Daring Greatly through women... with the courage to step outside the box
Stuart Blythe writes:
The idiom, stepping outside the box is often used as a metaphor. It refers to the development of unconventional, new, and creative ideas. Some contexts welcome such creativity. In others, however, it can require courage to challenge the established conventions. Such to be sure involves vulnerability and can incur the risk of rejection and expulsion. This vulnerability may be heightened by an inner yet very real self-questioning of that which you are proposing. That which you are proposing and verbalising may indeed be unconventional to you.
The above notwithstanding, the courage to step outside the box may require the courage to physically step outside the box. That is, the courage required may be the courage to place one’s body for the sake of one’s established or developing convictions in new and perhaps unconventional locations and settings. Here new ideas meet unconventional settings with nothing less than your body on the line. Here not simply your ideas but your self will be tried and tested. Here indeed the personal is political and the political personal. Perhaps at times nothing less than such courage and such physical stepping will suffice to bring change.
It seems to me that this sort of stepping was demonstrated in the life of the Suffragettes in their campaigning for full voting rights and a more egalitarian society. It is demonstrated in their taking to the streets. Such an act involved relinquishing the positive protections of the very system they were challenging. In turn it was an act that those who represented the system could exploit by as it were leaving the women to the mob because they were asking for it. The courage in so acting was not simply ideological but physical – perhaps a physical response to an issue in which the physical nature of the body played such a part.
I for one find it encouraging that some of these campaigners appear to have learned their art, some would say, physical performance art, from the practices of street events and open-air preaching, as promoted not least by the activities of the Salvation Army (de Vries, 1998). I also find it encouraging that for others it was their faith that motivated them to place their bodies in careers that were not traditionally thought of as suitable for women. Such 'Angels' indeed refused to stay in the house (Hawksley, 2013). They did not simply challenge traditional ideas but challenged them as they literally and physically stepped out of the box. And as Leslie Hill in an article entitled Suffragettes Invented Performance Art
concludes, 'And by the way, they got the vote too' (2000, p156).
I once heard New Testament scholar Ched Myers say, well I paraphrase his somewhat more colourful and descriptive turn of phrase, “Hope is where your body is”. He meant that it is an expression of our hope when we are ready and willing to place our bodies in different physical situations for the sake of positive transformation. Of course people, men and women, can place and use their bodies, perhaps with great courage, but for the harm of others and as instruments of violence. This was indeed the case with some in the Suffragette movement. This is a sometimes neglected aspect of the narrative which perhaps betrays an ongoing difficulty with the nature of the bodies involved. To be sure then, courage and physicality are not necessarily ethically positive. But of course Jenni’s call was not to be courageous and step outside the box. It was not even, as in my interpretation, to get physical. Rather, it was to do these things as we follow Jesus. Accordingly, his example provides the pattern of movement to be imitated in the faithful performance of our own lives, his presence the source of our courage, and his vision the substance of our hope. There is something unconventional and creative about such thinking. Yet, with those women marchers and open-air preachers I still cannot help but feel that it is thinking that involves us, me, in having the courage to not simply take my ideas but also my body out of the box.
(Some reading stuff)
Lucinda Hawksley, March, Women, March: Voices of the Women’s Movement from the first feminist to votes for women (London: Andre Deutch, 2013).
Leslie Hill, Suffragettes Invented Performance Art in Goodman, Lizbeth, and Jane de Gay, eds, The Routledge Reader in Politics and Performance (London: Routledge, 2000)
Jacqueline R de Vries, Transforming the Pulpit: Preaching and prophecy in the British Women’s Suffrage Movement in Kienzle, Beverly Mayne, and Pamela J. Walker, eds, Women Preachers and Prophets through Two Millennia of Christianity (London: University of California Press, 1998)
comes from Glasgow, Scotland. He is married to Susanne and they have two grown up children. He is a Scottish Baptist minister, has pastored in two churches, taught at the Scottish Baptist College, and is currently the Rector of the International Baptist Theological Study Centre in Amsterdam where he and Susanne now live. He plays the bagpipes and finds cycling in Amsterdam a daily adventure although it is something which has yet to do while playing the bagpipes.