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There are many days I am ashamed to call myself an American. This shame has settled like a heavy rock in the pit of my stomach this fall. I also struggle deeply with calling myself a Christian (read my former post). These struggles are similar, yet I cannot deny either of these identities. If I like it or not I am an American, just as I am a christian. Much of who I am is a result of the physical origin of my birth, even more so than the supportive family in which I was reared. My identity has been shaped by American culture for better or worse.
As an American citizen there is much to be proud of and more to be thankful for. I can write you a long list including security, education, freedom of speech, and prosperity. I know the list is longer than that. I also know the list of things that I am ashamed of as an American citizen is long. For every blessing that American bestow, it seems there a corresponding sin. The American constitution declared that all men were created equal while one in four Americans were considered less than human because of the color of their skin. America expanded west, offering free land to thousands of immigrants who had never owned land in their life; but we stole this land from American Indians. Americans mobilized as a community to defeat fascism in Europe while we imprisoned Japanese Americans.
These gifts and curses, blessings and sins, are present in most nations’ histories. The way forward is to learn from our sordid history, acknowledge and repent for our wrongs, and create a new future. Why then, am I, a relentlessly positive person, hanging my head in shame these days?
The recent hate that has riddled our national discourse and divided us as a country has left me ashamed to be an American. Perhaps more precisely I’m ashamed to hold the same national identity as those who desire walls, scream racists epithets, condone misogyny, advocate imprisonment without trial, disregard years of international community building, demand Muslims be registered, ignore science, worship guns, and denounce everyone and anyone who is different. I’ve been hanging my head in shame, embarrassed to be an American, just as I was embarrassed to be a christian when the mainline church was outwardly denying my LGBTQ sisters and brothers their right to marriage and ordination. I am just ashamed.
But then something happened. Grace.
In the faith community in which I serve, the communion table is wide open. When I say wide open, I mean wide open. We are explicit that everyone is welcome to the table: children, infants, agnostics, atheists, every faith tradition, every gender and orientation and identity, every race and socio-economic class. Everyone is offered the same gifts of grace--the simple bread and cup. Everyone counts at the table. Every morsel, every sip is grace joyfully and abundantly offered. Class lines disappear, who uses what bathroom does not matter. Instead we joyfully celebrate that everyone is a beloved child of God.
On November 8th, America will celebrate it’s very own communion table. Like the table, everyone is welcome to the voting booth. Everyone. Part of our shameful past is that this has not always been true. Up until 1920 women were excluded from the voting booth; then the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed. Many African-Americans were unable to vote until 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was passed. Thankfully our upcoming Election Day is something of which we as Americans can be deeply proud.
On November 8th there will be no armed guards in the street. Bosses cannot tell their employees how to vote and demand that they do so. The rich can’t pay the poor to vote a certain way. Voter intimidation will be illegal, and those laws will be enforced. There will be no fear of lost jobs or homes because of an individual choice. Some might argue the system is corrupt, but each ballot will be counted. The well greased machine of our democracy will run smoothly and a victor will be announced late that night.
And in Walpole, Massachusetts, on November 8th I will be very proud to be an American as I remember everyone, Republican, Independent, Green, Democrat, Libertarian, undecided, everyone, is welcome to vote. Perhaps once again I will hold my head high as an American.
#everyvotecounts #proudtobeanamerican #november8
Yes, thank you. I mean it. Why? Because as my wise clergy friend pointed out: your “locker room talk”, Donald, has finally ignited a conversation that has needed to happen for sometime.
Imagine the scene. Yesterday, I was at a knitting circle in a church parlor. At forty, I brought down the group’s average age by 20 years. The women in the circle are long time New Englanders and progressive, but traditional, Christians. They are not bra-burning feminists. As a rule of thumb, they avoid conversations about sex, especially conversations about sexual harassment and violence. But not yesterday. They willingly discussed the locker room and Donald Trump.
I am positive some of these ladies have voted Republican in the past, but not one of them will be voting for Donald Trump this election cycle. They were horrified. They wondered together how often these sort of conversations truly happen among men in closed circles. Some of them acknowledged they “knew of” men who used “filthy, unspeakable words” in regards to women, but was this common? They were angry. Why was it okay, they asked, for men to talk about women that way? Why were their bodies open for discussion?
Imagine. I found myself openly discussing the vulgar words used for vagina with a group of 60-70+ year old women. Then I shared my story and they listened.
In high school I dated a boy on the football team. In the locker room some of his teammates starting harassing him about his relationship with me. Was he going to fuck me? Was he going to do it doggy style? We were both virgins. We had made a conscious choice that we weren’t ready at 15 and 16 to have sex. His teammates must have have guessed at our choice. My boyfriend was an easy target. And according to them I was a hot one who should be conquered. My boyfriend didn’t say anything. Nor did my brother who was also in the locker room. They didn’t know what to say.
My boyfriend confessed later to me what happened, ashamed that he didn’t know what to do. My brother also spoke to me, wanting to make sure I was careful around the boys who spoke about me as if I were a simple sexual conquest. My brother was also ashamed and befuddled. What was his role? I was furious with both my boyfriend and brother for not standing up to the locker room talk. When my mother found out she was enraged and my poor brother received a mouthful.
25 years later I am not angry at my high school boyfriend or brother. They didn’t know what to do. They knew it was vile and were ashamed. Yet in their defense, no one explicitly said to them, “You never speak about women (or men!) as sexual objects using vulgar words that you would never say in front of your grandmother.” They knew it was wrong because they were raised by good men and women, but they also knew women were spoken about as sexual objects openly in society. Vulgar words were just reserved for the locker room out of their grandmother’s ear shot.
Well, thank you Donald Trump. You have now made it clear to America that we need to have these conversations. We need to have them in knitting circles and in locker rooms. We need to have them in youth group and in boy/girl scout meetings. We need to have them at our dinner tables and in our mini vans. We need to tell everyone that we should never ever EVER talk about women or men with such sexually demoralizing terms.
Here are some tips for the conversation when your 12 year old asks for greater clarity:
Let’s end locker room talk here and now. #endlockerroomtalk
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.