eggs
Social Issues

stomping on eggshells: on white fragility and speaking up

It’s been two weeks since the election, and I’ve been struggling to find something to say. Somehow life has to keep moving, we have to keep going … but it’s difficult to come here and continue reviewing Redeeming Love when it feels like the entire world is going up in flames. On the other hand I don’t want to continue re-iterating what you’re likely seeing through the rest of your social media/blogging channels, and as important as it is for us to be aware of the steps Trump is taking, I don’t want to merely add to the noise.

I went to a march and protest in DC the Saturday after the election. We started at a candlelight vigil, singing 70s-era protest songs and “Hallelujah,” and it was amazing to be with thousands of people who were grieving as much as I was. Then, thousands more of us marched to the Trump hotel– the one he’s asking foreign dignitaries and diplomats to stay in when they come to Washington– and shouted “Islamaphobia is not America” and “My Body My Choice” and “Black Lives Matter.” That whole experience was cathartic, and I plan on taking more actions in the future as they are necessary. I also attended the local county meeting of the Democratic party last night, and I’m going to become involved with organizing on that level. I can’t sit on my hands and watch the world burn. I encourage all of you to take whatever action you can, whatever it is.

Which brings me to the topic of today, which is part criticism, part education, and part encouragement for my fellow social justice advocates and progressives. In speaking with people over the past two weeks about ways to get involved and stand up for vulnerable people– especially Muslims and people of color– I’ve been seeing a common theme. It’s certainly not new, and it’s something I’ve struggled with until relatively recently. People with privilege– white, straight, male, Christian, etc– frequently want to do what’s right, but they feel like they’re “walking on eggshells.” They want to be an ally, but they don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. Many of us feel anxiety or nervousness about racial issues in particular.

I would like to gently and lovingly and directly say that this feeling of “walking on eggshells” is based in a lie, and one we believe because our privilege has made us incredibly arrogant. I don’t say this to be mean or harsh, but because I believe it’s the truth, and one I had to learn for myself sometimes painfully.

To be bluntly honest, I started this blog because I was bored. I’m fortunate now to have a job that only asks me to work twice a week, but three years ago I didn’t have that. I was stuck at home, working on periodic freelance editing contracts and watching TV the rest of the time. After a few months I started writing a blog … and now I’m here. I’m an activist, a professional writer, I’ve been interviewed for multiple BBC radio shows, for the Washington Post and Marie Claire, gave a talk at the Gay Christian Network, and now I’m being published at major feminist websites and helping to organize state politics.

I didn’t intend to become a feminist activist. I almost literally stumbled into it on accident because I started talking about my personal experiences with fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism… and now I’m considered an expert in my field. It’s weird, and mind-boggling. Coming to this the way I did meant that there were more than a few rough patches. I had no choice but to learn as I went, and it was not always sunshine and rainbows.

For a long time I was so incredibly nervous about messing it all up. When you’re first thrown into social justice, it can be incredibly overwhelming. It’s so hard to catch up and learn all the ropes. Is it trans or trans*? African-American or black? What is a polite way to engage with a hypervisible black woman on twitter? How do I find resources? How can I figure out who’s credible and who isn’t? It’s a lot.

Getting started did make me feel like I was walking around on eggshells. When there is that much to try to absorb all at once, how do you even begin without being afraid you’re going to make a mistake?

Here’s where the lie and the arrogance come in: we think it’s possible to avoid making mistakes.

I believed for a long time that I could do enough research and get enough education and listen hard enough to the right people for long enough and that would mean I was ready to be a “social justice warrior” and work for all the causes I believed in. If I worked hard enough at it, I could say everything I wanted to say without any blunders or missteps. I wanted to be a good ally. I wanted to be a part of Jesus’ mission to liberate the oppressed and set the captive free, and I certainly didn’t want to hurt anyone while doing it.

I was so incredibly arrogant to think that was even remotely possible. I was blind to just how much my whiteness could affect me– that my whiteness would affect me. And not only did I believe the arrogant lie that a white person could avoid making any mistakes when talking about racial justice, I was also prioritizing my own fear over doing what was right. I was terrified of being “called out” if I did or said something wrong … so, sometimes, I didn’t do anything. Instead of speaking up, I’d let my anxiety about screwing up keep me silent.

That was my white privilege in action… or inaction, really.

We can’t let our pride get in the way of taking steps, of using our voice and our privilege on the behalf of the oppressed. We have to be humble enough to know that we will fuck up. It is inevitable. We will say something racist. We will say something homophobic, or transphobic, or biphobic, or sexist. We have to be willing to speak up anyway, but we have to do so while practicing humility and listening. It would be just as wrong to let our fervor carry us away from the marginalized we’re supposed to be fighting for, which has happened time and time again in progressive circles. We can’t shield ourselves from criticism– either through saying nothing, or refusing to see when we said something wrong.

I think what this all comes down to is that I’m asking us to be bold. To set aside our white fragility and get to necessary work of fighting for justice and equality for everyone– even when we’re uncomfortable, even when we make mistakes.

