Friday, July 10, 2015

Breaking Glass Ceilings

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

Breaking glass ceilings can be dangerous. At a minimum, it’s hard work and risky business. And ceilings aren’t the only barriers within a house or organization. I think glass walls can be even more challenging. As the saying goes, life is fragile, handle with prayer.

Paul and I were watching the Women’s Soccer World Cup this past Sunday. The USA team was playing Japan once again. In the previews, these players revealed the enormous sacrifices they had made, not only to make the team, but also to become players on the world stage. Talk about passions, gifts, and discipline! Competition and collaboration are real parts of the process. Politics too. Their positions on the field, their coaches on the sidelines, and life at home can make a difference. Fortunately, their purpose is clear and the same. We want to win the game.

One young woman spoke about the challenge of being vulnerable publicly; another of sitting on the bench while others played. A gay woman encouraged everyone just to be “our unique selves.” Of course there were frustrations and turf wars; and unexpected changes created opportunities for some and disappointments for others. Shadows, sunlight, artificial turf, and the simple benefit of winning a coin toss revealed variables beyond control. Then there are things like genetics, the power of a kick, good timing, and bad luck. Confidence is essential, not only in oneself but also in one’s teammates. And risk-taking? How about Lloyd’s 3rd goal from midfield? So many variables are at play!

It’s hard to break through barriers especially when they are invisible, or to play the game when there’s not equal footing. If glass barriers are clean, you can see beyond them. They serve a purpose. The room has views; light is allowed in; people are protected. The sky is visible; actually the sky’s the limit. And yet, glass houses with their ceilings and walls can also be limiting, even dangerous. They can become like prisons. Just ask animals in the zoo. And, ask the birds outside. If you’re not careful, you might fly into a glass wall, and break your neck.

On Sunday, a bird flew into the glass wall of the room where Paul and I were sitting. Maybe she had tired of earthworms, and wanted some pizza. Maybe she thought being human was better than being a bird. Maybe she wanted company and to watch the World Cup with us. Maybe she was tired, wanted some protection, or just wanted to see how the other half lived. Perhaps she was distracted by her companion, or tweeting, and wasn’t paying attention to where she was going.

Free as a bird, free as the Holy Spirit, she used her wings as God had intended. But she didn’t see the glass wall that lay between her and us. Unfortunately, she didn’t break through that glass wall; instead, she broke her neck. Paul and I watched with horror as she lay quivering, wings flapping, lying on the flagstone beneath our window, until she died. Her feathers slowly floated down around her, while her companion squawked loudly from the branch above her in grief-stricken protest. It’s important to be aware of one’s intentions. It’s important to know whether you’re on the inside or outside, where you want to go, and why. It’s important to be aware of the impact of glass ceilings and walls.

Simultaneously, I watched Americans cheering loudly from their own perches in the soccer stadium in Canada. Even though it was only a handful of women standing on the podium, I shared their victory. It’s easier, I think, to see how God is working when you’re standing on a podium of power and feeling triumphant, or on the sidelines and not in the thick of play, or high up in the balcony with a bird’s eye view. One can see what holds another player back, who pushes the ball forward, what barriers get in the way of fair play, and how teams organize themselves to win. At the same time, I shared Japan’s defeat, suffering with the Japanese goalie who could not stop crying. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, “When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. When one part of the body rejoices, we all rejoice.”

Life is hard work and risky business; it also can be dangerous and exhilarating. There are barriers, visible and invisible, that may protect us or prevent us from God only knows what. Underneath our professional jerseys, or fluffy feathers, we are all living creatures with real human needs and real human desires. We give and we receive. We watch and we play. We stand on the shoulders of others, and we bump into barriers. We squawk. We cheer. We sit and we fly; and in the end we all die.

Even so, we all have the same purpose. “The glory of God is the human being fully alive” and we thank God every day for that gift. I believe that in Christ, we all win; we all stand on the podium of victory, clothed from on high with the power of God’s Spirit. Jesus broke the glass ceiling, and broke through the glass walls that divide us, and God came into our glass house. Game over.

In Christ, we are set free, free to fly where there are no walls, where there are no visible or invisible barriers, where there are no defeats, and there is no death. We’re all playing the game on equal footing, celebrating who we are, as beloved and beautiful creatures of God. All of us are creatures, great and small; all means all.

The question for us is not specifically about glass houses, glass ceilings, and glass walls but rather about what part we want to play on the global team, how might we use our wings to fly, and how we might break down and through those barriers. How will our feet push the ball forward? How will our mouths squawk at injustice and proclaim the good news of victory? Together and individually, according to our gifts and our passions, knowing we are different and the terrain is uneven, knowing there are barriers seen and unseen, how will we be part of the Body and the Bird? How will we play on?