the battle against the wolves

“i am i the middle of a forest.  there are no paths.  i have no companions.  and i hear wolves.”

– angela, a pastor & aspiring actress in the film who does she think she is.

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we all know that the world “system” is slanted against women.  the injustices are countless, horrific, sad, angering.  and on the whole, despite the many strides that have  been made in big & small ways, women continue to make less money, hold less power, and fill less leadership positions across most boards.  we have a long way to go toward full equality for women.  since starting this blog i have written about this issue many times; i know some people think i’m a little on the nutty side related to women’s equality but unless we loudly and respectfully keep calling out injustice and showing what we believe through tangible actions the system will not change.  as christ-followers i believe that we are called to bring the kingdom to earth now & so we can’t just turn a blind eye to equality issues “because that’s the way it’s always been.”

for me, equality is more than just equality for women.  it’s about diffusing the power structures that keep underrepresented people oppressed; it’s about replacing the ways of the world with the ways of the kingdom (even though “the church” sometimes seems to look even worse than the world when it comes to issues of discrimination, prejudice, and inequality), and it’s about humanity becoming more whole.  it is such a travesty to me to think that in so many churches, 100% of the time people never hear from 50% of the population, that around the world horrific injustices are being committed against women & we stand by and watch.   there’s so much wisdom & power & strength lost when half of our voices are silenced.

on sunday at our house we hosted a viewing of the documentary who does she think she is? i came across it last year and briefly mentioned it in this blog post by the same name.  november 8th was a synchronized”house party” day and groups watch it together across the US.  the movie is not for everyone; it’s definitely not a christian film & some of the stuff related to goddess art & history will make some feel uncomfortable but the overall premise & the powerful stories told are so worth learning from.  it follows 5 women artists, each with different gifts and backgrounds spiritually, economically, etc.  they share their stories of the obstacles they face to live out their art.  some of their stories end more hopeful than others, but the overall gist of the film is to stir up just how difficult it is for women to pursue their passions.

i don’t think creativity is just a women’s issue; while the “system” is set up to favor men, i know many men who have the same obstacles to creativity and risk that women do.  they are dreaming of new ventures, want to explore art or music or creative passions and hear a voice in their head that says “that’s not responsible…it’s frivolous…you’re not really good enough…who do you think you are anyway?”  i was so thankful that even though our discussion had way more women then men we did have a chunk of guys in the conversation.  we really do need to listen & understand & learn from each other.

one thing i pointed out to our group and kept thinking of during the film was even if we are not a typical creative artist (as in photography, painting, music, etc.) all of us have an “art” waiting to come out of us. for me, although i like to write, my real “art” is people & cultivating healing community in some shape or form.  and while i’ve always been in some form of healing/people/relational ministry over the years, it wasn’t until i stepped into the world of pastoring-on-a-church-staff that i realized that i really loved it, enough to dedicate my whole life to it.  and the obstacles to doing it were great. i have 5 kids & a husband that was used to me staying home and sort of just dabbling in what i loved to do when it was convenient for everyone else, always remaining available to pick up the slack and make things happen at our house.  when i first went to work full-time at a mega-church in 2004, it rocked the boat in a huge way. it wasn’t a pretty year at the escobar house, to say the least.  a weird thing happened inside of me that year, though, that i really connected to as i watched the movie on sunday–i knew i had to do this.  the passion, the stirring, the desire, the skills, the dreams were all deep inside of me and started to spill out, and i knew that if i tried to push them back in i would end up regretting it and resenting jose in all kinds of icky ways.  so i did what i wasn’t really used to doing–i fought for it.  i said to jose “i need you to do what i’ve done for you for the past 12 years; i need you to carry me the way i’ve carried you.” it didn’t come cheap or easy; he initially admitted that he kind of preferred it when i was a better cook, cleaner, keep-it-all-together-good-christian-woman.   i can’t tell you the number of times i’d say “alright, i’ll just quit then” when really i knew in my heart that it was just because i was truly scared to step into it, to own it, to do it despite the obstacles.  i am thankful because after 12 months of haggling & living in the tension of our disparity, something shifted and he apologized in a deep and powerful way and began to provide wind to my sails instead of being a big heavy anchor (his words, not mine).  since then, we have learned what it means to do this crazy thing together and equally carry our family’s responsibilities together.  we’re so much better for it–it really changed our lives spiritually & practically & in all kinds of other ways that i’m so grateful for.  but, it is true:  our house is definitely not as clean!

