I read a story about a couple in California who went to bed a few nights ago, after the woman checked on her tomato plants and probably brushed her teeth. After they checked the news again to see how far away the fires were. Those folks turned out the lights and the fire was 11 miles away.
And then the winds came.
They spent the night in a neighbor’s pool. Dipping their heads under the water as a cell phone on the edge of the pool melted, as the neighbor’s house burned in what would be called a “fully involved” fire.
A fire that is fully involved is one that will burn a structure to the ground. One that will prevent rescue to anyone or anything inside. A fire that is almost out of control.
I remember seeing a cartoon that showed a house on fire, and a black cartoon man and a white one, and the house belonged to the black cartoon; how that explained that of course all lives matter, but that one house was on fire right now.
And my Facebook feed is lit up with Me Too, in varying colors, some saying why, offering an explanation or not, offering a story, or not.
And I feel sometimes like I live in the middle of a neighborhood that is on fire, that is burning to the ground, and all we can do is argue about whose house matters more, all we can talk about it is whose fault it is. All that we do is divide and divide like cells making cancer or a baby, small divisions, even smaller factions, us against all of them. No one thinks of water, grabbing a hose and wrestling on a spigot. We’re all too busy fighting about who did this when there is so much work to be done.
The Me Too stories are coming hard and fast. No pun intended.
And then the winds came.
We are the girls told we were hired because our hair was so nice that day and we were so pretty. We were 15.
We are the girls told by male pastors that we are sluts and sinners while those male pastors have affairs with married parishioners.
The girls who believe that our voices can’t preach the love of God, whose voices cannot exhort the church to act in response to the needs of the world. The girls who cannot teach boys older than about 12 because they are ‘men’.
We are the girls who wear a uniform of tight or short skirts instead of slacks. We are the pretty faces behind a front desk at a hotel, every single one like a caged bird, young and beautiful and knowing nothing better.
We are the girls kneeing men in the nuts in the parking lot outside the bar when they try to get into our cars. We are the girls who have drinks spiked, who wake up the next day with no idea of where we are or what could have happened the night before. We are the girls who have realized that no doesn’t make a difference; that if we just lay there and think nice thoughts it will be over soon and hopefully we won’t get pregnant. We are the girls offered money to kiss each other.
The girls who took that money because the house was so cold and the gas bill needed to be paid.
Our house is on fire.
It is on fire with memories and old hurts and scars that still tingle and missing limbs that still move, ghost-like in the night. It is on fire with short skirts and high heels and drawers full of makeup; and porn that makes us think we are objects to be used.
It is on fire with the idea that how pretty we are has to be juxtaposed against our brains or natural talent. On fire with the idea that we are the home makers, the barefoot and pregnant women, the mothers who attend to every detail; who attend every PTA meeting in our best nude heels and full makeup.
The idea that our ideas aren’t good until they are spoken by someone male.
But there are other houses on fire too, there are black houses, and Dreamer houses and immigrant houses and migrant houses. There are LGBT houses, poor houses, addict houses, and halfway houses, religious houses.
Our neighborhood is burning down and we go to bed because we think the flames aren’t ours and won’t come close enough to burn us.
The enormity of the fire is so huge that I cannot think of a way to douse it. I find myself googling what to throw at a grease fire, what to toss at an electrical fire, going to seminary and learning about listening and asset mapping, finally calling 911.
I find myself with my own house fire. My own girls who are obsessed with what other people think, with makeup and clothes and backpacks and I wonder where I’ve gone wrong; and I hope it’s a phase. I hope that they will come into themselves knowing that if they choose makeup and heels its for them and not to impress the boss in the corner office.
I am pretty sure that we need to pool our carefully horded resources and throw money and care like water at the things that are on fire, to throw compassion like soaking rain on the people whose house is burning right next door to ours. To realize that we are next and are going to have to depend on the goodwill of someone, that being the last man standing isn’t necessarily the best prize.
Or maybe we should just let it burn, maybe that knee jerk reaction to douse the flames, to make it better and to fix it is one so embedded in our DNA that we don’t even stop to wonder why. Why these are our sins to confess, why this is our secret shame to hide. Why we can’t tell the truth about what’s happened to us, what keeps on happening so frequently that it is normal. Why we have to ask other women friends over and over if this is ok, if we can own this; why we have to wonder what the repercussions will be.
Because all we are doing is telling the uncomfortable truth.
Maybe, like that couple who sheltered in the pool all night, who lost everything but walked out alive in varying states of undress, maybe we need to let it burn, need to shelter in place, own our truths and stop confessing to sins that aren’t ours.
Maybe fire cleanses as nothing else can.
Maybe our fiery voices, our #metoo, can forge a new path for our girls. A path not bent on their looks but on their hearts, on their intelligence and their kindness. Maybe we can stop talking about how pretty they are and talk about brave/talented/funny/kind they are instead. Maybe we can stop tethering self worth to some absurd idea of the ideal woman. Maybe we can speak up next time someone tells an awful joke, the next time a man speaks over us as if he has a right to do so.
Apparently my heart is a place with many rooms. I can and have pulled out theological ideals, very old values set like hymns in a shape note hymnal and examined them under bright and unforgiving light. I’ve had to throw them away, most of them, keeping only a few that are very central to my own doctrine, my own understanding of salvation and the trinity.
My heart holds old wounds, experiences near forgotten, and I’ve taken them out for you too, examined and relived them. I’ve decided that they do matter because of my girl children and yours.
And I’ve decided to let this misogynistic house become fully involved, I’m not looking for a hose, don’t need any water, don’t want your help; I’ve decided to let it burn to the ground.
I love you still.
Even if you’re a man. Even though you’re complicit in this. Even though my Facebook feed is empty of even one man asking what #metoo is, asking forgiveness, promising to be better.
I can burn it down. We can.
Our mother has been absent, ever since we founded Rome. But there’s gonna be a party when the wolf comes home.