Dignity in Women’s Development

One of the most important things I learned at CSW is the empowerment of rural women is not just about putting food on the table, it’s also about dignity; listening to her voice, her decisions, and her leadership. When organizations create women’s development projects, yet control the way money is spent, the projects, even the teaching, it does not actually empower rural women.  Talking with a friend, we decided the best analogy is that of a street dance.  We gather in a circle, one person steps to the middle to dance, that person joins the circle and another person steps to the center to dance. Rural women must have the opportunity to lead the dance! The power does not lie within the US or other first world countries to “save” or “develop” a group of people. The answers for rural women were not in NYC, but in the rural areas where women are working, living, laughing, crying, and loving everyday.

People doing development work usually have good intentions, but we must evaluate how our actions are hurting a group of people. A perfect example is the Kony 2012 Campaign, which went viral recently on Facebook and Twitter.  Invisible Children’s intentions were good, but they did not see the damage they are doing by “sensationalizing” of a conflict in a whole group of people and denying dignity.

This is the voice of Rosebell Kagumire, a woman working in Uganda for peace, talking about the KONY 2012 campaign: “How do you tell the stories of Africans? You shouldn’t be telling my story if you also don’t believe I have the power to change what is going on!  This 6.5 minute video says it best:
Rosebell Kagumire YouTube

Little Plastic Baggie

Yesterday afternoon before our last delegation meeting I was in the UMW (United Methodist Women) office on the 11th floor of the Church Center talking to Christina. Tomoko San walks in and asked Christina if she will call the Salvation Army location at 14th street to see if they have a lost and found. What did you loose? I lost a small plastic bag with pearl earrings and a necklace.  As Christina looked up the number I got out my phone for Tomoko San to call.  Tomoko san English is impeccable, but she preferred that I call. So I left a message on three different numbers about the missing items and my phone number hoping someone might check and call me back.

On the way to the last event I said something like this to Tomoko san, I am so sorry to tell you this, but I think it will be a miracle if they have your jewelry! New York is a busy (translation dishonest) place and it is not likely that if someone found it they would turn it in. She understood and we agreed that her odds would be greater in a place like Japan.

In the morning I emailed one of the women whom I called the previous day.  Around 6:30pm I checked my email on my phone and the woman at the Salvation Army emailed me back, Check the lost and found on the 8th floor of the Church Center. I think I saw what you are looking for there. I was in the back of a crowded room on the 2nd floor of the Church Center listening to a panel but I couldn’t sit in my seat knowing that her items might have been in building all along!  I HAD TO run up to the 8th floor to check!!

The 8th floor was crowded with other folks listening to another panel and talking in the hallways, but I navigated through to the back room where the media registers during office hours. I looked around for something that looks like a lost and found. After searching a few cardboard boxes I found a box with a camera case, a folder or two, a hairbrush, and LOW AND BEHOLD, a small plastic baggy with pearl earrings and a necklace!!  I almost screamed. Then I thought, WOW. There is hope for the world after all.

First of all, Tomoko san was not even sure where she lost her valuables.  Second, there are thousands of women at this conference from all over the world and they are in and out of many buildings!  What are the odds that a.) someone would find it b.) they would turn it in c.) the person they turned it into would put it in lost and found d.) it would not go missing from lost and found and e.) we would be able to find the lost and found!

After the panel I said to Tomoko san, “Do you know the highlight of my day?” “No, what?” Look what I found. Gasp, THANK YOU!… big hug! and we were both laughing. I told her about email and my discovery.  We agreed, Never underestimate a group of women! and that It really was a miracle!!

Where is God in CSW56?

My days at CSW are filled with events hosted by NGOs, UN, and Ecumenical organizations.  NGO/CSW arranges a schedule of events happening daily.  The “official” CSW56 events at the UN offered 2 passes to the United Methodist Women and I will be able to attend one of those meetings on Wednesday from 1-3pm.  So, myself and the other delegates choose where to go each day based on the title and sponsor of the side-event.

Most of the events are housed in the Church Center for the United Nations.  In the 1960s a large group of United Methodist Women purchased and built a 12 story building across from the UN.  These women (and male counterparts) organized with the hopes of eradicating war and assisting UN peace keeping operations.  They did not name the building United Methodist Women United Nations Building, but “The Church Center” and it houses ecumenical organizations working on global social justice such as Women’s Mission Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Church Women United, Lutheran World Federation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian International Office and the General Conference of Seventh Day Adventists.