Photo by Jorge Andrade
rainbow-candles
Social Issues

the day after tomorrow

I spent last night deliberately avoiding the election results because I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Instead I spent the evening watching Suffragette and season six of The Good Wife. Both Handsome and I had a terrible sense of foreboding watching the story of women fighting and dying for the right to vote. I had high hopes that watching Suffragette would be prophetic, a good omen on the eve of electing our first woman President, that my hope could stave off the fear and dread I felt.

My hopes and dreams did not come true last night. I woke to a dark and terrible world, one filled with uncertainty. There’s no way to tell what the next four years could bring, and I am afraid.

I am afraid for myself. The county I live in is deeply conservative, racist, segregated, misogynistic, and homophobic. It’s almost as bad the town I grew up in– and that town elected the local Ku Klux Klan’s Grand Giant as mayor until the 90s. I’m afraid that I could be attacked for who I am. I’m afraid that the people who hate me will be emboldened, that someone will attempt the unthinkable if I and my queer friends go to an LGBT bar this weekend.

I am concerned about my future health. Right now the main treatment for my endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome is covered by my insurance, but that’s only true because of the Affordable Care Act, which seems likely to disappear next year. What happens then? I don’t know, and I’m afraid.

But mostly I’m not afraid for myself. If Trump keeps his promises– and there’s no way to tell if he will– I’m afraid for the thousands upon thousands of people whose lives could be destroyed because of his policies and the actions of his followers. I have latinx friends– will their families be ripped apart in a mass deportation? I have Syrian friends who still have family there– will they ever see them again? Native Americans are already facing militaristically-equipped police in Standing Rock– are we going to see another Wounded Knee in the coming months? All my disabled friends who depend on the ACA– are they going to die because they can’t afford to pay for their healthcare? Will we actually withdraw from NATO and send the world into chaos? Will our President continue to use an antagonistic nation’s cyberattacks on his political opponents? How many women will die if Roe v. Wade is overturned? Will all the women with my common medical condition end up in prison because we miscarried and even “spontaneous abortions” (the medical term for miscarriage) become suspect? Is the freedom of the press, the freedom to peaceably assemble, under threat of evaporating?

Outside of policy– foreign and domestic–  I’m afraid burning crosses are going to become commonplace again. I’m afraid that the constant barrage of assault and harassment women already face on a daily basis will worsen. I’m afraid that attacks on my LGBT family are going to rise. I’m desperately afraid for my Muslim friends and for their families. I’m afraid for my latinx friends and how the suspicion and mistrust they already encounter could escalate into something far more terrifying.

I’m afraid, and I’m hurting.

***

But.

But.

We have faced all these things before, and we fought.

We have been tortured, and we spat in their faces.

We have been murdered, and we used our grief to drive our fury.

We have been denied the right to vote, and we endured beatings to get it.

We have died of ravaging diseases while a bigoted nation ignored us, and we searched until we were well again.

We’ve been here before. None of this is new to any of us. People of color are brutalized and slaughtered every day, while a black President watched and was helpless to stop it. The Supreme Court said I could marry whoever I wanted, but that didn’t affect the one-hundred-plus rights LGBT people still don’t have that straight people do. Roe v. Wade is still law, but that hasn’t stopped TRAP laws from encroaching on my autonomy or “religious freedom” letting women suffer or die in Catholic hospitals.

We had a long road ahead of us already. It just got longer and rougher.

Today and tomorrow we grieve. We let ourselves experience the full breadth of the horror we’re facing. An excruciating light is burning in our eyes and souls, illuminating the putrescence buried in the core of our nation and our people. The pain can take our breath away today; we have to deal with the reality of the gauntlet that hatred threw down at our feet last night. Today we hold ourselves and each other. We’ll find each other in the aftermath, we’ll search the battlefield for survivors. When we can’t walk anymore, we’ll find someone to carry us home.

And then we’ll fight, like we always have and always will.

Photo by Tim Sackton
Disgust
Social Issues

experiencing hate as a queer woman

For almost a year I’ve been dealing with the aftermath of finding out that people I know hate me. I had to look in their eyes and see nothing but rage and disgust at my very existence. It’s been difficult in a way that few things have been, in a way I wasn’t able to articulate until recently.

***

I hate someone, too. The man who raped me. The fact that he exists, that he is out there, somewhere, carefree and happy and free while I’m burdened with everything he did to me… it fills me with fury. I am disgusted by him, by what I know he’s capable of doing. The fact that he can still suck air into his lungs and be filled with life makes me want to retch because I can barely stand the thought that I am utterly helpless to stop him from hurting other people.

I’ve done the one thing I can– I reported him to the police. Hopefully when he hurts another girl, another woman, if she decides to go to the police there will be a report there saying you’re not alone, he’s done this before, he deserves to go to prison, and we can send him there.

I hate him. The world would be a better place if he weren’t in it.

***

It was hard looking into someone else’s face and seeing that feeling there, directed at me. To see hatred for everything I am as a person, everything I represent, flickering at me in their eyes. Wishing for my disappearance, my non-existence. Not that they want me dead exactly– just to have never existed in the first place.

