Monday, June 19, 2006

The Confession of a Recovering Chauvinist

Shortly after the nominees for Presiding Bishop were announced, I was asked to write an essay for the Witness about what the choice of nominees might tell us regarding the state of the Episcopal Church. During the process of writing that essay, I had many conversations by e-mail with Dylan Breuer, the editor of the Witness. My first impression was that Bishop Alexander was by far the best choice. Dylan kept mentioning the gifts of Bishop Jefferts Schori, which caused me to take a closer look. Although that look helped me see that Bishop Jefferts Schori was indeed an excellent choice, I remained supportive of Bishop Alexander, primarily for the same reason I'm hesitant to fully support Hilary Clinton; she's not electable.

There it is, folks; the confession of a recovering chauvinist. I grew up in a time when the assumption at home and in the world was that men would always be in charge of most everything. That kind of thinking remained deeply ingrained, until my two daughters were born. Raising them in such a world made me begin to question such assumptions. When they became old enough, they helped me with that questioning process by constantly pointing out when I was responding from my chauvinist perspective. The truth is, if I'm not paying attention, that is still the way I view the world. But most times I catch myself before saying or doing something that signals that I really think males are the superior gender of the species. Thus the label I've given myself; a chauvinist in recovery.

I suspect that is part of the reason I dismissed Bishop Schori as a real possibility for Presiding Bishop. I don't think it was a conscious reason, but it does ring true to some of my sense of shock when her election was announced.

Yesterday afternoon, the House of Deputies was moving through their legislative business. At one point, President Werner announced that the chair of consecrations would be stepping up to the podium. An excited buzz immediately filled the air. The back of the huge room began to fill up with visitors and guests as the word went out that we might have an election. I moved to the entrance to try to get a glimpse of who was coming and going from the floor. Then, President Werner announced that he had been misinformed, and returned the House to legislative business.

But, the word was out that something was going on. People continued to fill the room, speculating on the content of the anticipated announcements. I have no idea what pieces of legislation were discussed during this time, as the chatter all around me made it impossible to hear the discussion. This went on for what seemed like almost an hour, although it may have only been a few minutes. Time seems suspended at moments like this.

A friend walked by with a big grin on his face. He stopped near me and whispered in my ear, "I hear it's Katherine." I was floored. I saw Rodney Hudgens not far away, and headed toward him to share the news. But I never had the chance. The announcement was made, and the floor became chaos. Screams of shock, cheers of joy, hugs, high fives and applause erupted.

Since I'd been forewarned, I quickly got past the shock (which I suspect included some element of a chauvinistic response...I mean, she's JUST a woman...mea culpa), but, thank God, I'm in recovery, and so was able to move past that to see the implications of this.

I moved to the door, looking for a phone and a computer.

And the implications are quite phenomenal. We have elected a woman as the President of the House of Deputies and as Presiding Bishop. As I headed out the door, I found myself reflecting on what Richard Tarnas said in The Passion of the Western Mind regarding how it has become essential for us to reintegrate the feminine into our perspective of reality. This morning I discovered that one of the relevant excerpts from his book is available on the net:

...The driving impulse of the West's masculine consciousness has been its dialectical quest not only to realize itself, to forge its own autonomy, but also, finally, to recover its connection with the whole, to come to terms with the great feminine principle in life: to differentiate itself from but then rediscover and reunite with the feminine, with the mystery of life, of nature, of soul. And that reunion can now occur on a new and profoundly different level from that of the primordial unconscious unity, for the long evolution of human consciousness has prepared it to be capable at last of embracing the ground and matrix of its own being freely and consciously. The telos, the inner direction and goal, of the Western mind has been to reconnect with the cosmos in a mature participation mystique, to surrender itself freely and consciously in the embrace of a larger unity that preserves human autonomy while also transcending human alienation.

But to achieve this reintegration of the repressed feminine, the masculine must undergo a sacrifice, an ego death. The Western mind must be willing to open itself to a reality the nature of which could shatter its most established beliefs about itself and about the world. This is where the real act of heroism is going to be. A threshold must now be crossed, a threshold demanding a courageous act of faith, of imagination, of trust in a larger and more complex reality; a threshold, moreover, demanding an act of unflinching self-discernment. And this is the great challenge of our time, the evolutionary imperative for the masculine to see through and overcome its hubris and one-sidedness, to own its unconscious shadow, to choose to enter into a fundamentally new relationship of mutuality with the feminine in all its forms. The feminine then becomes not that which must be controlled, denied, and exploited, but rather fully acknowledged, respected, and responded to for itself. It is recognized: not the objectified "other," but rather source, goal, and immanent presence...
We have crossed the "threshold demanding a courageous act of faith." Now, for some of us recovering chauvinists, there may need to be a form of "ego death." But, as Bishop Griswold has constantly reminded us, God's passion, and so ours, is for the world, not the Church. So let us allow the paradigm of violent confrontation to die, for the sake of the world.

In regards to those who will claim that by taking this action the Episcopal Church has rushed to be the first in yet another category, I simply have this to say; I don't think we have any reason to apologize for recognizing what Tarnas refers to as our "evolutionary imperative" and having the courage to act on our convictions.

There is no question in my mind that future generations will look back on the events here in Columbus and mark them as a significant step towards the healing of the wounds of this world. We have followed the wind of the Spirit, and we trust that the will of God will never lead us where the grace of God cannot keep us.


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