At the events I attended I heard stories about and from rural women.  Each panel is a bit of an emotional roller coaster.  It is common to hear first hand stories articulating: “sexual violence is worse in the rural areas,” “women are still regarded as weak and unable to learn,” “girls are not educated,” “girls are not allowed to celebrate their birthday,” “women are scared of their husbands and isolated from relationship,” “women are beaten and sexually harassed in the fields,” “women can not own land,” “women are excluded from formal and informal legal systems”

Yet I also hear about “increased agricultural production through organic farming,” “girls who are allowed to go to school instead of being married at a young age,” “women who are pregnant at a young age are allowed to go back to school,” “public disobedience in women’s groups advocating to own land,” “integrated community based adult education,” “women groups rear goats or keep bees to help them in farming and economic stability.”

My passion for women’s work grows with each story and panel.  Yet, I am frequently overwhelmed.  I start to wonder, “Where is God?”

In the panels, I do not hear God or religion frequently mentioned, even through the building and organizations have religious connections.  I wish we could name and discuss different interpretations of God which have oppressed women.  Seems like we don’t invite God to the conversation, just in case the patriarchal, hierarchical, and distant God shows up to put us in submission.  I wish I could shout from the empire state building, “THAT GOD DOESN’T EXIST!” I wish we could speak about God’s embrace of all that we are as demonstrated through the incarnation using the language of vulnerability to address the horrific assaults of sexual violence, discrimination, abuse, and oppression.

On the night when God was the most vulnerable, Jesus ate the Passover meal with his friends.  “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body’ (Matthew 26:26).”  By offering the bread, Jesus invites a violent and broken world to be included in his body.  Women who suffer from violence need to be in a community that incarnates God’s acceptance and vulnerability.  I believe through the incarnation, God is with those who suffer and invites all to be part of the healing body of Christ.

So the answer to my question, “Where is God?” God is in the suffering and the solution.  There are no limits to God’s love and vulnerability.  Yet, this interpretation of God is not shared by shouting from a tall building, it is communicated by listening to stories, giving hugs, releasing tears, bursting into laughter, and sharing lives.

Empowerment Theatre

Crazy how my loves are connecting — women’s empowerment and theatre!

My new friend Ana leads three types of theatre to educate and involve rural families to agrarian reform and promote alternatives to agribusiness in Brazil.  The first type of play is what she calls “political” theatre where her team of volunteers with MST landless workers movement writes plays educating families on the injustice of land grabbing and empowering families to reclaim rights to land.  1% of land owners have more than 50% of land.  The agribusiness corporations buy a plot of land in the middle of rural family farms and push out local farmers.

The next type is called “forum theatre” where a group or community addresses a specific specific, oppressive situation and improv a play.  When the play is acted out they ask for volunteers from the audience to react the play trying to have a different result.  For example, they might act out the life of an indigenous girl who is not able to get education because her father does not educate boys, in addition to the fact that she speaks a native language and would not be able to keep up in classes.  There is someone who is cast as each person who has a stake in the story: the girl, mother, father, siblings, teacher, government, etc. and the actors can bring in people as they improv.  Despite the serious issues, the point of this type of drama is to be overly dramatic and fun.  It allows a group of people to think critically about the systemic issues, share in the story of another person, and find solutions in community.

The last type of theatre (and possibly my favorite) is called “invisible theatre.”  Ana described a time where she and a few actors got in line for tickets at a train station.  She mentioned to her neighbor in line about how she thought that the tickets were overpriced.  This allowed the person in line to address their concern with rising train ticket prices.  A few other “actors” in line also expressed their concern.  Before long, there were policemen actively watching the whole line.  She says it can be a form of “public disobedience,” but it allows people to address racism, sexism, and oppression of the poor in powerful and real ways.  My friend, Tomoko, from Japan had wide, excited eyes when she explained invisible theatre.  I said to her, “Can you imagine this in Japan?!” If you know Japanese culture, public disobedience quite taboo, she answered, “No, but I want to try it!”  I answered, “Me too!”

I may or may not gripe next time I’m in the food isle of my supermarket wondering why none of the food is locally grown or ask the butcher if my chicken ever saw daylight.  But now that I met Ana and heard about her work, it makes me want to write some type of play educating Vanderbilt students about the University investing in land grabbing in Africa.

Orientation for CSW with the UMW Delegates

Today I took a tour of the United Nations in English and I was the only person from the States.  We were our own kind of United Nations except we were all women and less than 1/3 of the ambassadors to the UN are women.

YET, I was overwhelmed with the experience and hope in the room sitting with the women chosen to take part in the United Methodist Women’s delegation.

My roommate is from Kosovo and is the chair of one of the largest NGOs in her country, Kosovo Women’s Network. There is a woman from Japan who trains grassroots rural community leaders at the Asian Rural Institute. There are two women from the Philippines, one was a founding member of AMIHAN, Federation of Peasant Women, and both work with this organization to train rural women.  Another woman is the director for the United Methodist Women in Sierra Leone.  One of the women works in Brazil with the Landless Movement. A woman from Zambia was able to train at the Asian Rural Institute and now works in her home country with the Ecumenical Development Foundation to train women and youth in organic farming and programs to rehabilitate street kids.

