Thursday, June 29, 2006

"How do we make women feel included?"

I have been asked this question more than once recently in very distinct settings. In each instance, the query was posed by a male in response to my invitation that we as a particular group in a particular ministry setting, be intentional about including the other - women and minorities - in our activities/leadership. And in each instance, the question seemed to stem from the assumption that it is all a matter of perception. How do we make them feel included. If we do x, y, z then women/minorities will percieve that they are a part. I don't want to feel included, I want to be included. And what world view is reflected in the assumption that one person or system can make others feel or do anything? The whole idea is beyond distasteful.

I tried imploring them that it begins within each of us through a change of heart - not just behavior - and is evidenced by an intentional turning toward or hospitality of/with the other. If I love and embrace and receive from the other they will not just feel included, they will BE included. And paradoxically, it is a person's behavior toward the other that reveals whether or not their heart truly welcomes the other.

Language is a key signal for me of whether the heart has made room for the other.

For example, in one of the above mentioned settings, time was spent maligning wives as spend thrifts who are ever-eager to spend more than the husband can bring home. My indignation over how thoughtless this comment was (nevermind, untrue) is only surpassed by my grief at how unconscious it was. No sense on the part of the male speaker or my male counterparts that this statement might be offensive to the 'other' in the room namely, me.

As another example from this same setting, we train planting pastors at 'BOOT CAMP.' Boot camp. I'm sorry, but where in the Bible did Jesus ever speak of ministry/evangelism in militaristic terms? The kingdom of heaven is like . . . a skirmish . . . a battle . . . a conflict requiring violence and warfare?!? And what is wrong with the current planting system that a person (male, of course) has to be prepared for (or weeded out of) church planting through the intense and rigorous training which the name implies? It you can't survie here, you'll never survive out in the battle field? Is that true? What us against them message is that creating in the hearts of these planters? It is abhorent to me!

But, sadly, it is not surprising in a culture where in comversation you are invited to "push back" if you disagree with someone. Push back! No, no BULLIES push. I will converse with you and stay engaged though our views differ, but darling, I won't shove anyone. Hearts that can't perceive the 'power over' or 'distance from' in the words they choose are not yet ready to help the other feel included, let alone truly include him or her.

Behavior is another key indication of an inclusive heart.

As mentioned earlier, for me, inclusion is about being hospitable or 'turning toward' the other.
One of the very persons who asked how one might create an environment in which the other (he used "us/them" language) feels included, sat next to me at lunch. He made no effort to engage me in even polite social conversation and my attempts were met with short cold replies. Rather than carry on a conversation with me, he turned his back toward me and talked to the person to his left during the entire meal. I don't begrudge them their friendship, and if they really need to 'talk shop' then talk away! But that it wasn't even part of his conscious action to welcome, embrace, include, turn toward goes beyond bad manners, or shy personality. And it reaffirms my original claim: Inclusion begins within each of us through a change of heart - not just behavior - and is evidenced by an intentional turning toward or hospitality of/with the other.

I can't make anyone feel welcomed, but I can welcome. I can't make anyone feel included, but I can include them! How do we make women (and others!) feel included? We include them, that's how.