This Means War

9 03 2017

I have been wrestling with something lately and I couldn’t put my finger on the word until today. It was a few things all in a row that lifted it to the surface. Its not a new pain; its an ongoing thing and I have a soul sadness over it that I know will never go away, not in this life.

I watched the movie “Hidden Figures” recently. Such a great and inspiring movie but I walked away feeling low. It is shameful that the stories about these amazing and gifted ladies happened the way they happened. The line in the movie that got me was, of course, when Mrs. Mitchell (who is white) does her best to seem empathetic to what the African-American women were going through. She says,

Mrs. Mitchell: Dorothy, despite what you might think, I have nothing against y’all.
Dorothy: I know. I know you believe that.

That line…that line is just so loaded with meaning.

The sadness for me is that no matter how hard the races try to “not have anything against one another” there is so much material from the past that can never be rewritten, never be undone, never be excused, never atoned for…not truly. And it is not just in the past — that is the worst thing — it isn’t really changing. It might change in one area but it is like when you poke the stuffing back into a pillow and it bulges out of a tear somewhere else. Sorry to be pessimistic. There is so much that a person “of colour* has has walked through and will continue to walk through that I don’t even know how it can be mended. (*About that term “of colour” — really so ridiculous that this is even a description of a human being. A “person of colour”, what does that even mean? It implies there is a colourless race and then all the rest…a whole other set of human beings like there are only two categories. That term perpetuates the problem).

I walked out of that movie longing to be right with my fellow human beings of all shades — without the barriers we have created because of our sin. I wish we could just purely enjoy one another and live with one another without underlying judgements or any evil sense of superiority or inferiority.

But we left the path so long ago. We have not loved what God has loved and so the “colourless” and the “coloured” are at…here is the word: war.

A long time ago a group of people landed on the shores of what would later be called Canada and they took it. They didn’t ask for it, they just took it. If that wasn’t bad enough, they elevated themselves to believe that they were more human than those already present on the property. From there it was just a massacre in every way. If murder was not enough, for those who remained they squeezed the culture almost totally out of its original inhabitants. They tried to refashion them in their own likeness so that even the “Aboriginal” people could barely recognize themselves. The conquerors told them, “sit here and don’t move,” giving them what they thought would be an adequate life for an lesser people, and they had the audacity to think they were helping. They even gave them a misrepresentation of a Saviour to follow which was possibly the most damaging thing of all.

And so we have lived separate lives. We have crossed paths in recent years. We have forged friendships — but friendships? Some people work really hard at it, and even that tells a story. Why do we have to work so hard at something that should be just natural? Its uneasy. There is still a them and us. One group meets here. One group meets there. There is still so much suspicion and division. The recovery is slow, so very slow…and I am not sure if  there can ever be an end to the war with this nation and its First Nation with so much left unsaid and so much left undone.

This gives me such an ache. God, I wish we could turn back the hands of time so that we could love each other the way You always have. He says, “I know, I warned you.”

And then yesterday was International Women’s Day. I love who woman are when they live out their calling confidently! I love seeing that person,  fashioned by our Creator, doing things she couldn’t imagine herself capable of — whatever it is! I love her spice and her courage and voice and her humour and her contribution whether she is reserved or all out there. I love when she just does what she does and has the room to do so.

But yesterday, it couldn’t be ignored, there was a Woman’s Day because there is enmity between women and men. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau posted on Instagram a photo of herself and her husband, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, celebrating on Women’s Day the men who celebrate Women’s Day too. And she heard about it! It was not the time (many felt), it was not the place to even mention men in the equation because there are too many women who are not free, who face male-imposed barriers and ceilings and rules and economic disparity. There are too many closed doors and too much demeaning behaviour, and there is too much conflict at each difficult step forward for women all over the world.

The point of this post is just to say — we are fighting. Men and Women are at each other and this was not the original idea either. We were supposed to be boosting each other up, helping each other over the wall, challenging one another with different viewpoints, strengthening the other when weariness set in, and yet…and yet…we are at war with one another.

In the “old days” those of faith spoke and sang of heaven more. Weary bodies with hopeful voices, looking forward to something better than this. Wealth and credit have fooled us into thinking this can be paradise, but it’s not. It certainly is not, because we are at war. We keep striving to fix things — it is a noble effort (not always noble, but many do so with good hearts) but as long as we have selfishness and greed and a damaged view of one another…how far can we take this?

Isaiah 2:4

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

— Teresa Klassen


In Celebration of the Girl Child

11 10 2013

0051_###*Today is the International Day of the Girl Child.

I was never told that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. Quite the opposite: I grew up in a home that (to use today’s phraseology) “empowered women.” It wasn’t a political thing. My parents never sat me down and told me about the complicated world and how I might bump into ceilings. Instead of discussing potential restrictions, they just pointed me towards a world of possibilities and that is how I grew up: the glass is half full.

