Inequality that Results from Choice

A word on inequality, women’s work, and the larger problem of sexism within the socialist movement from Anne Philips in Dissent Magazine (1997)

“Most people will say it is fair enough for John to earn more than Bill if he has chosen to work longer hours; most people, indeed, will say it is fair enough that those who have chosen to sacrifice their early earning potential by staying on at school or university should later benefit from higher incomes. The problem, as David Miller has noted, is that it is hard to determine what counts as genuine choice, and he uses an example taken from the differences between women and men to illustrate some of the difficulties. We may all agree that John is entitled to more income than Bill if he has chosen to work more intensely and for longer hours, but do we really think John is entitled to more than Belinda, who chose part-time work in order to combine it with looking after her children? The woman who chooses to work part-time “chooses” not only a lower income overall, but very often a job that offers lower hourly pay and minimal job protection; she makes this choice, however, against a background of structural constraints that include her responsibilities to what are still considered “her” children. Virtually all of our choices are structured in some way by the society in which we live, and there may not be much left that is unambiguously chosen. Why should people be required to live with the consequences of their “choice” when they had so little alternative? If inequalities are to be regarded as unjustified when they arise from circumstances beyond our control, does this not lead us back to notions of strict equality?”

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Christ of Maryknoll

Christ of MaryKnoll
“Christ of Maryknoll”, Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

This past Sunday I worshipped again with the Sophia Community, a missional Episcopal altar in Eagle Rock, CA, a trendy suburb of Los Angeles. Our priest, Mother Marianne, gave a beautiful homily on the occasion of the first Sunday in Lent in dialogue with the above icon. You should really go read the text of her sermon, here.

She asked us to consider how we initially interpret the icon. Is Jesus a refugee trying to overcome a border barrier? Have we somehow imprisoned Jesus? Is he trying to break us out of our own prison?

I’ll admit that even though the icon was painted in 2002, I immediately saw Christ as a refugee. But as I began to sit with it throughout the service and into the next day, I more deeply saw myself as the one behind a barrier. Jesus appeared to me almost painfully, but gently, talking to the wounded animal in my own heart, gently coaxing it into the fear of freedom.

Things I’ve Been Reading

God is not dead.
God is bread.
The bread is rising!
Bread means revolution.
Organize for a new world.
Make the church a people’s church.
Wash off your brother’s blood.
The streets belong to the people.
And the church belongs to the streets.
In the midst of occupied territory,
The liberated zone is here.

—New York Young Lords,
“Celebration for a People’s Church”

I’m in the middle of auditing a class on Anti-Capitalist movements and Christianity at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, ON. Last week we covered the Black Panther Party, this week it’s the Young Lords and People’s Church movements.

It’s been a while since my faith has been so regularly and systematically challenged, and I am relishing this opportunity to reframe and reconstitute the lenses through which I evaluate theology, particularly in the United States.

A Lenten Reflection

Every year, our parish asks the congregation to submit reflections on assigned scriptures for our Lenten Reflection book. This year, I was given the creation narrative in Genesis 1 (v1-26). Check out the sum of our congregation’s reflections here.

And God saw that it was all very good.

It is sometimes hard for me to affirm that the world as I see it is still the good thing that God made. More often than not, when I look around I do not see the very good. I see the very bad, the very unjust, the very oppressed, and the very poor.

It often takes work — work that I don’t always want to do — to see the very good hiding within and behind the very bad. I think this is common enough, even for those who would have first heard this story gathered around campfires under the very stars that God made. Why else would God remind us so often in the creation narrative that every step in the process is good? I am comforted that I am not the only one who needs such reminding. I am also comforted by the chance to repent of my inability to see as God sees. Every Sunday, we acknowledge to God that: “We have denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves, and in the world you have created.” We ask forgiveness for our lack of sight, and we go out into the world to practice seeing the good once more.

If Lent is a chance to strip away the things that blind us to the goodness of God, perhaps it is also a chance to remove those things that blind us to the goodness of the world God made as well.

Compline for Absalom Jones

Absalom Jones was the first person of color ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. Born into slavery in 1742, Jones, through circumstances that are an exception to the barbarism of the slavocracy, achieved much. When he married he solicited donations to purchase his wife’s freedom so that their children would be free (according to the laws of the time). He learned to read and write, was allowed to travel and preach freely by the household we was part of. He petitioned for his freedom, and after a failed first attempt, prevailed upon his owner, who became influenced by moral arguments against slavery. He was licensed to preach in the Methodist movement, but after experiencing severe discrimination, found a home in the Episcopal Church. He founded the first black congregation in the US. It was at this parish that he was ordained, first to the diaconate, and then to the priesthood. His is an amazing story, but we should remember his was an exceptional story for it’s time. Slavery was often not just a loss of freedom, but a vicious destruction of personhood.

Image result for absalom jones

For his fortitude, wisdom, and role in the Church, Absalom Jones is remembered as a saint, and his feast is celebrated on February 13th, or on the closest Sunday at parish discretion.

Yesterday I officiated a Compline service st St. John’s Cathedral where they had, that morning, celebrated the feast of Absalom Jones. It felt appropriate to remember him in our prayers as we kept watch that night.

Join with us this week as we pray:

Set us free, O heavenly God, from every bond of prejudice and fear: that, honoring the steadfast courage of thy servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

In the name of Christ we say: Amen.

God of Justice, help us, your church, find our voice. Empower us to change this broken world and to protest the needless death, sickness, and poverty that runs rampant in our world. Give us power to rise above our fear that nothing can be done, and grant us the conviction to advocate for change. For your dream of love and harmony, Loving God, Make us instruments of your peace.

In the name of Christ we say: Amen.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.

In the name of Christ we say: Amen.

Transcendental Etude by Adrienne Rich

[The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New 1950-1984 (New York: Norton, 1984) ]

No one ever told us we had to study our lives,
make of our lives a study, as if learning natural history
or music, that we should begin
with the simple exercises first
and slowly go on trying
the hard ones, practicing till strength
and accuracy became one with the daring
to leap into transcendence, take the chance
of breaking down the wild arpeggio
or faulting the full sentence of the fugue.
–And in fact we can’t live like that: we take on
everything at once before we’ve even begun
to read or mark time, we’re forced to begin
in the midst of the hard movement,
the one already sounding as we are born.

Of Mothers and Slaves during Black History Month.

This BHM I am deeply reading Sisters in the Wilderness by Delores S. Williams, a book I skimmed in seminary, but didn’t get around to really reading.

I’m only a short ways in, but I’ve been struck by how the author plays with the role of ‘mother’ both in the biblical text and in historical roles occupied by slave women brought to the Americas.

The following quote in particular seems especially important for how we might reconceive of the work of mothers, and parents in general, to be the models for liberation to the next generation. Can we honor the suffering of the millions who were lost to the slavocracy through the way we choose to parent the generation we birth?

Within the mothering and nurturing functions of slave women were often the tasks of protecting, providing for, resisting oppression, and liberating. All of these tasks suggest strength.