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September 24, 2008

Patriarchy

My colleague, Amber Leberman, who is our web manager for The Lutheran and the art director for The Little Lutheran , just returned to the office today after a reporting trip to Papua New Guinea, where I lived for five years (though some 40 years ago). She was excited about the content of the Lutheran women's conference she attended, and she reported on the hope-filled, feisty and hard-working women who are still pushing for women's ordination and for women's voices to be heard.

It took me back those 40-plus years to my work with the Duna women in the remote area in which we lived in the Western Highlands District of PNG. I remember having to ask permission of the head man in the area in which we lived before I could begin my literacy, Bible, sewing and health classes with the women. And when a husband wanted to punish his wife for some perceived offense, he might remove her from my class—perhaps for only one time or perhaps for all time. The women were so anxious to be part of these classes and it was a huge punishment for them to be removed. But they could do little about it since they were, essentially, property. That's been a historical reality for women in many places and many times. It was good to hear from Amber that some things have changed. I was in PNG in 1991 on a Lutheran World Federation peace-making trip to one of the Lutheran church bodies there and already saw some changes.

It reminds me of right here in the U.S. Some things have changed a lot for women. Some things never seem to change, no matter how hard we women—and many men—work to bring more mutuality to relationships and to systems. But we mustn't give up hope.

As part of the ELCA Justice for Women Alliance, I'm reading (re-reading actually for I first read this in the late 1990s) Allan G. Johnson's The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy . Johnson describes his theory for how the patriarchy evolved and talks about what it will take to dismantle it.  What is great about this book is that it doesn't harden already-drawn battle lines of male vs. female. Johnson speaks of the problem as a systems issue that harms both males and females. He engages men and women to make the changes necessary so we can all be full human beings. I've been told by some men that this book really speaks to them. I'm glad. We need to move beyond stalemate.

Having read this book and now reading it again to discuss in a setting of both men and women, I'm re-energized. Then when I hear Amber talk about all the hope women in Papua New Guinea have despite the difficulties they face daily, I can feel their hope and energy fuel mine. Thanks, Amber. I needed that. And thanks to the Lutheran women in PNG!

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