Friday, April 27, 2007

Musing about Messiness

As we experiment with our new life as a one-income family, we've become mildly addicted to Freecycle and the free section on Craigslist. A week and a half ago I stooped to what Matt regarded as a new low (despite his participation!). We drove across town to collect frozen entrees from a woman who had tried one but hadn't been satisfied. As we splashed our way through the rain to collect our still-frozen treasures, Matt questioned if it just might be possible for us to live fully off of freecycle for any length of time. We haven't yet attempted the experiment, but in the week and a half since, we have happily collected a set of shelves for the garage, a smaller set for the screened-in porch, and tennis rackets for me and the kids. Treasures surface continually.

One such treasure is the book The Sisterhood: The True Story Behind the Women's Movement by Marcia Cohen. Offered at the same address as size 34-34 men's Old Navy pants on craigslist, I decided to claim both....the pants for Matt, the book for me. I've been shuffling through over the past couple of months, fascinated by a read that only benefits from its datedness. Published in the late 1980s, The Sisterhood lacks the unifying gloss of some later accounts of the women's movement, focusing often on the flaws and faultlines within "the movement" and the individuals comprising it.

While I have been well-acquainted with accusations that the primary voices of the women's movement neglected women of color and lesbians, I have never before had a front row seat on the sheer messiness of the conflicts. In striving for a palatable "center"--a set of beliefs and demands that could be embraced by a majority--anyone seemingly on the margins was typically further marginalized by a movement that, in theory, should have represented all. The lesson? We are all simultaneously oppressed and oppressor, silencing some even as we attempt to break silence with and for others. The still photographs depicting women united in seeking abortion rights or equal pay for equal work in no way capture the full picture of that time, just as no movement can fully capture the nuanced expressions of a shared message when it takes root in individuals of such varied identities.

Progress is not a clear, straight-ahead path. And few of us, if we claim our full truth, fit neatly into a community, a movement, or a church. In recent months, I've encountered this messiness in many circles. Dynamic and fascinating when read in a text, the experience of feeling marginalized and "outside the circle" is disconcerting at best, and sometimes quite painful. While it is natural to gravitate toward like-minded communities, and all of us need circles in which we are welcomed fully and whole, there is also something true in sitting on a set of pews that can barely hold together under the weight of our difference and division. We feel the pain. We sit there anyway.

1 comment:

Amy said...

As a member of a congregation that has been oppressed by the larger church, I've been aware these last few weeks at how our church has the potential to continue the oppression. It's an uncomfortable place to be. I'm much more comfortable as the victim.