Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Limit of Identity

Yesterday I had the opportunity, as a member of the Multi-Faith Council at Chatham University, to sponsor a panel of women from different faiths. The panel members were invited to attend and speak on "Journey... Gender... Job: the intersection of spirituality, womanhood, and vocation." The speakers represented Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. They were all different women with different career paths and different faiths, and yet the storied they told had incredible resonance with each other.

They each spoke of discerning their career paths while remaining true to their faith and the identity they understood to flow from their faith. The woman from Judaism spoke about becoming an actor while moving into a distinct understanding of her place within Hasidic Judaism, which posed some problems as a woman performing in front of audiences, usually on the Sabbath. The young Muslim woman also faced challenges to her faith. From wearing the hajib while in high school in Turkey, where it was banned for high school students, to her career in finance where she couldn't work for a bank since taking interest is forbidden by the Qur'an. The Christian woman was a physician who works part time for a Christian health clinic that serves everyone but notably the under-served. 

What I found interesting was that even as a man, I found their stories particularly illuminating. While these women ran into limits that their faith imposed upon them, they accepted those limits in faith. I felt like many men who are pursuing something like a career, meet such limits with an equal determination, meeting the opposition with an equal or slightly greater than equal reaction, so we can get what we want. Listening to the women though the acceptance of the limits still allowed them to further what they understood the vocation they were being called to while still in keeping with the tenets of their faith. They saw the limits as an extension of their identity, who they were in connection to their understanding of God, while I believe many men would see the limits in opposition to their identity. 

I do not want to discount the very real limits placed upon women particularly by traditional faiths. However it was also something to hear these women speak about their trust that even among risks and challenges they followed where they believed God was calling them and how they believed that their life was better for it. Too often we believe that following God take something away from our lives. These women's discussion showed very clearly that God's presence and activity in our lives can be richer than we could imagine. 

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