My mother was a big voice in my life, telling me I could “do it,” whatever it was. She encouraged me to try new things, to create, to think, and to be brave. She cheered me on and questioned me at the same time.  She would listen to my latest scheme and then she would help me sift through it. I could easily be swept up by what was great in my head, and she taught me to consider and value other viewpoints. What a brilliant sounding board she was; she taught me so much about the power of collaboration.

My mother, grandmothers, aunts and other older women told me their stories and those of our ancestors; many of them opened the door wide to their own lives so I could see what strength looked like. I don’t remember any of them teaching me a recognizably feminist doctrine though. They simply showed me what was possible even when faced by great adversity, and I believed it. There are so many women I know in person or on a page who have been an influence on me. Resilience, tenacity, faith, and improvisation: all things I learned from these women.

And, this is a privilege I have experienced as well: I have had terrific male role models walk with me. Uncles, friends, co-workers, leaders, and authors. My own father was more of a silent man, but he backed me. These men influenced me and encouraged me so I never really felt a sense of competition with the male world. Well…maybe a little healthy competition, which I still enjoy (a shout-out to Aunt Heidi for giving the T-shirt that said, “Whatever boys can do girls can do better.” Being a little scrappy isn’t a bad thing either).

 As I recently celebrated 25 years of marriage, I can’t go further without mentioning the unwavering belief my husband has in me. Our partnership has never been about defined gender roles; we have just naturally taken on what we are best at and have helped each other where we aren’t as strong. He appreciates my feminine traits and I appreciate his masculine traits. I deeply, deeply value how God has given him a different kind of strength than me. And he deeply, deeply values the strength God has given me – I can say this because he has told me so, many times. We are different from each other, but we don’t have to tell each other that. We don’t have to come up with a label or an assignment. When you are in love and choose to love guided by Christ, you see the need for what the other person has; you don’t resent it or resist it.

As I think about it, this is how Jesus Christ was. He just mingled with men and women and children and those of means and those without means and He just showed a great respect for all of them. The only ones he went after were those small minded, legalistic individuals who resisted His kind of super-natural natural way of relating. Jesus knew people; knowing people makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

I have bumped into men who demean women. I have been in conversations in mixed circles and have seen men disengage when I speak. I have been in situations where my husband gets what he wants in four words or less but I have to call back ten times to get any results. I have cringed at innuendos and disparaging remarks; I have felt my heart race when insulted and compartmentalized. I have felt my blood boil when I see young men make disgusting remarks about young women.  I have felt so grieved and deflated when I hear young women agree with them.

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 10.30.28 AMAnd all of that pales, it pales in comparison to what other women – young and old – are experiencing all over the world. These are the women who are literally risking life and limb to eat, to be educated, to have some small ounce of respect as they live and breathe. What a Satanic thing, the oppression of women! Half of whom God has made with His own hands, half of the human race who have His breath in their lungs, are treated like garbage. Well, less than half, since little baby girls are routinely killed without much a thought.

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 10.30.38 AMWithout a doubt, all of that is so incredibly insulting and demeaning and evil. Why should we have to stand up and fight for ourselves? Why should we have to carry signs, or raise our voices about inequality, or get shot in the streets for standing up for what is just right. God calls us all to defend justice, and the devaluing of women is a great injustice. A man who is worth his salt flexes his muscles on behalf of those who are oppressed, including women.

As for me, one who lives more privileged than most, I know who I have been created and called to be.  I have ideas and abilities and I know how to be a part of a team and I know how to lead a team too. I have something to say and I want to listen also. I don’t want to overshadow anyone, but neither do I want to live in a shadow. I know God does not view men or women as one more valuable than the other. I won’t be “put in my place” as I know what my place is: I am a treasured daughter of the Most High God who bears His image also. I will walk that way.

I am disinterested in any sort of pecking order. I love the uniqueness of men and what they bring to the table; and I love the uniqueness of women and what they bring to the table. Let’s sit at the table together and be ourselves.

—   Teresa Klassen

P.S. And I must add, this is what I love, love, love about the work going on in some homes in India. They are taking girls and boys and loving them for who they are. They are educating both boys and girls and showing them that they have a hope and a future and are loved beyond measure by the God who made them.

Women Of Influence

25 05 2011

Reading the Bible this morning, this line in Acts made me think: “The Jewish leaders stirred up both the influential religious women and the leaders of the city, and they incited a mob…” (Acts 13:50). Isn’t it interesting that the Jewish leaders chose influential religious women and city leaders as their means to incite a mob? This made me think…

I really get excited about how God made women and entrusted them with such incredible gifts and responsibilities. I really love this about men too, in case you are wondering; I am not one- sided in thinking people are the astounding result of an astonishingly creative God. The genius of God is seen in the two of us (men and women) and how God made us both equal and unique.

