I have longed for thy salvation, O L-RD; and thy Torah is my delight. Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; and let thy judgments help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments. Psalm 119:174-176

27 December 2012

The Girl Effect, part 26 - Women of the Wall update

Women of the Wall logo

So here I am tonight, reading the news, minding my own business when I find another update on the story about the Women of the Wall at Arutz Sheva that has me really scratching my head here.

The issue of women wearing a prayer shawl and reading from the Torah at the Western Wall appears on the surface to be harmless, so it has been adopted as a cause célèbre as part of the Reform and Conservative movements' decades-old attempt to destroy the Orthodox Jewish authority that dates back to the time of Moses.
The issue of confronting halakhic authority is not new in the Jewish world. The Bible describes attempts by Korach to usurp Moses’ authority because “all of the Jewish people are holy.”
Similarly, the catchy, fashionable slogan of “equality,” with a push from Rudoren, has kept the Women of the Wall’s demands on the front pages in the United States.
Arutz Sheva: US Liberal Jews’ War on Orthodoxy at Kotel

 What the what? Did you see what they just did there? No really, did you just see what I saw?

Arutz Sheva, for the most part, I love you... but seriously, this is just.. it's.. Yeah, that's just special.

Pardon me while I deconstruct these two comments for you.  If you're unfamiliar with the usual spiritual and verbal attacks on women who wish to take on commandments of Torah that are time-bound, and as such generally unable for us to take on at a regular basis like men (not forbidden!!) - allow me to soften the blow of these horrible words with a little more information and education.

This statement, is exactly, I kid you not, like the typical spiritually abusive statements leveled by any spiritual leader who has had enough of whatever "shenanigans"  they don't want going on in their own backyard. And frankly, this is what really twerks me off about the whole issue.

No one wants to come to the table amicably and deal with it from the Orthodox side. No, that'd be breaking with thousands of years of tradition!

Pardon me while I sidebar for a few minutes to sing along with Reb. Tevye.

However, the Reform and Conservative groups ARE trying to come to terms with the issue and meet amicably, and instead of doing so - they are having chairs, rocks, words and spit thrown at them. Instead of a hand of fellowship and some time out to examine halachah - they're getting the left foot of fellowship.


In their book, Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, The: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church, David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen describe this exact situation down to a "T" in chapters 4-7.

In chapter four, the set up is described as a shame-based system. We read; "Shame-based relationships build on an emotional foundation that undermines relational honesty; hinders a maturing individual relationship with God; and fosters dependence upon another, who grows in power as a false leader, building an unhealthy system in which appearance is more important than reality. These systems victimize people and set them up to be trapped in future abusive relationships."(p. 59 - you can read more here)

In chapter five, it's described as power posturing, performance preoccupation,  unspoken rules, and lack of balance. The authors said "If noticing problems is labeled disloyalty, lack of submission, divisiveness, and a challenge to authority, then there is only a facade of peace and unity. (p. 69 - you can read more here)"

 In chapter six, you find out that abusive systems generally will have a “ perception of a lot of evil on the outside, to keep people in, and there will be a lot of power postured on the inside to compel you to perform.” (p. 79 - you can read more here)  Generally speaking, what will happen at this point, is a lot of paranoia about the "outside" and a lot of security and learned helplessness and co-dependency on the inside of the group. Without the group, you won't survive. You'll be thrown to the lions!! You'll be leaving security for damnation.

In chapter seven, the authors discuss how there is a "don't talk rule" about issues that are considered incorrect in the spiritually abusive community. " is a false peace that is maintained by keeping a “can’t-talk” rule and sweeping all the problems under the rug. A true peace-maker is one who is able to help make peace where there is no peace, not one who helps cover up problems and keep them out of view. (read more here)"

Here's the thing. The author is basically not only implying that the women are sinful little Jezebels for doing what they are doing, but he also invalidated the practice of Mazorti/Conservative and Reform Judaism.

So, to the author that wrote this article, I'd simply like to say you're not even close to the mark on this article as to the realities of this issue, and you'd have done a whole heckuvalot better by just contacting Women of the Wall and officials from both the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements to get their take and understanding on halacha than this crazy piece today.

Grace, Peace and Understanding... It's for other sects of Judaism too.

26 December 2012

The Girl Effect, Part 25, Women of the Wall revisited

Women of the Wall Logo

By now you know, issues concerning The Women of the Wall tends to be a popular topic with me. (see this post and this post for background) I have little ability to not speak up when I hear or see injustices in daily life, and this is one of those issues of great injustice for our sisters who wish to pray at the Kotel in Israel.

Women were again arrested on the 14th of this month, and I only heard about it recently. Below is the story of the arrests and the forthcoming news that action is now being taken to change the laws to allow individuals who are not Orthodox to have more leeway at the wall.

Eighty-eight women and 50 men went to the Kotel with Women of the Wall for Rosh Chodesh prayer, said the organization’s chair, Anat Hoffman, in an interview with the Sisterhood. At the security checkpoint, police told women that their tallitot and other ritual objects would be confiscated. Most complied.

But Rabbi Elyse Frishman and a few others wearing tallitot around their necks under winter coats just zipped them up and passed through the checkpoint.
December 14, 2012 The Forward: Four Women Detained at Kotel For Wearing Tallit

We gathered quietly at the rear of the Western Wall to pray. One woman came over to me and asked quietly, “May I stand with you and pray? I wanted to wear my prayer shawl, but I’m afraid.”