It’s a different sort of hard than the banality of hatred I encounter almost daily. Lots of people think I’m uppity, or selfish, or a liar, or stupid, or fat, or unattractive– and have told me so, as loudly as they can manage through a keyboard. There are people out there who love to pick me apart or whip up angry, pitchfork-toting mobs. While occasionally frightening, and certainly disruptive, mostly it’s simply a matter of time before I can set it aside and not let if affect me. I don’t have to pick up any of their labels and carry them around with me. If someone calls me stupid, the only reaction that calls for is laughter. If they call me a liar, well– I know I’m telling the truth, and that’s all that really matters.

But when someone you know reacts to your presence in the room with loathing it’s not possible to just set it aside. It’s not some ridiculous accusation hurled in your direction over the internet for you to ignore and delete.

If you’re a good, decent person, and someone looks at you like that, your automatic question is going to be what did I do? People typically have very good reasons for their hatred and disgust. I hate a rapist because of what he did to me, and what I’m afraid he’ll do to others. So, of course, the natural impulse will be to try to figure out what you could have possibly done to provoke that reaction.

When the answer is “you exist,” it’s devastating.

If you’re a good person, you want to try to fix whatever you’ve done, or change it. You want to undo whatever’s happened and earn their forgiveness– because irrational and bigoted loathing simply doesn’t make any emotional sense. You can objectively know that bigotry exists in the world and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it, individually, but then you encounter it in someone you care about and what you objectively know doesn’t matter as much as trying to do everything you can to make them stop hating you so much.

Queer people encounter this in our friends, our family, our churches, our communities. We can feel all the revulsion directed at us, and our reaction is so human. We want to fix it– and it’s not like we haven’t been told how. Lie to yourself, lie to us. Let us electrocute you. Take this mountain of shame and self-loathing and carry it on your back wherever you go. Never love anyone the way Christ loves the church or Jonathon loved David or Ruth loved Naomi. Deny every chance at romantic happiness. Never have a family.

Do it all alone, because we certainly won’t help you.

Many of us have tried. Many of us have died trying. I certainly tried for most of my life– and was somewhat good at it, too. Until the moment I realized that being queer makes me incandescently, buoyantly, happy. Until I met someone that didn’t force me to lie to him in order for us to be together– who finds as much joy in my queerness as I do. Until I discovered acceptance among my queer family in a way I’d never felt before. Until I discovered that I can feel pride in who I am and what I bring to the world as a queer person.

I had the chance to let my burden fall off my back and tumble away, and I will never go chasing it down. Not even if all the dishonesty and deceit and duplicity in the world could wipe away the disgust I see in their eyes. It’s just not worth it, however much their hatred hurts. I’m not going to stop existing to make anyone else more comfortable. I will not light myself on fire to keep you warm.

Love isn’t the thing that needs to change. Hate is.

Photo by Alex Holyoake
pumpkins
Uncategorized

stuff I’ve been into: October Edition

Happy Halloween! As you might have been able to tell, Halloween is my favorite holiday, and recently I bumped into this post talking about Halloween as following in the steps of inversion festivals— which made me realize that’s why I love it so much. It’s not just that Halloween was forbidden for us Christian fundamentalist kids, it’s that Halloween as a holiday represents everything that fundamentalism opposes, and that’s why I love everything about it.

Last month I mentioned all the craft projects I was doing, so here’s a quick glance at some of the final results:

spell-books spell-book-on-desk

I was very happy with the way everything turned out, and I’m still delighted by the image of Tim LaHaye rolling over in his grave at the thought I turned his Left Behind series into witchcraft decorations.

Articles on Feminism

I for one appreciate the fact-checking “fad” reporters are doing on politicians– it’s been far too acceptable for politicians to tell half-truths and lies for expediency’s sake, and I hope this trend of calling them out on it continues (although some people are apparently annoyed by it, which I don’t understand). However, this article by Soraya Chemaly highlights that fact-checking can only go so far in the endless tide of culturally-enforced misogyny in her article “Fact Checking is Largely Irrelevant Because Deceit is not What’s Causing Moral Outrage, Clinton’s Gender Is.”

In a class of articles that I call “explaining the obvious” we have for you this month “Women Negotiate for Raises as Much as Men. They Just Don’t Get Them” by Emily Crockett.

I’ve been following the crises Baylor has been experiencing because people discovered they were covering up rapes committed by their athletes and other students. It got worse this month when the Title IX coordinator resigned because she wasn’t being allowed to actually do anything (video at link).

This is How They Broke Our Grandmothers” by Natasha Chart was powerful reading.

In the “women are wonderful and I love them” category, here’s “How First Ladies on Opposite Sides of the Civil War Forged an Unlikely Bond” by Hadley Meares.

I’ve mentioned before that the re-told fairy tale is perhaps my favorite genre, as are pretty much any books that are original fairy tales. Uprooted by Naomi Novik takes the cake in that category in my opinion. This essay from the editor of a collection of fairy tales (The Starlit Wood, which I now desperately need), Navah Wolfe is wonderful: “Wicked Girls Saving Themselves.”

This article, “Laughing Until we Cry: Conversations about Getting Flashed, Grabbed, and Gropped” by Liz Meriwether, has prompted a lot of thought for me over the last week. In it she asks us to re-consider how we approach the casual assault on our bodies that we can face almost daily.

