On Rearranging Things: 2020 International Women’s Day

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March 8 — 2020 International Women’s Day

Commemorating 2020 International Women’s Day seems important. It is important to me to pause on this day, because I am a woman who has struggled for equality. My female friends and colleagues have had similar struggled.

In the past weeks we have watched one woman after another end their candidacies for president of the United States. Senator Elizabeth Warren commented that Americans still may not be able to see a woman in the role of president. She said it with obvious sadness and with a catch in her throat, displaying the disappointment of many women and girls. Those of us who are older lament that we will not see a woman as president in our lifetimes, while little girls, teens and young women were hoping beyond hope for evidence in 2020 that dreams are possible. Lily Adams, granddaughter of the late Texas Governor Ann Richards, said this on Thursday night in an MSNBC interview: “Women have to run faster to get half as far.” How true that is!

6ABA8DA9-32CD-49DC-B9A7-BEB584D83D27International Women’s Day gives me an opportunity to celebrate women who are all-in, working tirelessly for equality, justice and positive change and constantly rearranging things. This years theme is “If you can see her, you can be her.” It is an appropriate theme for women who struggle daily to be seen and respected as equals.

In these days, we are seeing, right before our eyes, so many stunning examples of women who champion various causes.

FC5FBE11-6734-47C6-A38E-933B9D902D1FSarah Tenoi
Activist Sarah Tenoi is leading the charge against female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kenya.

 

92066DDD-0F40-4E55-98AD-AB30B1A9D94BMalala Yousafzai
In 2012 at the age of 15, Malala Yousafzai, was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan. The assassination attempt was a response to her stand for the right of girls to gain an education after the Taliban banned them from attending school.

 

DD465146-0702-479F-A8E9-67C6EAEF42D3Helena Morrissey
Helena Morrissey is a British businesswoman and mother of nine who is helping to change the face of British boardrooms.

 
6E324393-F712-4FE2-AD26-04DC9FEE1425Sarah Hesterman
As the founder and acting president of Girl Up in Qatar, Sarah Hesterman works with the UN to provide young girls with education in developing countries. Hesterman hopes that providing greater opportunities will allow girls to grow up with more self-confidence.

D50E2B31-E103-4C36-8BE9-9A07B452E4AFGreta Thunberg
Greta is a Swedish environmental activist on climate change whose campaigning has gained international recognition. She is known for her straightforward speaking manner through which she urges immediate action to address the climate crisis.

“We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow,” she says, tugging on the sleeve of her blue sweatshirt. “That is all we are saying.”

It’s a simple truth, delivered by a teenage girl in a fateful moment in our time. (Time Magazine) 

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In the early years of my career as a graphic designer and then through my years of ministry, I was often accused of being aggressive. Now you need to understand that “Aggressive” would be the last word I would have used to describe myself. But like many women, I often found myself biding my time, playing the game of acting “ladylike” around my male colleagues, and choosing my words and my demeanor carefully when I wanted to make a point.

That was Stage 1 of me.
Stage 2 of me is the one that was labeled aggressive. Those who know me well would say that there is not an aggressive bone in my body. And that is true (unless I have to defend my child or my grandchildren). But I can be as aggressive as I need to be when injustice rears its ugly head or someone I love needs defending. Stage 3 of me has learned to be respectfully assertive. “Respectfully assertive” behavior helped to open doors that once were closed to me. That’s a good thing.

But here’s the caveat — as other women have, I have been compelled to learn how to be aggressive/assertive along a continuum, examining my situation and wisely choosing what my aggressive/assertive level should be at any given moment. The continuum looks something like this . . .

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Like many, many women, I know that in order to effect positive change in the world, positive assertiveness is key. It’s all a matter of being self-confident enough to step up even if others criticize, speak out even when others try to silence you, persevere even when your detractors try to stop you from moving forward, hold on to your dreams even when dream-less persons tell you that your dreams are impossible.

My path to ordination was riddled with people around me telling me that ordination for a woman was impossible. At that time, there was only one ordained Baptist woman in the state of Arkansas and she was ordained in another state. My ordination process required enormous change in almost every person and institution around me. That change was not pleasant for anyone. It went on for months with lots of chaos and no resolution in sight. At the time, I thought I had only two choices: to abandon my desire for change or to stay in the struggle until change happened. I faced off with criticizers, silencers, discouragers and dream-less persons. Perseverance won that time!

My ordination quest was only one of many situations in which I had to fight for positive change. So I was almost always on the bad side of someone, and most unfortunately, I earned a reputation of being persistent, stubborn, insistent, resolved, Tenacious, determined, single-minded, resolute, uncompromising, annoying, troublesome, unconscionable and — wait for it — aggressive. I actually like most of those labels!