Two police officers walked over. One said in Hebrew, “You are not allowed to wear the prayer shawl.” Pretending, I said politely in English, “Excuse me, I do not understand.”
December 25,2012 - Fighting for Freedom at the Western Wall
Two young British women have been arrested in Jerusalem after participating in a Women of the Wall religious rights protest.

...are currently on RSY-Netzer’s Israel gap-year programme, were arrested on Friday during morning prayers...
December 14, 2012 - RSY girls arrested in Women of the Wall protest
The first woman detained, Women of the Wall board member Rachel Cohen Yeshurun, refused to remove her tallit as she entered the Western Wall Plaza, far from the holy site itself. She was removed and interrogated, under the accusation of disturbing the public order and obstructing a police procedure.
December 14, 2012 - EJewish Philanthropy - New Decree at the Western Wall Places Further Limits on Women’s Freedom

Jewish group claims new decree was issued Friday morning, forbidding women from entering the plaza with Jewish holy articles, tallit and tefilin; World Union for Progressive Judaism calls for third prayer section at Western Wall where men and women can pray together.
December 15, 2012 Haaretz Daily - Four Women of the Wall arrested amid 'escalation of restrictions' on Jewish women's rights

THE CAMPAIGN of the Women of the Wall is an interesting one. ... There is a notion that Hoffman and others have a “right” to do as they please at the Kotel. The argument is that the Kotel belongs in some way to all the Jewish people and since not all Jews pray the same way, therefore all types of prayer should be allowed.

But this poses a fundamental issue that all open societies face; when does one person’s rights infringe on another’s?
December 18, 2012 Jerusalem Post - Terra Incognita: Liberating the Wall from Whom?
After a period of calm, the past six months have witnessed a genuine escalation in tensions between women who come to pray at the Western Wall and the Wall’s chief rabbi and police. Last Friday, members of the group Women of the Wall were arrested in the third such incident in three months.
December 18, 2012 Haaretz Daily - Closing in on Women at the Wall

My plea to Women of the Wall and those who actively support them is to declare victory” and “consecrate” Robinson’s Arch “as a place of prayer,” Klein Halevi said. “This is an unprecedented opportunity.” ...
Sabath Beit-Halachmi compared his proposal to accepting segregation’s obligation to sit at the back of the bus “because the air conditioning is better.” Women of the Wall members don’t want more separation, she said. Instead, there is a time-sharing proposal currently being discussed with the office of Israel’s prime minister that would permit Orthodox prayer customs on certain days and egalitarian prayer customs on others.
December 19, 2012 The Jewish Daily Forward - Is Kotel Alternative Women's Back of the Bus?

They were arrested because they were praying to God the way they could, the way that felt meaningful to them. They were arrested for disrupting the peace, when those who taunted them loudly and even physically attacked them by throwing plastic chairs at them were allowed to stay.
...I wonder why these women, who make up the group Women of the Wall, are singled out over and over again by the police.
December 19, 2012 The Times of Israel - Hypocrisy at the Kotel
What kind of Jewish state we have built when women worshipers at the Western Wall face spitting, cursing and arrests? The ongoing breach of human rights in Israel, especially for Jewish women, demands a clear response by Israel's political leadership.
December 20, 2012  Haaretz Daily - Arresting women praying at the Wall is not a matter of faith but of power and politics

Women of the Wall will continue to fight, not only for reclaiming the Kotel as public space, but also for all the other issues of religious pluralism in Israel that are so important. We will continue to speak truth to power, raising our voices and our prayers to challenge the Orthodox monopoly on issues of personal status: marriage, divorce, burial and conversion, and to work for parity in government funding for non Orthodox religious and educational institutions and for recognition of liberal rabbis. And we will continue to act on our conviction that there is more than one way to be a Jew.
December 21, 2012 Huffington Post - Women at the Wall: Wrapped in Light Like a Garment
Women of the Wall spokeswoman Shira Pruce said she believes the police are merely trying to intimidate the activists ("If they wanted to press criminal charges, they would have done that by now"). Still, she does urge those who want to show solidarity, particularly younger women from abroad, to understand there are risks involved in acts of civil disobedience. "What concerns us is that they may end up having problems with their visa and lose their right to be in Israel," noted Pruce. "That is why I tell them that if they do not want to be detained, they should not wear a tallit."
December 21, 2012 Haaretz Daily Overseas student programs reeling from Western Wall arrests

 While more than 60 percent of Jews in the United States identify with the Reform or Conservative movements, where women and men have equal standing in prayer and many feminists have adopted ritual garments, in Israel it is one in 10.

...“It’s embarrassing for Israel, it’s embarrassing for Jews, and the American Jewish community is beginning to understand that it’s a slippery slope here.”
December 23, 2012 The New York Times - At Western Wall, a Divide over Prayer Deepens
Amid outrage across the Jewish diaspora over Israel’s flurry of recent arrests of women seeking to pray at the Western Wall with ritual garments – in defiance of Israeli law — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, to study the issue and suggest ways to make the site more accommodating to all Jews.
The move comes after more than two decades of civil disobedience by a group called Women of the Wall ...

December 25, 2012 The New York Times - Israel to Review Curbs on Women’s Prayer at Western Wall

Ladies and Gentlemen, if you've been praying - please keep knocking on the doors of heaven. Because it looks like we're finally being heard.

23 December 2012

The Girl Effect, part 24 - Neutering G-d

Image photographed from Die Illustrierte Bibel - J. Stahl

If you live in Germany, no doubt you've heard the recent controversy surrounding German Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Kristina Schröder.  If you don't, you're probably immune to the absolute hilarity that has become the concern over Ms. Schröder's choice to call G-d in a neutral German term ("Das lieber Gott") when asked how she would explain G-d to her daughter (who is now 18 months old) - which was a question in passing that she was asked after she was questioned as to how she handles censoring Grimm's fairy tales and Pippi Longstocking when she reads it to her daughter.

