The Overflow

Dutourdumonde Photography/Shutterstock.com

Dutourdumonde Photography/Shutterstock.com

… my cup overflows. 

-Psalm 23

Women have a lot to offer — and the problem is that we offer it too often and too long and without a break to fill the fountain. Women, at all ages, even girls, are set up to please and to give. Pleasing and giving are wonderful things — especially if they are appreciated and if they matter. When a womb is a fountain it overflows into goodness. When a womb is disrespected and unappreciated, even it can go dry.

I think of my two grandmothers: Lena and Ella. One was generous, the other stingy. One stretched the soup, the other made sure it was thick for her inner circle. One died happy and the other died sad. You may think I’m going to suggest that Lena, the generous, died happy and Ella, the less so, died sad. The truth is both had a certain joy and a certain regret. Women who give a lot to others often wonder when it will be their turn. Women who are as selfish as men with soup and self get hurt less. Women know we are “supposed” to keep the beat and feed the family. We also experience compassion fatigue, time famine, and wonder when what we give will come back to us. We worry that our fountains will go dry.

COMMENTARY: What Power Madness Has Done to Women — and Men

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant, and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich/RNS

We have weapons, and, in our brokenness, we tend to use whatever weapons we think will work.

Some of our weapons get assigned gender tags. Men, we say, tend to shout, bully, interrupt, trivialize, ignore “no,” and turn to violence. Women, we say, tend to manipulate, conspire, and blame.

But those tags mean little, and they don’t begin to describe the balance of abuse, which, as women know and men are learning, is overwhelmingly abuse of women by men.

Some weapons aren’t about gender. Some people use social status as a weapon. Age stifles youth, and youth embarrasses age. Long-timers freeze out newcomers, and the new form their own exclusive tribes. Wealth bullies poverty. The dominant race represses minorities. Heterosexuals bully homosexuals. Those with hiring power hire their own kind. More and more carry firearms and seem eager to use them.

Five Questions for Katerina Friesen

Katerina Friesen

Bio: Katerina Friesen is studying theology and peace studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind.

1.  How would you describe your current vocational role?
I see my role as both revaluing what has been cast down and degraded and building resilient communities. So far this has taken shape through land-based ministries of farming and community gardening, inviting people to work together and celebrate the sacramental in soil, food, and one another.

2. You spent several years with the Abundant Table Farm Project in Santa Paula, Calif. Can you describe the project and your role there?
The Abundant Table Farm Project is a working farm and young adult internship program that has evolved into a Christian community. I joined the project in 2009 and lived in community with four other women. My daily work of farming gave me a bodily understanding of farm workers’ labor and the need for justice and wholeness in our incredibly disconnected food system.

3. What is unique to the theology of farming—particularly for women farmers?
Women are growing in the field of agriculture in the U.S., especially at the margins of the industrial food system, and they’re doing farming in a very different way. Many talk about their labor as a form of love. Their theology of love is not some abstract idea; it’s an embodied force that feeds them in their struggle for justice, since their work brings them into tension with the dominant food system as well as with patriarchy. I think Jesus’ incarnation challenges us to know love as personal action for the restoration of life, as doing and not just being.

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To the Women of Syria

I wish I could sit beside you on a cushion on the floor and have a cup of tea with you. I would like to snuggle your baby in my arms. I would like to hear your story. I know you have a sad story, and if I heard it, I would weep.

I know you are good and loving women. I’m sorry you have lost so much. I’m sorry you had to come to a country, a city, and a house that is not yours.

I can imagine you in your own country, strong women serving others. I can imagine you making beautiful food and sharing it with your family and friends. I can imagine you caring for your mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, sisters and brothers and friends. Just the way I do.

Because that’s what women do. We are compassionate. We give. We serve. We protect. We work hard to make the world better for the people we love.

Wherever I go in the world, I discover that we women are very much alike. We may have different clothes. Different languages. Different cultures. Maybe our skin is a different color. But in our hearts, we are the same.

That’s why we can look into each other’s eyes and feel connected. We can talk without using words. We can smile. We can hug. We can laugh.

And sometimes, we can feel each other’s pain. I have prayed that God would help me feel your pain. I wish I could remove your pain. I wish I could help you carry it.

Last night while I prayed for you, I remembered a story about Jesus Christ. In the story a woman who had been suffering for many years came to Jesus. She was sick, and nobody could heal her body or comfort her mind. People had given up on her. But she believed that Christ could heal her, if she could just touch his robe. So she pushed her way silently through the crowd that followed Jesus. And finally, she touched his robe.