During a particularly discordant struggle with Little Rock city government about advocacy programs have for young people, a friend and mentor, who was the city’s Director of Community Programs, shared with me a Sierra Leonean Proverb that turned out to be an incredibly practical piece of wisdom. I immediately framed it and put it in my office so that I could see it often. She gave me that proverb in the late 90’s and, to this day, it is visible and prominent in my space.

She who upsets a thing should know how to rearrange it.
— a Sierra Leonean proverb

I seemed to upset lots of things in my lifetime. Often, I had no idea how to rearrange them. So I want to tell you about a woman who achieved what seemed impossible in her life and rearranged many things — discrimination, injustice, racism. She definitely upset things in her workplace, in the people around her and in NASA’s algorithms for space travel. She also rearranged those algorithms and helped send our astronauts into space.

625274F6-C5B5-47FD-A72E-3B8A4BEC9983Today I celebrate and remember Katherine Johnson, famed NASA mathematician and inspiration for the film “Hidden Figures.” She died a few weeks ago at 101 years of age. For almost her entire life, her brilliant work in American space travel went unnoticed. She was a pioneering mathematician who, along with a group of other brilliant black women, made U.S. space travel possible. And no one noticed for decades.

In fact, her work went largely unrecognized until the release of “Hidden Figures,” a film portrayal of Johnson’s accomplishments while the space agency was still largely segregated. Only the film, which was released in 2017, resulted in international recognition of Katherine Johnson’s genius.

Interestingly enough, her talent was evident early on. Her natural aptitude for math was quickly evident, and she became one of three black students chosen to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools. After graduating from high school at age 14, Katherine Johnson enrolled at West Virginia State, a historically black college. As a student, she took every math course offered by the college. Multiple professors mentored her, including W. W. Schieffelin Claytor, the third African-American to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics. Claytor added new mathematics courses just for Johnson, and she graduated summa cum laude in 1937 at age 18, with degrees in mathematics and French. She started her career as a teacher but had her sights set on mathematical research.

Following an executive order that prohibited racial discrimination in the defense industry, Johnson was hired at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NASA’s predecessor. She was one of several black researchers with college degrees hired for the agency’s aeronautical lab through the initiative.

Johnson was part of NASA’s Computer Pool, a group of mathematicians whose data powered NASA’s first successful space missions. The group’s success largely hinged on the accomplishments of its black women members. Katherine Johnson was tasked with performing trajectory analysis for Alan Shepherd’s 1961 mission, the first American human spaceflight. She co-authored a paper on the safety of orbital landings in 1960, the first time a woman in the Flight Research Division received credit for a report.

In 1953 she worked in the facility’s segregated wing for women, but was quickly transferred to the Flight Research Division, where she remained for several years. But midway through the ’50s, the space race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union began to intensify. So did Katherine Johnson’s career. Without the precision of “human computer” Katherine Johnson, NASA’s storied history might have looked a lot different. Her calculations were responsible for safely rocketing men into space and securing the American lead in the space race against the Soviet Union.

After the release of the book “Hidden Figures,” which was published in 2016 and turned into a film the following year, officials lobbed heaps of praise on Johnson and two other black women mathematicians in the agency’s Computer Pool, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. NASA renamed a facility for Johnson in February 2019. A street in front of NASA headquarters in Washington was renamed “Hidden Figures Way” for the three women in July.

In November of 2019, the three women — plus engineer Christine Darden — received Congressional Gold Medals for their contributions to space travel. Vaughan and Jackson received theirs posthumously. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine called Johnson an “American Hero who helped our nation enlarge the frontiers of space even as she made huge strides that also opened doors for women and people of color in the universal human quest to explore space.”

President Barack Obama honored Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her pivotal work in American space travel. Yet, Johnson’s work was still minimized and unrecognized by her male co-workers. Around her NASA workplace in the 1960s, she and her colleagues were known as “computers in skirts.”

I saved for last the best story of all! In 1962, John Glenn actually demanded Katherine Johnson’s help before his orbit around Earth. He was skeptical of the computers that calculated his spacecraft’s trajectory, so he told engineers to “get the girl” and to compare her handwritten calculations to the computer’s.

“‘If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go,'” Johnson remembered Glenn saying. She gave the OK, and Glenn’s flight was a success.

Not to be flippant about the 2020 democratic presidential nomination process, but here’s a good message to send to whichever white guy gets the nomination: “When you are choosing your running mate, ‘get the girl!’”

And to all the women who hold up far more than half the sky, I honor you on this International Women’s Day and cheer you on toward your dreams and toward your mission of rearranging the world.

 

 

Rebirth

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I love the simple beauty of a lotus blossom. Since the lotus is often associated with yoga (a practice I avoid with every fiber of my being), I have never really considered the lotus and its intriguing life cycle. But lately I have been curious about the story of the lotus, which has long been considered one of the most sacred flowers. I wondered what it is about this mysterious bloom makes it so enrapturing and symbolic to so many people and cultures.