 For those unacquainted with Pippi Longstocking and the books associated with it, it was written in a time that issues of culture and racially sensitive speech was not something quite common. So, there are terms in the book such as "Neger" (Negro/Nigger) - which obviously in this day and age needs to be updated or censored if reading the older books to young children.   For those who have not read the original German Grimm fairy stories - some of them are "quite sexist" to borrow the phrase Ms. Schröder used. Obviously you won't want to tell your young son or daughter something that is not only incorrect but sexist while raising them, even if the story is nigh on 200 years old - right?

Well, the upset surrounding Ms. Schröder is that she explains to her daughter (quite theologically correctly) that G-d is without gender, and that it is quite alright to refer to G-d as "Der lieber G-tt" as it would be also to refer to G-d as "Das lieber G-tt".  "Das" being the neuter article in German which could be used as "the" or "it" depending on context.

Well, it's scarcely been a few days since she made this comment and half of her political party is up in arms and accusing her of saying something heretical.  Quite honestly, I'm welcoming the distraction from the crazy talk I've heard out of the American Bible Belt since  the terrible shooting that took place in Newtown, CT.

What is terribly frustrating though, is the apparent lack of knowledge people have of the original languages of the Bible - and for the Catholics upset about this issue - what Pope Benedict has to say on the matter and how what Ms. Schröder said was and is not heretical.

I'll leave the commentary away and then explain a little more afterwards. I've been discussing this on an online forum, and I think I'm ready to discuss it here. So here I go. I've put on my flame retardant, bunch-resistant underwear. Like what I have to share or not, but certainly don't go calling someone a heretic and be ready to burn their political career or otherwise until you've fully researched the position.

Germany's conservative Family Minister Kristina Schröder has angered colleagues in her Catholic-influenced Bavarian sister party for saying that the masculine definite article "doesn't mean anything" when it comes to God.Asked in an interview with Die Zeit weekly how she would tell her 18-month-old daughter Lotte that the German word for God, Gott, takes the masculine definite article der rather than the feminine die, she answered that the word had no bearing on God's gender. "You could just as easily say, das liebe Gott," she said, using the neuter article.
German Family Minister in trouble for "neutering" God

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church correctly states that God is neither man nor woman. God is pure  spirit in which there is no place for the differences between the sexes. But the  respective “perfections” of man and woman reflect something of the infinite  perfection of God: those of a mother (Isaiah 49:14-15; 66:13; Psalm 131:2-3) and  those of a father (Job 31:18; Jer. 3:4-20) and husband (Jer. 3:6-19). (CCC  370.)

 From here out, I do ask that you go gently on my translations. I'm trying hard with the little German I do speak and read to get this over to an understandable English. I have edited a few things and am unsure if I understood it all correctly, and some things I have translated as dynamically as possible without terribly ruining the original German. (ok, I hope I did not terribly ruin it!)

 "Bavaria's Social Affairs Christine Haderthauer (CSU) said to Das Bild on Friday: "This stupid nonsense makes me speechless. I find it sad when our children are told out of sheer insecurity and political correctness a different story than the strong images already in place, which are so important for their imagination."

"The CSU interior expert Stephan Mayer said to Das Bild, "Instead of always instigating completely pointless debates, the Minister should just do her job. We also do not say, the Mother of God ' in neutral form."

"The Hessian CDU deputy Klaus-Peter Willsch told the paper: "For those to whom only  a gender-neutral access to the Lord seems to be possible, I recommend just at Christmas tide THE Christ Child."
Streit über political correctness: „Das Gott“: Rückendeckung für Kristina Schröder - weiter lesen auf FOCUS Online

"I was asked in the interview about this. Perhaps in my answer I thought more about my little girl and not about the many adults who would trip over my words.", said Family Minister Kristina Schröder
"Man proposes to God the way he wants things, but God will always be the way he is." That is a beautiful and famous phrase of Francis of Assisi, which one has faith and trust in God, not knowing what they may missing. And, in principle, the Federal Minister for Family Affairs is of course right when she says that it would not necessarily be wrong to call "the [masculine article] God", but that you could also say "the [neuter article] God". In principle..."Das Abendblatt: Ministerin Kristina Schröder und das Gott

"Imminent danger! Due to unfortunate gender mainstreaming, those who call everything into question, also biological differences between men and women - this important question has arrived in the middle of society! The chancellor's office must now declare to the government spokesman, why he as a devout Catholic had no problems with [the issue], and does not call him "the [male article] God", but also "the [neuter article] God"."

"And why in the end, not "the [neuter article] God"? My God, she did not understand the difference between grammar and sex! This has nothing to do with theology anyway."  exclaimed half of the Bavarian Party members except Horst Seehofer."
Die Welt

This next article has me thinking of the German sesame street (Sesamstrasse) song. I'm sure this is not a coincidence. (Der, Die, Das! *clap, clap* Wer, wie, was *clap, clap* Wieso, weshalb, warum? *clap, clap* Wer nicht fragt - gleich dumm!)