in the film, some women weren’t so fortunate.  the toll that their passion took on their marriages was sometimes too great & 3 of the women featured got divorced.   there are too many themes to flesh out from the movie in one easy blog-post, but here are a few thoughts that will linger:

women’s issues aren’t women’s issues; they are global issues. statistic after statistic show that when women do better personally, professionally, economically that men and children benefit, too.  we need to recognize that when we empower women, we empower society.  the contributions we make are significant if we have the chance to make them.  one of the historians interviewed in the film says, “how a society organized the two half of humanity isn’t just a secondary issue.  it affects all of us.”

children add an additional complication & we need to figure out ways to value mothering instead of penalizing women for it.  there’s a piece in the movie that lists all the famous women artists, performers, writers, leaders, etc.–most names we recognize.  not one of them had children.  balancing kids with passion is a tricky, scary dance and we need way more role models on how to pull that off.  all of the time i notice that in the world i live in many of the women who are strong spiritual leaders have grown children or no children at all; those of us with little ones (and lots of them) have a huge disadvantage of “no free time” and often not a lot of support.   one of the women artists addressed what it feels like to have to stop working even when she’s in the middle of inspiration; she said, “if only i didn’t have to go home to the kids.” i have known that feeling & while i wouldn’t trade my kids for anything, i sometimes have to respect how difficult it is to constantly have to stop & start & work around & figure out-how-to-make-it-all-work-because-they-need-me-too.

we need mentors who say “don’t quit.” this is a huge issue for women trying to make strides in any area.  we must have cheerleaders, supporters, encouragers, other men & women who will look us in the eye and remind us that this is work worth doing, that the passions that are inside us must be explored and to not quit. and even though i am in the thick of it myself, i want to dedicate myself to encouraging any other women who need it that they are not alone, to find courage, and to step out in powerful and creative ways to use their voices, whatever that looks like.  don’t quit.

it’s going to be scary, period.  there’s no way around the fear of rocking the boat, upsetting the apple cart, and standing up against a system that doesn’t quite know what to do with you.  i was reminded in watching this film just how courageous it is to step into dreams & passion & try to pursue what’s burning in your heart despite obstacles.  to keep going when the voices get so loud and tell you that you shouldn’t and can’t, that you are being selfish, that you are sure to fail.   like so many issues of faith & life, there’s no easy way.  i don’t think pursuing creativity & passion will ever come without great fear and obstacles.

the changes we make will pave the way for the next generations. sometimes i get so discouraged.  the statistics shared in this movie are just another example of disparate systems that never seem to change, but the truth is that every step that we take on behalf of women & underrepresented friends now paves the way for those that come after us–not just here but around the world.  if we don’t, if we give up and give in, if we lose courage & throw in the towel, these systems won’t change for our daughters & granddaughters.  for other underrepresented friends who need us to grease some of the skids on their behalf, too.  they need us.

i could go on and on but i’ll stop there.   yes, i am sick of the wolves, the obstacles, all the ways that women have an uphill battle.  but i am also so encouraged by the strong brave women i know who are leading, loving, creating, trying, stepping out, risking, and doing beautiful things–no matter how big or small. i love what one of the artist’s sons shared.  he said, “my mom always told me ‘art is always a risk and sometimes it’s a risk you just have to take.'”

sometimes it’s a risk you just have to take.

as always, i’d love to know what this stirs up in you.

