Thursday, June 15, 2017



From the Sermon Series: Christ and Current Events – 5.
2 Sam. 11:26-12:13; NT Luke 8:1-3
A sermon by The Rev. John A. Dalles
Preached originally on Sunday, August 16, 2015

Let’s begin where we were, think about where we are now (and where we are not) and then look to the future.


We begin in 1971.  I have two dear friends, a brother and sister.  One is my age and one is a year ahead in high school.  Expectations about each of my friends surprised me.  The expectation is that the friend who is male will go to college.  The expectation for the friend who is female, not so much.  There are also at home expectations.  Each of them has household duties to perform each week—we called them chores back then.  Things like mowing the grass or washing the dishes, that sort of thing.  Expectations were that the son would do the chores assigned to him, but if some better offer came up in doing things with his friends, he could let the chores slide, maybe get to them later, maybe one of the parents would end up doing them instead.  Expectations for the daughter were different.  If something special or fun with friends came up, the chores had to be done first.  No further argument.  It was a bit eye opening.  A bit peculiar.  And seemed quite wrong.
You may have grown up in a similar situation.  This is not to say that the parents didn’t love both children dearly, but there were a set of rules for the guys and a set of rules for the gals.  That was it.
Forward a few years, to 1975.  The largest architectural firm in the unites states, famous then and still huge and famous today, sent one of their senior partners to speak to the juniors in the architecture program at Penn State about job opportunities with their firm.  He spoke very highly of his large Chicago office filled with innovative architects.  The audience included all of my fellow architecture majors about a third of whom were women, about to embark into a profession that was dominated by men.  Loraine, who was one of the best students, asked a question during the Q and A portion of the talk, “What opportunities do you have available for women at your firm?”  The speaker seemed surprised by the question and then after giving it some thought, said, “We can always use a good color theorist…” it was a bit eye opening.  A bit peculiar.  And seemed quite wrong.
That was it.
Also in 1975, we had a family reunion in Pittsburgh.  Our family went to worship at First Presbyterian Church downtown, since it was where the great aunts had been members forever before they moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, in the 60s.  We were there on a communion Sunday.  After the sermon, when it was time for communion, the elders moved gracefully up and down the aisles, in the special Presbyterian sacrament we call communion.  I was watching all of this and there was something odd about it all, that at first I could not put my finger on.  Then it dawned on me.  Of the 16 or so elders moving through the historic Gothic sanctuary, amid the gorgeous Tiffany stained glass windows, and the well oiled walnut pews, not one of them was a woman.  Not one.  Having grown up in a different Pennsylvania Presbyterian church of the same PC(USA) denomination, where women elders were as numerous as men…it was a bit eye opening.  A bit peculiar.  And seemed quite wrong.
In homes, in the workplace and in places of worship, it seemed… there was a certain rule, spoken or unspoken, that opportunities for men and opportunities for women were not the same.  Not the same.
That is the way we were.


Have we come a long way, baby?  Yes and no.  We have many women in Congress, on the bench of the Supreme Court, and Cabinet Secretaries.  The immediate past three Secretaries of State have been women.  These are recent innovations.  Some of our younger members of the church will scratch their heads to think that there was ever a time when it seemed controversial for there to be a woman architect, a woman minister, or a young woman whose household chores were looked upon differently than those of her brother.
But we can all point to situations in most every line of work where there is still an inequality between what women can do, or what women are paid to do it.
Gender pay gaps persist around the world, including in the United States. 
But in some vocations that is changing
More women own and operate their own business than ever before.
Today, women make up almost 15% of the active duty members in the United States military.  But there, equality issues remain.
Globally women are much more likely to be able to read and write than are men.
Almost exactly the number of women hold jobs as do men.
But the number who make it into the upper echelons of management remain dis-proportionally small.  Just 13% of board members are women and fewer than 3% of Fortune 500 companies are run by women. These numbers are higher than they’ve ever been before, but they’re still far from impressive.
Some fields are still very much dominated by men: women hold just 27% of computer science jobs, and only 5% of electrical engineering jobs,
Where we are now…it is better than it was in 1970's, but not good enough.
I had not been here very many yeas when one of the women elders in our congregation made a appointment to come and chat with me.  She and her husband had bought a house over in a suburb not far from us, but just far enough away.  She came to tell me that they would probably be joining a church near their new home.  This was a disappointment to me, because she was a very fine elder and a great church member.  I expedited her to say that they would be jointing the PC(USA) Church there, which is a very fine congregation and one of the oldest in our presbytery.  No, she did not mention that church.  She mentioned a completely different church, not a PC(USA) church, where then, and to this day, women cannot serve as deacons, or as elders or as ministers.  There are some proof text verses of scripture that are used to justify this archaic position. 
And she has a daughter.  As do we.
I said to her then what I would say to her again today, and what I would say to anyone who would make such a move:  
“I suppose I can understand why you might make the conscious compromise to join a congregation in which you will not be able to serve as you have been able to serve here, but I cannot understand why a parent would allow their daughter to grow up in a faith environment that treated her like a second class citizen.” 