I hope to tell you all their names and more about their stories soon! (I have intentionally left their names out because I’m not sure if they would want to be mentioned on my blog.)

As an introduction to each other we had a large map of the world on the floor.  Our task was to trace our roots to rural locations around the world.  The staff at UMW also participated in the activity.  I was intrigued by the primary reason the women moved from a rural location to a city was for education.  Many told stories of great obstacles, as women, to pursue education.

My rural roots trace back to my 3rd generation Floridian status.  I can image Florida’s rural marsh which my grandparents experienced, what I can not imagine is a life without the opportunity for education.  Higher education was something assumed for me since birth and at 28 I will graduate with a masters.  I am struck with the privileged not only for education, but also to be amongst some of the most brilliant women in the world!

Thou Shall Connect with Your Inner Artist

Inspired by my best friend Jaime and her blog entry Thou Shall Not Snooze During Lent, I will write about my plans for the season of Lent.  This year I plan to “give up” my constant critique and intellectualizing in my personal devotion.  I was inspired by a book I have yet to read–but it’s on the top of the list–“Against Interpretation” Susan Sontag and my own need to rejuvenate the artist in my Biblical interpretation.  So my lenten goals are as follows:

Read “Reaching Toward Easter” this year’s Lenten Devotional published by the United Methodist Upper Room not with critical eyes but connecting with the Holy Spirit.  I also sent the book to my mom for us to read it together.

Read the book of Romans at least twice as I would poetry and not as a hermeneutical approach.  I might even break up the words in poetry format so that I am forced to read them differently.

We’ll see how well this goes… what are your plans?!

Constructive Theology Reflections

We write short reflections on the readings for my constructive theology class… this reflection is on chapter 8 in The Spirit of Life by Jürgen Moltmann:

The society in which I operate, tells their successful stories through the lens of individualism and achievement.  The successful woman is the one who, through no help of anyone else, rises to the top through education, status, and achievement, in addition to having a loving and adoring family.  Moltmann states that Wesley’s message was to an “industrial society is: ‘produce more – consume more’. But today the cost incurred by this maxim is greater than the profit.”  I do not see any examples in my own society of any “cost incurred” being too great for the “profit” of success.  Even elementary students berate themselves and destroy their bodies through the volition of their parents to “get ahead.”

Moltmann demands a new metaphor for today’s Christians.  He proposes connecting humans to the “web of life” writing against our individualism.  Many of his metaphor maintains their relevance for today, but I do not agree with the idea that we must start with the problems of our society and discover a Christian message that will solve, fix, or even heal them.  Western society is individualistic, violent, and suffering from death, but we hear enough about destruction in political campaigns, do we need to hear it from our pulpits!?  The Holy Spirit is a creative energy, which gives freedom from fear.  Creative energy occurs when people gather to create, like a play or movie; each person works on their particular role in community to put on a production for a gathered community.  The Holy Spirit is not like a political campaign that targets an enemy and rallies people through fear to take a side.

Like Jesus, the church must name hurt and oppression in the world, but healing comes through naming people who are suffering as blessed (Matthew 5:1-11).  I propose we reverse the question: “For what sicknesses of our time will the Christian life prove to be healing?” and begin with “How do we share healing in Christ?”

I continue to reflect on how to share love instead of fear in our churches, speaking for instead of against something.  There is not an easy fix to my ponderings… but I will like digging a little through Bart:

“That man is against God is important and must be taken seriously. But what is far more important and must be taken far more seriously is that in Jesus Christ God is for man. And it is *only* in light of the second fact that the importance and seriousness of the first can be seen.”  – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.2, 154.

Commission on the Status of Women at United Nations in NYC

A few months ago I received an email from the Divinity school list-serve that was soliciting Presbyterian women to be delegates for the 56th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations in NYC.  I clicked the link to find out more about this year’s commission and discovered the Priority theme is “The empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.”

My first thought, “I HAVE TO GO!”

and my second, “I’m not Presbyterian.”

So, I decided to email my contact at United Methodist Women (UMW) who helped me arrange my travels this summer in Uganda to find out if I could be a UMW delegate.  She replied back with a kind email informing me that the UMW delegates would be rural women from around the world to speak to the CSW about their personal stories and ideas for advancement.  I could not be prouder or more excited about their choice of delegates… However, that leaves me out.  Yet, she forward me to the people arranging the UMW events and delegation at the CSW to see if they would have a need for me.

After a few more emails we decided that I could help with publicity, worship, and logistics!  They also agreed to play for my housing during the dates of the CSW!!

On Wednesday, Feb. 23rd I will be flying to NYC to stay with the delegates, help navigate NYC, assist with preparation for their presentations, attend portions of the commission, plan for worship, and — give daily updates, blogs, pages, and video on the United Methodist Women’s network about the happenings of the CSW.