But back to women, being one and having two daughters, I have a passion that runs pretty deep to see us and our kind, everywhere, be all that God has called us to be; without any human-made limits. As I think about what that means, and even the implications of this passage of Scripture, I realize what we have to work with.

Why did the leaders go to these women to try to accomplish an evil agenda? I think they knew what men have always known, so concisely put in My Big Fat Greek Wedding: a woman is the neck that turns the head. In my journal I jotted down a short list of what women are generally good at. I am not saying this is true of every women, in equal amounts, but here is what I have observed about “our kind”:

  • Women have a desire to be connected to others and are good at creating connections; add a leadership gift to the mix and you end up with what this Scripture passage describes: women who are well connected and influential. You have met women like this. They have charisma. They know how to gather people and foster relationships.
  • Women know how to win people over. Perhaps because women haven’t typically had the privilege of power, women have become adept at campaigning and, out of necessity, understand the potential of good timing. Think of Esther in the Bible who needed to win over the King; she knew how to set the stage for a favorable outcome.
  • Women know how to read a room. Generally, a woman is emotionally wired to pick up on the subtle clues of body language. She has an ear and a sense for what is under and around what appears to be just a normal conversation. She reads expression and tone of voice and it makes her feel something and affects how she will respond. All of this becomes part of what motivates her to action: what she has sensed. This skill is part of what helps her navigate through life: understanding the layers of communication.
  • A woman will find a way. This is another skill women have developed out of necessity. Women are often very good at improvising and finding creative means to get done what needs to get done. More women than not have a survival instinct that has allowed them to pick up and start over, find holes in imposed boundaries, keep kids on track against all odds, and bandage their own wounds.
  • A woman and a cause she believes in is a force to be reckoned with. Need I say more?

I know I have only named five great things about women but before I get too ra-ra about how awesome we can be, I must admit that these five things are powerful when under the right motivation, and most dangerous when they are not. Let me give you the shadow side:

  • It’s true: Women have a desire to be connected to others and are good at creating connections; there are many women who are well connected and influential and can they ever sway a big audience if they want to. If a woman is viewed by other men and women as being beautiful, charismatic, smart, charming, and popular, don’t underestimate what she can accomplish with so little as the rolling of her eyes. When you want to be like her, or be with her, you don’t question much of what she says. Finding yourself in her company feels like it is an achievement. It is no wonder the leaders sought out influential women. If they could sell their agenda to her, she could sell the agenda everywhere else. Think Oprah.
  • It’s true: Women know how to win people over. They know how to wait things out and the right time to drop a word or two. They know how to set the stage to come out with the win. The religious leaders knew the women could throw just the right party, invite the right people, “win friends and influence people;” some of the best lobbyists you’ll ever meet.
  • It’s true: Women know how to read a room. The leaders would get great feedback from those influential women about who was “with them” and who was “not” because they would pick that up pretty quickly. Women always know (or think they know) who is with them or against them; as much as we don’t want to, it comes pretty naturally to size people up. Can you imagine how dangerous those women were in their role of stirring up a mob. They would have known whose buttons to push and when.
  • It’s true: A woman will find a way. After one hour, those women would have come up with 10 really good ideas to sway popular opinion, out-of-the-box ideas that the female mind cooks up.
  • It’s true: A woman and a cause she believes in is a force to be reckoned with. If they managed to appeal to a women’s sense of right or wrong; if they connected with her heart’s passion, enough said. Indignation is a powerful motivator. By morning she’d have posters printed, meetings with the right people lined up and a press release ready to go.

But there is something else in this passage that is scary. These were “religious” women. These were women whose hearts were moved spiritually and here again is something both wonderful and nasty. It is a beautiful thing when a woman comes before God with open hands to hear from Him and be moved and motivated by Him. Oh the leadership, courage, faith, generosity and sacrifice that comes from such a submitted heart!

Yet, we can’t deny it, we have done our share of whispering in dark corners, twisting Scripture to satisfy our wants or to soothe our wounded egos. We have quoted verses to suit our needs. We are familiar with the self in self-righteousness, unforgiveness, banding together to force a hand, and judging both sisters and brothers with less than holy hearts.

A “religious” woman’s influence is hard to quantify, but I am sure it is double that of a woman who has no backing.

A little mention in Acts, but what a warning in just a few words. Who am I? I can be devoted and influential in all the wrong ways that look right. One’s influence is serious; a serious thing to consider when we, as women, pray that we will be honorable. If we have such power to sway a mob, we better be leaning in the right direction.

— Teresa Klassen