"As if that was not everything in the Bible (in appropriate language) would be. It's good that at least Mrs. Merkel's girls can imagine the questions tormenting our offspring while waiting for the Christ Child. It does not say no "to the [gender neutral] Sams."[ Christine] Haderthauer's just mad because it is not such a popular tune one would think of which startled even an apostolic protonotary from hibernation."
" this spokesman assured that you may have read that the Pope himself said, 'that God was neither man nor woman.' Jesus, Mary and Joseph, from bad to worse! We can already see the headlines in the colorful pages in front of us: New plagiarism case! O Dear Lady, let it be Christmas!"
FAZ: Christdemokraten streiten über der, die, das liebe Gott

[Das Sams is a literary character that is an alien. He is referred to as "das Sams" as he arrived on a Saturday (Samstag) and was dubbed such by Herr Taschenbier in the book  (and movie) series by Paul Maar]

"The outrage over alleged adulterations of the sacred texts is therefore also associated with ignorance. It's a bit like the people who make "the Luther Bible" above everything else, but do not know that the current Protestant Church is as inspired by popular  text written by Martin Luther, is as little about Luther just as Bismarck has nothing to do with a Bismarck herring.

 God's Word has been modernized  repeatedly for 500 years. The  New Protestants would understand the original Luther text just as most Jews their Hebrew Torah or most Muslims, the Arabic text the Koran."
Die Welt - Eine Ehrenrettung Für Kristina Schröder

[In other words: All this is lost on neo-evangelicals who have lost touch with the original German of the Luther Bible (Like those who are KJVO have been lost on the King James) and lost touch that Luther set out to make the Bible available to Germans in their common tongue and that people do not read the original Hebrew/Greek texts. They have no idea to what they are protesting exactly. A Grammatical error or a Biblical truth.]

"Scathing criticism from the Catholic Church is expressed. "When I hear Mrs Schröder, she is reflecting a terrifying religious illiteracy. She does not know the basic theology of the faith," said the Vatican adviser and director of the Bavarian pilgrimage town of Maria Pieta, Monsignor William Imkamp. "The remarks are 'SB'', stupid and brash, and also bear witness to an unrestrained opportunism"."
Bayrisches Rundfunk

Wow. Really. Pardon me a second.

(Why yes, I am a fan of this Anime Series.)

Technically, it's not grammatically incorrect what she said. It *could* work if grammar rules were updated. Practically, it is grammatically incorrect. But, theologically - its a dogmatic point that "everyone has always done it" and this now has people possibly questioning which god or G-d you mean, OR because you say "THE G-d" (Das lieber G-tt) that you are being dogmatic to others who might hold other points of view.

I asked my husband (my local German guru when I have questions and my resources from schooling on this subject are limited) and he says "From strict grammar definitions it is wrong because G-d as a word itself in German is masculine only. . . unless you say göttin (godess). There is not a "the" form for god/G-d.  HOWEVER,  when you think about it and work with it, it makes G-d genderless. It could work but... it sounds odd to the ear. It's accurate for the Hebrew though. She is referring to G-d in the way that the Bible says - unlike how the church says."  

She's not referring to G-d as "it" but "The". Das encompasses both. It's people picking at nits and saying that they don't want to change the language terminology to be more accurate with a mindset contained in the original texts to keep "Der" as the article referring to G-d, forever keeping him masculine.

They're accusing Kristina Schröder of being a feminist and trying to make G-d female (which she did not) - but the thing is, Kristina Schröder is making waves in her party and in Germany.  She is from a Independent Evangelical Lutheran (SELK) background from here in Hessen.  She is the first German cabinet member to ever give birth to a child while in office.

This is the second time she says something that might be taken as feminist, the female members of her party who are Christian, as well as a few male members who are strict Christians get their undies in a bunch because they do not understand the Hebrew and Greek rules underlying the German Bible texts, which have G-d as strictly male only from the translator's point of view.

"From the time I was a little girl, God has been uniquely and unequivocally male. I have prayed for decades to God my Father in heaven; images of male heroes and God as a Warrior King dominate nearly all the Bible stories that I've learned and studied over in the past thirty years. It has not been lost on me that when Jesus, the Son of God, gathered twelve friends to be his inner circle, they were all men...
...Modern Christianity, at first glance, is a spiritual path to a male God who gives privilege to the gender blessed with male chromosomes...

...What does happen to a woman when the spiritual imagery of her life is dominated by male vocabulary?

.... If women of faith are constantly given a male-only image of God by male-dominated voices, it is going to take a toll on a woman's identity. If this isn't enough, there's also the marginalization that women experience within their faith tribes... because of femaleness.
What do these omissions tell women and men?"

Pam Hogewide, Unladylike, Chapter Six: The Bible Tells Me So (Part 2)
 I won't ruin the rest of the book - but suffice to say that Pam's experience; her friends' experiences - are not lost on me and many other women and men in our "faith tribes" as Pam puts it.  What Pam is saying here, is exactly what the snippet of Mrs. Schröder's statement conveys.

22 December 2012

The Girl effect - part 23, Birth redux

Bouquet - photo by J.Stahl

I've been thinking very hard on my break about what I wanted to talk about next on my blog about women, and girls, and things that need changing in our cultures and also in our faith. Funny thing, one thing is not going away in the back of my mind and I feel like I'm being driven to discuss birth again.

"Why?"  I'm sure some of you are thinking... In fact, I asked myself that very same question, and the more I think about it - "Why not?" - this is one area where traditionally, women are not empowered or in charge of, and it is the one thing that affects ALL of us - men or women, boys and girls. We got here somehow. Someone had to birth us.

The questions I have are as follows:
  • Did she know all the options available to her?
  • Was she educated when it came to birth? --Did she know what was happening, how it would happen, how to ease her pains, whether it was optional to go without interventions?
  • Did she have a midwife or doula?  --Did she know she could?
  • Was she forced into an unnecessary cesarean?
  • Did she have birth complications?
  • Did her congregation (church, synagogue, what have you) assist her after her birth? 
  • Did her family assist her?
  • What are our / my options?
  • Is a VBAC something possible after a cesarean? --is it really as risky as some doctors paint it?