Articles on Politics

We’re just about a week out from November 8, when all of this hullabaloo will hopefully be over. However, that doesn’t mean that this election cycle hasn’t exposed something important about American culture, and I think we need to understand what’s been happening and why. “Finally, Someone Who Thinks Like Me” by Stephanie McCrummen is a profile on a Trump supporter, and was interesting reading.

Articles on Race

If you’re not aware of #NoDAPL and the Standing Rock protests, get aware. Everything I’ve been seeing makes me cry, and also absolutely bewilders me. It’s somehow still incomprehensible to me that I’m watching a dystopian novel acted out in the Dakotas.

How To Talk about #NoDAPL: A Native Perspective” by Kelly Hayes.

A History of Native Americans Protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline” by Alexander Sammon.

Assorted Articles

A linguist named Benjamin Bergen has written a book on swearing, which of course is relevant to my interests. He looked at what swearing actually does for people and to people, and found that hey! there’s a difference between swearing, verbal abuse, and using slurs! No kidding!

This story about faith healing exemptions, “When Religious Freedom Leaves Children Dead” by Emma Green, is necessary reading in my opinion. These exemptions need to be abolished everywhere because they are horrific. And keep in mind that many of the same people who are voting for Trump because “pro-life Supreme Court Justices” also think they deserve the legal right to murder their born children through vicious medical neglect.

Books

Whoever told me that The Paper Magician was going to be underwhelming … you were right. I’m still very excited by the magic system and will probably read the rest of the trilogy because I want to see where it goes, but the central plot of The Paper Magician was not satisfying.

Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich is, however, completely delightful. I’m not fond of the initial interactions between the two main characters, but it is funny and easy to read– something I need in between dense seminary texts.

Speaking of, if you’re interested in really understanding hermenunetics and how to interpret the Bible, Scripture as Communication by Jeannine Brown is exceptionally good.

TV and Movies

I just watched the second part of Hunger Games: Mockingjay, and I enjoyed the movie better than the book. I don’t think the first movie adaptation went very well and Catching Fire was only slightly better than average, but the way that Mockingjay deals with everything the characters have been through goes better than in the book, I think.

I absolutely loved the first Jack Reacher movie so I was excited about the sequel Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. I know the title is from the book it’s based on, but the movie did not explain the “never go back” bit very well. Otherwise, though, it was a highly enjoyable beat-’em-up action movie and I liked the addition of a more substantive role for a woman than what we got in the first movie.

We’ve been watching Conviction because Hayley Atwell is in it, but so far I’m not impressed. The episodes so far have been incredibly formulaic, but I do like some of the characters. Tess Larson is especially intriguing. Hopefully the writers and the directors work out the early-season kinks soon.

Designated Survivor has been interesting because of its complete reversal on Kiefer Sutherland’s character in 24. He’s basically the anti-Jack Bauer in this show.

All my CBS shows are back, though, so yay! More Elementary and Madam Secretary for me. ABC, you need to step it up.

Photo by Thad Zajdowicz
wedding-ring
Feminism

Purity Culture Itself is the Problem

I got back from my short jaunt to  seminary this weekend, and I have my first massive paper of seminary due tomorrow, so that’s been what’s keeping me occupied. I did take Redeeming Love with me and was able to read a little of it, but I was somewhat preoccupied with an article I was writing for Rewire, which went up today!

It’s titled “How We Teaching Purity Culture isn’t the Problem: Purity Culture Itself is the Problem,” and I’m pretty excited about it. As always, if you think this is valuable reading, please share it generously with your social media circles.

This weekend is my big Halloween bash, so after that life should settle back down to something resembling more routine and I hope to return to at least a weekly blogging schedule. For now, enjoy my post over at Rewire and you can always find me on Twitter and Facebook ranting about things.

Photo by Noee
carousel
Social Issues

keeping y’all in the loop

So I knew coming into this that seminary was going to throw a monkey wrench into the blogging works, and I was right. Because of that, I wanted to let y’all know that in the absence of blogging I’m still feeling the impetus to get my thoughts out there into the ether, and the best way for me to do that is what fancy internet folk are calling microblogging: ie: posting mini-posts to Facebook and Twitter.

I’ve posted a few thoughts on Facebook– one that’s my ruminations on being inspired by Witches, and another that digs into why I’m so repulsed by “Hillary the Enabler” arguments that have been stirred up in the wake of TapeGate. I also have a few threads over on Twitter– like this one about the “vote for Hillary because she’s the one who will REALLY do something about the abortion rate!” arguments that have popped up recently, or this one that explains why Trump attacking Hillary for her husband’s infidelity makes perfect sense to conservative evangelicals.

This week I’ve been working on an article for Rewire which hopefully I’ll be able to share with you soon, and then next week I’ll be on United’s campus for classes. I have a long list of post ideas just waiting for me to tackle them, which I think I’ll be able to get to next month because my life will have hopefully settled down by then. Mostly I just want this whole damn election to be over … which for Trump supporters is November 28. Clinton supporters and everyone who just wants to vote in local and state elections, we vote November 8.

