” poem of years ago?

every 3 minutes a woman is beaten
every five minutes a
woman is raped/every ten minutes
a lil girl is molested
yet i rode the subway today
i sat next to an old man who
may have beaten his old wife
3 minutes ago or 3 days/30 years ago
he might have sodomized his
daughter but i sat there
cuz the young men on the train
might beat some young women
later in the day or tomorrow
i might not shut my door fast
every 3 minutes it happens…

i spit up i vomit i am screaming
we all have immediate cause
every 3 minutes
every 5 minutes
every 10 minutesevery day
women’s bodies are found
in alleys & bedrooms/at the top of the stairs
before i ride the subway/buy a paper/drink
coffee/i must know/
have you hurt a woman today
did you beat a woman today…

It shouldn’t have to take big news stories like this one about Evangelist Juanita Bynum – whose sermons advocating women’s submission and men’s headship have made her the darling of conservative religious broadcasts –to makes us face the truth.(Remember her storybook wedding ceremony a few years ago which was broadcast throughout conservative circles, reinforcing the image of the black Cinderella and black Prince Charming?). Did I mention that Bynum’s husband, Thomas W. Weeks, is a bishop and minister himself?

If faith in God does anything for you, it ought to make you face the truth so that you can get the clarity you need to make connections. Once you get clarity, your faith ought to give you the courage as a thinking woman of faith to do something about what you now know. Believing in wholeness, self-worth, independence, respecting other people’s boundaries and teaching others to respect your boundaries does not betray a woman’s faith in God. Self-love honors all that is good, sacred, holy and powerful within you.

Finally, we do not honor God by letting shame get in the way of our seeking the help that we need. We’ve got to do a better job as women in the ministry and as people of faith about speaking up about the way traditional theology — “love, honor, and obey”– has kept us bound to relationships that maime us. Men who curse us, beat us, disease us, and leave us for dead are not our Prince Charmings. They are definitely not our gift from God.

What Your Mother Didn’t Tell You: Part Two

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

My mother did me a favor when she walked out on our family when I was young and left us kids in the care of our father. She taught me that there is no such thing as the perfect mother. It took me years to figure out what she was teaching me, of course. Having a child of my own helped. But I learned from years of conversations with mothers that caring for children leaves mothers torn, anxious, guilt-ridden, and pulled in many different directions at once. And then I had a child of my own. That’s when I learned firsthand just how plain exhausting and nervewracking it is to be a mother. To admit how difficult raising a child can be forces you to confront just how much trouble and effort you may have caused your own mother.

Our society sees to it that we all grow up with the notion in our head that there were two kinds of mothers: good mothers and bad mothers. Good mothers are loving, nurturing, and all-giving. Bad mothers are self-absorbed, uncaring, and inadequate. Yet most real flesh-and-blood mothers are neither all good nor all bad. Most mothers I know want desperately to be their best selves—full of love and genuine concern. Yet the absolute dependency and endless demands of a child require every mother to give, at times, without getting anything immediate or tangible in return. No other relationship calls for endless giving and attention like that of raising and caring for a child. We expect mothers to spend their lives caring selflessly for their children without complaint.

“I love being a mother, I just get tired of mothering” a mother once told me when I offered to hold her baby while she finished cooking dinner for the family.

This coming Sunday black churches like my own will extol the virtues of motherhood. The poem about the tireless, self-sacrificing wife and mother in Proverbs 31 will be read from pulpits and every mother attending church will nod her head publicly in agreement but berate herself privately for every instance in her mothering when she failed to live up to the biblical ideal. The caring, thoughtful, honest preacher in the pulpit will explain to the mothers in attendance that there are no perfect mothers, that God knows and understands how hard it is to be expected to give unceasingly with little to nothing in return, that God knows because God is a mother too.