It was a bit eye opening.  A bit peculiar.  And seemed quite wrong.  Like a throwback to the 1970’s, or the 1950’s or the 1880’s…

I hope there is not one parent here who expects their daughter to take some long-held hope or dream and let it die because it is something that only men do.
That would not be the way of Jesus.  In his writings, both in the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, Luke is particularly good at showing us that Jesus treated women as whole people, not the second class people that most of his traditional Middle Eastern society forced them into being.  Where they could not speak to men outside the  home, could not appear outside the home without their heads covered, and face veiled, could not speak their own mind, offer their own opinion, own their own property, contribute to and support causes that were dear to their own heart, hold leadership positions in the vocations and political arena.  I hope there is not one parent here – be they ever so well-meaning – who would ever say to a daughter, “Well you probably shouldn’t peruse that line of work because only men do that.”
We know about his 12 disciples, the men who had followed him from Galilee.  What does Luke tell us about the women who had followed him from Galilee?
          “Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.
The role of women at the very start of Christianity, was a vital role.


We have the role of working to bring about a more equitable society, in which daughters can dare to dream to be whoever they feel called to become.
We can model it ourselves. 
We can see to it that we provide every opportunity for it to happen. 
We can mentor, encourage and open doors for women who are seeking be what they have not yet achieved.
Being free to make decisions for themselves and for the people they care about.

Copyright © 2017, John A. Dalles. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Lessons from the Underground

Not long ago I came across a reproduction of a vintage poster that was made for the London Underground.  The poster was an attempt by the Underground management to get some feedback from the thousands who rode their cars every day.  Communication and feedback is important and the Underground is famous for anticipating and providing for what their riders need.  So it is no wonder that these posters were created.

I liked the graphics of the poster. Black and white, with red accents—a classic combination.  I liked that the wording was in the wonderful and copyrighted Gil Sans typeface, a typeface created expressly for the London Underground in the 1920's, much imitated but never outdone.  Its crisp clean look also evokes the jazz age and what we call the Art Deco aesthetic.  It is still in use in all of the signage in the Underground, and rightly so.

The poster asks riders to write their suggestions in the big blank white space below the heading.  What could be better?  Immediate feedback.  Instant communication!  A way to know that is inside the heads of those who are the customers and clientele of the Underground.

We all need that kind of feedback because we want to improve our service and meet the needs of our constituents.  So the idea behind the poster appealed to me, ever so much as the look of the poster.
But then, I was drawn to the examples of what people had  actually suggested that “frame” the center panel, these are small illustrations with the actual comments that people made.  When I read the two at the top center, I burst out laughing, and have been laughing about it ever since.

One of the two suggestions says: “Have longer stops at stations.”  And right there next to it the other suggestion says: “Have shorter stops at stations.”  Hilarious!  

Now, I think that the London Underground should make both of those people happy, don’t you? After all they are both loyal riders, who have both offered genuine and heartfelt feedback, of what they both think will improve upon what exists now.  So it behooves the London Underground to make them both happy.

What?  You say that it is impossible to make both of them happy?  You are correct!  And this is a point that extends far beyond the Underground or London or the United Kingdom.  Not every suggestion, no matter how good it may be, can be acted upon. In fact, if you or I or anyone else tried to act on every good suggestion that came our way, we would probably explode or implode.  Or both at the same time.  It cannot be done.  There is no way to satisfy every idea and suggestion – and remember – every person who offers theirs is absolutely certain, without any manner of doubt whatever, that among all the many suggestions, good bad an indifferent, theirs is the ultimate, the best, the sine qua non.

Here’s the thing: If you have ever made a suggestion that has not been acted upon, in any setting, don’t stop riding the Underground – in other words don’t stop being an active part of that organization into which you poured your suggestion.  Or suggestions.  Keep in mind that others are making them too, and many of them are like yours, and many of them are diametrically opposed to yours.  The complete opposite.  Think of the London Underground Suggestions Poster.  Remember those two top panels.  

And then, no matter what, hop on board so that you can get where you are going and on the way you can actually enjoy the ride.