Photo by Jeremy Keith
sunset-over-water
Social Issues

stuff I’ve been into: September edition

Mostly this month I’ve been into Halloween. I cannot even express how unbelievably excited about Halloween I am this year. For the past half-dozen years I’ve daydreamed about throwing a wildly extravagant All Hallow Eve’s costume party, and this is the first year I’ve been in my own house and have the space to entertain, so I’m finally doing it. It’s all I’ve really been able to talk about much, other than seminary and the big projects I’ve been doing at work. I’ve even been crafting, which long-term friends and family will tell you is not something I usually do.

Anyway, if you’d like to share in my Halloween joy, here’s my Pinterest board. I’ve decided to go with a white-black-and-gold color scheme, and a “Fairy Queen’s Study” theme. I start beaming every time I think about it. My favorite thing so far: we had about 50 hardbound Left Behind books at work left over from the end of the craze, and I’m turning them all into sorcery and witchcraft “books.” I think this is the best possible use for them. I’m positively gleeful at the image of Tim LaHaye turning green at the thought of what I’m doing to his books.

Articles on Feminism

I’ve spent a significant amount of time talking about the fact that there isn’t some sort of clearly delineated line between “rape as a horrible crime” and “wonderful sex.” Women, because of a variety of factors, experience this as a spectrum. “The Problem with how Men Perceive Rape,” by Lux Alptraum, is an excellent breakdown of all that.

When Detectives Dismiss Rape Reports before Investigating Them” by Alex Campbell and Katie Baker is a well-reported resource for talking about that whole “rape victims are lying, look at all these ‘unfounded’ reports” conversation MRAs love to have.

Remember that Atlantic article a while back about how women “can’t have it all”? Turns out the author’s come around a bit.

The Hidden Conservatism of American Horror Storyby Laura Bogart helped put into words the reaction I had to AHS when I tried to watch an episode– and why I continued thinking “nope” every time I saw a trailer for a new season.

Articles on Race

If you didn’t hear about the “hot chicken” debacle in Nashville a little bit ago, “Race, Credit, and Hot Chicken” by Betsy Phillips explains how covert and institutionalized racism contributed to that whole mess.

The White Protestant Roots of American Racism” by Alana Massey is a deep look into the centuries-old Christian justification for chattel slavery and also why American Christian culture is so caught up in seeing capitalism as an innately Christian concept– and also explores why those two things are linked.

Books

Not a lot of time for fiction reading this month. I’ve mostly just been trying to keep my head above water with a heavier work schedule and finding my footing with seminary. The best book I’ve read so far for seminary has been Jewish Bioethics: Rabbinic Law and Theology in Their Social and Historical Contexts by Yechiel Barilan. It was fascinating to see how Jewish I’ve become in my thinking about faith, the Tanakh (Old Testament), and Jesus. This isn’t exactly shocking news– I’ve been prioritizing Jewish perspectives on the Old Testament in my research for a few years now, and I read The Jewish Annotated New Testament when I’m studying something there. I’ve also got Amy-Jill Levine’s Short Stories by Jesus as a go-to resource, too. It’s not a revelation of any kind to say “Jesus was Jewish,” but I think we’ve lost that almost completely in a lot of ways. Anyway, if you’ve got the time to read a seminary-level text, Jewish Bioethics is an amazing book.

I did finish the Night Angel trilogy. It’s solidly good, although it becomes apparent by the last book that Brent Weeks, the author, is a Christian– characters start quoting the Bible, and the climax of the whole series embodies a crucifixion-style Atonement (although, bonus: the Christ Figure is a woman). I didn’t mind the Christian themes since they didn’t damage the writing or the narrative, but I will say I was plumb annoyed toward the end when purity culture reared its ugly head for no gosh darn reason. There’s also some heavy handed “men are ___” and “women are ____,” but the trilogy was enjoyable enough and the women characters well-rounded enough to let me shrug it off.

Whoever told me to check out Michelle Sagara, I have one of her books coming for me at the library, and I’ll let you know what I think.

TV and Movies

Still enjoying The Good Wife, although season five is hella tense. In order to break up some of that tension, I introduced Handsome to Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23, which has actual-goddess Krysten Ritter. Also, Luke Cage released today, and that’s what we’re binge-watching this weekend. The creator, Cheo Hodari Coker, saying “the world is ready for a bulletproof black man” makes me want to cry. I can’t wait to see it.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World was lovely and melancholy and sweet and funny, and I highly recommend it. I’ve also been raving about Ex Machina– the ending oh my god the ending. Sweet mother of God. I also enjoyed The Martian a lot more than I thought I was going to– I absolutely loathed Cast Away and I thought The Martian was basically going to be “Cast Away in Space.” It’s not. It’s hilarious. I cannot say enough good things about Spotlight and Concussion, either.

***

So what all have you been reading and watching?

Photo by Matthew Howarth
good-christian-sex-hands
Theology

book review: “Good Christian Sex” by Bromleigh McCleneghan

I’ve been doing this blogging thing for about three and a half years now, so I was a little surprised by how pleased I was when Harper asked if they could send me a copy of Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option–And Other Things the Bible Says about Sex by Bromleigh McCleneghan. Somehow, that signaled to me that I’d “made it” as a blogger, even though I’m still (quite happily) pretty small-time. Anyway, here’s my honest review in exchange for a free copy of the book.

