The hard job of being a white male

When I lived in South Africa, I was often confounded by the role of men in Itipini, the shantytown community I worked in: unemployed, uneducated, with little prospects for the future, they seemed to be more of a burden on the community than an aid. Four and a half years ago, I wrote:

On my drive in to Itipini, I see a few young men pushing carts into town, hoping to make a few rand (for beer) that way. They are only 18 or 20 and I wonder how they would reply if they were asked – as I was at that age – “where do you see yourself in 10 years?” I realize future-thinking is a luxury of the financially secure but it is hard for me to see how the path they are on is a positive one. They have little education and few employable skills. Having something to look forward to, I’ve realized, is a great gift. What do they have?

Women keep on keepin’ on it seems. As men spiral into nothingness, women still keep the household running by whatever means they can. In so doing, they are building up their own skills and their own reservoir of power. Men don’t realize it now but they’re going to look up some day and realize any social status they once had has completely dissipated.

These thoughts were greatly expanded and developed into a chapter in my book, Grace at the Garbage Dump. I’ve also thought about these issues of masculinity in relation to Alaska Natives.

After the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado in July, I read this interesting blog post: “What’s Wrong with White Men?”

Why is no one asking what’s wrong with White Men in the United States?

With the newest mass shooting in Aurora, CO captivating the nation, it seems someone should ask the question.  After all, if we had a pattern of Women walking into public places, heavily armed, and killing everyone possible, you can guarantee the headlines would read, “What’s wrong with American Women!?”

Now, after the shooting in Newtown, the same things are being raised, this time in the New York Times:

I come from a small town near Fort Worth, Texas. In this region, like many others across the United States, young men are having a very hard time of it. When I consider how all of the people I knew there are faring, including my own family members, the women have come out considerably better than the men. While many of the women were pregnant in high school and have struggled with abusive relationships, financial hardships and addictions, they’ve often found ways to make their lives work, at least provisionally, and to live with their children if not provide for them in more substantial ways.

The same cannot be said for many young men in the region, who are often absent fathers of multiple children by multiple women, unemployed or underemployed, sullen and full of rage. While every woman in my family has done O.K. in the end, every man on one side of my family except for my grandfather has spent time in jail, abused drugs or alcohol, suffered from acute depression, or all of the above. Furthermore, pervasive methamphetamine use, alcoholism, physical and psychological abuse and severe depression have swept not only my hometown and my region but large segments of the United States. If this pattern is not familiar to you personally, I am certain it is the lived experience of someone you know.

So perhaps it’s time for a serious conversation about white masculinity in the United States of the twenty-first century, especially lower-class white masculinity. What role can the church play in this conversation? What is the vision of masculinity (of personhood) presented in the Bible? Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) How can we ensure this fullness of life for those who are losing out on the way the world is structured?

0 for 4

Four dioceses in the Episcopal Church today elected new bishops—a kind of Episcopalooza.

While I am sure the Holy Spirit was at work in each election, it’s striking to me that in not one election did a woman win. In fact, of the 18 candidates in the four elections, only five were women, one of whom had to be nominated by petition so the slate wouldn’t be all male. This is so striking to me because in my recently graduated seminary class, more than half of my classmates were women. What gives?

A friend directed me to the report from the Executive Council Committee on the Status of Women in the so-called Blue Book prepared in advance of this summer’s General Convention. The report begins on p. 623 of the Blue Book and this paragraph of the report seems to speak directly to today’s results.

The data reveals a growing possibility of a two-tiered clergy system emerging where one tier, largely male, engages in full time parish or diocesan ministry as a primary vocation, and the other, largely female, engages in part-time ministry within or outside the parish system. Compensation for those in the second tier is very often not commensurate with experience or hours committed and many times they work on a non-stipendiary (unpaid) basis. While we acknowledge the need for the church to reexamine assumptions about full time and bi-vocational ministry, we feel it equally important that such trends do not contribute to existing patterns of inequality, with a disparate impact on women. Along those lines, we also call for a reexamination of the canons regarding clergy canonical residence. For this emerging tier of largely female extra-parochial and assistant/associate priests, years and even decades can pass before one is granted residency. Without the ability to participate in the councils of the Church in the places where they minister, these priests cannot live into the vow they took at ordination that they take their place “in the councils of the Church.”

The report references Called to Serve, a newish report from the Church Pension Fund (and others) about female clergy. I haven’t made it all the way through yet but it’s well worth your consideration.

There are many reasons why the lack of female bishops is problematic but here are at least two. First, the church is a diverse body and needs all its members to function properly. That diversity needs to be true of all levels of the church. Second, the church is a counter-cultural society. Yet there are more female U.S. Senators than female Episcopal bishops, even though the Senate has long been a bastion of male (and other) privilege.

Clearly, there are all kinds of complicating factors here: vocational aspirations, family life, length of time in ministry, and so on and so forth. But the raw statistics of today’s elections—five candidates of 18; zero new female bishops in four dioceses—bears consideration and reflection, particularly by those of us who have not given serious attention to these issues in the past.

I’m not saying male bishops are a problem. It’s just that I think the House of Bishops could benefit from some gender (and other kinds of) diversity. People who look like me are already more than adequately represented in the House of Bishops.

Who teaches us?

My time at Yale Divinity School is coming to an end. As I’ve been thinking back over it these past few days, I decided to do a little math. The results may only be of interest to me but here’s what I came up with.

In my time at YDS, I’ve taken 22 courses. (You need 24 to graduate. I did a semester abroad, which I’m not counting here.)

Of those 22, 18 were taught or co-taught by male faculty. Seven were taught or co-taught by female faculty. That means only four courses I took were taught solely by a woman.

Nine were taught by ordained faculty members (and one has been ordained since), though I’ve learned that different faculty wear their ordination differently. For some, it barely seems to register in their consciousness.

Four of those 22 courses were taught by non-white faculty, all of whom were male. (And three of those courses, oddly, were taken in the same semester.)

I can’t figure the age breakdown, though I’d guess my faculty have ranged in age from a few years older than me to close to or past retirement.

So what to make of these figures? I don’t think I steered deliberately in any one direction. Many of the courses I’ve taken were required and many of those are taught by white, male faculty.

One thing for sure is that whom we are taught by shapes who we become. The faculty I’ve had courses with are the ones to whom I turn most readily for advice and input on my life and career. How should I feel about the fact that the majority of courses I took were taught by people who are like me? And how will that shape what I do in the future?

Do you think this breakdown is reflective of something specific to Yale or is it generalizable across seminaries?

In any event, interesting questions to reflect on as I prepare to leave this place. Maybe at some point—when I’m really procrastinating—I’ll look back through old syllabi and figure out the breakdown of the books I was assigned to read.