How timely, that this is a pressing issue on my mind, when most of the Christian world is celebrating the most important birth in the entire history of our faith - the birth of Messiah, and remembering that Mary bore him in a Sukkah that day, without her female family members attending (as was custom), very possibly without a midwife, and only with Joseph attending. This had to be terrifying, unless she knew and trusted her body to do what it had to do.

You see, the custom of the time was that the women of the families were together for all the births. Midwives were common, but women were often together during births. Had it not been for the special circumstances of the birth of Y'shua (traveling, hotels all booked) - this would have been something afforded to Mary. Except, that's not how the Bible tells us the story.  It was just Mary and Joseph, no room in the inn, and a baby laid on the area where they'd have eaten in a sukkah. Can you imagine?

And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
-Luke 2, New Living Translation

Women did not traditionally keep Sukkot like men did. Women did the baking and cooking and were often together in the Sukkah for meals and some celebrations - but not for the entire week camping outside like the men did.  And here was Miriam (Mary) with Yosef (Joseph) living in the Sukkah apart from everyone else due to the birth of the miracle child.... Y'shua. We know that for 8 days they stayed in the Sukkah, and quite possibly after that, they may have found lodging or moved on to stay with family. We're not told.

The amazing thing, the light of the world Himself, was wrapped in strips of cloth worn often re-used as wicks to light the lamps in the Temple during Sukkot. It was said that during Sukkot, one could see in all of Jerusalem without any part of it being dark due to the giant lamps in the Temple being lit at night.  It is quite possible that Miriam got these "swaddling clothes" from her cousin Elisabeth, prior to her journey with Joseph to Bethlehem.

Bethlehem was often called a sleepy neighbor village of Jerusalem. But, we are not told that it was as bright during this time of year. Yet, the angels sang, and the star shone bright for the Levitical Shepherds minding the Temple flocks to witness this miracle in their midst:

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
-Luke 2, New Living Translation

So while this is in the back of my mind, I'm also thinking about how removed many women are from family when they give birth, and how institutionalized that all of this has become.  There has been a lot of news and fervor about this issue as of late. Its timely, precisely because people are thinking about birth all this month and some are even still thinking about it into mid-January when the Christian calendar finishes the celebration of the birth and circumcision of Y'shua (Jesus) when he was a baby..

I'm a member of, and interested party in "One World Birth". You might have heard of it. If not, please view the video below:

You can see the 14 minute version of the film here, and order a copy of the upcoming DVD. You may have heard about this movement and the UK outreach "Freedom for birth" recently in the news. This is the same group.

Source: An old German book, pre-1800

"Birth, to my mind, is the very frontline battleground for human rights," says Rebecca Schiller, a doula schooled in human rights and a leading UK activist. "Nothing says more about a society, a culture or an individual's attitude to the rights of those around him than his attitude to the rights and responsibilities of a birthing woman. If the moment when our human rights begin as a newborn baby is set against some gruesome backdrop of our mother's subjugation to the deliberate, even criminal, withdrawal of some of the very basic rights we all expect, what chance have we of living a life where our own rights are respected?"
The mothers fighting back against birth intervention, The Guardian UK

Think about this for a bit. Ruminate a little.  Research the history of birth in the West since the 1600s and tell me, do you think women are empowered when they give birth..?  Or is it just one more way women's rights and security is violated when they want to have children?

Three years ago, I was on a family vacation in Oregon and pregnant with my second, when I had a divine dream. I was trying to survive my way through life, knowing that my husband was called to ministry within the church, and thinking that that's what I was supposed to do as well. As much as I loved birth, I didn't think that birth work could be a calling- and didn't I want to serve God with my life? (ha!)
...The revelation that birth work could be a calling, a gifting, a ministry? Wow. From that moment on I began to explore the idea that maybe this was what I was supposed to do. All the pieces had been there, I just needed to put them together.
Momma on a Mission -
The Pieces Were Always There. See also "The Glorious Body"

I asked Momma on a Mission what she thought of this, and she had this to say:

" I think for me the reason that birth is so powerful is because it's one of the most intense experiences (if not the most intense) of a woman's life, in which the body, soul, and spirit are all (or should be) fully engaged and present during the experience. ... It's supposed to be transformative. It's supposed to be empowering. It's supposed to take almost everything out of you- and then you realize that YOU DID IT and you have the most amazing reward that you can imagine.

So then you take an experience like that, and have a culture that doesn't recognize that that's what birth is supposed to be, and because of that culture, so many women don't know that birth was meant to be an empowering, transformative experience. In birth, women have this opportunity to take ownership of their experience, to take ownership of their person, body, soul, and spirit. But so many women in this culture don't know how to take that ownership, or that they can, or that they should(no matter what type of birth actually occurs). Then when the whole experience, this thing that's supposed to be intensely personal, is given over to an expert, often a man, even, to be managed and controlled- then that ...experience can be lost. And the woman is often violated in the process.

 Also, in many (most?) cases, women don't trust their bodies. In so many different ways, and from so many different insidious angles, we're told from childhood that our bodies are not good enough. Not only are they not good enough, but they're something to be ashamed of and covered up. That makes it so much more difficult for a woman to trust her body in birth, to trust that it's able to birth a baby, and also to let go of her inhibitions. Birth requires odd positions, nudity, vulnerability, and things like moaning and groaning. It takes confidence to be able to do things like that, and to do them well. How many women truly have confidence in themselves, and then how many of them have confidence in their bodies?