***

When I first crack open the spine of a book like Good Christian Sex, the first place I turn to is the bibliography. When I got this book about a month ago I glanced over the materials she referenced, and at first was a little wary. There were a lot of pop culture references, a blog post I’ve occasionally been frustrated with, a smattering of male theologians, and a feminist author who makes a case for abstinence that I thoroughly disagree with. Looking over the table of contents made me feel a touch cautious, as well: there’s a chapter on vulnerability and another on fidelity, two concepts I’ve seen go completely sideways in Christian-oriented books.

So I was hesitant as I started reading, but quickly felt my ambivalence evaporate. Basically, if you like the things I’ve written about and spoken about regarding sex, you’re probably going to love Good Christian Sex. I heartily– and almost unreservedly– give my endorsement, which I think has happened basically never.

Broadly, what I love about it the most is its basic assumption and over-arching structure, which are a wonderful harmony of form and function. I’ve argued here, many times, that all our daily choices will inevitably be the outworking of our theology. What we believe about God and their Nature will affect our choices. If you think they’re a malevolent bully with a long list of Thou Shalt Nots, your faith and life will be fear-driven and all that entails. If, like me and Bromleigh, you believe that God is Love … well, you’re going to have an incredibly different outlook.

I love that she fully embraces this outworking. It’s clear that she’s asked the question How does “God is Love” affect our view of sexual ethics? and this book is the result. Every chapter has this motion– from the general to the particular, from the theological principle to the application. I love writing that has clear organization and flow, and Good Christian Sex didn’t disappoint.

***

Each chapter deals with its own particular topic, but they build on each other– not something that always happens in these shorter non-fiction works. What I appreciated the most was that she doesn’t flinch away from the challenges any more typical evangelical question would make when encountering her title.

I don’t want to spoil it too much, but she addresses the assumptions of the Augustinian-Platonic view of the Flesh and Spirit, and why that dualistic treatment is problematic. I appreciated that she discussed pleasure holistically before talking about pleasure in any sexual context. For many Christians, pleasure in and of itself is suspect, and she deals with that fundamental idea before moving on to desire– another thing that Christians have a long history of demonizing.

Her third chapter lays out a holistic relational and sexual ethic (one that includes LGBTQ people!), and she even managed to include some ideas that pleasantly surprised and challenged me, which I didn’t expect. I’m going to gush a little, but this chapter is basically my “Consent is Not Enough” post more fully fleshed out and in someone else’s words. I also think anyone struggling with the nonsense in I Kissed Dating Goodbye should pay special attention to her chapters on vulnerability and “A Theology of Exes,” which is an excellent argument against purity culture’s particular fears and insecurities.

The chapter on fidelity that I was fearing might sour me on the book shockingly didn’t. For my friends and readers who are poly– there’s room in there for you, and it helped me to frame some of the reservations and questions I’ve been having in a new light. I think that chapter might be, by itself, why I’m so excited about this book. It’s a layperson-accessible, non-scholarly book, and I learned something. That hasn’t happened in … a while.

***

I’m very hopeful for Good Christian Sex‘s future. It’s already going on to my list of “books to recommend to questioning people,” and I think I’ll be buying a few copies just to have on hand in case I can convince someone to read it. I think this book could be a good way to start a conversation with someone, because it so thoroughly answers the base questions that an abstinence and purity-oriented person would have. It acknowledges all the different assumptions we might have, and oh-so-gently and graciously offers a completely different way of seeing relationships and sex, built on a different model they may not be used to. I’d already made the leap to structuring my relationships — sexual and otherwise– on a foundation of respect and consent, but this book can take someone by the hand and lightly guide them to new way of outworking their faith.

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Theology

a journey of unlearning

This is my first official paper for seminary. It’s for my hermenuetics class, answering the question “Who and what circumstances made me the kind of interpreter of religious texts that I am today?” A lot of this y’all have heard from me before, but I do mention a few concepts I haven’t talked about on the blog before, so if you have questions about anything I say here, feel free to ask– this was written for a man familiar with speech-act theory, after all. 🙂

***

When I was ten, my family moved to northwest Florida where we joined an Independent Fundamental Baptist church. For the next ten years we attend a church that began as unhealthy, turned toxic, and ultimately became a cult-like environment. Eventually I would attend a small fundamentalist school that was equally toxic and cult-like. Totalitarian control of our lives, especially our spiritual lives, became what I considered normal.

One of the best tools the “pastor” and the college administration used to control us was through our understanding of Scripture: what it is, how it functions, and how we are to understand it. I was taught that God preserved his Word for us, and that preserved word is the Bible, handed down to us through the “Received Texts” and translated for us into English in the Authorized Version. Not only did God preserve his Word in this manner, he also continually preserves it in our interpretations of it. Scripture will be foolish nonsense to the non-believer, but those who possess the Holy Spirit will be guided by God to a proper understanding of his Word. This is possible because of Inspiration and Inerrancy, and always results in believers comprehending the “plain meaning” of a text. We can read the Bible translated in English, devoid of any historical context or awareness of linguistic peculiarities, and arrive at a “correct” and “Spirit-led” understanding. In short, a person can rely on their status as a believer to justify any interpretation they make, for it is not really their interpretation at all.

