The Power of US!
A few weeks ago I went to a three day retreat at Ghost Ranch, in Abiquiu, NM. Abiquiu is one of those natural places of pure, raw beauty. The retreat was called Wisdom Sharing, and was led by three Women of Wisdom: Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem, and Chung Hyun Kyung. Last week I blogged about what I learned from Alice Walker. Today I write about what I learned from Gloria Steinem. Next week I will blog about what I learned from Chung Hyun Kyung.
I was born in 1960. I could never have picked a more tumultuous, challenging, difficult, amazing, expansive, paradigm-shifting era in which to be born! Psychologists say that it is the very earliest years of our lives which most deeply affect us. No wonder I am an “Equalist,!” (see blog from two weeks ago) My most formative years I ate, drank, played, learned, grew, breathed in the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Liberation movement, JFK and his hope-shattering assassination, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his hope-shattering assassination, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Viet Nam War, the Peace demonstrations, the Beatles, hippies, the challenge of every single institution, the challenge to organized religion. What a decade for my most formative years! I could not have chosen a more fortuitous time to be born! I cannot imagine who I would be if I had not been a child of the sixties. The unquestionable, undeniable, foundational complete and total belief in the equality of all is in every gene of my being! How could I not be an Equalist?
It was not until later, when I was in high school, college, and beyond, that I actually read the works of Dr. King and Malcolm X; of Gloria Steinem and Alice Walker. In truth, I was in shock and disbelief when I got my newsletter from Ghost Ranch, where I have been many times, and have led many retreats, and saw that BOTH Alice Walker and Gloria Steinem, not one but two icons from my youth, would be there at one of my favorite places, to share their wisdom! The third woman, Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung, I had heard of, but had never read any of her works. She turned out to be a powerful inspiration for all of us. What I had not realized before attending this retreat, is that all three women are friends, and companions in this difficult work of ushering in full equality for all.
Today Gloria Steinem, mother of the civil rights movement and the feminist movement, is 80 years old, and proud of it! She is still going strong at 80! Her age alone is an inspiration for those of us of younger generations, to keep on keeping on! Before I went to this retreat, I had extremely high expectations for Gloria Steinem. She far exceeded them. Before going I had just re-read her book, The Revolution from Within: A Book on Self-Esteem. I had read some of it as a young woman, but now at 54, I realize the deep wisdom of this book, which I highly recommend. I knew from reading Ms. Magazine for many years (founded and edited by Ms. Steinem),and re-reading her book, that she is highly intelligent. I had not realized how brilliant she is, and I use that word for very few people. The other thing that most impressed me about Gloria Steinem, is that, even after all these years, she is not negative. The struggle for equality for all has not worn her down. She is still positive. She is still hopeful about the future, and she is still working, every day of her life, to usher in that future.
Her talk focused on the practical ways that we can continue to work to bring about equality for all. She had two simple pieces of advice: for all of us to use the power of our money and the power of our vote. I do this. Ms. Steinem said, “I would not buy a toothpick at Walmart,” and I cheered. My husband gets very annoyed with me because of my personal boycott of Walmart. He loves Walmart, and I will wait in the car, while he goes in and shops. Second, Ms. Steinem encourages us all to vote! How appropriate that today is election day! Ms. Steinem gave a concrete example of an election in Saint Louis which came down to just 2000 votes, but how that local election set off a chain of events, that set us back in the movement for equality by decades. So, VOTE! Particularly if you are a woman, VOTE! It was really when women were active in the abolitionist movement, and they realized that they had no political power to bring about equality for African Americans, that they then began to also advocate for equality for themselves! When you realize the price that the early suffragists made for the right to vote, I do not care how long I have to wait in line, I am voting!
Finally, my greatest “take-away” from sitting at the feet of Gloria Steinem is the power of US. After hearing her speak, I called my husband and said, “I hope you don’t mind that I will be coming back from this as even MORE of a feminist.” He said, “Is that even possible?” My entire life I have lived and worked in such a way that I have educated others and advocated for the full equality of all people. But I have done most of my work alone, or as the leader of different groups. For example, at every church I have been at in the twenty-eight years of my ordained ministry, I have started a women’s group, a women’s circle. I have also led countless retreats to help empower other women. I have been a part of anti-racism groups. Recently I was a part of the RI interfaith Coalition for Marriage Equality. I realized how energized I am when I work together with others toward a common cause. Not only that, but there is a power in numbers. We actually got the Marriage Equality Act passed here in RI! I remember standing on the state house lawn, exultant as our governor signed the the Marriage Equality Act into law before my very eyes – history in the making.
Just a few years beforehand I had gathered in Minneapolis for the historic vote on the full inclusion of LBGT persons at the church wide assembly of my Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). I will never forget casting my vote, and then literally seeing the power of a single vote. A two thirds majority was needed to adopt a new policy for the ELCA. I sat beside the statistician for our New England Synod of the ELCA, who sucked in his breath when the vote came in and said, “It is to the decimal point!” That vote passed by 67% to the decimal point!
Why, then, have I never been a part of a women’s coalition, until just a year ago? In 2013, after a fortuitous meeting with an amazing woman named Christine Mangale in New York City, I participated in the United Nations 57th Commission on the Status of Women. I was part of the Lutheran World Federation, and also represented the ELCA. At that commission I also became part of a third coalition, Ecumenical Women, and again, realized the energy and power of US, of a group working together for change.
So, for myself going forward, I will do three things. First, today I will vote. Second, this Thursday I will go to one of the women’s circles I started at my church, and present them with a challenge: how can we use our little circle not just to strengthen and encourage each other, but to actually work to bring about change on a larger scale, together?
Next month I will present our other women’s circle with the same challenge.
Third, I will seek out or create a group or coalition for myself, where I am not the leader, but where I can be fed, challenged, inspired, encouraged, equipped by the power of other women and men, working beside me, in the never-ending movement to create equality for all! Because together we can do so much more, and remain so much stronger, than when we work alone. I realize the unconquerable power of US!
Today may you see the sacred in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the sacred to all you encounter.
Pastor Linda Forsberg, Copyright November 4, 2014
Photos: Steph Smith, Gloria Steinem and I at Wisdom Sharing, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM Oct14, 2014; Mural from Trinity Lutheran Church, NYC; Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, and Melanie Harris, Wisdom Sharing, Ghost Ranch, NM; my granddaughter Sylvie, and her cousin, Ayden (my great-grandchild!), 2014; Governor Chafee signing the Marriage Equality Act, May, 2013, the statehouse lawn, Providence RI; our Lutheran World Relief and ELCA coalition at the UN’s CSW57, May, 2013; some of the women from my church’s SOS (Sisters of Spirit) group; some of the women from my church’s SIS (Sisters in Service) group; together with colleagues at my doctoral graduation, the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, May, 2010!