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Archive for the ‘reflections’ Category

Photo by George Bannister

By Debbie Gin

What kinds of ministry can women be called to? What kinds of ministry are women called to?

These were questions lurking in my mind as I analyzed data from a recent comprehensive study of women leaders in the world of theological education. Within the study, we conducted a survey of past participants in The Association of Theological Schools’ Women in Leadership program and a random sample of women faculty and administrators who have never participated in this program. Very interesting results emerged. (See the end of this blog post for links to short articles where findings from the survey are reported.)

I highlight a couple findings, as I was reminded of them when I reflected on the topic of this post: wit.

The survey had a series of statements focusing on expectations of women in leadership, and respondents were asked to mark how strongly they agreed/disagreed with each statement. The statements ranged from men taking credit for their ideas to expectations that they lead more collaboratively or in a more caring/nurturing way than male colleagues to being perceived as too emotional and to being asked to do administrative/hospitality tasks that same-rank male colleagues aren’t expected to do.

More than half (55%) said they’d been asked to do hospitality tasks that their male colleagues of the same rank would not be expected to do, and 6 out of 10 (59%) said others expect them to lead in a more caring way than the way men lead. At first glance, these findings don’t appear out of the ordinary. For most of us, memories are abundant of women ministers or lay leaders counseling couples in the pastor’s office or washing rice and braving the kitchen heat to prepare the Sunday congregational meal, week after week. To be sure, many women are called to these kinds of ministries and are exceptionally gifted for the work.

But what about the women leaders and ministers who are not called to ministries of hospitality or care as much as they are called to ministries of word and sacrament? What about the women ministers who are exceptionally gifted to preach, teach, or lead a congregation into a vision God has given? What if they are gifted with wit? How are they perceived? Is there room for them — in terms of the Church’s expectations—to lead out of their giftedness and calling?

My sister is gifted with wit, though she is not called to the ministry. Her field is literature (where we have historically seen “wit” played out), and when I raised the topic with her, she easily provided examples from her field where this double-standard expectation manifests. Think of the woman with the scarlet letter: her wit ended with people branding her a witch. Elizabeth Bennett (from Pride and Prejudice) had wit, and for that “gift”, people considered her unmarriageable. Fast forward to today, women comedians who use their wit are thought of as vulgar (and men, funny).

In many ways, I sense that for women, wit is placed at odds with being feminine. Having “mental sharpness and inventiveness; keen intelligence” is not seen as a prized virtue for women; in fact, some may say it gets in the way of being a woman. How many times have you seen women chastised for speaking plainly or naming a truth directly? For Asian women and Latinas, leading with keen intelligence or inventiveness is even more of a hurdle. In the same survey, we found that, while only a quarter of the White women and Black women agreed they were criticized for not being feminine enough when they lead “like a man”, half of the Asian women and Latinas agreed. I would go as far as to say that, because of these expectations of women’s femininity, young girls are socialized not to sharpen their wit, particularly verbal wit.

So what’s the solution? I believe this is one of those problems that must be approached collectively. It is too large a hurdle for each woman to face individually, and women who do try to challenge the system individually in this way run the risk of being branded negatively, sometimes for the rest of their career. This solution needs a culture shift and at many levels. We must pay attention to our double standards of leadership, watch our language, change our policies, scrutinize our hiring practices, find and recruit more advocates in positions of power who will challenge this status quo, and help organizations imagine a new reality where women who are called to live out of their giftedness of wit can do so without hesitation.

(To read more on the findings of the study, see: Women in Leadership Survey: What we found may not be what you think and Getting There: Seven practices to support successful women in theological education, and What About the Salary Gap in Theological Education? Also, check for “Imagining a More Equal Pulpit”: Realities from Research, which is under review for Christianity Next, a journal exploring Asian American Christianity.)

Dr. Debbie Gin is Director of Faculty Development and Research at The Association of Theological Schools/Commission on Accrediting, the support and accrediting organization of most seminaries in the US and Canada.  She was formerly Associate Professor of Ministry at Azusa Pacific Seminary and Fellow for Faculty Development and Evaluation in the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment at Azusa Pacific University.  She and her husband currently live in Pennsylvania.

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Photo by Regan Vercruysse

By Sharon Lee Song

When I learned that this month’s theme was Wit (one of Aristotle’s 12 virtues), my first thought was, “Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.” If you’re a Harry Potter nerd like I am, you’ll immediately recognize that these words are from one of the co-founders of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Rowena Ravenclaw. The other thought that came to mind is the word “sharp-witted.” When I’ve consider someone to be sharp-witted, it is usually because I have often felt that their words were cutting. I realize after looking into the definition of the virtue of wit that it is a word that I have misused and misunderstood.