After I graduated from college and my family had been excommunicated from our church, I finally had the opportunity to begin reassessing my framework for hermeneutics. That process began when I read God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson. Reading it was an illuminating experience, and I began questioning what I had been taught about “preservation.” I had been raised to revere the King James translators, and thought of them in the same terms as the Masoretes. I thought the 1611 translation had been a moment of divine intervention in history, a time when God brought the brightest minds of a generation together to accomplish his work on earth. Learning that the translators were just human, flawed men who politicked and lied, who were controlled by a monarch with political goals for his Bible, who sometimes misrepresented the words in order to create more beauty and poetry in English troubled me profoundly. I was forced to re-evaluate what it might mean for God to “preserve” his Word.

When I was in graduate school studying English, I was exposed to literary theory for the first time. The professor introduced us to a variety of approaches, from post-structuralism to phenomenology to psychoanalysis. One of the methods he taught us was how to “deconstruct” a text, and for homework asked us to deconstruct Genesis 3. I was confident that the Bible would be immune to deconstruction, and when I discovered the opposite I was devastated. Not only was it possible to deconstruct the Bible, it was easy. At first I did not know how to respond to this revelation, but after several years of processing my traumatic faith experiences, I felt comfortable interrogating concepts like Inerrancy and Inspiration and whether or not they should affect the act of interpretation.

Literary theory gave me the ability to understand what it means to interpret, and to be an interpreter. I confronted theories like “Death of the Author” and thought about what they might mean for the Bible. My professor provoked intense discussions about the location of the text, about meaning, about differánce and the relationship between the signifier and the signified. I began applying all those concepts to the Bible, and discovered anew beauty and value in it. Literary theory enabled me to divorce the Bible from the harmful teachings of my youth.

One of the events that helped me heal from my toxic religious upbringing was discovering feminism for myself. My background in the Quiverful and Biblical Patriarchy movements had taught me that feminism was anti-God and wholly evil, so when I encountered feminism as affirming, powerful, and truth-filled, it began unraveling my interpretations of many biblical passages. I rejected complementarianism, the doctrine that men have “headship” over women and began seeking alternate explanations for passages like Ephesians 5. This led me to Christian egalitarian circles, which seek to apply an abundance of historical context and analysis to texts, instead of relying on the “plain meaning” I had grown up with. I learned about things like the Greco-Roman Household Codes, the difference between history and myth, and appreciated the argument that the Bible cannot be separated from its historical time and place. For a while I felt invigorated, believing that the Bible could be a tool for liberation and not just the oppression I had experienced.

My feminist journey has been six years long at this point, and rather circuitous and wandering. For a long time I clung to Inspiration as a significant doctrine, although my application of it evolved for several years. My faith needed the Bible to be “of God” in a real—although ineffable—way. However, I recently came to the conclusion that whether or not Inspiration is “true” is irrelevant to how I approach interpretation. What is more important to me is an idea feminist theologians have termed a “hermeneutic of suspicion,” which sounds more ominous than it is. Before I began approaching the Bible this way, I was attempting to “re-interpret” passages to support my feminism. I was doing it with the best of intentions, but I now feel that some earnest egalitarian Christians might be allowing their needs to override an accurate rendering of the text. With a hermeneutic of suspicion, a biblical passage can be sexist, or even misogynistic, and I do not feel the need to argue with that. I approach biblical passages now with more acceptance and authenticity than I ever have before, because I no longer need those passages to “do” anything in particular.

In short, I learned to let the Bible be no more or less than what it actually is and to at least somewhat disconnect my theological system from it. I am a feminist Christian reading a Bible moored in cultures that included the oppression of women and other vulnerable minorities, and I believe it would be inaccurate to attempt to explain those oppressions away. I can believe that God is Love and the Bible is occasionally hateful without having a crisis of faith.

Photo by Loren Kerns
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Feminism

Redeeming Love Review: Non-consensual Marriage

Plot summary:

  • Michael gives in to “God,” goes back to Pair-a-Dice for Angel.
  • He discovers that she’s been beaten.
  • Marries her while she’s nearly unconscious and delirious.
  • Then he takes her back to the farm, where she recuperates.
  • Angel tries to learn how to cook and lay a fire, but fails.
  • She tries to seduce him, but he refuses.

***

I’m going to skip most of chapter six, which is mostly just Francine getting Michael back to Pair-a-Dice and the Palace to “get” Angel, where he finds her beaten and nearly unconscious. This firms up his belief that he’s been ordered by God to take her away, but he decides they have to get married before they leave town.

Right now I’m wondering why on earth Francine thinks they have to get married right then. The next few chapters reveals that he’s not intending to have sex with her until she’s not doing it as a “chore,” so there’s no motivation to marry her for that reason. Everyone knows she’s a prostitute, so it’s not to “protect her reputation” (like what frequently happens in other Christian romance novels). So why marry her right this instant, when it’s absolutely clear that she’s in no state to consent to being married and he knows that she wants nothing to do with him?