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ps:  my friend jeff mcquilken wrote about some reflections on the movie, too.  you can read it here.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

10 Comments

  • As with all unfulfilled dreams and desires, as well a the passion for equality, I loudly and bravely kick and scream and ask why or why not. I am this sort of victim of unfairness, watching others skip along growing in fulfilled dreams and passion, etc.

    And truth be told when fairness and equality draws near, when doors open, I am a coward. I don’t really want to take on the responsibility of living in true equality or being given what I need to pursue passion. No, I seem to be much more comfortable shaking my fist. That’s my game.

    And in this moment I realize that I don’t want to be a game player. God, I lay my fist down and open it up. Give me the courage to fight, to believe, and to walk through doors when they open. CONTEND. That’s the word I carry away with me today.

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  • Thank you for putting this into words. I was sorry to have to miss the screening – and am grateful for your heartfelt response to it. Reading through the “thoughts that linger” – I felt validated for how hard this can be, especially valuing mothering in the midst of it all, and that it is genuinely frightening to step out. So glad your voice is in my world.

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  • Hey Kathy! I havent commented on your blog in a while, so this is to say hi and also to comment. I’ve been doing a Gender Justice series at church since September. (Not too many messages b/c we meet only 2x/mth and sometimes only 1x if there’s an event.) And recently, my senior pastor mentioned in our staff mtg (2 ordained men and 3 lay-pastoring women) that there seems to be an underlying ‘gender issue’ with us 3 women. In other words, without even listening to my sermons or asking me for the rationale behind preaching them, (which I was happy to give him in that mtg), he accused me of pushing an agenda. =T Sigh. It just never ends. In other news, the whole ministry I help pastor with the other 2 women at my church may get completely cut. They say it’s money issues, but it may have a little to do with gender. I’m thinking we’re not really the ones with the problem. By the end of the month, I may no longer be pastoring. =/
    Jasmine, NYC Chinatown

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  • I am 50. I have spent the last 25 years frustrated, confused, and discouraged. I wonder now how I got to the place I find myself. I have 5 children who are my favorite people in the world so I know it is not that I would chose to not be a mom. But I am stuck wondering when it will be my turn. Your testimony of change in the Escobar household is a glimmer of hope. I do not know if we will ever actually get to the place where my husband will willingly carry me the way I have carried (and continue to) him. At times, even now that I have worked hard for two years to reprogram my thinking, his “need” seems so great and mine so selfish, or secondary, or easily put on hold. It feels so much like a power struggle even when I KNOW it is actually a struggle to de-construct power thinking. I do not put all this on him. My thinking has been very hard to change–life is easier when I give in, give up, don’t want, don’t need, choose peace. It took me a really long time to believe that food left on the plate was no more wasted than food put in my body if I didn’t need it. Choosing peace all the time is, for me, a little like choosing to waste the food by eating it rather than by leaving it on the plate. Turmoil and conflict inside is no less damaging than turmoil and conflict outside. Thank you, Kathy, for giving this old lady a little light at the end of her tunnel. And thank you, Jose, for choosing to love your family better by taking weight. (A backpacking phrase for re-distributing the load in the packs).

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  • Kathy wrote: “women’s issues aren’t women’s issues; they are global issues. statistic after statistic show that when women do better personally, professionally, economically that men and children benefit, too.”

    Working in the education field I hear often the following phrase “When you educate a woman, you educate the whole family.” That is powerful.

    Thanks for the blog Kathy!

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  • “being a big heavy anchor”….my husband said the EXACT same words to me a couple of years ago & it is something we have been working thru. I ended up twisting his words & reminding him how much stability and protection an anchor provides & that I did and DO need him to be that for me….even went so far as to get an anchor tattooed on my forearm so we would not forget.:) Seeing where you are at now and how you have made it work sure encourages me…I know there are times where it still has to be hard, marriage is not easy to start with but you and your man give me hope and for that I thank you!
    Going to suggest our community watch this movie…I had never heard of it but it sure sounds like one worth watching and talking about!