  And then take that mindset a step further into breastfeeding. If a woman already has little confidence in her body, she's probably going to have little confidence that her body can create milk and sustain a tiny human with it. For a lot of women, breastfeeding is their first positive experience with their body- and that's amazing. But for so many women in this culture- a culture where they're not likely to have ever seen another woman breastfeeding, a culture where bottles are normal, a culture where doctors and nurses perpetuate so much misinformation that does not encourage a normal breastfeeding relationship- it's hard to find the confidence that their bodies can do this amazing thing, and that it's normal. So what should be a beautiful, empowering, bonding experience becomes something that they're unsure of, nervous about, and feel like they have to hide.

This is why woman to woman relationships are so important. It's so powerful to have a strong, confident woman look another woman in the eye and say, "I did this, and it was amazing- and you can do it too." We need to be able to share that wisdom, woman to woman. Lets reclaim these things from merely being managed by medicine, and put them back where they belong- in the hands of wise women that can support and empower each other.. "

Thank you. Thank you so much M.O.M.! You really put that together in a neat little package!

 I still don't know what my mission is. I'm not certain of my calling right now, other than to let people know that half of the people we as Christians and Messianics claim to be reaching are not being reached, and are being treated unethically and inequitably.  This bothers me a lot.

Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing this season - if you are celebrating Christmas in some form, please remember the women in your family who have given birth, those who have experienced child loss, and those who are soon to give birth. Think long and hard about how they are treated and have been treated - and if there is any way you can help. And I am certain, that in some small way you'll share in remembering a part of that birth so long ago that has (and should still!) change so much in our lives.

When you sing "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", "Mary, did you know?" or "O, Little Town of Bethlehem" - remember that. When you remember how you treat the women in your life, remember how you treat Y'shua.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[f] you were doing it to me!’
-Matthew 25, New Living Translation

21 December 2012

The girl effect, part 22 - Rape Culture: India

image found via Indian Newspapers

Tonight, I am shocked again to read the news and find out that due to horrible attitudes associated with rape culture (now something often referenced in my blog), that a woman was horribly raped and abused in India and is in critical condition. I can only ask that you read this and pray not only for her, but her companion and all those involved in this case. I have no good words or feelings for anyone who would do something so dastardly and demonic to another human being.

A brutal rape has shocked the Indian public. A young woman is in a critical condition in hospital after being assaulted by six men in a bus in the capital New Delhi.
The 23-year-old medical student was going home after going to the cinema in the south of the capital. She and her companion decided spontaneously to take a private bus instead of public transport...
There were four men in the bus already - they were drunk. They beat up the man with an iron rod and pulled the woman to the back where they beat and abused her for 40 minutes. The two were then thrown out of the bus and are now in a critical condition in hospital.
 Deutsche Welle, Rape case triggers outrage in India

I want to cry, I feel sick, utterly sick that anyone would ever consider the fact that a woman is out, not dressed "traditionally" or within her culture, and has shifted away from patriarchy is now "up for grabs". Apparently I'm not the only one as  Sunanda Mukherjee told Deutsche Welle:
"Why shouldn't women go out at night?" she asks. "Why should I not show my body as a woman? Why am I not seen as a person and respected? Are we still living in the wilderness?"(from the above Deutsche Welle article)
Home Secretary R.K. Singh told reporters Friday. “This is an incident which has shocked all of us,”
The Star - Gang-rape of student on bus in India sparks new security measures

Adding fuel to the fire, Commissioner KP Raghuvanshi, head of police in Thane, a satellite city of Mumbai advised women to avoid rape by "not travelling after dark and carrying chilli powder to throw at potential attackers."

The Sydney Morning Herald goes on and says that the couple were laying by the side of the road for an hour before authorities were called:
 The victim of the assault remains critically ill. It has also emerged that she and her male friend lay naked and covered in blood for nearly an hour at the roadside where they had been dumped before police arrived. A crowd of about 50 people had gathered around them, officials later said, but no one offered any assistance. Police eventually had to fetch sheets from a nearby hotel to cover them.
Sydney Morning Herald - Police comments fuel India's rape fury

This gem comes from CNN:
"I can speak about my own experience, as a student, in this city -- people are pinching you, touching you, someone is coming close to you. This is absolutely the mentality where you look at a woman as an object of sex and (which) you use and abuse," rights activist Ranjana Kumari said.
CNN: New Delhi rape exposes the perils of being a woman in India
 As much as I hate to say I "love" a comment about the horrible state of rape culture in India, this comment from the Reuters article I read, says it quite well for the entire world and how women are often perceived:
"No amount of pepper spray, tazers or 'decent dressing' will protect women. I can't let my little girl grow up in a society where men pounce on and rape women," said Bharat Kapur, whose 5-year-old daughter clung to his leg as hundreds shouted with clenched fists at a protest in New Delhi.
Reuters, Public fury over New Delhi gang rape sparks protest across India
 This man gets it. Out of all my years in patriarchal church culture which tells you exactly the opposite, this gentleman in India totally understands what I have come to find out for myself by experience.
In response to widespread fear among women of sexual harassment, trains in Mumbai and Delhi run segregated women-only coaches.
India's top court directed all state governments last month to put female police officers in all public spaces including markets, parks, beaches and public transport.