I don’t want to be so cynical to assume that Francine has these two get married at this point so that Angel is trapped in a marriage she doesn’t want, but there’s no other narrative reason I can see that makes sense. It’s possible she has them get married so that she doesn’t offend the delicate sensibilities of the modern conservative evangelical reader, but as far as story telling goes this is pretty horrible. It’s especially horrible considering the fact that laws of coverture where still in place. By marrying her, knowing that if she knew what was going on she never would have even said “why not?” (note there: she doesn’t say “yes,” and Michael is such an abominable monster where that is good enough for him), he now actually, literally, legally owns a woman he knows doesn’t want to be married to him.

And that’s how this whole situation starts.

There’s one significant issue being woven into these chapters that needs to be highlighted. At several points, Francine gives us something like this:

Angel couldn’t tell whether her sarcasm had gotten to him or not. It occurred to her belatedly that she might anger him and this wasn’t the best time to do so. She swallowed more soup and tried not to show her fear. (105)

and this:

What did he want from her? And why did she sense he was more dangerous than all the other men she had ever known? (110)

Angel’s backstory has made it clear that she’s experienced a lifetime of abuse, and people like me see Angel’s reactions to Michael’s every facial expression and vocal tone as hypervigilance, but frustratingly that’s not an interpretation we can take for granted in Redeeming Love. People like Francine aren’t entirely ignorant about what some of the consequences of abuse might be, it’s just that they look at something like hypervigilance and see bitterness instead. In this story, the reader “understands” that Michael is nothing like the abusive men Angel’s experienced. We’re supposed to take him at his word when he says he’ll never hurt her, that he loves her. Instead, we’re supposed to look at Angel’s mental commentary as a sign that she is bitter, and her own understanding of the situation isn’t to be trusted. She’s over-reacting.

The reality is that the opposite of this is true. In my experience, many Christians, especially those who ascribe to “nouthetic” or “biblical” counseling, take Francine’s point of view: trauma can result in bitterness, and that bitterness can poison a victim’s entire way of thinking … but they couldn’t be more wrong. In reality, victims are usually more capable of spotting abuse than people who haven’t been traumatized. Couple this over-writing of how victimhood is typically experienced with the fact that this section is called “Defiant” and she starts these chapters with quotations like “I am dying of thirst by the side of a fountain,” it’s clear that the reader is supposed to see Angel as stubborn, bitter, and inherently untrustworthy as a narrator.

What makes it worse is that Michael is doing things that are abusive.

“By the way. My name isn’t Mara. It’s Angel. …”
“The name Mara comes from the Bible,” he said, “It’s in the book of Ruth.”
“And being a Bible-reading man, you figure Angel is too good a name for me.”
“Good’s got nothing to do with it. Angel isn’t your real name.”
“Angel is who I am.”
His face hardened. “Angel was a prostitute in Pair-a-Dice, and she doesn’t exist anymore.” (105)

One of the first things an abuser has to do is erase their victim’s innate sense of personhood and their right to their own sense of self. They intentionally strip their victim of their own identity, and replace it with what they want their victim to be.

Then this happens:

“Look,” she said tightly, “I want to start getting up and about on my own. With something on.”
“I’ll provide what you need when you need it.”
“I need it now.” (113)

He does give her clothes to wear in this scene, but it’s brutally clear that he did it because he decided she needed them, not because she said she needed them. Another thing abusers have to do is make sure their victims are dependent on them. Sometimes this takes the form of financial abuse, sometimes they make their victims feel that they’re incapable and incompetent, but it’s all about making sure they can’t leave you. This particular scene is troubling because it’s one of the ones that connects Michael’s character to God’s: a common Christian concept is that God provides us exactly what we need when They decide we need it, and not a second earlier.

Oh, and then this:

Michael studied her with patience. She was small and weak but possesed and iron will. It shone from her defiant blue eyes and the rigid way she was holding herself. She thought she had enough to overcome him. She was wrong. He was doing God’s will, and he had plans of his own, plans that kept growing, but he had said all he was going to say for a while. Let her think on it.

“You’re right,” he said. “I don’t own you, but you’re not running away from this.”

He’s saying he doesn’t own her, but he does feel entitled to her. He explains his “plans” in a bit– additions to the house, watching their children grow up– but at this moment there’s something missing from his statement: she’s not running away because he won’t let her. If you’ve read Redeeming Love before, you know that the implied threat there is ultimately carried out.

This is what makes me say that Michael is an abuser: his overwhelming sense of entitlement. That is the single biggest problem that all abusers share. Universally, abusers feel entitled to their victim. They believe that they have the absolute right to marry a woman who’s been beaten into delirium and rename her and threaten her and tell her she’s going to have his kids while she is vocally objecting the entire time. Can you even picture a man who you barely know sitting across from you on a coffee date telling you that you’re going to marry him and have his children and oh, by the way, you keep saying you want to leave but I’m not going to let you?

The fact that Francine and a vast majority of the people who read Redeeming Love think that Michael is an excellent stand-in for God is detestable and horrifying.