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  • It’s funny…I missed the screening because I chose to stay home and be with my husband and daughter. I don’t regret that decision at all, but it shows even in a small way that always precarious balance that living is…
    I have 2 thoughts this brings out…
    The first is that I really felt I had to choose between motherhood and pursuing acting – it’s too much to go into here – but still women are the ones expected to make that sort of choice and it shows the inequality that lingers in family & social & artistic systems.
    The second is that when I began seeing/learning/discovering a passion for co-pastoring and I began to step further into that role I had a beautiful experience with my husband who told me that he had always dreamed of feeling more of a partner with me (instead of my supporting his ministry) that we would serve/love together and that when I’ve stepped more and more into myself our relationship has moved in really lovely ways. It’s still hard. I’m still the parent mostly responsible for our daughter and balancing my 2 jobs with his 2 or more jobs is not easy at all but there is some sort of freedom and love here that wouldn’t be if we weren’t stepping out. And I must say the work he does with his parenting is magical.
    We must all pursue our creativity and the art that lies within us so that ALL our sons and daughters will have fuller lives.

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  • mary – oh thanks for your honesty. i do believe we are often our worst enemy. the pull is there but to really do it is another story. our little games with God, with ourselves, are often so familiar so making some of these shifts will require entering into totally unchartered territory that freaks the $*!&!^!( out of us!

    valerie – oh we missed you! i will loan you the dvd because i think you’d really appreciate it. there are parts that i connected with, other parts that i didn’t, but i think that it stirs up some really good thoughts. the mommy-ing part is so confusing and we really need to support each other in all of this…hope to see you soon!

    jasmine – my friend, i am so sorry to hear this. it is yet another example of how complicated things get and how deeply engrained the “system’ is against change & equality. and regardless of your title i do believe you will be pastoring. it’s in you & no systems can take that away. know you are close in my thoughts & prayers….peace and hope and strength to you.

    minnow – thanks so much for your honesty. i showed jose your comment, too 🙂 oh sometimes i wish that you lived closer so that you could feel some others’ hope here, too. but you are so right, changing the course in our thinking (let alone our actions) is so much easier said than done. i feel your pain & will just keep cheering you on from afar.

    debbie – thanks for reading & yes, i think that is so powerful. there’s a movie that em des might want to watch called the power of one. i wrote about it earlier this year related to international women’s day. it really focuses in on this thought about “what’s good for a woman is good for men & children” hope to see you guys soon!

    donna – i can send the dvd up to you guys, i told pam & jessica and angie that, too. lmk and i’ll be glad to and you can send it back. they were kind of pricey so we should just share! anchors are good sometimes, so important, but it does depend on what its purpose is, to hold & support and keep from icky stuff or to hold back from movement & going where it’s supposed to go…sending you wind!

    christa – oh thanks for sharing. i love that as you have stepped into passion that was inside of you that your relationship has strengthened. that is what i have found, too, it has not harmed our relationship but helped it in so many ways. but i suppose that a piece is that we are partnered with men dedicated to change and that is a gift, a true gift. the dilemma of parenting in the midst of our passions and dreams will always be a dilemma & i hope we keep finding good and healthy ways to support each other to find balance & confidence in the midst. love you!

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  • Send it!!! That would be awesome and much appreciated!! Email if you need an address for one of us. Anchors are just so stinkin’ full of symbolism, did you know that 2 of the first symbols used by the early Christians were of an anchor and a ship in full sail on the sea? The little fishy thing came later….I know, I’m a little nerdy! ha

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  • donna – i will get it up to you guys next week! i love nerdy stuff that like, i didn’t know that so thanks for sharing 🙂 xo am thankful for you!

    Reply

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