...But activists say that many men see the trend as representing a threat to male dominance...
France 24, Rape outcry shines light on India's 'misogyny'

To tell you how bad the situation is in New Delhi, Reuters goes on to say this:
New Delhi, home to about 16 million people, has the highest number of sex crimes among India's mega cities. Police figures show rape is reported on average every 18 hours and some other form of sexual attack every 14 hours in the capital.Reuters, Public fury over New Delhi gang rape sparks protest across India

The Telegraph UK had this news from officials after the people were upset and started mass demonstrations against this act.
Bus drivers in New Delhi will be required to display their identification prominently in the vehicles, buses are now required to remove tinting from their windows and plainclothes police are being placed on buses to protect female passengers, he said. In addition, chartered buses such as the one where the attack occurred will be impounded if they illegally ply for fares on the streets, he said.
Authorities are also cracking down on drunk driving and on loitering gangs of drunken youths, he added.
The Telegraph UK, India gang rape: Delhi police announce new measures to protect women
 The Telegraph also brings this to light:

At least 20 men accused of raping women ran in Indian elections in the last five years, according to a think-tank report published amid growing outrage over the gang-rape of a student on a bus.
The Telegraph UK

 Aljazeera has actually been following the different issues facing women in India in the last few months, and they had a very interesting take on the story.
New Delhi registered 572 rape cases last year - more than any of the other big cities in the country like Kolkata, Mumbai and Bangalore. Jagori, a women’s rights organisation, says the city leads the country in crimes against women - including rape, molestation, dowry harassment and domestic violence.
Even an Al Jazeera documentary a few months ago uncovered the ugly truth hidden behind Delhi’s glitzy exterior: some 80 percent of women in a city of 20 million complained of having been sexually harassed. Also, an astonishing four-fifths of all women said they feared for their safety on streets, especially at night.
Aljazeera - Bus attack highlights India's rape epidemic

First Post India has several interesting articles about the issue. (Photo Essay from First Post India here) Apparently Parliament will be meeting on December 27 about this issue. Here's a quote I found particularly dismaying. What is so upsetting about this, is that it is not particular to India alone. This is something ALL rape victims face in every country and across almost every culture:
“Victims, particularly adults, are told that if they speak about the crime, they will face social boycott. The result is that they don’t want to come into the picture and yet want the culprits to be punished. Some of them just take a U- turn and say there was no rape,” said Dorthy Kamal, rape counsellor with crisis intervention cell, a service for rape victims run by Delhi Commission for Women.
“We tell them that if they want action against the person, there is no way but to get involved in legal proceedings,” she said.
The only silver lining, said Kamal, is that more and more victims are speaking against atrocities.
 First Post - Guilt and shame: What Indian rape victims have to survive

 To make things worse, First Post brings this to light:
In Delhi’s six district courts, as many 963 cases of rape are pending as on 1 October. Should Sunday night’s gang rape case be admitted to one of these courts, it will be at least seven to eight months before the verdict is announced.
First Post - Nearly 1,000 rape cases await light of justice in Delhi’s courts

 According to The Times of India:

An online petition started by Anisha Chadha demanding death sentence for the victims is being circulated wherein 3,60,000 have already signed up for the cause. The petition is addressed to prime minister Manmohan Singh and home minister Sushilkumar Shinde. A recent update on the petition informs that a mail along with the appeal has been sent to the top government officials and that this effort would not be given up until something has been done. Another petition by Namita Bhandare too has seen support from the big-wigs such as Shashi Tharoor and Salim Merchant.
The Times of India - Delhi gang rape: Anguish, support pours in online

Pardon me while I go have a good cry and pray.

The Girl Effect 21

Art and photograph by J. Stahl

I've been thinking about toys and advertisements targeted towards women and girls again, while on my break from blogging.

What comes to mind right now are some great changes to Kenner/Hasbro's Easy Bake Oven as a result of a grassroots movement to again make a gender-neutral toy.

Thirteen-year-old McKenna Pope found the gender-specificity of the Easy Bake Oven to be problematic, after her little brother (who loves to cook) expressed an interest in it. So problematic that she started a petition to get Hasbro to make both the Easy Bake Oven itself, and its advertising, gender-neutral.
McKenna's petition got so much attention that Hasbro invited her to visit its headquarters and preview its new silver-and-black, gender-neutral Easy Bake Oven, which will be unveiled in February 2013 at the New York Toy Fair. Not only that, but the marketing of the toy will include boys as well as girls.
XO Jane - Today in Gender Neutral Toys: The Easy Bake Oven

 A 13 year old girl, petitioning for her brother, got a huge toy company to change things so that not only do they have more customers, but so they are sensitive to the fact that they've not exactly been ethically marketing their product for some time. McKenna, good on you sister!!!

Were my boys older, and I not concerned about the gluten ingredients in the Easy Bake products, I'd readily go out and purchase the newer product.

In other news, we hear about concerns about girls and body images directly related to their perceptions of their dolls. A Canadian company has started marketing "Lottie Dolls".  Great idea!  The concept behind the dolls is actually not unlike the "American Girl" dolls, which range from bitty baby to preteen girl dolls.. Where American Girl has books to accompany their older dolls, Lottie doesn't.
A doll made to look like a 9-year-old girl — who doesn’t wear makeup, heels or jewelry — went on sale in Canada this week.
Lottie dolls, which were made in consultation with academics, look more like little girls than typical fashion dolls, such as Barbie.
Metro News -  New Lottie Dolls: Made with body image in mind

On the other hand, we have Adweek publishing an article about the "20 biggest brand fails this year". Several of them, happen to deal with issues where our culture in the West just doesn't exactly have a favorable view of women. Men and women on the up and up, caught these blunders and called the companies on this - who quickly changed their tunes and removed their ads.

