The Very Rev. Rob Courtney
Fr. Rob is the Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church & School
Welcome to another installment of "RevRecs," an occasional feature where I, "the Rev," make some recommendations about things I'm reading, watching, listening to, etc. This week I've got an article and a movie for you, both of which I believe deliver the same message.
1. The Barbie movie
The first trailer for the Barbie movie had a title card that said, "If you love Barbie, this movie is for you," followed by another title card that said, "If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you." After seeing it I can say that's absolutely true. Put aside your preconceived notions, as well as the polarizing reviews you may have read, and see it. It's got something culturally important to say (a BARBIE MOVIE!? Who woulda' thunk), and it's very funny.
Is it a movie that particularly lifts up women's empowerment issues? Yes. At the same time, it has something vitally important to say to and about men. I saw it with my wife and my son, and we all enjoyed it for different reasons. It also gave us something to talk about as a family.
Part of that discussion came directly from an article I read recently . . .
2. "Men are lost. Here's a map out of the wilderness" by Christine Emba
A few days before I saw the Barbie movie I read this opinion piece from The Washington Post by Christine Emba. I paid special attention because she's also written a book called Rethinking Sex: A Provocation that I'll leave here as a side recommendation. Her book has some important things to say about our cultural conceptions and discussions around sex and gender.
Emba's article "Men are lost" is equally important. She writes,
"While the past 50 years have been revolutionary for women — the feminist movement championed their power, and an entire academic discipline emerged to theorize about gender and excavate women’s history — there hasn’t been a corresponding conversation about what role men should play in a changing world. At the same time, the increasing visibility of the LGBTQ+ movement has made the gender dynamic seem less stable, less defined."
She points out how both conservatives and liberals try to create definitions of masculinity, and neither really gets at the heart of the matter. As a result, men go off in all sorts of unhelpful directions as we try to find our way in a world that looks different from the generations that came before us.
The essential question the article raises is, "What does a healthy, differentiated, masculine identity that is socially compatible with women's empowerment look like?"
Spoiler alert for the Barbie movie: when it comes to Ken, and his fellow Kens, that's the basic question the movie asks about men in the end, too.
The Church's role
I think it's cultural issues like this that the Church has an opportunity to speak to in meaningful ways. To start, from a theological perspective, it's important to understand that patriarchy is not part of God's original design for creation. Many expressions of Christianity would have us think so, but it's simply not true. After Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden, God lays out the consequences of their actions. In Genesis 3:16, God says to Eve, "You will desire your husband, but he will rule over you." In the Garden, Adam and Eve were equals. Patriarchy comes later as a consequence of "the fall."
"In the Garden, Adam and Eve were equals. Patriarchy came later as a consequence of 'the fall.'"
The Church can influence this discussion if we, too, can answer the question for ourselves. What does a truly Christian vision of masculinity - one that takes into account God's original intention for humanity, and looks to Jesus as its guide - look like?
What does it mean to you - whether you're a man or a woman - to "be a real man"? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Take some time to read Emba's article, and to see Barbie if you have the time. I'd love to hear your thoughts on both, as well!
The Very Rev. Rob Courtney
Fr. Rob is the Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church & School
I recently attended a training in mediation and conflict resolution with the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center in Chicago, IL. It was probably one of the best continuing ed trainings I've ever attended, and I'm grateful for the opportunity. I learned a lot that was new to me, and got a refresher on a lot of other things. One was a refresher on the differences between forgiveness, reconciliation, and apology.
Forgiveness is a difficult topic for many people. The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness, and it's a pretty important component of the Christian faith. That does not stop people from questioning what it's really about. "Does Jesus just want us to let people walk all over us? Are we supposed to be doormats for the sake of non-retaliation and forgiveness?"
Absolutely not! Since people ask me about this pretty regularly, I thought I'd share four things that I was reminded of at the recent training.
1. Forgiveness is not forgetting
"Forgive and forget," people will sometimes say. Absolutely not. Forgive, yes, but don't forget! Remembering the wrong doing helps to keep us safe from further harm. In his book The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World, the theologian Miroslav Volf argues "that it is important not merely to remember, but to remember rightly. . . . To remember a wrongdoing is to struggle against it."
We don't want to remember in a way that continues to make us live the hurt over and over, or to remember in a way that makes us hate the wrongdoer. Remembering rightly, as Volf describes in his book, means protecting ourselves, as well as seeking justice for others.
2. Forgiveness is not excusing another's action
One of the big mistakes people make about forgiveness is believing that it's about letting the wrongdoer off the hook. No. Forgiveness does not mean condoning the bad behavior of others. It's about you! It's about the person who was wronged. In fact, you can forgive someone even if they've never apologized because we don't forgive for their benefit. We forgive for our own benefit. It's about you not holding on to bitterness and anger. I've heard it said that a refusal to forgive, and nursing grudges and resentments, is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die.
"Refusal to forgive, and nursing grudges and resentments, is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die."
Someone who has done something wrong can receive forgiveness, yet still face the consequences of their actions. Forgiving someone also doesn't mean you will necessarily remain in relationship with them because . . .
3. Forgiveness is not necessarily reconciling
This one surprises people, but it's true: forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. Imagine someone in an abusive relationship doing the hard work of being able to forgive their abuser. Forgiving them would mean letting go of bitterness and resentment for the victim's own sake, but that doesn't mean it's wise or safe to maintain the relationship. Reconciliation is step beyond forgiveness because it means restoring relationship, which may not be what's best for either party.
As the Mennonite Peace Center explains, "People who have been harmed by others are more willing to renegotiate a relationship when they know three things: 1) That there is essential agreement as to the nature of the violation, 2) that the other person acknowledges the hurt and pain that the violation caused, and 3) That the offending person will make an apology for the hurt and pain that the violation caused."
Even then, a restored, reconciled relationship may still look different from the way it did previously, depending upon the circumstances.
4. Forgiveness is not intended to set others free
This has already been said in another way above, but again, forgiveness does not mean absolution from consequences. Think about how this works in a relationship between a parent and a child. A parent may forgive a teenager for sneaking out of the house to attend a party, but forgiving them and restoring right relationship does not mean the teenager isn't still grounded.
In a more serious scenario, someone who commits a crime may (or may not) sincerely apologize, the victim may express forgiveness, but the criminal will still face jail time.
Forgiveness is not a free pass.
What, then, is forgiveness?
"If," the Peace Center asks, "forgiveness is not pardoning, condoning, excusing, forgetting, denying, or even reconciling, then what is it? How can genuine forgiveness best be defined and understood so that it can do its work of healing in your life?"
Here's what they say: "Forgiveness is the process of reframing one's anger and hurt from the past, with the goal of recovering one's peace in the present and revitalizing one's purpose and hopes for the future."
"Forgiveness is the process of reframing one's anger and hurt from the past, with the goal of recovering one's peace in the present and revitalizing one's purpose and hopes for the future."
What do you think of that definition? Does it offer you a new way of thinking about it?
What I hope you'll remember most is that forgiveness really is about you letting go of the anger and hurt that can tear you apart. It's not about the other person at all as the definition above shows. It's about me having person agency, taking control of reframing the pain and anger I feel, and refusing to transmit it out into the world any further. I believe God asks us to forgive because ultimately it's good for us.
Maybe, too, that's why God eagerly forgives us. God's divine forgiveness may benefit us . . . but maybe it benefits God, too.