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Back from the Brink

THE PHRASE “POVERTY in America” still conjures up, for many of us, images of a homeless person begging on an urban street corner or a dilapidated shack in rural Appalachia. But a report this winter presents a very different picture of poverty in the U.S.: “a working mother dashing around getting ready in the morning, brushing her kid’s hair with one hand, and doling out medication to her own aging mother with the other.”

The study released in January by The Shriver Report, “A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink,” examined the rates of financial insecurity among U.S. women. The report notes that the average woman is paid 77 cents for every dollar the average man earns, and that closing this wage gap would cut the poverty rate in half for working women and their families.

A few years ago, I was at a global women’s conference looking at the economic dimensions of women’s realities when I first heard the phrase “time poverty,” in an academic talk given by a sociologist. The phrase captured the deeply insidious economic realities that are holding back women’s equality. Most mothers know this reality as we multi-task through our day trying to hold life together for our families. Women everywhere carry the double burden of working outside the home to support their families while still doing the large majority of unpaid domestic work.

The phrase “time poverty” stuck with me and, strangely, captures my reality as a mother of three leading a relatively privileged life. For those of us in the mothering season of life, all over the world, time is not exactly on our side. From sunup to sunset, we find ourselves constantly multitasking, moving as fast as possible and feeling like the hub in the middle of everyone’s wheel. Any tiny setback—a lost pacifier, a sick child—can threaten the whole highly tenuous ecosystem of the day.

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Abducting Girls In The Name Of God

This post was co-authored with author and consultant, Dalia Mogahed. The brutal abduction of several hundred Nigerian schoolgirls has stunned and outraged the world. A violent organization called Boko Haram, and its leader Abubakar Shekau, took credit for the kidnapping more than 300 female students from their classrooms at gunpoint, from a government-run school in Chibok, on April 14. In his subsequent video, the smiling terrorist leader told the world they would sell the teenage girls "into the marketplace" or forced marriages; in his latest, he claims the girls have converted to Islam. Shekau has claimed that God told him to do all of this. That is a lie. It is an abomination. It is a blasphemy against God, and people of faith from all traditions should denounce his words.

Are You One of Us?

Priest during Mass, Gordan / Shutterstock.com

Priest during Mass, Gordan / Shutterstock.com

I attended a funeral last week and was struck by something that happened at communion.

The church was packed for a loving man who had touched many lives with his kindness. People from varied backgrounds and faiths came to celebrate his life and support his family. The eulogy noted that he never turned anyone away.

At communion time, several young adults from a different denomination got in line. When the first young man got to the priest, he received a question instead of a communion wafer. The priest said something to him. The young man looked surprised and shook his head. The priest traced a cross on his forehead and sent him away breadless.

On a day of shared grief, the young man had given the wrong answer to the age-old question: Are you one of us?

Turning Toward Pentecost: Remembering the Women

Woman worshiping,  John Wollwerth / Shutterstock.com

Woman worshiping, John Wollwerth / Shutterstock.com

The women were there at the foot of Jesus’ cross.

The women were there when they laid him in the tomb.

The women walked through the desolate graveyard in the darkest hours of the night — the hours just before dawn, carrying sweet spices prepared to anoint Jesus’ dead body for proper burial. But they never got the chance.

They witnessed the earthquake, talked to the angel, and ran to the other followers announcing the resurrection of their beloved.

And Jesus’ mother, Mary, huddled in the upper room praying with the other women and the rest of the disciples in the days following the resurrection. Until that day, 50 days later, when tongues of fire fell on them all and Peter reminded the crowd of Joel’s ancient prophecy: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy.”

From the cross to the upper room, the women are lifted up! As the church stands in the light of Easter Sunday and now sets its face toward Pentecost, let us remember the women. And, as we do, let’s also remember the women in our pews and surrounding communities — the challenges, fears, and the very real dangers women face every day.

When Pope Francis Washes Women's Feet, Arguments Follow. Who's Right?

Pope Francis greets a crowd in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sept. 11. 2013. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service.

On Thursday evening, in a familiar reprise of an ancient rite, Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wis., will wash the feet of 12 men, all seminarians — a re-creation of Jesus’ action at the Last Supper when he washed the feet of his disciples and, according to Catholic doctrine, formally instituted the priesthood.

That same evening, thousands of miles away, Pope Francis will also observe the Holy Thursday rite, though not in a cathedral like Morlino but at a center for people with disabilities. There he will wash the feet of a number of residents, all lay people and perhaps some of them women and even non-Christians or nonbelievers.

Francis did something similar last year, shortly after his election, when he stunned church observers by traveling to a juvenile detention center outside Rome and washing the feet of 12 young people, two of them women and two of them Muslims.