A Lectionary Blog
The Rev. Leslie M. St. Louis
Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, `Grant me justice against my opponent.' For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, `Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.'" And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"
Way back when in the late 70’s and early 80’s I worked in a program at the University of New Mexico Medical center called the Child Life Program. Child Life is a program that does play and art therapy with hospitalized children. It was an amazing experience and one from which the interactions and the lessons learned inform me to this day. It was one of those times in life where the gift I received was far greater than any I had to offer.
One of the children with whom I worked was a young girl who was a cutter. You may or may not know that cutting is somewhat more prevalent in girls than in boys. There are many reasons that an individual my cut themselves but often what these children express is that it is a way to feel something when their emotions otherwise are numb or blunted. There are many dangers for individuals who cut themselves but one of the lifelong dangers is that the more they self injure the more scarring builds up and the more they have to cut themselves to feel something. That’s certainly true with lots of things, the more insults are screamed at you, the harder it is to hear the truth; the more times you are demeaned, degraded, and objectified, the thicker your skin becomes. To put it in the words we hear in the Gospel, the more you seek justice and don’t find it, the less likely you are to believe it even exists.
In recent weeks the rhetoric of the presidential elections has become louder and more shrill, as it always does to some degree at this point in the election cycle, but this year there has been the added accost of Donald Trump’s treatment of women. Recently his taped comments of how he views and treats—more accurately, assaults—women as well as his degrading comments of the woman with whom he was about to meet has been played over and over and over again. It is not enough that men like Donald Trump think and act the way they do, our media outlets give them credence by supporting their bad behavior with air time or press because the salaciousness of what they are saying and doing sells.
It’s not that anything Mr. Trump said or has done is new to any of us, in fact, sadly this behavior goes back a long, long way in our society. It is so much the norm that many of the women I have spoken to over the last days and weeks actually had to do a double check on their own thoughts and feelings. Yes, we had to tell ourselves that was really horrible, and yes we had to say to ourselves that really does hurt, and yes every time that tape plays on the television, I do really feel sick to my stomach. And YES I should feel that way. And so should everyone else.
We have all grown so used to the treatment of women in this country, treatment that is demeaning and degrading and objectifying that we no longer realize that that treatment cuts deep. We have all heard about and talked about the glass ceiling for a long time. I have experienced it—in my first interview for a church job the rector told me quite plainly I was more qualified than any man he had interviewed but he would not hire a girl to do a man’s job. I have been told when I asked what my role would be in an important service of the church for which I worked, “Oh this is too big of a deal for you. You just need to stand around and look pretty.” I’ve been told I need to dress this way or that way, cut my hair, grow my hair, and wear higher heels. I’ve had my looks and my body evaluated to within an inch of my life by committees and parishioners and never had those same groups of people say one word about my credentials. And I have sat with those same committees and parishioners and listened to the very different treatment they offer a man with the very same credentials.
The glass ceiling is alive and well. The problem is we all have this idea that it is this smooth glass dome, sort of like a panoramic sunroof over our heads. It’s up there sparkling clean letting the sun shine on our pretty little heads and showing us the brilliant blue sky. The problem is that glass ceiling is razor sharp and opaque with the blood of the women it has maimed. The problem is that glass ceiling and all the bad behaviors that work to keep it in place harm all of us.
Gandhi once said (and Bernie Sanders misquoted) “a true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Does a society work to move individuals from vulnerability to indomitability, from shame to honor, from objectifying to personalizing? While it is true that some politicians have come out against Trump’s comments, it boggles my mind that there has not been a mass statement from our professional sports teams decrying the characterization of their locker rooms. And while NBC moved swiftly to suspend and then fire Billy Bush, it has not come forward with a strong censure either. If, in fact, we believe in the justice that women have been coming forward and asking for day after day and year by year, then the only response to someone like Mr. Trump is this--“if you are going to speak in this way and behave in this way we will no longer give you any air time.” Period. Done!
The fact that there is not a stronger response says to me that the powers that be aren’t really so upset by the “locker room talk” but by the fact that they got caught and that created an awkward moment. One could make an interesting case study out of the way Billy Bush faired in all of this. Here he was given a job to do--go interview Donald Trump and bring us back a juicy story. Then Mr. Trump starts to behave and speak in a very unprofessional manner, and what is Mr. Bush to do? He seems uncomfortable on the tape but he does not stop or reprimand Mr. Trump. Maybe he felt like he couldn’t challenge a big star. Surely at least one of his supervisors heard the tape as soon as it was edited, but they didn’t come to their employee’s defense. Finally, when the tape is released years later, Mr. Bush is the sacrificial lamb fired for what being abused by a rich arrogant misogynist? I rather imagine this sounds a lot like the world many women live in every single day.
In our Gospel lesson from last week, the widow keeps coming asking for justice, and finally the judge grants her justice not because she deserve it but because he has tired of hearing her. Women in this country have been pounding on the door of justice for so long that they no longer feel the bruises and the blood running down their arms. Yet the powers that be hear them not and so another generation of girls will grow up cut by the jaggedness of a society that neither cherishes, nor reveres them--and certainly does not respect them--and they will wonder along with Christ if there is any faith on earth.