I will defiantly keep you posted as well.

5 seconds of fame!

On Monday I received an email from ABC producer Brian Hartman who wanted my permission to use a few seconds of my YouTube Video from 2008 about a cruise ship lifeboat drill for a story about cruise ship safety on World News with Diane Sawyer.

I hadn’t watched this family vacation YouTube video in years and it made me laugh out loud that he wanted to use a piece of it!  They only used the clips of the lifeboat drill on World news… but I still feel like a little piece of my YouTube brilliance was discovered :).

I’m sure it’s only time before Food Network discovers my videos on the best cupcakes, gelato, mac-n-cheese, and meat-n-threes!!

Christina’s World

This semester I am taking a play-writing course as part of my electives for my Masters of Divinity.  I would like to explore plays as a form of “message” and/or “sermon” for worship or discussion settings in the church. I think narrative in play form is a perfect way to address issues we do not like to talk about in church.

Our first assignment was to explore conflict in a short dialogue inspired from a painting, photograph, or image that “sparks and idea for a story.”

I chose the image Christina’s World. A print of this painting was purchased by my dad before he married mom and it still hangs in our computer room.  My favorite thing about this painting is that it tells a different story for each person who looks at it.  Here is mine…

Scene 1: (Inside the house CHRISTINA, ALEXANDER, and
MOMMA are seated at a large wooden table eating breakfast. The windows are open and you can see the curtains blowing in the wind.)

MOMMA
Bless the Lord that I can feel a cool breeze coming in over the prairie this morning. It’s about time for fall to arrive. This summer was hotter than Hell’s blazes.
CHRISTINA
(agreeing and excited)
Momma this would be the perfect day for Alexander and I to go into town.
ALEXANDER
(crinkles his nose)
I went into town yesterday and when I was down at the store, Andrew and I agreed to meet at creek to go fishing this afternoon.
MOMMA
Today is such a busy day. With all the washing and cleaning needing to be finished before your father gets home from the fields.
(pause after she sees disappointment in Christina’s eyes)
but I do need some sugar for a pie I planned to make for Sunday supper.
ALEXANDER
(sarcastically and under his breath)
Great, I won’t go fishing with Andrew and it will take extra hours with my cripple sister tagging along.
MOMMA
(gives Alexander a glare)
If you ever want to leave this house again you will apologize to your sister and re-order your priorities.
ALEXANDER:
(pushing back from the table)
Oh, I forgot, it doesn’t matter who I am or what I want to do. We are only concerned with Christina. I’m sorry for forgetting my place. I am going to feed the stock before the sun rises any higher.
CHRISTINA:
(Calling after him as he leaves)
It was only a suggestion, It’s not a big deal, I mean, I’m fine at the house.

Scene 2: (CHRISTINA sits on the floor, arms in a tub of bubbles washing cloths. MOMMA is wringing and hanging sheets on the line.)

MOMMA
I don’t know what I’m going to do with that boy.
CHRISTINA
(long pause)
I wish my legs would get better instead of worse, then he wouldn’t hate me so.

MOMMA
Nobody hates you! We all want your legs to get better. He’s trying to find his independence and hurting those he loves the most in the process.
CHRISTINA
Do you actually believe my legs will get better?
MOMMA
I want to believe. But I just don’t know sweet pea, I just don’t know. I do know there’s nothing that I pray for more.
CHRISTINA
What I know is that no one understands what it’s like be useless. Folks pity me or worse see me the way Alexander sees me, like an unmovable, worthless burden.

(Momma finishes clipping a piece of laundry and kneels before her daughter)

MOMMA
I knew the first time I saw you that you were born to stand out. You have always had a heart that loves all things and an inner strength that is surer than the rising of the sun. God gave these traits and your legs to you as gifts. He will only make them stronger.
CHRISTINA
I don’t feel strong! And even though you try, you can’t be strong for both of us.
MOMMA
Don’t talk like that! Look at your arms! I know I couldn’t get this wash done without you. We only have a few pieces left.

(Without saying a word CHRISTINA dries her hands and pulls herself to the porch, up on the rocking chair and stares across the prairie as her mother finishes the laundry.)

Scene 3: (CHRISTINA refuses to come in for the mid-day-meal and after ALEXANDER finishes his afternoon work, he is forced to take CHRISTINA into town. CHRISTINA no longer wants to go, but her mother begs her to leave the porch. ALEXANDER lifts his sister into the horse drawn buggy to go to the store. A little over ten minutes passes before either says a word.)

CHRISTINIA
I wish I were a bird; I would be forced fly or die.

(CHRISTINA flings herself down from the buggy and falls to the ground with a thud. She slowly catches her breath and begins to drag herself towards the house. ALEXANDER stops the buggy and watches her struggle up the hill.)