I think the answer is that the life cycle of the lotus is unlike any other flower. With its roots buried in mud, the lotus submerges every night into murky river water and miraculously re-blooms the next morning without any muddy residue on its petals.

The general consensus among ancient texts that the lotus symbolizes spiritual enlightenment and rebirth. Over centuries and across cultures, the lotus stunned people with its ability to dip into the grime and revive itself unscathed—an incredible daily cycle of life, death, and a sudden immaculate rebirth that can only be described as spiritual. In fact, the lotus flower blooms most beautifully from the deepest and thickest mud.

The lotus flower’s daily resurrection is certainly interesting and symbolic of revival, transformation and new life. But even more interesting is the flower’s stubborn will to live. A lotus seed can withstand thousands of years without water, able to germinate over two centuries later.

The lotus also blooms in the most unlikely of places such as the mud of murky river water in Australia or Southern Asia. Not only does it find sanctuary in the muck, but due to the waxy protection layer on its petals, its beauty is unaffected when it re-blooms each morning. It continues to resurrect itself, coming back just as beautiful as it was last seen. With such refusal to accept defeat, it’s almost impossible not to associate the lotus flower with unwavering faith, more specifically the faith within ourselves. 

My serendipitous lotus research did what my research often does: It prompted me to re-examine my faith. I can readily identify times when I had to wade through the murky, muddy waters that life sometimes brings. And although it seemed impossible to re-emerge from the mud clean and renewed, I did, every time, because of a God who understands both the murk and the rebirth.

It’s all about faith, after all is said and done. Once again God’s creation gives us a stunning example of experiencing thick, murky, dark life experiences; going under into the thickest mud when you no longer have the strength to stay above water; and miraculously emerging again — clean, new, reborn. We can learn a valuable lesson about determination, defiance and perseverance from the determined, defiant lotus seed that can survive over centuries. It hints to me about God’s “long game” for my life that simply shouts “hope” not just in my present circumstance, but in a future I can not begin to envision. God envisions it, though — a year from now, two years, my future, the years God has already numbered for me and the mystery we name “eternity.”

Thanks be to God for my eternity and for a faith that is reborn again and again and again by grace.

 

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On another note, please pray for me as I await a life-saving kidney transplant. I am grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often feels so frightening. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. If you would like to read the story of my illness, visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

http://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

A “Go Fund Me” page is set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs near the transplant center, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please make a contribution at this link:

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

“Blessed Are the Peacemakers”

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Image: The Sleeping Gypsy by Henry Rousseau, 1897, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY.

In a world of division, violence, hate, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia and all manner of angst, perhaps we need to draw nearer to Jesus for a moment to listen to the thoughts of his heart. It happened before, you know, when Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

The things he taught them that day are ever so important for us in these days.

Love your enemies . . .

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV)

Turn your other cheek . . . 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:38-39 NIV)

Make peace . . .

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9 NIV)

I have heard it said that one would not likely find the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount on display on any courthouse lawn. They might never be inscribed on a slate in a state capitol building. But the most important inscription for these words of Jesus is an inscription on our hearts. Not physically possible, of course, but spiritually, we can open our hearts to receive these words within us, allowing them to transform us in ways that empower us to create peace.

Richard Rohr asks how it is that many Christians have managed to avoid what Jesus actually taught? How have we evaded major parts of the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus’ clear directive and example of nonviolence, and his command to love our enemies?

Perhaps we do not believe that nonviolence actually possible or that it will not effect any significant change. Many peacemakers know better. The Pope has singled out one active peacemaker we should know. Leymah Gbowee, the 2011 Nobel prize winner from Liberia, organized pray-ins and nonviolent protests that resulted in high-level peace talks to end the second civil war in Liberia. There are other peacemakers living out a commitment to peace. Not surprisingly, most of them are women. The contributions of women such as Leymah Gbowee in Liberia and Marguerite Barankitse in Burundi are showing the way to the eventual end of violence and the dawning of peace. Their work is working.

Two other women, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, write in their book, Why Civil Resistance Works, about the effectiveness of nonviolence, drawing from examples in Iran, Palestine, the Philippines, and Burma. They insist, based on their research, that nonviolent resistance is “nearly twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as its violent counterparts. ” 

Perhaps it is that mothering, protecting instinct that makes women lovers of peace. Perhaps it is their capacity for hope and determination. Perhaps it is that women persevere in faith. Perhaps women are a prophetic people who insist that transformation is possible. Women who love peace know that nonviolent movements are made of loyalty, resilience, commitment, creativity and love. Fortunately, women are not afraid of love or creativity or commitment. Women do fear the destruction of hate, violence and war.

So sisters in the struggle, let us keep on. Let us persevere in our quest for peace. Let us persist, struggling for as long as it takes to see holy peace gently cover our world from East to West, North to South, so that every man and woman, every child will be able to lie down in safety.

After all, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”