The ones I'd like to bring your attention to are numbers 20, 18, 17, 15, 13, 11, 10 and 2.  That's almost half of the advertising blunders that hurt women, or displayed relationships between men and women as not exactly something good.

Amazing. Simply, abhorrently, amazing.

 How do we fix it? 


10 December 2012

Happy Hanukkah

Photo J.Stahl December 8, 2012

Happy Hanukkah one and all from our family to yours!

If you need some ideas on celebrating, feel free to peruse my Pinterest board on Hanukkah.

29 November 2012

The Girl Effect, part 20

Magnolia in bloom - photo by J. Stahl

When you think of childbirth, what comes readily to mind? No doubt, top of the list is a safe environment, competent doctors, nurses, midwives - maybe doulas, home births.

For millions, possibly billions of women across the world, childbirth is not the safe, fuzzy, awesome thing we know in the West. Sure, most people are looking forward to the birth of their long expected child - but what it takes to get there, and stay alive after having given birth - comes at a high cost.  As an acquaintance of mine online said: "It's always good to remember that some women have to fight just for a hospital birth."

...each year 3.3 million babies are stillborn and more than 4 million newborns die within 28 days of coming into the world. Some 536,000, often sudden, unpredicted deaths occur among women during pregnancy, childbirth or after the baby is born, leaving behind devastated families who are often pushed into poverty because of the cost of health care that came too late or was ineffective...
Inform Africa: Making Pregnancy Safer in Least Developed Countries
Improving health facilities and access to drugs could mean 60,000 fewer maternal deaths in Africa per year from post-partum bleeding and sepsis, according to a UCL study.
UCL study: improving maternity care in Africa
In Malawi, in the local language the words for pregnancy - “pakati” and “matenda”- translate into “between life and death” and “sick”, respectively.
Every year, in Africa 200.000 mothers die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth; and for every woman who dies, many others suffer injury, infection or disability.
Every year 1,5 million African children are left without a mother.
Maternity Project

 I have to admit this is something I had thought about in passing a few times, but not something I regularly have thought about. As a mother, and a woman who has required medical intervention in both births (non-medicated assisted midwife/doctor birth in hospital and c-section), I know all too well how dangerous birth can be if it goes downhill.  I remember thinking in my birth how at the very end, we are both on the threshold of life and death. Morbid I know, but you push a rather large baby out of your nether regions for several hours and I'm sure after all that hard work you'll realize your own mortality as well.  I'm very lucky and fortunate that I have doctors in a rather wide radius nearby me, even in my small village that can help me out at a moment's notice.

Other mothers are not so lucky.

Other mothers may have to walk, ride a moped, a horse, donkey, camel, hitchhike, or a little bit of all of those for many hours while in labor.  I remember trying to walk while in transition with my oldest - five feet from the birthing tub to the bed where I was to birth him due to a slight issue we had with his heart rate and the fact I'd been in transition "so long" (scary, I know).. and that was really stinking difficult, especially in the middle of contractions that were around a minute apart, if that far.

Imagine now, being a mother who needs help, who wants to birth in a safer environment than her home - who has to walk once she knows she is not having false labor pains, to get a ride to get to the hospital, and ensure that everything is hunky-dory.  Is that not terrifying?

Birth is a Dream: Maternity in Africa
This is a photo/audio essay from Paolo Potruno, who documented births in Uganda and Malawi.
If you are sensitive to blood, birth in general, nudity (totally normal while birthing, nursing and in the rest of the world that is not the USA...) DO NOT CLICK THIS VIDEO LINK.
I'm not joking. You will see blood, afterbirth, babies being born, nekkid mamas, naked babies, and more blood and unsanitary or less than optimal birth room/ward conditions.

Until this morning, I'd never heard prenatal and postnatal care or birth really discussed in this manner. And I shook to my core. I asked immediately if there is anything we can do to make it better, to help, to fix this unnecessary injustice towards our fellow sisters. And there is a way. There are many ways. Below, are a few charities that help women who are facing this terrible health crisis, that should be a time of joy, expectation and NOT fear, dread and worry.

If you know of any others, please let me know in the comments and I'll add them to this post.  Please, prayerfully consider giving  - not just this time of year - but as often as you can to support women in their time of need. 

28 November 2012

The Girl Effect, part 19

Today's post is dedicated to all the girls and women in India.  Save the Girl Child!

Know this does not only happen in India. There has been documentation of this happening with Indian families who have moved to the Western World.

Charities you can give to that will help support women and girls in India include: The Girl Effect, Gospel for Asia, Native Missionary Movement, OXFAM, Heifer International, PresentAid, Practical Presents, World Vision, UK Friends of Unique Home for Girls in India (Featured in the 20/20 videos) - Consider perhaps in your holiday spending, that someone might like to know instead of getting more "stuff" from "stuffmart", that instead, you gave to one of these many charities in their name, that not only girls in India may be helped... but many girls around the needy world.

What is currently happening in India, has been happening for a very long time. Missionary Amy Carmichael documented these horrors in her day. Laws have been put in place to curtail some of these issues in India but they only go so far when doctors and those who commit these horrendous acts are not reported.

It's time to help put a stop to this horror. It's time to be true to our faith, and our convictions that women are truly created equal by G-d, and a gift from G-d in every home they are born. That girls are just as valuable and sometimes moreso than sons. That girls can be educated and support their parents, and even their in laws once married. Instead of being left to die, murdered or aborted.  After seeing this, you cannot say you did not know. You cannot say you didn't see or hear it happening. You cannot say that your heart and soul were not touched to core. And you cannot stand by and do nothing.

News videos about femicide in India:


Documentaries about Femicide: