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Bishop Message: The Beauty and Efficacy of Diversity

Posted: September 28 2020 at 01:04 PM
Author: Bishop Sally Dyck


Along with many others (not just women, but many women), the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and all the articles and memorials to her life and contributions to our country have been inspiring to me. It’s been a glimmer of beauty in the midst of what have been some troubling times.  

I’ve been a bit of an RBG fan for a while. I thought I knew a fair amount about her—I’d seen the movie and documentary on her life.  But I learned new things that I hadn’t picked up or remembered along the way. 

When she and her husband Marty went to Oklahoma for his military service, she took the civil service test and was offered a job as a claims adjuster. But when they found out that she was pregnant, they withdrew the offer and made her a clerk typist, a job way below her tested abilities. But she accepted it, not challenging it, and considered it as “that’s the way things are.” That continued to be her perspective even as she was challenged for taking up a spot at Harvard Law School when asked to justify why she should take up a spot that could have gone to a man. 

What changed her viewpoint about accepting “that’s the way things are?" She had the opportunity to go to Sweden to work on a project to study the Swedish justice system. While there, she encountered a sitting judge who was eight months pregnant! This was surprising to her because this was a time in the U.S. when if you were a teacher and you began to “show” you had to quit. She encountered a much more egalitarian society with regards to women and it caused her to question “that’s just the way things are” and to imagine a better way.

At the memorial service at the Supreme Court, the woman rabbi who spoke said that a prophet is someone who sees that things aren’t as they could be and works to improve them. RBG is an example of someone who did that—especially for gender justice, but also for other marginalized populations in our country so that the constitution includes everyone. Her encounter with a more egalitarian society in Sweden gave her an imagination that created a passion to make things better for all who are being denied justice. 

That reminds me of another chapter in history. This is the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote—white women mostly, that is. I was asked to review a book which is coming out soon: “WOMEN WITH 2020 VISION:
American Theologians on the Vote, Voice, and Vision of Women” edited by Jeanne Stevenson Moessner.  This included a much more inclusive and diverse history of the women who contributed to the eventual passage of the 19th amendment. I was surprised and delighted to read a chapter by NIC’s own Rev. Michelle Oberwise Lacock and Illinois Great Rivers Conference's (IGRC) Rev. Carol Lakota Eastin about the contribution of American Indian women. 

Did you know that the early suffragette women (like Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the 1830’s) met and were able to converse with some Native American women who shared about their more egalitarian system of power and decision making? These Native American women gave the early suffragettes the imagination of how things could be better for women that gave them passion and determination to work for what most of them didn’t actually live to see come to fruition in the 19th amendment.

That reminds me of my own calling. I grew up in the church, the Mennonite church, where I was very involved in all kinds of things, including work that taught me leadership skills. But it wasn’t until I went to college and the chaplain was a woman that I could even imagine that women could be ministers! I think it took me a while to figure out that she was a minister. I like to say that she was my calling “made flesh.”  

When I was growing up, I gave a speech in the 8th grade and the following Sunday my pastor (who had been at the school event) said to me, “Sally, it’s too bad you’re a girl; you’d make a great preacher!” Years later he was mortified that he had said this! But I assured him that at that time neither one of us had the imagination that girls could be preachers. But I like to think that his imagination was pushing up against his consciousness to even think it.

This reminds me of the story of the exodus. One of my favorites is highlighted in my Bible as “sharing the burden of leadership,” Exodus 18.  Moses is out in the wilderness with these contentious Israelites. They are bringing all of their conflicts and problems to him. In Egypt, one person at the top made all the decisions all the way along, a hierarchy like a pyramid! Egypt was still in his imagination. He can’t imagine that leadership would be any different in the wilderness.  

His father-in-law comes for a visit. Moses is proud to take Jethro to work with him, undoubtedly to impress upon him how important he is.  ut Jethro (who has no Egypt in him) can’t believe what he sees—this pyramid of decision-making that is wearing Moses and the people out.  So Jethro provides him with a more conciliar method—smaller circles of decision-making with other leaders over various numbers of people. If needed, the matter is bumped up to Moses. Leaders are developed and decisions are more timely and matters resolved closer to the problem. It took someone like Jethro without Egypt in him to see it: from “the way it was in Egypt” to a better way for a new time and being.

My point in these stories is that we need the imagination to go from the way things are to the way they might be better. It’s hard for us to see how things will be in the future, how church will be, our society might be improved, justice may prevail. It usually takes imagination—seeing things differently—to make things better.

So the truth of the matter is: if life is just hunky-dory for you, you might not be too motivated to see things differently. But the fact of the matter is, for most of us things aren’t as good as they might be; they could stand some improving. To be a prophet, according to the rabbi, is to work to make life better not just for yourself but for others. That seems like the calling of all who follow Jesus.

How do you work on your imagination? Each one of these situations came from having an encounter with someone from a different culture or perspective. That can happen from a book or a conversation, maybe even a movie or novel! Imagination is a wonderful thing! It can push up against our consciousness in a way that helps us find a new way of being and doing. But it doesn’t happen staying stuck in “that’s the way we always did it.”

Now is the time to nurture our imaginations to see new ways of being and doing. As Alice in “Alice in Wonderland” said, “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then!” We must imagine ourselves being different even tomorrow! We must practice the art of imagination to do so…and it always includes someone who is different from us, or another way of doing things from the way we’ve always done it.

Be a prophet: move things in your sphere of influence from “that’s the way it is” to how it can be better…especially better for others.

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