According to Aristotle, the virtue is required for a good conversation. Someone who possesses the virtue of wit will hold engaging conversation. I also like the example of how to use the sharp-witted in a sentence in one of the dictionaries I used: “She’s a sharp-witted interviewer with a knack for extracting embarrassing quotes.” I have seen reporters do exactly this in interviews, or lawyers on TV shows when they are cross-examining someone, and it is an impressive sight to behold. Particularly if the reporter or lawyer opposes the interviewee’s cause or stance, they are able to question and cause the interviewee to stumble, as the reporter or laywer works to reveal the interviewee’s deficiency. Watching an interviewee fidget in the midst of this assault of the reporter/lawyer’s excessive wit makes my insides crawl, and I feel compassion witnessing this poor soul endure through it.

Personally, I am growing in cultivating the virtue of wit. I have felt frustrated in the past when I have been slow to respond, usually when someone has said something that catches me off guard. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked back on conversations after the fact, rehearsing what I should have said to that other person as a come-back. Self-doubt and second guessing have contributed to not being able to speak up promptly, which comes from a lifetime of not being nurtured in knowing what I really want, or who I really am. This is a common narrative for many women, especially women of color. Thankfully, this has transformed from the empowerment and nurturing from the Spirit to know more of who I am, where I come from and where I am going, and of course, this is an ongoing process of growth.

As always, I look to Jesus and how He exemplifies the virtue of wit. Jesus always held engaging conversations; crowds of people sought him out in the thousands to hear His words. The people who opposed Him were still enthralled by what He was saying, otherwise His words wouldn’t have riled them up so much (Pharisees). He knew exactly what to say to get to the heart of matters. People were captivated by Him and His words. I would even say that he was sharp-witted because he could extract truth and expose fault and deficiency better than any reporter or lawyer in the world.

How did Jesus do this? Looking at Jesus in the Scriptures, I find it remarkable that He knew exactly who He was, where He was from, and where He was going. He was simply being Himself and through that confidence and empowerment, words flowed out of His mouth that were so engaging that they completely changed lives.

Through that deep knowledge, confidence, and empowerment, Jesus was very present in every situation, and responded and maneuvered conversations perfectly, and asked all of the right questions; Jesus was quick-witted in that way. It makes me wonder how different it would be for all of us, if we had this same deep knowledge, confidence, and empowerment from God, and from that, were present to ourselves and others. What impact would that have on the lives around us if our words came from this place?

As I grow, I notice the ways that using my words has changed. I speak up more quickly in the moment, but also thoughtfully, using my voice from a place of conviction and truth that has been nurtured by God. My words have an impact with the people around me from a place of being present with them and with God, and the power that comes from that kind of engaging conversation. I take this very seriously as words have so much power. My hope is that like Jesus we all grow in embodying the virtue of wit from this place of knowledge, confidence, and empowerment from the Spirit, using our words to engage people towards Him.

Sharon Lee Song lives and works in South Los Angeles an urban missions organization. Inspired by her own transformation through self-care, soul care, and spiritual formation, Sharon became a Holy Yoga instructor, and spiritual director. She’s committed to using what she’s learned from her training to support others in living healthy, sustainable, urban spiritual lives.

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Wit: New Connections

Photo by Pete G

By Joanne Moon

I have a son who is autistic. He is just past the category of non-verbal into a sort of pre-conversation. He can sound out words, repeat words and at times intentionally use them, usually just one at a time or in a pre-formulated and scripted way. (more…)

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Photo by Rachel Titiriga

By Melanie Mar Chow

As I pen the final “truthfulness” entry of this month, I’m grateful to AAWOL sister, April! She provided Artistotle’s definition of truthfulness to anchor this offering. How does living life with no deceitful or manipulative actions or verbal responses look for Asian American women in Christian leadership? (more…)

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Photo by Eden, Janine and Jim

By April Yamasaki

As I write this, it is the eve of another federal election in Canada. Key issues include climate policy, pipelines, taxes, the economy, pharmacare to cover medication expenses, childcare, Indigenous policy, immigration. But in the midst of all of these, the issue of truthfulness seems to come up again and again.

Did the Prime Minister pressure the Justice Minister and Attorney General to interfere in a criminal prosecution? He said the report was “false,” but on examination of the evidence the ethics commissioner noted several “troubling” attempts to influence the judicial process. (more…)

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Photo by Cynthia I. Rogers

By Emi Iwanaga

“I myself am the road,” replied Jesus,
“and the truth and the life.
John 14:6 (Phillips)

I have no greater joy than to hear
that my children are walking in the truth.
3 John 1:4 (NIV) (more…)

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Photo by Sodanie Chea

By Ajung Sojwal

The phrase “truth decay” is being used a lot these days, especially on NPR. When I first heard the phrase, it stopped me in my tracks. How did we manage to come to this place where the word decay is used so frequently to qualify truth? (more…)

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