Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Imus in All of Us

The Imus in All of Us
By Shane Stanford

Several weeks ago, after having surgery, I awoke in ICU to the full throng of the Don Imus controversy. It was around 4am and the news channels were replaying the details from the previous evening’s programs. Now, I can’t remember 90% of what happened while in ICU, helped along by various pain medicines, but, for some reason, I do remember Don Imus.

I watched as the pundits blamed Imus for being an idiot; the media for, once again, over blowing a person’s stupid gaff; rappers for doing what rappers have mostly done from the beginning; and anyone who had ever appeared on Imus’ program or participated in any other “shock response” format.

I listened as they debated race, inappropriate language, issues of dignity and, most importantly, the treatment of African-American women in general. Certainly, all valid and important issues.

However, Sunday of that week (six days after my first encounter with the controversy), Gwen Ifell of PBS spoke on Meet the Press about what she believed was another critical issue of the entire drama. Speaking beyond race, profanity or even decency, Ms Ifell challenged that the issue was about all girls and about how culture in general, not any particular ethnicity, views women. She broadened the discussion to include how we teach our sons, how we send both conscious and subconscious messages to our daughters and how, in all of this, each of us, not just shock jocks and rappers, play a part.

This was not the first time I encountered this, either in ministry or for personal reflection. As the father of three daughters, I’ve been concerned for years about the way we treat young women. Images and expectations in the media as well as the usual banter of our society pressures young girls to “be” and “become” ideals that are both unhealthy and, for most, unattainable.

Add to this the way we teach our sons in the mantra of “boys will be boys” and the condition worsens.

Of course, most men I know would never think of using derogatory language such as Imus used when describing a woman, and they, for the most part, deplore the explicit nature of how women are described

Yet, these same men might tell an “off colored joke”, look at inappropriate images, or simply refer to women in ways that sexualize them as objects (Anyone familiar with “badonkadonk”… Go to Wikipedia for a definition. I rest my case).

Either way, most men have made reference to women in ways that cast their place just a bit beneath our own. Sure, we can say that women like it when we do this, they do the same to men or that this is just the way men are “wired up”. But, these excuses are, as one wise, rural friend calls it, “corn fed hog c#!p.” I like the way my friend puts things!

Of course, I confess I am the chief among sinners and it wasn’t until the birth of my first daughter that I began to see the world differently. I realized I needed some re-wiring myself if I were to become the father she and God needed me to be.

Thus, my re-wiring began where most of my soul work does, namely with the words of Jesus. I found Jesus’ treatment of women to be far different than what his culture expressed. And, even as the other New Testament writers fall prey to the prevailing nature of the day, Jesus does not.

No, Jesus treated women with a sense of both respect and dignity. Respect for their place and for their struggle; dignity in that he gave them a voice. The women caught in adultery, the anointing at Bethany, the woman at the well, the woman with the dying daughter, the woman with the bleeding condition… I could go on and on. Jesus never categorized women or talked down to them. No, he included them in the fold quickly, almost immediately, and charged them with the same request, “Follow me….”

Women played an incredibly important role in Jesus’ ministry to the very end, even after everyone had abandoned him at Calvary. That alone should qualify the gender for equal spiritual billing… but that is another article.

Over the past few years, several authors and pastors have encouraged a “re-masculinity” of Jesus. They’ve said that Jesus and His message have become “wimpy” and that the Christian male needs to reclaim what it means to be “a man” in the example of Jesus.

Okay… if you need to climb a mountain or repel down one all the while grunting the “Lord’s Prayer,” more power to you.

But--and this goes for men and women-- if you are going to follow Jesus, be sure to follow all of him for the entire journey. Follow his wisdom, compassion and faithfulness too. Treat everyone as a child of God regardless of gender, race or economic condition. And…. make the effort to embrace the Gospel (Jesus’ message) as more than just a means of personal spiritual redemption but also as a guide for how to live like Jesus as well. Suggestion: Read the Beatitudes everyday for a year. They are no less than the values of Jesus for this issue and others, and they will amaze you at their direct but simple power in finding the glimpse of God all around us. I know a great book if you need a start….

Be Salt and Light…


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